OTTAWA, February 23, 2011 (CCRL) – Although many university pro-life clubs operate as freely as other campus groups, problems continue at several campuses across Canada.
At Carleton University, probably the first school where students were actually handcuffed while being arrested for trespassing last October, Carleton Lifeline is now suing the university and its administration for $225,000 for discrimination. The trespassing charges occurred when a group set up its Genocide Awareness Program (GAP) display in a busy, public area of the campus after being told to use a less-travelled area indoors. The GAP display includes graphic posters of late term abortions and incidents of mass genocide from around the world, and claims there are parallels between abortion and the Holocaust.
“Carleton University’s decision to have Carleton Lifeline arrested, charged with trespassing and fined was excessive, unjustified and constituted an attempt to bully, intimidate and censor them,” Lifeline’s statement of claim says. The university has several weeks to respond.
The claim, filed by Lifeline members Ruth Lobo and John McLeod, also says being arrested and detained last fall infringed on their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are seeking $100,000 in general damages for wrongful arrest and pain and suffering, $100,000 for punitive damages and $25,000 for the Charter violations.
The Ottawa university’s student association recently upheld its decision to withhold funding from the group and revoke its club status at a constitutional board hearing.
Over the past several years, universities including Calgary, Lakehead, Memorial, Victoria and Guelph have all taken similar steps to cut off pro-life groups, though in some cases the decision was later rescinded. The decisions arise from a policy statement by the Canadian Students Federation, which encourages all member organizations to limit club funding to groups that do not oppose abortion.
The University of Calgary charged several students with trespassing in February 2009 and threatened them with expulsion after they refused to turn GAP posters away from passersby.
But effectively banning these groups is stifling political debate in a way that would ultimately be defeated in court, legal experts say.
”I think a freedom-of-expression issue would be raised,” Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told Canadian Press in an article Feb. 7. “In my view, probably denying the right to a pro-life group to express themselves would not be acceptable.”
The League has always taken that view that student pro-life activism, including the GAP display, is a legitimate exercise of freedom of speech. We have provided assistance to a number of the student groups who have faced on-campus censorship.
Upcoming national pro-life events of interest: