After abruptly being told to pack up their booth and leave Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo on Friday morning, April 17, the Honey Badger Brigade, along with friends who had come as volunteers, found themselves at the center of a media and social media frenzy. Members of the HBB have gone on to describe the weekend as a roller coaster, detailing in videos and livestreams the events of the weekend, including a surprising yet peaceful encounter with the Calgary police at a public park.
On April 25, the Honey Badgers issued a very complete official statement, describing for the record the events leading up to the weekend, what happened at the expo and some what has followed. Most importantly, they shared a letter that they sent to Calgary Expo owner, Mr. Kelly Dowd—a letter to which they have not as of yet received any kind of reply.
Honey Badger Hannah Wallen’s preface to the letter includes the information that, in absence of a reply, they are “seeking legal advice to hold the Calgary Expo staff accountable for their acts of abuse and discrimination against us.” Because the Expo only gave accusations against the group in broad strokes, they believe that, rather than being due to any concrete break of contract on their part, “the actions taken by the Calgary Expo staff were of a political nature and contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in particular freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and freedom of association.”
The letter, in which Honey Badger Radio founder, Alison Tieman, tells the story in her own words, begins with a summary of what happened April 17, then goes back to painstakingly detail the reasons for the name changes between “Insert Media,” “Xenospora” and “Honey Badger Brigade” leading up to the Expo. This is very important because one of the biggest headlines from last week included the idea that the group had registered falsely and under false pretenses.
Next, Tieman went on to list each interaction the group had with convention staff between April 16 and 17 as well as briefly describing interactions at the “Women into Comics” panel. In describing their ejection, Tieman points out that the Expo has yet to furnish proof that any of the social media accounts accusing them of harassment belonged to people who were even at the Expo:
I was penalized with a 10 year company wide, nationwide ban from all of Calgary Expo’s affiliated events. Shayne Henkleman stated that harassing behavior at the panel discussion was the reason for the ban, but would not describe the specific behavior or explain how or why it was considered harassment. Shayne Henkleman stated that there were multiple complaints including 25 on social media. It is unknown to us how many (if any) of the social media accounts complaining to Calgary Expo belonged to actual attendees.
Without so much as a verbal warning, which should have been the Expo’s first step according to their published policies, the group was initially given ten minutes to take down a display that had taken hours to set up, with no one offering to help, other than bringing them a trolly for their gear and giving them access to a loading dock:
Security staff remained nearby as the group struggled attempting to comply without having brought the required tools or protective materials for the artwork and installation components. Expo Staff implied that if we were not quick enough about it we would be ejected without the material from the booth. The reason they gave for rushing us was that attendees entering and seeing the booth coming down would “look bad”. They had no concern about the damage to my art, or to our safety.
In the rush to comply, some items were left behind, and the Expo made no attempt to return these items to HBB.
The final part of the letter summarizes how Expo security called the police to investigate the peaceful gathering of HBB with some of their fans at Reader Rock Garden, the gathering place they’d decided on to accommodate the fans who had come to Calgary just to see them, “some travelling 36 hours to get there.”
Although monetary compensation for the defamation and loss of business is sure to be part of the lawsuit, Wallen made it clear that HBB’s motivation is not primarily financial in nature.
If so, this eviction was based on discrimination, an act that has defamed and abused us. While we would prefer to settle this outside of a courtroom, we are prepared to take every legal action needed to ensure that ourselves and other future exhibitors will be treated equally, and without such denial of their fundamental human rights.
The claim that this battle is also for the future of con-goers and exhibitors is clearly illustrated by a series of Tweets that also began on Saturday. Upcoming convention Denver Comic Con’s official Twitter account made the following statement: “If someone feels they have been harassed it is harassment.” In archived Tweets that have since been deleted, they allegedly went on to site the “military dress” section of their cosplay rules, equating the GamerGate symbol with “hateful symbols” such as “emblems of genocide.” It is unclear if the Tweets were deleted because the information was inaccurate or if they’re just trying to quell the inevitable firestorm such a policy would cause. In the mean time, this is their most recent statement on the subject via Twitter: “We have heard your concerns and are working on a reply. We will release it soon.”
While the con-going world awaits DCC’s clarification, the Honey Badgers still have work to do, and they are asking for help from those who believe in freedom of thought and speech. While seeing nearly $10,000 raised in the first day of the campaign (as of time of this publication) is encouraging, it may only be a drop in the bucket of the cost of lengthy litigation, and the organization behind Calgary Expo has much greater economic resources at their disposal. What the Honey Badgers have is a community of people who understand that this battle is not taking place in a vacuum. Yesterday, Calgary; today, Denver, but where next? It is important for those making decisions on what constitutes hate or harassment to realize that true tolerance is win-win, and trying to silence those you disagree with can backfire.
Looking back on how Calgary Expo could have handled things differently, Alison Tieman points out the irony that this whole story would be over if she and her group had been allowed to stay the full weekend: “Just allowing us to talk would have actually made our voice quieter.”
Support the Honey Badger Brigade Legal Fund.
Buy Alison’s comic, Xenospora, online.