Against the Alt-Right on Campus

Commentary by the University of Toronto Club, Communist Party of Canada

With the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the current Conservative Party leadership race, bigotry and hate-based politics are on the rise, particularly with the growth of the “alt-right” – a loose coalition of “men’s rights” activists, anti-choicers, racists, anti-Muslim bigots, anti-LGBTQIA+ bigots, social conservatives and reactionaries who use “free speech” as a cover to push an agenda of hate.

“Alt-right” posters have appeared on campuses across the country, promoting hatred towards immigrants, LGBTQIA+, and other marginalized people. As the current crises of capitalism continue to magnify the precariousness of life for a great many people, the public’s receptivity to the message of the far-right has also increased. While racism is by no means a US import to Canada (a state founded on the basis of colonial genocide against indigenous peoples, and the brutal exploitation of immigrant workers) , these groups have capitalized on the success of the US far-right, often mimicking their rhetoric with slogans like “Make Canada Great Again”.

At the University of Toronto, much of the “alt-right” activity has centred around professor Jordan Peterson, a vlogger, and self-declared “professor against political correctness” who vocally opposed Bill C-16 (which adds the words “gender identity or expression” to a list of protected classes under the Canadian Human Rights Act and to the Criminal Code) on “free speech” grounds, and notoriously refuses to use non-binary and gender-neutral pronouns.

Shortly after Peterson came into the spotlight, a U of T campus group called “Students in Support of Free Speech” formed to defend him. This group, along with “Generation Screwed”, the student wing of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (a conservative and libertarian-leaning advocacy group financed by big business) hosted Peterson and right-wing pundit Ezra Levant at a conference at U of T in February, which was eventually shut down by police after heavy protest.

U of T has not been the only campus downtown to prove welcome to the “alt-right”. Ryerson University students have filed complaints about instructor Brian Petz (former president of Ryerson’s Campus Conservatives) whose public anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBTQIA+ comments reference common alt-right talking points. These talking points include scapegoating immigrants for the economic problems created by neoliberal austerity policies, and references to “cultural Marxism”, an alleged leftist conspiracy seeking to erode traditional Western values.

Ryerson has also proven unwilling to protect its campus from anti-choice demonstrators whose use of graphic imagery of aborted fetuses has created a hostile environment on Gould Street and raised indignation amongst students. The Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective has brought the issue before the university, but the university has used “free speech” as a cover, claiming they cannot do anything to protect students as Gould Street is public property.

Free speech does not include hate speech, and no institution is obligated to give a platform to groups who seek to intimidate women, LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, racialized people, and other people marginalized by systems of oppression. The Communist Party of Canada (U of T) stands in solidarity with all those threatened and under attack. We condemn these groups and call on universities and student unions to refuse these “alt-right” and fascist groups a platform to spread their hate. Only through building broad progressive unity on our campuses and in our communities can we combat and turn back the increasing public climate of hate and fear fostered by these far-right groups.

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