Life Fair Attracts Attention at Guelph

By Rebecca Richmond, NCLN Executive Director

March has been a busy month for pro-life students from coast-to-coast as they’ve hosted large events to educate their campus on life issues.  At the University of Guelph, the pro-life club, Guelph Life Choice, hosted a Life Fair with fetal development information.  Their displays attracted some counter-protesters but that didn’t prevent many interested students from stopping by to learn more, many of whom engaged in good discussions on the issue of abortion with the club members.

The event also attracted media attention from the campus paper and the campus radio station.  The campus paper interviewed the club as well as the organizer of the pro-choice counter-protest, who is also the Student Association Local Affairs Commissioner.  What I thought was interesting was that the pro-choice organizer  “helped in putting together the pro-choice display with the support of the CSA, the Wellness Centre and other community groups”, clearly showing the support the pro-choice movement has on campus.

The organizer was quite concerned with Life Choice’s material and images (aka. fetal development pictures) and was quoted as saying,

“I think my primary concern is that it could be really triggering for people….Then to have displays like this, that kind of drive home those messages [that] this is something you should feel guilty about, this is something you should feel ashamed of, that you’ve made the wrong decision. That’s kind of my primary concern, [that] the students who have had abortions, or who are pro-choice, feel isolated and made to feel guilty and ashamed of who they are and the experiences that they’ve had…”

(I would like to know if they also organize pro-choice displays during classes on embryology or human development, or any class that would include pictures or descriptions of fetal development….)

She is correct though, in so far as fetal development photos can be triggers for those who have undergone abortions.  But post-abortive women also are triggered by children, dates (like the due date for their unborn child), the sight of doctors, the sound of a vacuum, and the list goes on.  Angelina Steenstra, for example, in an interview on Roadkill Radio, described how she avoided the dentist for years because it triggered memories of her abortion.

But the issue is not the trigger but the trauma of the abortion that they underwent.  Those triggers can be painful but that does not mean we can hide the issue so as to avoid offending someone.  In fact, those moments are opportunities for women (and men) to stop and deal with the pain of her (their) abortions.  Life Choice, like all other clubs, is not interested in condemning but in educating, which includes offering help to post-abortive men and women as they grapple with their pain.

The event attracted the attention of the campus radio station which then did a full hour show on the issue of abortion, interviewing Hanna Barlow, President of Guelph Life Choice, myself, and pro-choice representatives.  (The show can be heard here.)

(Pictures of the event to come.)

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PRESS RELEASE: New Network for High School Pro-Lifers Launched

Toronto, March 30th, 2011 – On Thursday March 24th, the Toronto Right to Life Association (TRL) and National Campus Life Network (NCLN) unveiled a new resource for high school pro-lifers in Canada.  This project, Student Life Link, is a network and resource for high school students to encourage the formation and development of pro-life high school clubs.

Student Life Link features a website containing resources, contacts, speaker suggestions and motivation for students and teachers to start pro-life clubs at their schools.  A Facebook page and group will enable students to share ideas, news, and connect with one another.

Lia Mills, who has garnered attention for her Youtube videos and powerful speaking ability, introduces the project on the new website and invites her peers to join in.  “Together we begin today to shape tomorrow, to build a pro-life Canada,” she says.  “It begins here and it begins now, with you, with me, and with our generation.”

“Young people need more than just the truth about abortion,” adds Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director of NCLN.  “We also need strategies and opportunities to get that message out to our peers and our society.  Getting involved is what builds us into pro-life leaders for not only the future of our country, but also the present.”

This project was inspired by an earlier collaboration between TRL and NCLN on a Student Club Manual for high school students.  Like the manual, modelled on NCLN’s university manual, Student Life Link also draws on NCLN’s expertise and resources from years of working with pro-life university groups and adapts them for the high school environment, an area of focus for TRL.

“Student Life Link will complement the current work and accomplishment of teachers, students, school boards, and local Right to Life organizations.” says Rebecca Richmond.  “Clubs need that local help and support.  What we’re trying to do is add a layer of support that is accessible to students through online media and which encourages collaboration and idea sharing among groups.”

“The tagline and motto of the project is A Pro-Life Canada Starts Here,” explains Paul Klotz, Executive Director of TRL.  “It sums up the growing optimism and confidence of our pro-life youth and we hope it will inspire these young men and women, through their involvement with a high school pro-life club, to choose, support and fight for fight in high school, in university and beyond.”

