VANCOUVER, BC, May 21, 2008 – The Capilano College Student Union has agreed that a pro-life student group can operate on campus next year, avoiding a hearing at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal,
The compromise, the specific terms of which are confidential, comes after the student union twice denied official club status to the school’s Heartbeat Club, on the grounds that its activities — debates, presentations, poster campaigns — would threaten a woman’s right to choose abortion.
Sarah Hudson of the National Campus Life Network welcomed the Capilano compromise May 20 as a step toward wider accommodation of divergent views on abortion on campuses, but said it was a hard-won victory.
“The student union was extremely set in their way that this won’t be allowed on campus. I went to a student forum they held to explain more about the [human rights] complaint, and basically they just brought in a pro-abortion woman from a feminist group to rant about ‘anti-choice’ advocates in the past and how we can’t allow them on campus and how they’ll threaten all women’s rights and bring them back to the kitchen. They’re quite radical on that, very dogmatic, so there was no compromising,” Ms. Hudson said.
Matty Harris, general operations officer for the Capilano Students Union, said the Heartbeat Club will be entitled to student club status if it applies next school year, and that the CSU “considers this matter closed and are satisfied with the outcome.”
It is just one of several recent campus disputes that have shown a disturbing lack of regard for the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association on campus, and which are increasingly finding their way into the quasi-judicial system of human rights tribunals.
At Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, for instance, a human rights complaint is being drafted over a student politician’s written order that the anti-abortion group may not hand out leaflets, use the school’s name, or engage in any “unsolicited conversations.”
A similar dispute in March at York University in Toronto — in which a student leader outraged the debating club by cancelling a moderated discussion of abortion in the student building, on the grounds that the topic was “out of line” — was resolved only when the administration stepped in with an alternative venue.
These cases highlight the inconsistent application of human rights law by government tribunals.
In a similar case at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, for example, a tribunal member ruled earlier this year that, because the pro-life group had been granted club status in the past (it was not renewed after complaints about a poster campaign), religion obviously played no part in the subsequent denial of status.
The tribunal’s decision to dismiss that complaint as having no hope of success is now under review by a higher court.
At Capilano College, however, a different tribunal member wrote earlier this year that she could not deny that the club members’ “anti-abortion views” could have, in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, a “nexus with religion” that would guarantee their protection under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The tribunal member refused the student union’s motion for dismissal, and allowed the case to proceed, which led to the recent settlement.
– Catholic Civil Rights League, May 21, 2008, with a report from The National Post