Advocates condemn xenophobic op-ed by Calgary instructor calling for end to diversity

An op-ed published by a Calgary instructor in two Vancouver newspapers is being widely condemned for saying Canada would be better off without ethnic diversity.

Op-ed was deleted from newspaper's website and replaced with apology

Mount Royal University instructor Mark Hecht's op-ed for the Vancouver Sun is pictured in a screengrab. The article was deleted from the newspaper's website on Saturday. (Vancouver Sun)

An op-ed published by a Calgary instructor in two Vancouver newspapers is being widely condemned for saying Canada would be better off without ethnic diversity.

The article, written by Mount Royal University instructor Mark Hecht and published in the print edition of the Vancouver Sun on Saturday, is titled "Ethnic diversity harms a country's social trust, economic well-being, argues professor."

The article title was later amended to correct the fact Hecht is an instructor, not professor, at the university, before the entire article was deleted from both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province websites. 

Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Harold Munro said in a statement posted to the paper's website that the article did not meet the paper's journalistic standards and does not represent the views of editors and journalists. 

"The Vancouver Sun is committed to promoting and celebrating diversity, tolerance and inclusion. Our vibrant community and nation are built on these important pillars," Munro wrote in the statement, which was issued late Saturday.

"We apologize for the publication of the article. We are reviewing our local workflow and editorial processes to ensure greater oversight and accountability so that this does not happen again."

CBC News reached out to Munro as well as editorial page editor Gordon Clark, and had yet to receive a response by the time of publication.

Munro tweeted that he agreed editors should have seen red flags in the article and said he apologizes "to everyone that this was published before I had a chance to read it."

There was an enormous backlash to the article online, with multiple reporters from Postmedia (which owns both papers) and Mount Royal University professors among those speaking out against its publication.

"Those are neo-Nazi talking points that were just kind of nakedly published by The Vancouver Sun," said Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, who researches the rise of hate groups and rhetoric in the country.

Balgord said the largest issue with Hecht's article is not just that it's "socially regressive," but that it misrepresents an entire body of literature on the topic of diversity and immigration.

"First off, it's factually incorrect … this is just basically white supremacist screed."

Instructor's views don't represent university, says dean

Hecht specializes in studying biogeography — or the distribution of flora and fauna — according to his bio on the university's website. He's taught at the university for 11 years and has self-published a book titled The Rules of Invasion: Why Europeans Naturally Invaded The New World.

Jonathan Withey, Mount Royal University's dean of the faculty of science and technology, said in an emailed statement he understands the concern from members of the community over the op-ed.

"Mount Royal, like all universities, is a place for debate, for freedom of expression and for the respectful exchange of ideas. The ideas expressed in this newspaper op-ed, while protected by freedom of expression, do not represent my personal views, nor the position of Mount Royal University as a whole," Withey said.

"Mount Royal University is committed to diversity on our campus, and in the wider community, and providing a welcoming learning environment for all."

Hecht's article hinges on a report from the Gatestone Institute, a think tank that has published disinformation and anti-Muslim content according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

I think there is a greater responsibility on media outlets and journalists in this particular climate to address these issues, to not give voice to this kind of jingoistic, xenophobic views.- Avnish Nanda, Everyone's Canada

"The Gatestone Institute is widely recognized as part of what's known as the Islamophobia industry, that just generally peddles in either fabricated or very heavily skewed stories, all kind of with the conclusion that it's impossible to integrate Muslims," Balgord said. 

Sean Holman, a journalism professor at Mount Royal University who has worked for the Vancouver Sun, echoed Balgord's comments on the irresponsibility of citing the Gatestone Institute without context and said the op-ed shouldn't have been published.

"I think it's essential to recognize this is not actually a freedom of expression issue," Holman said. 

"Newspapers and others news outlets are not common carriers. In other words, we're not like the telephone system. We're not obligated to publish or broadcast every opinion that is submitted to us. Indeed, we make decisions all the time about what to run and what not to run.

"When we publish an op-ed, we are lending that viewpoint our audience and credibility. And the Vancouver Sun simply should not have done so in this case. It's an inexcusable failure of journalism."

Holman said the op-ed could reasonably stoke anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, something he's fought against in his own work.

"The courses I teach include our program's second year news reporting class. In that class, I assigned my students to cover those experiences, reporting on the lives of newcomers in this city," Holman said.

Avnish Nanda is a spokesperson for Everyone's Canada, an Edmonton-based non-profit that challenges what he describes as those trying to undermine the country's commitment to multiculturalism and immigration.

He said he agrees with Mount Royal University's statement that a free exchange of ideas is important — but says there needs to be pushback against what he describes as "disturbing and dangerous rhetoric built on lies."

"I think there is a greater responsibility on media outlets and journalists in this particular climate to address these issues, to not give voice to this kind of jingoistic, xenophobic views particularly when they're published online," Nanda said.

His non-profit is part of that pushback, showcasing individual stories of everyday Canadians on its Instagram.

Nanda said those stories highlight what he sees every day: "that we're better together."

He says that he hopes anyone the editorial may have resonated with takes a look at their own communities.

"Anyone can be Canadian, it doesn't matter what you look like, where you come from, what you believe in, this country is for everybody," he said.