More discrimination…

Pro-life students at Carleton are facing additional discrimination: this time from their student union.

On October 4th, 5 students were arrested at Carleton for attempting to set-up a pro-life display in a public area.  Now they are facing discrimination from the body that is, in theory,  supposed to fight for the rights of students on campus.  The Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) has decided not to re-certify the club due to the club’s pro-life stance.

Why?  Because apparently this article of Lifeline’s constitution:

“3.2 Carleton Lifeline believes in the equal rights of the unborn and firmly believes that abortion is a moral and legal wrong, not a constitutional right. Therefore, Carleton lifeline shall work to promote the legal protection of the unborn and their basic human rights to life.”

contravenes these articles of CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy:

“5. CUSA and CUSA Inc. respect and affirm a woman’s right to choose her options in case of pregnancy
6. CUSA further affirms that actions such as any campaign, distribution, solicitation, lobbying, effort, display, event etc. that seeks to limit or remove a woman’s right to choose her options in the case of pregnancy will not be supported. As such, no CUSA resources, space, recognition or funding will be allocated for the purpose of promoting these acti

To view the letter from CUSA to Carleton Lifeline, click here.

Lifeline’s lawyer’s response is here.

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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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University of Toronto Students for Life: Michael Coren on the Carleton Arrests

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

Michael Coren discusses the Carleton arrests on his TV show around the 15:30 mark with panelists Laura Babcock, David Menzies, and Matt Gurney (via @NCLN).

We’ve highlighted his excellent coverage of the campus free speech issues that pro-life students face in the past, as he’s often spoken on campuses for pro-life clubs.

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

Student Defends His Right to Free Speech: Footage of the Carleton Arrests

On October 4, 2010, peaceful pro-life students at Carleton University attempted to set up the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP).  The university prevented them from doing so.  In this clip, one member of Carleton Lifeline defends his right to freedom of speech.


Shortly thereafter the students were arrested and charged with trespassing on their own university campus.  For video of the arrests, please click here.

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University of Toronto Students for Life: VIDEO: Peaceful Prolife Student Protesters Given A Choice: “Protest” Inside or Face Arrest

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

More details have emerged from the arrests at Carleton University this morning, especially with the release of this video from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

Notice, the Carleton official doesn’t want “this display in this location.” What policies guide their restrictions on which displays can go where? As Ruth Lobo, the president of the Carleton pro-life pointed out, the Carleton Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy states that “peaceful assemblies, demonstrations and lawful picketing are allowed within established laws.” Yet, the University told the students to “protest” indoors (is that what they tell union staff when they strike?) or be charged with trespassing on their own campus.

I took a guess that Porter Hall was a little less of an effective location for a protest than where they were heading. Craig Stewart, one of the students, left a comment on our first post about this incident describing Porter Hall as “an isolated old gymnasium off the beaten path.” Ruth Lobo says in the National Post that its “like a tomb to which no one ever goes.” Take a look at where Porter Hall is, according to Google Maps, in relation to the Carleton campus.
Update: Seth left a comment to correct the Google map:

Just for the sake of accuracy, Porter Hall is actually located on level 2 of the University Center building. To be fair, that is the central building right in the middle of campus and it’s packed with students passing through and eating everyday. That being said, nobody really knows where Porter Hall is. It’s a bit of a cave and down a couple of halls from the highly populated areas. Either way, the pin on the map is incorrect. The UniCentre building is just South-West of Campus Avenue from the green arrow. That is the central area of the Carleton Campus.

I guess Google doesn’t know where Porter Hall is either.

Which other campus groups get arrested for not protesting in Porter Hall?

The legal issues are a bit tricky. Does the Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to universities? They assert they are private institutions, yet the majority of their funding often comes from the government, and there isn’t really a clear legal precedent. Notwithstanding the Charter (get it?), the University has a responsibility to adhere to its own governing documents, which outlined a right to peaceful protest under “established laws.” Certain time, manner and place restrictions are reasonable, but cannot be applied arbitrarily, and also ought to be reasonable. Telling the pro-life club that they can only protest on the edge of campus, indoors, seems pretty unreasonable, and I’d be surprised if other groups got the same treatment. There’s also Ontario human rights legislation which could come into play if things were to really get nasty. (Though, note that the students were charged with trespassing under provincial law, not criminal trespassing under the criminal code, so, I’ve been told it’s more like a traffic violation in the sense that you don’t have a criminal record, but just fines.)

Though the legal issues are murky, the broader message is not. Carleton University will attempt to squash expression it doesn’t like, they’ll call the cops on peaceful students if they don’t stay indoors with their protests, and they won’t hesitate to discriminate based on the message.

In short, if you express an unpopular opinion at Carleton, you might be cuffed and hauled off in a van.

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