The project was launched on Thursday March 24th at the 2nd Annual Student Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by TRL, the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Respect for Life Committee, and the University of Toronto Students for Life.

For more information, visit the website at www.studentlifelink.ca or contact Paul Klotz at 416 483 7869 or Rebecca Richmond at 416 483 7869 (office), 416 388 0461 (cell).

photo:  Lia Mills, with Rebecca Richmond, Director of NCLN, and Larissa Zantua, TRL staff member, cuts green ribbon inaugurating Student Life Link

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In their own words

By Rebecca Richmond

These comments were made in Toronto by pro-choice activists at a rally, underscoring the importance and the impact of campus pro-life activism.  Watch the clip here.  In their own words: “We can’t let our guard down”

To better appreciate what they’re saying, I have included a transcript (with my own comments and corrections in line).

“They are heating up their end of things.  They are mobilizing wherever they can to challenge pro-choice forces.  And they are trying to do it a lot on campus.”

Is there any better place to discuss and debate controversial issues and challenge the status quo than on university campuses?

“There’s been a lot of stuff at U of T.”

Go U of T Students for Life! Keep up the great work!

“Coming up on March 14th, there’s going to be a debate at the University of Toronto.  The anti-choice is organizing with a woman from this group called the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, I believe it’s called.”

Yes, there will be a debate and I’m looking forward to it!  Stephanie Gray will be presenting the pro-life position and she is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform .

“Basically it’s the GAP, the Genocide Awareness Project, what they call it.”

The Genocide Awareness Project is one of the educational tools that the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform uses.  However, the debate in question is not GAP but, as the title suggestions, a debate.  A debate is defined as a formal, regulated discussion of an issue with two opposing views presented.  This debate will, as such, present both sides of the issue of abortion: pro-life and pro-choice.

“Which is these big, monstr – you know, giant-sized signs that they display on campuses and that are so offensive and that are just so horrible.”

The signs are offensive and horrible, but that is because they accurately reflect the offensive and horrible reality of abortion.  To quote pro-choice feminist Naomi Wolf: “The pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifers’ practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics….[But] how can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy.”
-16 Naomi Wolf, “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” The New Republic, 16 October 1996.

“So they’re going to have a debate on campus with a doctor I’ve never heard of, but I think, if people are interested (and we’ll send out an email about that), it’s on March 14th, I think pro-choice supporters should show up en masse and we should support anybody who’s on campus who’s standing up for choice. “

First off, the ‘doctor’ in question is Doctor Ainslie.  The speaker may not have heard of him but he’s certainly more than qualified.  Professor Ainslie is the chair of both the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Graduate Department of Philosophy.  In January he was named principal of University College.  One of his major fields of study is bioethics.

Second, I hope pro-choicers show up with open minds and with respect for the debate.

“Because they’re trying just basically to populate the campus with their activities and their things.”

We’re trying to save lives and change hearts and minds.  Having activities, events and an active presence on campus are means to accomplish our goals.

“For many of us, we thought we had sort of won this battle many years ago and clearly it’s not, it’s not something we can ever let our guard down.”

Clearly.

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University of Toronto Students for Life: Carleton Lifeline Sues Carleton University

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Blaise Alleyne. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Carleton Lifeline has filed a lawsuit against Carleton University and its administration. Five pro-life students were arrested in October for trespassing on their own campus, and later that month the group was intimated further for putting on “Choice” Chain, despite other groups holding similar graphic displays on campus without threat of arrest or non-academic misconduct charges. As the National Post reports, the pro-life club claims that “the administration broke its own codes of conduct regarding human rights and academic freedom as well as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

You can read the entire statement of claim from their website.

That same eventful month, October 2010, the Pridgen Precendent was set. In ruling against the University of Calgary, Justice Strekaf said that a university campus is “not a Charter free zone” (though it didn’t deal directly with any pro-life student club issues). I believe that ruling is still being appealed. This will be yet another critical case for pro-life students and organizations across Canada. Carleton Lifeline is also still considering legal action against the student union if they continue to discriminate against the club as well. It’s hard to count the number of pro-life clubs under attack across the country in similar ways, so kudos to Ruth Lobo and John McLeod for taking a stand.

