Oliver Capko

A British Columbia campus pro-life group has won its fight to become a recognized club. Protectores Vitae, formed by students, and led by president Oliver Capko at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Greater Vancouver Area, obtained legal representation from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and announced, on Dec. 3, that it would take the Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) to court because it was denied club status by the students union.

The KSA, which acts on behalf of students from the four Vancouver area campuses of the university, originally wrote to Capko that the club’s application was rejected because it “is clearly against our own standing policy on Abortion and a Woman’s Right to Choose.” In a two-hour in-camera session on Dec. 5, however, the union reversed its earlier decision. As a result, Protectores Vitae will not sue the student union.

Protectores Vitae had submitted its club application on Oct. 12 and was informed on Nov. 9 via e-mail from the KSA’s director of external affairs about the club’s rejection. This occurred after amendments were made on Oct. 26 to Article 2 of the Club Procedures Policy that required all clubs to follow the KSA’s stance on social issues.

After the story received media attention, the KSA and its legal representation proposed that the club could apply for “recognized group” status, which is reserved for groups that are political, religious, or controversial, but means that the groups are denied funding. According to the KSA clubs web site, recognized clubs include the Gay/Straight Alliance and the Animal Rights Collective.

18-year-old Oliver Capko decided to start the pro-life students’ group upon entering university and finding that there was no similar club there. He stated in an e-mail to The Interim that he and other university students felt “passionate” about life issues and that such a club is needed “to provide an education and information to students and professors, giving them a different yet crucial perspective on life issues such as the abortion debate” and to help women on campus with crisis pregnancies.

Capko said that although he was not aware of the KSA’s pro-abortion policy, he was not surprised Protectores Vitae was denied club status, noting that as he walked past KSA offices, he “noticed posters inside the windows that were against Motion 312 and other pro-life positions.”

Rebecca Richmond, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, told The Interim that the “recognized group” suggestion was “a convenient line.” She pointed out that originally the KSA did not tell Capko to apply for “recognized group” status, but outright denied his request because of its stance on abortion.

Richmond said Protectores Vitae’s situation shows that censorship of free speech on campus is a “rising trend,” especially among pro-life students. In order for student unions and universities to become more accepting of free speech for pro-lifers, it would “come down to respecting what the institution of the university is all about,” says Richmond, which is “freedom of speech, dialogue, inquiry, and debate.”