Loose Cannon: No choice but pro-choice on some campuses

Thursday, November 18, 2010

  • Blanket bans against pro-life groups, like the ones at York and Carleton, go too far, banning opinions and viewpoints rather t

    Blanket bans against pro-life groups, like the ones at York and Carleton, go too far, banning opinions and viewpoints rather t

Written by Greg Beneteau

As a campus club, Carleton Lifeline has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In October, four members of the Ottawa institution’s pro-life group, including its president, were arrested and fined for trespassing after they set up a “Genocide Awareness Project” display in the main quadrangle on campus featuring pictures of aborted foetuses.

The University administration, citing the graphic and offensive nature of the photos, had offered the club a private room to put up the display, plus a table in the main university centre to invite students to come see it.

That apparently wasn’t enough for Carleton Lifeliners, who wanted to expose all students to their message – not just the ones who wanted to hear it.

Their follow up stunt involved an event called “Echoes of the Holocaust.” According to Carleton University paper The Charlatan, the presentation by Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform “compared statistics, graphic images and video footage from past genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia and the Holocaust to abortion.” Fewer than 40 people attended the event, and the administration required Carleton Lifeline to pay for security.

The use of in-your-face campaigns and dubious slogans isn’t likely to endear Carleton Lifeline to many students. So I am baffled as to why the Carleton University Students Association would cede the high ground to the group by effectively banning all clubs with a pro-life message.

On Monday, CUSA decided to decertify Carleton Lifeline as a campus club. In a letter, CUSA Vice-President of Internal Affairs Khaldoon Bushnaq said the club’s constitution, which sees abortion as “a moral and legal wrong, not a constitutional right,” was in contravention of CUSA’s bylaws.

Bushnaq cited the Discrimination on Campus Policy, which states that “CUSA and CUSA Inc. respect and affirm a woman’s right to choose her options in case of pregnancy.”

The policy goes on to read: “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 actions.”

The second part of that policy was added in 2006, when a similar row erupted over whether to certify Carlton Lifeline as a club.

Despite the wording of the policy, student representative voted to give the pro-life group club status in 2007.

Four years later, the same policy has been used to deny the same group access to funding and other benefits.

Nor is Carleton alone in making their student spaces into exclusively pro-choice venues. In 2008, York University voted to ban resources and support from any group “if that group holds any aim, principle, belief, goal, etc. that is anti-choice.”

Contrast this with universities that have learned to live with their pro-life elements. In October 2008, the Central Student Association withdrew the club status of Life Choice, a pro-life group at the University of Guelph, after a controversial Life Fair that was hosted in the University Centre drew complaints.

The CSA backed down a few months later after discussions with the group, and Life Choice has operated without much fuss ever since.

The same arguments tend to pop when arguing in favour of keeping pro-life groups off campus: students need to be protected from nasty images and harsh rhetoric; pro-life students represent a radical minority on campus; pro-lifers cause distress to women, particularly those who have had abortions, and want to take away their rights.

Universities and student unions are well within their rights to protect students from harm, but blanket bans like the ones at York and Carleton go too far, banning opinions and viewpoints rather than policing specific actions.

Such bans are not only unwelcome in an environment that is supposed to foster debate, they’re also counterproductive to pro-choice supporters because they embolden pro-life groups to battle against discrimination and provide them a platform to voice their opinions to the media.

Rather than silence the pro-life choice movement at Carleton, I suspect CUSA’s foolish decision will make it a whole lot louder.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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