(TORONTO) – Five students were arrested on trespassing charges at Carleton University on Oct. 4 for attempting to set up a controversial pro-life display.
Four of the students arrested were Carleton students, while one was from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Among them was Ruth Lobo, a fourth-year Human Rights student and President of Carleton Lifeline, the Ottawa University’s pro-life club. Lobo said the club had applied to use a large outdoor space to set up the Genocide Awareness Project, an exhibit that, “compares abortion to other forms of genocide in a graphic visual way”.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesperson for the University, said other jurisdictions have deemed the content offensive because of its graphic nature.”We need to balance the students’ right to express themselves on this particular issue and to do so freely with the fact that some people may not be comfortable seeing larger-than-life images of aborted fetuses as they walk through campus,” said MacDonald. (Emphasis Added)
MacDonald said the University offered the students the opportunity to display their exhibit in an auditorium called Porter Hall, an area that Lobo calls isolated and “off the beaten path”.
The students were also permitted to set up a table in a high-traffic area on campus in order to hand out leaflets and direct interested students to the display.The students declined, stating that they will not express their views in a closed room, as the purpose of the exhibit is to dialogue with students and challenge their views on abortion.
In a YouTube video of the arrests filmed by Stephanie Gray, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, Lobo tells a university official, “We will proceed, because we are students on this campus and are being silenced because we are expressing a view that is unpopular”.Lobo calls the University’s decision content-based discrimination. She believes this issue is about censorship and freedom of speech rather than just ideological beliefs.
“This censorship should concern everyone, regardless of one’s views on abortion,” said Lobo. “It’s the equivalent of telling Martin Luther King that he can give his ‘I have a dream’ speech in his church basement and invite white people to come and see it if they want to,” she added.
“That’s not how freedom of speech works, and that’s not how we discuss things that are controversial, on a university campus especially.”Gray agreed.
“Regardless of someone’s views on the issue, censoring – especially to the point of arresting peaceful people trying to express themselves – is not a Canadian value, and is certainly not a value of a university, because the very nature of a university is that it is the marketplace of ideas,” said Gray.
MacDonald said the University did everything in its power to accommodate the students, and that the solution they chose is not an uncommon practice. He pointed to the National Gallery of Canada’s decision to house its explicit pop art exhibit in a room where audiences had the option of viewing it.
To Gray, this solution is insufficient.”The solution is not to force [the exhibit] to be in a back room, but to make sure you don’t force people’s heads to turn in that direction. People have the freedom to look away,” said Gray.
“We’re constantly bombarded by disturbing imagery,” she added, citing footage of the dead bodies strewn across the streets of Haiti following the earthquake.
“Why aren’t people calling for warnings on that? Why aren’t they arresting those who show those images? There seems to be a double standard going on.”
The YouTube video depicts Lobo and the others being handcuffed and escorted into the back of a police van.The students were transported to another building on campus and charged before they were let go, said Lobo. She believes the arrests were an “intimidation show”, to prevent them from similar activities in the future.
The Campaign Life Coalition has issued a written statement objecting to the arrests.”The truth about the killing of children in their mothers’ wombs is once again being hidden in a back room, while the reality of what happens in every abortion continues daily,” wrote Jim Hughes, National President of the non-profit organization.
“Universities, which have always prided themselves as being institutions of free thought, have now become facilities where only the most liberal thoughts are allowed to be presented,” said Hughes.
Lobo has started a Facebook group titled Against the Arrest of Pro-Life Students at Carleton University. As of 3 p.m. on Oct. 11, the group had 292 members.The Brock University Press Online Edition
Read the comments at the Carleton Lifeline website.