Mohawk College adding security, preparing for protests at Bernier event

The college says the venue Bernier will be appearing at can be rented by any member of public and that its decision to allow it to take place is not an endorsement of any kind.

Students and faculty have raised concerns about PPC leader's visit

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is scheduled to take part in a forum at Mohawk College Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton's Mohawk College is calling in extra security in preparing for protests, but says an event featuring People's Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier will go ahead as planned Sunday.

Uncensored: The State of Free Speech in Canada will be hosted by U.S. YouTube personality and political commentator Dave Rubin at the college's 1,000-seat McIntyre Art Centre.

It's a fundraiser for Bernier's party and the online event page says its $50 tickets are sold out.

But some have argued the college should not have agreed to rent its auditorium to Bernier, citing his statements about "extreme multiculturalism" as something that creates division among Canadians.

In an email to Mohawk officials Jackson Gates, a paralegal student at the college, raised several concerns with the event, saying it's his opinion that Bernier has incited hate toward marginalized communities and that by hosting the forum the college was contradicting its own statements about being welcoming and inclusive.

"Profiting from the Maxime Bernier event and over the objections and concerns of your students and faculty is just wrong," he wrote, adding he believes Mohawk should have told Rubin and Bernier to hold their event somewhere else.

A counter event, a protest panel discussion organized by OPSEU Local 240 — the union representing Mohawk faculty — called "Unpacking the People's Party of Canada & Resisting the Far Right" has also been organized at the college for Sunday.

The description for the OPSEU event calls Rubin an "infamous alt-right personality" and says its panel, which includes professors from the college and McMaster University, will "will address the far-right agenda behind the People's Party of Canada (PPC) and its relation to Islamophobia, climate change denial, and corporate interests."

In a statement released around 9 p.m. Thursday, the PPC said Bernier would still attend the event despite rising costs due to "pressure tactics adopted by Far-Left activists seeking to cancel the event."

PPC executive director Johanne Mennie added the party is holding its event in Hamilton to talk about issues other leaders won't.

The party's statement also quoted tweets from Bernier where he said "so-called 'anti-hate' groups are despicable Far-Left activists with no credibility."

College says renting space not an endorsement

When asked by CBC News about the concerns raised by community members and students, college spokesperson Bill Steinburg said:  "I guess I don't see the connection perhaps as much as you. I guess in terms of someone having that opinion, they can."

Mohawk has received messages calling for the college to cancel the event, he said, but it has also heard from people who want it to take place.

"I think that people who follow social media have seen more of the opposition, but I can say we've been receiving a communication in a lot of different ways and we have heard from both sides," he explained.

The college is regularly visited by politicians, including the prime minister, and members of parliament and this is no different, Steinburg added.

"The space that's being used is space that's rented to the public regularly and the party is a party that's part of the federal political dialogue right now. We're not endorsing anybody when we rent our space."

Steinburg also pointed out Bernier will be taking part in the federal debates, meaning the PPC will be sharing its views with Canadians during nationally televised broadcasts.

Mohawk is anticipating protests, he said, but the college has not received any threats, despite what Rubin has shared in tweets where he said the event had been cancelled due to "threats from Antifa" and an opinion piece in a local newspaper.

Rubin also accused the college of "demanding 10 times the original security costs."

He later clarified the event had not been cancelled, saying he had offered to cover the additional security costs himself.

The claim Mohawk asked for ten times its original cost for security is "not nearly accurate," said Steinburg, but the school is taking steps to prepare for Sunday.

"We are going to have more security on site and we've been working with police as well, just to make sure we can keep our campus safe, all of our visitors safe."