UNBC board chair fired over 'racist and discriminatory comments'

·2 min read
Aaron Ekman was appointed chair of the UNBC board in July 2020. (University of Northern B.C. - image credit)
Aaron Ekman was appointed chair of the UNBC board in July 2020. (University of Northern B.C. - image credit)

The chair of the board for the University of Northern B.C. has been removed from his position because of "racist and discriminatory comments," according to the provincial government.

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang announced Friday evening that she has stripped Aaron Ekman of his title at the Prince George university.

"Our government and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) are deeply committed to tackling racism and hate in all its forms. We have high standards for public appointees, and racist and discriminatory comments from public appointments to post-secondary institutions will not be tolerated," Kang said in a written statement.

The statement does not make it clear what Ekman has said to warrant his removal, but a government spokesman confirmed the offending comments were made online.

In a tweet Friday morning, Ekman cast doubt on a government statement pointing to increasing antisemitism and bigotry in B.C.

"Has there? Does the B.C. government have evidence of this? Honest question," Ekman tweeted.

But after his firing was announced, Ekman said he was in the dark about the reasoning, tweeting, "Haven't heard yet if it's because I've been a Zionist, an anti-semite, or a transphobe."

The comment about transphobia likely relates to a May 5 tweet in which Ekman mocked the province for saying it is prioritizing "pregnant people" for COVID-19 vaccination. He said he is "very interested in interviewing any pregnant person who is not a woman."

However, transgender men and non-binary persons also can and do become pregnant.

In another tweet, he said he'd informed the university of his intention to resign three months ago.

UNBC has issued a statement as well, saying it is committed to diversity and inclusion.

"The university community has come together frequently over the past year to confront and discuss issues of race, discrimination and systemic inequalities; comments that hinder those important conversations are contrary to the university's values," the statement says.

Board vice-chair Andrew Robinson will take over as interim chair until a new chair is elected.

Ekman was appointed as UNBC chair in July 2020 and has been an appointed representative to the board since 2018.

He is a longtime union organizer who served two terms as secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Federation of Labour.

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