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National Campus Life Network > Blog > Genocide Awareness Project

News release: Motion to Ban University of Manitoba Pro-Life Club Defeated But Concerns Regarding Future Censorship Remain

News Release

MOTION TO BAN UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA PRO-LIFE CLUB DEFEATED BUT CONCERNS REGARDING FUTURE CENSORSHIP REMAIN

WINNIPEG, MB (October 9 2013) – On the evening of October 7th, the University of Manitoba Students for a Culture of Life (UMSCL) were glad to witness the defeat of a motion calling for the revocation of their club status. However, they are continuing to express concern about two other motions passed by the University of Manitoba Student Union (UMSU).

“We were encouraged to hear members of the council defend free speech on campus and see the motion to revoke our student group status defeated soundly,” states Cara Ginter, vice-president of UMSCL. “Unfortunately, two other motions were passed that could be used to censor our student group and others in the future.”

The first motion was put forward by two students as a response to a pro-life display hosted by the club September 23-25. This display, called the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), uses large posters with pictures of aborted fetuses and victims of historical genocides to argue that abortion is a human rights violation. Council members, including Nursing, Law, and Education representatives, spoke against the motion and it was ultimately defeated.

Two other motions were also presented by the council’s Student Group Promotions and Affairs Committee (SGPAC), which express concern over the content of the display and resolving that (1) the council meet with the university administration “to push for a reconsideration of the review and approval process for public displays” and (2) that the policies governing the penalization of clubs and revocation of club status be reviewed and clarified.

“We applaud the student union’s defeat of the first motion and hope they will use that good sense moving forward,” states Anastasia Pearse, Western Campus Coordinator for National Campus Life Network (NCLN), an organization that supports pro-life students in Canada. “UMSU is certainly within its rights to review its own policies and even discuss the display approval process with the administration – as long as they don’t attempt to hinder the club’s right to exist and exercise its freedom of expression on campus.”

“The display was a great opportunity to dialogue with students about the issue of abortion,” says Ginter. “We’re looking forward to continuing this conversation over the course of the year, educating our peers about this important human rights issue.”

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For more information please contact:

Cara Ginter, vice-president, University of Manitoba Students for a Culture of Life: caraginter@hotmail.com

Anastasia Pearse, Western Campus Coordinator for National Campus Life Network: westerncanada@ncln.ca

John Carpay, JCCF President and lawyer acting for the students: 403-619-8014, jcarpay@jccf.ca.

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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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uOttawa Students For Life: What’s Wrong With an Emotional Response?

This post was written for uOttawa Students For Life by uOttawa Students For Life. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

by Kate Larson

The October 4th arrest of students at Carleton University about to take part in the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), the display of graphic posters comparing abortion to the Holocaust and similar atrocities, made me think about the use of images in discussions of abortion. At both this year’s and last year’s abortion debates hosted by Ottawa Students for Life, the pro-choice speakers re-iterated the common argument that the use of images of abortion in discussions of the subject is intellectually dishonest and emotionally manipulative. This implies a number of things: firstly that images are being used in place of logical arguments, rather than to enhance them or to promote discussion of them, secondly that words are somehow neutral and have no manipulative power of their own, and lastly that emotions have no place in just decision-making.

            The National Campus Life Network website is just one place where rational arguments against abortion are laid out clearly and compellingly. No images are used to fill logical holes. There are no holes to fill. As for the OSFL debates, full logical justification of the pro-life position was given. A short video was shown of an abortion being performed, and the audience was warned that it might be disturbing and that they were welcome to cover their eyes or turn away if they wished. The video did not substitute for any argument, but only served to remind the audience, if they chose to view it, of the reality of something that is too horrifying for words to adequately convey.

            This brings us to the emotional resonance of words. Words can be carefully chosen to increase or decrease the emotional impact of what a person is saying. They are certainly not mere servants of fact. One has only to consider how abortion is often referred to in society to see that. Terms such as “a woman’s right to choose” or umbrella terms such as “reproductive rights”, “reproductive freedom”, “reproductive choice”, and “body rights” are not factual references, they are names chosen to make the killing of babies sound positive, desirable, and even necessary. It seems to me there can be no intellectual honesty and lack of emotional manipulation in a position that doesn’t even properly name what it attempts to justify.

            Why do we debate issues such as abortion? We do so because we do not live by logic alone. The desire to make just decisions is motivated not by statistics or cost-benefit analysis but by love and compassion for others and hope that our society will be better for everyone if we do what is right and oppose what is wrong. Logical argument is important, but it is this love and compassion and hope that makes us more than automatons and ought to help ensure that we do not blithely allow innocent human beings to be killed. Of course people will have an emotional response to images of abortion: the images are awful. They are also real and no amount of rhetoric is going to make them seem positive, desirable, or necessary.


Read the comments at the uOttawa Students For Life website.

uOttawa Students For Life: Carleton Pro-Life Students Arrested

This post was written for uOttawa Students For Life by uOttawa Students For Life. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

uOSFL would like to express support for and solidarity with the university students arrested on Carleton University’s campus today in connection with their display of the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP). The students were denied a public space to air the peaceful protest, and were instead offered a closed room in a remote section of campus.

This is an issue of censorship of an unpopular message by the Carleton University administration, and a shameful violation of the rules laid out in Carleton’s own student handbook.

The students were charged with trespassing.


Read the comments at the uOttawa Students For Life website.