Two weeks ago, a shameful suppression of freedom of speech occurred at the University of British Columbia when a prolife club, UBC’s Lifeline, attempted to hold a graphic images display called the Genocide Awareness Project. Lifeline had been severely restricted by the university, as UBC apparently felt that controversial displays of the prolife variety had less of a right to make their case in public than others did. Lifeline is not allowed to display their images on Student Union space, are only allowed to display once a semester between 10 AM and 2 PM, the size “of the display signage is limited to two single-sided 6 * 13 foot signs”, no sound amplification can be used, and the display is only allowed to be set up at the SUB Lower South Plaza. The university’s specifications also promises that “Campus Security will ensure that a 32-foot buffer zone is maintained in front of the Lifeline/GAP display that will be honoured by any other groups or individuals wishing to occupy adjoining space for the purposes of responding to the GAP display.”
However, almost immediately after the GAP display was set up, a number of protestors, claiming they were from “off-campus”, arrived with huge yellow signs, positioning themselves directly in front of the display. Campus security, which had been strictly enforcing all of the restrictions on the GAP display during its setup, now refused to enforce the 32-foot buffer zone that would give both groups the opportunity to make their case without censure. The police arrived, and, after receiving no help from campus security, decided to leave. Protestors chanted throughout the day, waved signs, and generally provided a stark contrast to the prolifers, who engaged passersby in dialogue and handed out pamphlets—one protestor ran about dressed as a vagina, apparently thinking that his similarity to genitilia would better make his case.
This incident is not an isolated one. Across Canada, universities who consider themselves “bastions of free thought” blatantly discriminate against prolife clubs, harassing and censuring them in an attempt to silence their message. The most shocking case, which many of you will have heard about, took place at the University of Calgary, when Campus Prolife held the GAP display on campus in November of 2008. A university official, accompanied by a few members of Calgary Police, informed the club that for security reasons, they should not hold their display again. Campus Prolife, however, informed the university in February that they were planning to exercise their freedom of speech by holding the display. In response to this, the University of Calgary actually sent police officers to the homes of prolifers to harass them with summons and accuse them of trespassing on a campus where they attended classes, and press charges against the prolifers, which were not stayed by the Crown Prosecutor until November 2009. Here is what noted freedom of speech advocate Ezra Levant wrote about these incidents:
“The U of C? They’re bullies, they’re censors, they’re abusers of process, and they don’t give a damn who knows about it. Look at that line from the letter (sent to the prolifers by the university):
Individual protesters should ponder whether they intend to commit illegal trespass on private property and whether they wish to expose themselves to the financial costs of legal actions and fines, and the personal cost of arrest, especially when there is another way to protest.
They’re not even subtle about it: the design of their approach is to inflict maximum stress and damage on these students. They call them protesters – as if having a political display on a campus is a “protest”. They say – before any court has heard the matter – that the students will be committing an illegal act. That’s called prior restraint, and it in fact is what’s illegal.
I am disgusted with the University of Calgary. This is clearly a political vendetta, as other groups are allowed to “protest” in an identical manner. But, again, the political stripe of the students isn’t the point; the point is the university’s heavy-handed assault on diversity of opinion, to the point of invoking police to enforce their political restrictions.”
Similar discriminatory measures were inflicted on the University of Victoria’s prolife club, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY). In the spring of 2008, as a club registered with their student society, UVSS, they hung up several posters from the prolife organization Feminists for Life, being careful to follow UVSS postering policies. In the fall of 2008, the UVSS voted to strip the club of funding due to the fact that they were an “anti-choice” group, citing complaints regarding the posters that had been hung up. Shantelle Moreno, representing Women’s Equity Outreach and the Pro-Choice Club, accused YPY of “ambient violence” and claimed that YPY was part of a “larger conservative religious movement” that—read carefully—“promotes an extremist ideology that enables rape and promotes a culture where sexual assault is tacitly accepted.” At another meeting, YPY was likened to the Ku Klux Klan. Apparently, speaking out against abortion is worse than labelling your opponents supporters of rape and sexual assault. When the clubs council voted in the fall of 2009 to restore funding to the YPY, the board overturned this decision. When the group put up more Feminists for Life posters and brought Stephanie Gray of the Canadian Centre of Bioethical Reform to debate on abortion with a UVIC professor on October 21, 2009, pro-abortion opponents of YPY used this as a reason to request that YPY’s club status be revoked, and on February 8, 2010 their club status and funding was revoked. You heard correctly. At a university in Canada, a club can get banned for holding an open debate on campus.
Unfortunately, the incident at UBC two weeks ago was not an isolated one. Prolife clubs all over Canada have been harassed by their opponents, who are for some reason terrified by their arguments. If a group is so sure they are in the right, then why are they banning open debates? Surely the ridiculousness of that is transparent to all! Banning one side of the argument does not mean you win the debate by default, it simply proves that you do not have the ability to argue it without using coercive measures to ensure the silence of your opponents. When one side presents a coherent argument, and the other side, blind to the supreme irony of their actions, cries ‘discrimination’ and calls the police, which side is more confident in their point of view? I have a suggestion for the pro-abortion activists: if someone wants to debate, and you value your credibility, you present your side of the debate. While dressing up like a vagina may be humorous and calling the police may be satisfying, it proves the prolife argument far better than we ever could. It proves that this is the only way you can win a debate. It proves the bankruptcy of your point of view. And it proves that you are willing to sacrifice the freedoms of others to cling to it.