TORONTO, ON Nov. 27, 2008 –With the school year not even at the half-way point, we have already seen official club status of pro-life clubs denied or under review at several universities, including the University of Guelph and University of Victoria. They join a list of clubs at other institutions that have faced similar hurdles over the past few years.
Perhaps even more disturbing, a pro-life club at the University of Calgary has been threatened with fines and academic sanctions for the placement of a graphic photo display. Its “Genocide Awareness Project” includes images from the Holocaust alongside those of aborted fetuses. It has been shown at the university in the past, but the club has now been told to place the images inward at their display, so that they can be seen only by those who wish to see them.
The problems that some pro-life groups face in getting official standing relate to a resolution passed by the Canadian Federation of Students several years ago that encourages a “pro-choice” policy for all student clubs recognized by campus student unions. The League has written extensively about these denials of status as they occurred, and we were happy to provide some advice and financial support to a Toronto group when a debate they had already paid for was cancelled and then re-scheduled following public outcry. The attempt to silence one side of what continues to be a very contentious social issue is a basic free speech issue. No university should allow such one-sidedness.
Those decisions were made by students about the clubs of other students. The threat of sanctions in Calgary, however, is coming from administration. To be sure, the use of graphic images is a divisive issue even within the pro-life movement. Those who use them are deeply convinced that it is important to portray the end result of abortions, and some of them believe that analogies with the Holocaust are appropriate because both involve the dehumanization of life. Others, just as opposed to abortion, believe that these images are as off-putting to the pro-life cause as they are distressing to view, and that the analogy to the Holocaust is inaccurate and insensitive.
Regardless of one’s viewpoint about the use of this imagery, as a free speech issue such displays should be allowed to go ahead on an equal footing with the displays of other groups. The threat of arrest, fines and academic sanctions is particularly inappropriate. The university is a tax-funded institution that should be committed to the equal expression of all views. Pro-life clubs that meet all other requirements for accreditation are entitled to their share of student activity fees and meeting space.
The mindset that allows this type of censorship to go on is certainly not inconsistent with what we have seen in the application of human rights codes in free speech cases. The League hopes that the repeal or significant re-interpretation of Section 13, which so many have called for in recent weeks, will help create a climate where all viewpoints are treated equally, especially in schools and other tax-funded institutions.
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