On Dec. 5, a decision at Carleton University was made that banned pro-life groups from forming on campus. A motion was accepted by 25 of 32 members of the Carleton University Student Association (CUSA). The motion read: “1) CUSA and CUSA Inc. respect and affirm a woman’s ‘right to choose.’ 2) No CUSA resources, space, recognition or funding be allocated for ‘anti-choice’ purposes.” While technically, CUSA’s action does not ban pro-life clubs from Carleton University, it severely restricts their activities and therefore their ability to engage the student population.
The summary of the motion argued that pro-life groups are “anti-choice” and seek to remove choice by making abortion illegal. “It would be impossible to make abortion illegal without violating the Canadian Constitution, by removing a woman’s right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” it said. It also claimed pro-life groups violate the university’s “safe space” policies, because they “compromise the personal safety and threaten the self-esteem of women who may contemplate abortion or have chosen to have an abortion.”
Every student who attends Carleton is required to pay a non-refundable fee to CUSA. After the motion, it became clear that CUSA does not represent all the students at Carleton, as it claims.
At least one financial donor to the school has pulled his support because of the decision. Carleton University alumnus Andrew Harwood made it clear that if the motion to cripple free speech passed, he would no longer offer his money to the school.
The school newspaper, The Charlatan, was inundated with letters to the editor. Current students, alumni and concerned Canadian citizens were among the letter writers. The Carleton University Debate Society voiced its concerns. It stated it regretted the motion “because it seeks to hinder individual expression.” A former CUSA president and councillor who identifies himself as “pro- choice” boldly stated that, “This action goes against academic freedom and the whole notion of what a university stands for.”
Sarah Fletcher, president of the pro-life club, Carleton Lifeline, commented when the motion was first presented: “I think it’s pretty ridiculous that this governing body, which is supposed to be representing all students, would be declaring itself pro-choice, because not all of the students are going to agree with them on that view.”
A press release sent out by University administration states that, “The university is not bound by the views or opinions held by the Carleton University Students’ Association. Student groups, both those recognized by CUSA and those that are not, have had and will continue to have the opportunity to book space on campus in accordance with Carleton’s existing policies and procedures.”
Along with the actions of CUSA, pro-life clubs at two other Canadian universities have been denied club status because of their view that abortion is wrong. Pro-life students at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan and Capilano College in Vancouver have both been refused club status.
Universities are supposed to uphold protection for freedom of speech and to be places that welcome debate and intellectual discussion. The result of the recent actions from Canadian student unions is that pro-life students who have been active in exercising their right to freedom of speech have been silenced by the very groups that claim to represent them.
In a press release from the National Campus Life Network (NCLN), executive director Sarah Buckle responded to the recent happenings at Canadian universities. “‘Pro-choice’ student politicians and campus bureaucrats have sent out a message for all to hear: ‘pro-choice’ is the only acceptable dogma on the abortion issue and anyone who disagrees must be silenced. That is appalling.” NCLN is actively seeking out means to help pro-life students who are forced to fight for their freedom of speech.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is considering legal action against CUSA. It is considering applying for a court injunction that will prevent the new CUSA policy from taking effect. The EFC has also offered legal representation to Carleton Lifeline if the group decides to take the case to court.
Fletcher said the group is currently considering legal options, which include appealing to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.