And, hey, they’re accepting donations to help cover their legal fees.

Carleton University: We Have a Place for Unpopular Opinions


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

Press Release: Carleton Lifeline Sues Carleton University

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: PRO-LIFE CLUB SUES CARLETON UNIVERSITY

Carleton Lifeline Seeks Restitution

Carleton Lifeline, the pro-life club at Carleton University, has sued the University and its administration for the discriminatory treatment they have been subjected to during the 2010-2011 academic school year.

“We believe that the behaviour of the University is actionable. We have suffered discrimination and intimidation, we have been arrested and threatened and we are seeking restitution”, said Ruth Lobo, President of Carleton Lifeline. “The University’s discriminatory actions are shocking, to say the least. We want to ensure, through law, that this behaviour is not repeated at Carleton University ever again.”

Lifeline is asking the Court to declare that Carleton University and its administration have breached their own internal policies regarding freedom of expression, academic freedom and discrimination. As such, Lifeline is also requesting that the University is ordered to comply with these internal policies.

On October 4, 2010, Carleton University had members of Lifeline handcuffed, arrested, charged and fined with trespassing for attempting to display an exhibit that the University administration deemed disturbing and offensive due to the graphic images  it used. In November 2010, Carleton University’s administration provided Lifeline with an ultimatum  regarding the expression of their opinions and threatened further arrests.

“Carleton University has allowed other exhibits using graphic images on campus” commented Albertos Polizogopoulos, Carleton Lifeline’s lawyer. “Clearly the University opposes Lifeline’s message and not its medium. This is censorship and viewpoint discrimination and violates Carleton University’s internal policies.”

To view a copy of the Statement of Claim, please visit www.carletonlifeline.wordpress.com.

For more information, please call Carleton Lifeline at 613-600-4791 or Lifeline’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos at 613 -241-2701 Ext: 243

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University of Toronto Students for Life: Why Pro-Lifers “Still Exist”

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Blaise Alleyne. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

Samantha Dellapina, staff writer for The UTSC Messenger, wrote an opinion piece a few weeks ago entitled “Pro-lifers still exist?

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just tackle it line by line.

Legalized abortion and a woman’s right to choose is a topic that has been under fire by religious-based organizations for years.

Religion is the focus in the opening sentence, yet watch how little it has to do with the topic of the article, and who’s bringing it up when it’s mentioned. Nevermind the fact that most campus pro-life groups — the primary subjects of her article — aren’t religious organizations.

Perhaps it used to be the popular opinion that abortions should remain illegal, but it also used to be a popular opinion to keep slavery alive in the United States.

Comparing a push to make slavery illegal with a push to make abortion legal? This betrays incredible intellectual dishonesty, or an incredible void of historical knowledge. If anything, the comparison between abortion and slavery weakens the pro-choice stance. The stronger comparison is between those who sought to outlaw slavery and those who seek to outlaw abortion.

Slavery was justified by denying the personhood of slaves, as abortion is justified by denying the personhood of pre-born human beings. Through all of the legal and political challenges, it was this denial of personhood that upheld the institutions and legality of slavery for so many decades in the United States. (“In the eyes of the law…the slave is not a person.” -Virginia Supreme Court decision, 1858)

In the case of slavery in the United States, human beings were denied personhood because of the colour of their skin or their racial background. In the case of abortion, human beings are denied personhood because of their size, or location, etc.

In both cases, dehumanizing rhetoric serves to justify dehumanizing treatment. The n-word wasn’t just offensive, but it was dehumanizing language that serves to support slavery or other civil rights atrocities by attacking the humanity of the African American. We don’t commonly use cold, scientific terms to describe human beings after they are born, but before birth, pro-choice advocates stick to terms like fetus, embryo, blastocyst to dehumanize pre-born children.

This dehumanizing rhetoric and denial of personhood is a common denominator to the worst human rights abuses, and especially to slavery and abortion. To take a subsection of the human population and say that these are human beings but not persons is the very formula of a human rights abuse.

I could go on, but Dellapina’s article gets more absurd (and we’re only two sentences in!).

What is right and what is wrong is subject to the individual, as opinions will always vary, which is why Canada has legalized abortion.

