Canada: Students’ ‘Free Speech Wall’ torn down by self-titled gay rights activist

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Students at a university in Canada set up a “Free Speech Wall”, only for it to be torn down the next day by a student claiming to be a gay rights activist defending against an “act of violence”.

The student society ‘Carleton Students for Liberty’ installed the wall in a busy area on campus by covering a 1.2 x 1.8 metre plank in paper on Monday, and invited the students and staff of Carleton University to write on it.

“What we wanted to promote was competition of ideas,” said Ian CoKehyeng, who founded Students for Liberty.

On Tuesday, students found that the wall had been torn down and destroyed.

Seventh year human rights student Arun Smith claimed responsibility for the act in a 600-word Facebook post addressed to the university president.

He declared, “In organising the ‘free speech wall,’ the Students for Liberty have forgotten that liberty requires liberation, and this liberation is prevented by providing space … for the expression of hate.”

Mr Smith alleged that he had perpetrated the act of “forceful resistance” as a gay rights activist, and called the university a “war zone” in the fight for gay rights.

In an interview, Mr Smith claimed that the wall was put up to coincide with the University’s LGBT pride week. “I think the whole purpose of a free speech wall is for people to deliberately provoke, trigger and be hateful,” he explained.

Mr CoKehyeng denied the allegations, saying that Students for Liberty had wanted to put the wall up in December, but had been forced to reschedule.

“I found a lot of people even from the GLBTQ club were very, very supportive of the wall,” he said.

Mr Smith later posted on Twitter, saying that free speech was an “illusory concept” and “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression”.

The tweet prompted Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Kady O’Malley to tell him, “you don’t get to make that call”. Mr Smith responded “just watch me”.

Mr CoKehyeng said in response to Mr Smith’s actions: “Free speech is a friend of minorities, it shouldn’t be people who feel marginalised in society who are trampling on free speech.

“Free speech is something you can’t monopolise for yourself, you have to give it to everyone else,” he added.

Before the wall was torn down the university’s director of student affairs visited to ensure that none of the comments were inciting violence or hatred. The only comment that could be interpreted as anti-gay read “traditional marriage is awesome”.

Other messages were supportive of gay rights, reading “QUEERS ARE AWESOME”, “gay is OK”, and “I [heart] Queers”.

There were some political messages on the wall, such as “Obama murders with drones”, “Harper is a douche”, and “abortion is murder”. The latter attracted some complaints, but also written counter-arguments.

Other messages were more free-spirited, such as “I love my clitoris!!”

A second wall has been instated, but Mr CoKehyeng has said he “can’t guarantee” it won’t meet the same fate as the first one.