Past Debate

Free speech is dead

October 24, 2023, 7–8:30 pm
Kelowna Community Theatre | 1375 Water St, Kelowna, BC


Is free speech dead or more alive than ever?

Free speech is (not) dead.

For some, secretive social media algorithms have choked off free speech and confined it within echo chambers. Mainstream media owners tightly control whose voices get heard to maintain their grip on profits and influence. They are the signposts of compromised equity, a distortion of democracy, and opinion bubbles breeding extremism.

For others, the digital age is supercharging free speech, granting anyone with an internet connection the power to express and influence regardless of their language or geography. It invites voices previously diminished by noisy, westernized powers into global conversations, democratizes participation, and exposes us to an unprecedented diversity of thoughts and ideas.

Where do you stand? Join us for a spirited debate that promises to challenge assumptions, provoke thought, and potentially reshape your understanding of the future of free speech.


A portrait photo of Lesley Cormac.


Lesley Cormack is Principal and Deputy-Vice Chancellor at UBC Okanagan whose research focus is the mathematics and geography of 16th-century England.

UBC Okanagan Debates is a signature event hosted by UBCO’s Principal and Deputy-Vice Chancellor. This event is designed to model civil discourse in a polarized world by bringing together renowned experts to discuss disputed and timely topics.

A portrait photo of Keyvan Khadem.

Alumni Speaker

Keyvan Khadem is a graduate of UBCO’s civil engineering program currently working as a real estate developer and as an engineer-in-training in Kelowna. Keyvan has participated in research for removing pollution from stormwater systems, and is passionate about providing solutions for affordable housing and sustainable structures.

our debaters

Portrait photo of Greg Garrard.Greg Garrard, Creative & Critical Studies,
Free speech is dead
Greg Garrard, a professor of environmental humanities at UBCO, has taught many environmental courses that include the scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change. Co-writing a book, Climate Change Scepticism: A Transnational Ecocritical Analysis, that set out to understand why sceptics reject the consensus gave him a stronger appreciation of the nuances of free speech.
Portrait photo of Greg Garrard.
Portrait photo of Margot Young.Margot Young, Allard School of Law,
Free speech is not dead
Young is a professor at UBC’s Allard School of Law. Professor Young researches constitutional rights, social and economic justice, with specific focus on feminist analysis of equality and urban issues. She is Director of the Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, Chair of the Board of the Suzuki Foundation, and an International Visiting Scholar at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Portrait photo of Margot Young.
Portrait photo of Joel Bakan.Joel Bakan, Allard School of Law,
Free speech is dead

Joel Bakan, a professor at UBC’s Allard School of Law, is a renowned expert in constitutional law. A former Rhodes Scholar, he’s co-directed acclaimed films like The New Corporation, based on his award-winning books. Currently challenging X (Twitter) over censorship issues, Bakan emphasizes concerns over dwindling free speech in private domains and its broader implications for democracy.
Portrait photo of Joel Bakan.
Portrait photo of Sue Gardner.Sue Gardner, Wikimedia Foundation,
Free speech is not dead
Sue Gardner builds organizations that give people access to the information they want and need. Her main areas of interest are technology, media, gender and freedom. She’s a special adviser to Wikimedia Foundation and from 2007 until 2014 was its Executive Director. Previously, Gardner was head of
Portrait photo of Sue Gardner.

Previous debates

Artificial Intelligence promises to revolutionize and disrupt at breakneck speed.

UBC Okanagan Debates Artificial Intelligence AI generated image.

For the optimist, it will cure disease, free us from the burden of simple tasks and automate the mundane—saving time and money. It will create millions of new and more fulfilling jobs, pushing humanity further into the reaches of what’s possible.

For the skeptic, AI will crush our creativity and divide us further through biased data and algorithms. It will rob us of real, human connection and strip away our identity all in the pursuit of an insatiable obsession with technology.

The truth may lie somewhere in between or beyond what can even be imagined today.

When it comes to AI, should we pause or persist?


Lesley Cormack is Principal and Deputy-Vice Chancellor at UBC Okanagan whose research focus is the mathematics and geography of 16th-century England. She’s of the mind AI has a long way to go before matching Robert Recorde, who literally wrote the book on algebra (The Whetstone of Witte).


Nora Young is the host of CBC’s Spark, a show that explores how technology shapes our lives. She is also a tech enthusiast who loves gadgets, podcasts and cats, but hates when Chat GPT writes her bio.


For the optimists

  • Kevin Leyton-BrownComputer Science
    Kevin Leyton-Brown is a Computer Science Professor who likes to play games with machines. He teaches them how to learn, cooperate and compete in complex environments such as auctions and markets.
  • Madeleine RansomPhilosophy
    Madeleine Ransom is a Philosophy Professor who likes to explore how we perceive the world. She investigates how our senses, cognition and technology shape our understanding of reality and art. She is philosophical about AI: it’s going to change the world for the better.

For the skeptics

  • Bryce TraisterCreative and Critical Studies
    Bryce Traister is Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies with expertise in early American literature, culture, religion and science fiction. He is also a master debater who can challenge any professor to a verbal duel. He loves sci-fi and is proud to be a nerd.
  • Wendy WongPolitical Science
    Wendy Wong is a Professor and Principal’s Research Chair of Political Science. She has written a book about data and human rights that will be published in October 2023. Wendy thinks AI poses a threat to our social and political frameworks, and it’s time to empower the stakeholders in the AI discussions.