Moral relativism as a defence of abortion is not surprising, but as a defence of slavery? Moral relativism didn’t and couldn’t abolish slavery. (“No one is forcing you to own a slave, but you have no right to impose your morality on others and prevent them from owning slaves if they want to!”) Slavery was abolished because the abolitionists made an objective, moral argument. It didn’t matter that some Southerners believed slavery was okay. The abolitionists said it was objectively wrong — wrong in the North, wrong in the South. They challenged the legality of slavery with moral arguments, in defence of the humanity of those whom society, the courts, the government would deny personhood.

If what is right and wrong is subject to the individual, we have no right to make slavery illegal. The comparison of abortion to slavery does not bode well for a pro-choice argument which relies on moral relativism to succeed.

Samantha, if Canada legalized abortion because “what is right and what is wrong is subject to the individual,” and “opinions will always vary,” then why shouldn’t Canada legalize slavery?

This allows individuals to make their own personal and private choices in the matter, without having a law make it for them.

Just like the law denied individual slave owners to make their own personal choices about their own property. But we created laws to deny them that right because we recognized that slaves should not be treated as property, but as persons. Abortion is not a personal or private choice either — it involves denying the personhood of another human being and ending an innocent life.

What pro-lifer’s need to understand is simple: what happens in my womb has nothing to do with them.

What abolitionists need to understand is simple: what happens on my plantation has nothing to do with them.

The property arguments of slave owners only worked for so long. It’s ironic that Dellapina would employ a property-based argument right after comparing abortion to slavery.

I had almost begun to believe the debate had retreated into the background, with more important topics taking the forefront, like the war in Afghanistan, global warming, cholera in Haiti, or Sarah Palin’s new reality television show. It appears however, that in Universities across the globe, pro-lifer’s still exist!

Has Dellapina not been following Canadian politics? Or campuses? Has she searched the web? There was just a vote in the Canadian parliament on a bill to explicitly outlaw coerced abortion (the vote was after the article was published, but the bill was tabled months ago), the Liberal Party was freaking out earlier this year over the Harper government’s approach to exclude abortion from its maternal health initiative, the “biggest-ever” March for Life took place this past year on Parliament Hill with an estimated 15,000 participants, and pro-life campus clubs have consistently received media attention in their freedom of expression battles with university administrations and student unions across the country, with support of organizations like the BC Civil Liberties Association.

It can be helpful sometimes, as a writer, to make the reader feel smarter than you, but not to give the reader the impression that your head is firmly buried in the sand. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt here and assume it was a poorly executed joke.

On October 4, 2010, five pro-life students were arrested after attempting to set up an exhibit within the heavily populated Tory Quad of Carleton University…

Ah, right, the peaceful demonstrators who were hand-cuffed and hauled away in a police van for trespassing on their own publicly-funded university campus.

… After watching the arrest on YouTube it is clear the group was looking for confrontation when they were given many chances to simply move their display. Perhaps they took the arrests as a way to publicize their anti-abortion argument, and in a way, it has worked, because here I am writing about it. Though how much it has worked in their favour has yet to be seen.

Watch the video yourself. There’s a big difference between not backing down when you’re being bullied and denied freedom of expression, and “looking for” confrontation.

Carleton Lifeline was not looking for confrontation with the administration, and certainly didn’t expect the police to be called in to arrest them for peacefully demonstrating on their own campus. But they weren’t willing to let the administration intimidate them into silence (or “protesting indoors only” — which is practically the same). They were willing to risk confrontation with the administration and stand up for their rights (and the rights of others), but they didn’t go looking for the police.

About a month after the arrests, CUSA made another huge stride in silencing LifeLine, by completely denying the group status and funding. The decision to cut the club comes directly from Khaldoon A. Bushnaq, Vice-President of Internal Affairs for CUSA, explaining that the club’s constitution is in violation of CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy, which supports a “woman’s right to choose.” Enraged, Ruth Lobo—president of LifeLine—said, “I will never get over the shock that there is a discrimination policy that allows them to discriminate against us.” No Lobo, there is a discrimination policy in place to prevent you from discriminating against women.

The CUSA discrimination policy says that people and groups with a particular political view — that abortion is in any way unacceptable at any time — are denied privileges that other students have, while still being forced to pay dues to the student union. That sounds like discrimination to me. Holding up GAP signs may challenge or offend, but it doesn’t actually exclude anyone from anything.

