British Columbia

Nova Scotia student says he was racially profiled at UBC-held congress

Shelby McPhee says he was asked to show his congress registration and falsely accused of stealing a laptop.

Shelby McPhee says he was asked to show his congress registration and falsely accused of stealing a laptop

Shelby McPhee says he was racially profiled while attending a conference at UBC. (Shelby McPhee)

A Nova Scotia graduate student says he was racially profiled while attending a UBC-hosted congress put on by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Shelby McPhee claims on June 2, two other congress attendees demanded to see proof of his congress registration before falsely accusing him of stealing a laptop. He says they also photographed him.

McPhee says he was then further profiled by congress organizers and the RCMP during an onsite investigation that took place in the view of hundreds of congress participants.

"I felt embarrassed ... and I felt there was not a safe place for me at UBC or for my colleagues that had come from the Black Canadian Studies Association," he said. "I was an invited speaker, so my credibility was now called into question if I'm paraded as a criminal."

McPhee says he and a white friend sat together at a table with the accusers — a white man and woman —  for a short time before he was singled out for the theft. 

He says both the RCMP and a federation representative chose to accept the couple's accusation based on zero evidence.

"The federation's representative didn't come to me first. She went to the accuser and allowed the accuser to control the narrative," he said. 

McPhee called the incident embarrassing and said it made him and fellow members of the Black Canadian Studies Association feel unsafe at UBC. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

UBC RCMP confirmed that officers did investigate the complaint but found it to be completely groundless.

"There was no evidence that he stole it or was involved in stealing it in anyway," said Sgt. Eric Baskette.

In a website post, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences said it is working with the Black Canadian Studies Association to address the situation.

"We are deeply apologetic for what happened and we're 100 per cent committed to to learning from it and doing better," said federation executive director Gabriel Miller.

"We also owe him our thanks because here was a guy who comes to the premier academic conference in Canada, has a really, really bad experience and stands up and says there's something wrong."

Miller says the federation is still deciding if the accusers will face sanctions. McPhee believes they should have been kicked out of the congress.

"The main problem I have is not that I was profiled, but that these individuals breached the code of conduct for the congress. And they were not sanctioned in any way," he said.

"They stalked. They harassed. They recorded and they took photos of us."

The Black Canadian Studies Association posted a letter about McPhee's ordeal, calling the federation's response "deeply troubling."

McPhee is a graduate student at Acadia studying politics.




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