An alleged racial profiling incident at an academic conference taking place at UBC this week is detailed in an open letter and has now prompted a response from conference organizers.
The letter is written by a representative from the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA), and is addressed to Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
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Over 8,000 people are attending the 88th annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which brings together over 70 different academic fields and is hosted in a different Canadian city each year.
In it, the BCSA says that on June 2, a black graduate student and BCSA member named Shelby McPhee was “approached by two other congress attendees, who are white, and asked to produce proof, that he was a registered member.”
Then, in what the BCSA calls a “flagrant breach of the congress code of conduct,” the two attendees “followed, harassed, and photographed Mr. McPhee, accusing him of having stolen a laptop.”
The pair then called the RCMP, who attended to the scene.
“Our members attended a theft complaint on UBC campus,” said RCMP Staff Sgt. Chuck Lan. “We spoke to the alleged persons to whom the complainant/victim identified as being involved in the theft of his electronic devices.”
Lan told Daily Hive “there was no evidence in our investigation to indicate the alleged persons were involved and our file was concluded.”
The letter states that the BCSA member was “illegally detained until a representative from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences arrived.”
The representative “spoke to the two accusers first and only spoke to McPhee after police confirmed he had been fully exonerated,” the letter says.
It adds that throughout the “clear incident of racial profiling, Mr. McPhee received no respect or support from the Federation representative.”
In the hours following the incident, it furthers, “the federation executive had an opportunity to immediately respond to this breach of its own code of conduct by issuing a formal apology to Mr. McPhee. It chose not to do so.”
The BCSA called the entire handling of the situation “deeply troubling.”
The letter closes by demanding that the Federation “immediately issue a public response acknowledging this incident, asserting zero tolerance for racial profiling and all forms of anti-Black racism, and a commitment to work with the BCSA to ensure that Congress is a welcoming and experience for our members.”
In response, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences (FHSS) acknowledged the complaint and said is treating the incident very seriously, as the FHSS “unequivocally opposes and denounces anti-Black racism, racial profiling, harassment, and discrimination of any kind.”
The FHSS said that upon receipt of the complaint, “contacted the complainant and invited him to meet with the Federation as soon as possible.”
The following day, “senior leaders of the Federation met with the complainant,” who was accompanied by two executive members of the BCSA.
Since then, the FHSS said, it has continued to be in communication with the complainant, and “is committed to working with BCSA to address this important issue.”
The FHSS added that it “stands by its Code of Conduct and does not tolerate anti-Black racism, harassment, or discrimination of congress participants in any form.”