I recommend reading Carleton Lifeline’s first response to CUSA on this issue [PDF]. Aside from having a discrimination policy that discriminates against pro-life students, they didn’t even follow their own procedures outlined in their own constitution. If this isn’t resolved within the university, it’s likely to be resolved in a courtroom [PDF].

The revoking of the club’s status has caused a stir within Pro-Lifer’s across North America, who are using it as a platform to argue for their equal rights. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Civil Rights League has condemned CUSA’s move “as a violation of freedom of expression.” A Christian faith-based website, Wintery Knight, has outwardly called CUSA “left wing fascists.”

Ah, the only mentioned of religion aside from the opening of the article. But, Dellapina seems to suggest that the only concern is coming from fringe groups or “religious-based organizations.” A quick web search finds the following articles which, at the very least, take the freedom of expression issue seriously:

It’s hard to tell if Dellapina is pretending that only “religious-based organizations” are concerned about the freedom of expression issue, or if she simply didn’t search the web. Also, last I checked, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association didn’t report to the Vatican.

Perhaps LifeLine should have seen this coming and kept their little display contained in Porter Hall.

Their “little” display? That Dellapina feels deserves her attention, in Scarborough, two months after it happened in Ottawa? It’s just pettiness seeping through here.

It was only in April of this year, that the University of Calgary notified eight members of the Campus Pro-Life student group that they have been found guilty of a major violation under the Non-Academics Misconduct Policy… The CPL President, Alanna Campbell, has told the press that she would “rather be expelled as a principled person than graduate a coward.” The Messenger presses Campbell to continue to challenge the verdict in hopes that she will discover the imbalance in her life’s priorities.

If only the University of Calgary were so confident. They’ve already lost a big case on the question of whether the Charter applies on campus — a case that they’re appealing, because it spells disaster for their conflict with Calgary Pro-Life. But even the University of Calgary, for all it’s done to intimidate pro-life students, hasn’t had them dragged off campus in handcuffs.

… The Canadian Government closed the books on the debate over a woman’s legal right to abortion in 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R. v. Morgentaler that the existing laws were unconstitutional and therefore struck them down.

That’s… not exactly true. I’m not sure Dellapina understands the difference between the legislative (Parliament) / executive (Prime Minister, Cabinet, Government Departments, Civil Service) branches of government, and the judiciary (the Supreme Court of Canada, in this case).

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing laws as unconstitutional, due to the “manifest unfairness” of an awkward administrative procedure involving committee approval required by the old law. Parliament attempted to pass a new law, but it was defeated in the Senate in a tie vote. No subsequent government has revisited the situation as of yet.

In other words, no one closed any books on any debate. The Supreme Court did not determine that any law on abortion was unconstitutional, but that the old law was unconstitutional. Parliament has attempted to pass a new law, and could try again, but has been unwilling or unable to do so successfully, and thus, Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion. It’s an absence of a law, a void — but no one has “closed the books.”

Today in Canada, Medicare covers the costs and the law requires clinics to be funded across provinces.

Right after trotting out the old “debate is closed” line, Dellapina reminds her readers that abortion is publicly-funded with taxpayer dollars… meaning, it’s absolutely a legitimate subject of public, political debate.

What strikes me most about LifeLine, Students for Life, and Campus Pro-Life, is that they intend to take away a legal right in a country that is supposed to represent liberal culture. The desire to remove this fundamental right from women seems equal to taking away their right to vote, or freedom of religion, and then where does it end? All I can say is… don’t you have a paper to write or an exam to study for?

It’s so odd to open the article with an invocation of the fight against slavery, and then to make arguments like this.

First, women were denied a right to vote because they weren’t considered persons under the law — same as slaves, same as the unborn. To equate “freedom to kill your unborn child” with “freedom of religion” is utterly ignoring the second person affected by in the act of abortion. No one is threatening anyone’s right to cast a ballot, because casting a ballot doesn’t involve dismembering an innocent human being.

Second, it’s not a legal right, but an absence of any legal barrier. There is no positive affirmation of some legal right to an abortion in Canada, nevermind as a “fundamental right.” There’s only a lack of any legal obstacles.

