TORONTO, Ont. February 11, 2008 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) today criticized the recent decision of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to support student unions that withhold club status (and related funding and facilities’ use) from campus pro-life groups. Such clubs have already been denied standing at universities in Ontario, including Carleton University, Ottawa and Lakehead in Thunder Bay, as well as UBC- Okanagan, Capilano College, BC and Memorial University in Newfoundland. (The Lifeline club at Carleton later attained club status following a public outcry.)
The League suggests that students who are being denied rights to participate fully in campus life should be allowed to opt out of compulsory dues payments to student organizations, whether at the local campus level, or from organizations such as CFS. Student organizations that do not allow modest recognition or support to students who may wish to pursue pro-life initiatives should at least allow those students refunds of the fees that are collected from them. As it stands, these student groups generate fees from students, who are then told that their views need to be excluded from campus life.
These are straightforward cases of restricting some basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. The fact is that the pro-life groups are typically seeking access to facilities for meetings, or modest support for educational initiatives. They seek a share of the funds that they are required to pay, through mandatory student activity fees. Indeed, at this point there is no reason to assume that the CFS – Ontario policy could not extend to restrictions on campus religious groups that, while not involved in pro-life activism, embrace the pro-life philosophy.
While the reluctance of university administrations to get involved in student union affairs is understandable, the reality is that by failing to do so in this instance they are in effect taking a side, not on the question of abortion but more basically, against freedom of association. If the student unions involved are not prepared to give equal funding to both sides of contentious social issues, then perhaps the universities involved should no longer be giving them a share of mandatory fees. Moreover, alumni of these schools should withhold any planned support at least until the administrations clarify their support for the equal treatment of student groups.
There is more than a little irony in “pro-choice” groups supporting the CFS – Ontario decision by declaring themselves champions of human rights, and likening pro-life groups to neo-Nazis. The very idea of choice is meaningless if there aren’t two (or more) things from which to choose. If CFS or other student unions truly respect “choice,” they should respect the ability of students to withdraw from having to financially support organizations whose politics have veered into the suppression of speech. We fully suspect that their commitment to freedom of speech does not extend to allowing those who may disagree with their views the option of a return of their fees.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization and has chapters across Canada. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org