03/06/2013 11:02 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Anti-vaccine movement coming to Vancouver

A controversial group opposing the use of vaccines is holding a conference at Simon Fraser University's downtown campus next week, drawing criticism from some scientists who say their message is a threat to the health of children and the community.

Organizers say the Vaccine Summit will take place on Tuesday and feature researchers and experts from across North America who question the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.

There will also be round-table discussions featuring parents who say their children have fallen ill after receiving vaccinations.

Vaccines have been used since the late 17th century and have been credited with eradicating diseases like smallpox and polio.

But the anti-vaccine movement, fueled by a handful of celebrity endorsements, has been gaining momentum in recent years.

SFU says the university doesn’t endorse the group’s views, but hopes the conference leads to a healthy debate about the issues.

“We have a university policy. It says we support freedom of expression. Doesn’t mean we endorse the views,” said SFU president Andrew Petter.

“One of the reasons we endorse freedom of expression is because we believe the views that are expressed that are false or unthinking will be exposed as such through an exchange of views.”

But there are those who believe the university should not host the conference.

“I think the anti-vac movement is very powerful, even though it occupies a fringe level of science,” said Ethan Clow, Director of the Centre for Inquiry, a non-profit educational organization.

“Our concern is that by giving space to this anti-vaccine group, SFU is lending tacit approval to their message, which has been rigorously debunked."