Third, Dellapina invokes liberalism right after she brushed aside freedom of expression issues that are on the radar of civil liberties associations across the country and applauded the “huge strides in silencing” political views she disagrees with. Last I checked, freedom of expression was a fundamental right in a true liberal democracy.

The University of Toronto has yet to lay down its own law against its own pro-life club…

Erm… which law would that be?

The club failed to respond to The Messenger regarding the recent events at Carleton University, among other questions, but fortunately for us they have a website.

Yes, we did. Sorry. Seeing the final product of Dellapina’s article, I can only imagine how our words might have been twisted, but, honestly, there was no deliberate attempt to avoid comment. We honestly missed the email until recently, well after the article was published. We were busy, you know, writing papers and studying for exams. Our mistake, but not an intentional snub.

This past Remembrance Day, the group staged a protest downtown…

I guess it wasn’t clear from the website, but for the record, the protest was on Wed Nov 10 — the videos went up the next day.

… I was able to breathe easy watching the video posted on the Students for Life website once I could hear the overpowering voices of pro-choice students silencing the pro-lifer’s.

Our megaphone-wielding friends shouting slogans from the 70s certainly aren’t surprised to find pro-life opposition on campus, since that was the probably the 15th or so public pro-life demonstration I’ve participated in since beginning my studies on the St. George campus in 2005.

As much as I oppose the pro-life opinion, believe it is backwards and should have no place in politics, I still believe everyone has a right to have an opinion.

That’s kind of her, not to question are right to… uh… think for ourselves?

Though, within the walls of a University, I do not believe there should be any room for these opinions.

Spoken like a true supporter of liberalism and academic freedom.

Keep them in your house, talk about them over a beer, join a pro-life group that isn’t affiliated with an educational institution, have a baby when you get pregnant, but get off my campus!

Hey, kind of like don’t ask, don’t tell, but for your political opponents!

The Messenger wants to know what YOU think. Email your opinions to utscmessenger@gmail.com with the subject: ABORTION.

Email us! Because the debate is over, and you should keep your opinions to yourself!

Samantha, I’m sorry we didn’t answer your request for comments earlier. Maybe we’ll take up the questions in another post soon. You said in your email to us, “I think your voice is important regarding this issue.” I’d like to think you meant that (and not just when we keep our opinions to ourselves). But if our voice is important on this issue, why are you so eager to applaud the efforts to silence the voices of Carleton and U of C pro-life students? If you were really a supporter of authentic liberal democracy, and of universities and academic freedom, you wouldn’t be applauding the silencing of people with whom you disagree.

If you take an honest look at abortion in light of slavery, I think you might understand our perspective a just little bit more. The debate clearly is far from over, as evidenced by your article, as evidence by events at Carleton, as evidenced by events on Parliament Hill. As confused as it may be, I think your voice is important in the debate too, and I certainly wouldn’t applaud anyone seeking to silence you. As a supporter of a true liberal culture, you may want to reconsider rooting for those who seek to silence expression with which they disagree.

As long as innocent human beings are denied personhood, dehumanized and killed, pro-lifers will exist. As long as pro-choicers seek to silence any dissent on the issue, pro-lifers will take a stand — on this campus, and across the country.


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

Universities fail to uphold freedom of expression

Below in an article by John Carpay, taken from Pages 5 and 7 of The Lawyers Weekly article, 29 October 2010.


The arrest of five pro-life students at Carleton on October 4, 2010 is a repudiation of the university’s mission is to pursue truth, which necessarily requires vigorous debate and uncensored speech.  Yet students Ruth Lobo, James Shaw, Nicholas McLeod, Zuza Kurzawa and Craig Stewart were handcuffed and driven off in paddy-wagons while attempting to set up their pro-life display on a prominent place on Carleton’s campus, in an area where numerous other student groups have been allowed to express their views freely.

Carleton asserts that “the students were in no way denied the opportunity to express their views or to mount their exhibit.”  But Carleton expressly refused to allow the pro-lifers to use the same well-travelled location on campus (Tory Quad) which other Carleton students are allowed to use to express their views.  This past August, Carleton official David Sterritt told pro-life students that they could not set up their display outdoors because “the Genocide Awareness Project uses promotional materials which are disturbing and offensive to some.”  Carleton offered the pro-lifers an inconspicuous indoor space (Porter Hall) which has no walk-through traffic.

Would Carleton deny a prominent place on campus to gay or Muslim students, just because some people might find their speech offensive?  If other groups wanted to use disturbing photos to expose the injustice of spousal assault, genocide in Darfur, cruelty to animals, or impaired driving, would Carleton limit those groups to an out-of-the-way place?

The Carleton pro-life students could have accepted the university’s discriminatory offer to allow them to set up their display where few would see it.  But like Rosa Parks rejecting a second-class bus ride, these students defied the university’s attempt to appoint itself the arbiter of which views are acceptable enough to be proclaimed openly, and which views can only be expressed in a back room.  As one of the arrested students, Nicholas McLeod, explained it: “The point of a protest is for people to see it.  Limiting an exhibit to an inside room is like telling Martin Luther King that he couldn’t march through white neighbourhoods.”

Like Carleton, the University of Calgary has also attempted to censor pro-life speech on campus while proclaiming that “everyone must obey the rules.”  In 2006 and 2007, the Genocide Awareness Project was displayed on campus for eight days.  The U of C posted its own signs nearby, proclaiming the exhibit was protected by the Charter.  The exhibit generated discussion and debate on campus, without problems or incidents. But in 2008, the U of C started demanding that the students’ signs be turned inwards, such that no person walking by can see the signs.

The “law and order” claims of Carleton and the U of C are fundamentally dishonest because the rules are not being applied equally to all groups.  Arbitrarily denying one group an outdoor place, or ordering a group to hide its signs from view, are forms of censorship and viewpoint discrimination.  Claiming that pro-life groups at Carleton and the U of C enjoy free speech is like claiming that Blacks in the segregated South could attend school, and ride on the bus.  The claim is disingenuous because it’s true only on a very superficial level, while masking the injustice of blatant discrimination.

(Page 7 continuation of The Lawyers Weekly article)

At its core, the right to free expression is a right to offend other people.  Anyone in any country, no matter how oppressive its regime, can say anything they wish so long as it doesn’t offend anyone.  This was true of the old Soviet Union and is true today of China and Iran.  Indeed, these countries will insist that their citizens are completely free to express themselves, provided they don’t say offensive things.  But a truly free society – which Canada purports to be –  is one where people sometimes have to hear and see the things they hate.  For the U of C and Carleton to restrict free speech arbitrarily because some unnamed person or persons might be “offended” or “disturbed” is to place subjective feelings ahead of Charter-guaranteed constitutional rights.

Further, the right of free speech belongs not only to the speaker, but to potential listeners as well.  While claiming to protect “the rights of others” by suppressing unpopular and controversial speech, the U of C and Carleton are trampling on the rights of university students to be exposed to diverse voices.

Recently the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Pridgen v. University of Calgary (October 13, 2010) rebuked the university for its bullying and censorship tactics.  In 2007, Keith and Steven Pridgen (and other students) used a Facebook page to criticize one of their professors as incompetent.  The U of C found the students guilty of non-academic misconduct, and threatened them with the possibility of expulsion unless they apologized.

When the Pridgen brothers challenged these disciplinary proceedings as violating their Charter rights, the U of C tried to rely on McKinney v. University of Guelph, [1990] 3 SCR 229, which held that the Charter does not apply to a university’s dealings with its own employees, by way of a mandatory retirement policy.  However, the Court in McKinney also held that the Charter could apply to university action that is sufficiently governmental in nature.  Applying Eldridge v. British Columbia, [1997] S.C.R. 624, Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf held that the Charter applies in respect of disciplinary proceedings taken by a university against its own students, pursuant to Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act.  Justice Strekaf held that the U of C is “an agent of the provincial government in providing accessible post-secondary education services to students in Alberta” and is “not a Charter-free zone.”  The Court held that “while the university is free to construct policies dealing with student behaviour which may ultimately impact access to the post-secondary system, the manner in which those policies are interpreted and applied must not offend the rights provided under the Charter.”

The Pridgen decision bodes well for pro-life students at Carleton and the U of C, who have courageously resisted the university’s arbitrary censorship.

John Carpay is a Calgary lawyer.  Among his clients are University of Calgary pro-life students who are resisting the university’s censorship demands.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2010, issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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