On Oct. 6, pro-abortion students shouted down a presentation by Jose Ruba of the pro-life Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform at McGill University, preventing most of his talk from being heard by those in attendance of the Choose Life-sponsored event. Police were called to the scene and, after repeated requests for civility, two people were arrested, although they were later released without charges.
The talk, entitled “Echoes of the Holocaust,” outlined how societies have justified and perpetuated great atrocities and drew a parallel between the Holocaust and abortion. Natalie Fohl, president of Choose Life, said, “The Holocaust was a major affront to the dignity of the human person and resulted in a horrific loss of life. Choose Life, through this event, fully recognizes that reality. Moreover, we recognize that abortion is also an affront to the dignity of the human person and that the denial of personhood to the unborn is unjust and arbitrary.” She told LifeSiteNews.com that Choose Life hosted the CCBR talk by Ruba to “encourage people to consider what’s really happening with abortion today.”
On Oct. 1, by a 25-2-2 vote, the Student Society of McGill University passed a motion to censure the event and “demand” that the university administration intervene to cancel it. The society, further, resolved that if Choose Life chose to continue with the event, the group would be ineligible for funding for the remainder of its existence.
SSMU councillors accused Ruba of violating their Constitution and Equity Policy by comparing women who have had abortions to Nazis. Ruba was clear he was not making such a comparison.
Though the students’ society was powerless to stop the event, members of the SSMU said the society would punish the club for hosting the presentation. The motion passed was amended to include a resolution that, by continuing with the event despite the censure, Choose Life would be automatically ineligible for funding from the SSMU for the remainder of its existence. The SSMU resolution also demanded the intervention of the deputy provost for student life and learning, Morton Mendelson, but he stated he would not cancel the event.
Mendelson defended the group’s right to debate the issue. He told the McGill Tribune: “The issue that is being discussed (by Choose Life) is an issue that people in society are grappling with, students are grappling with it and I could not imagine how the university could find a reason to intervene in this.”
When Ruba began his presentation, about 20 students, including members of the SSMU, began protesting, chanting and singing children’s songs such as Old MacDonald, Happy Birthday to abortion and the hokey pokey. They bombarded the stage and blocked the screen, while one protester even grabbed at Ruba’s written materials, before being stopped by campus security. The police arrived and eventually warned the protesters that they would be taken away by force if they did not get off the stage. Two resisted and were arrested, while others joined the audience and continued to heckle Ruba after police had left, until the designated time had run out and Choose Life ended the event. Ruba completed only half an hour of his total presentation.
Although the two protesters were arrested, no charges were laid and the university took no steps to discipline the students involved.
The McGill Daily reported that SSMU equity commissioner Jonathan Hann said the three arrested protesters felt “their right to assemble has been violated and they were treated unjustly and unfairly because of it.”
Elise Eisenkraft Klein, one of the arrested protesters, told the Tribune that she objected to the comparison between abortion and the Holocaust. “Normally, I would defend (Choose Life’s) right to exist on campus … However, as a human being, but also as a Jew, I would say that this kind of comparison is not acceptable. By this ridiculous claim of trying to ‘humanize’ fetuses in order to further their cause, they are dehumanizing Jews.”
Following the event, the SSMU spoke out strongly against the university for allowing Ruba’s talk despite their censure and defended the student protesters. Some protesters and other students alleged that the talk was, in fact, “hate speech.” Mendelson defended the university: “We have to make a distinction between hate speech and speech we may find hateful.”
At a meeting of the McGill Senate the following week, principal Heather Munroe-Blum criticized the protesters for not allowing Ruba to share his opinions freely, saying that the protest had brought a “dark cloud” over the university campus.
Provost Anthony Masi defended the right of the club to host Ruba’s talk. He said the event took place “behind closed doors, no one was forced (to go) … We do have rules about where the line is, but the fact of the matter is that we expect major disagreements to be the norm on our campus. Differences of points of view are important.” He condemned the attempt to intimidate Ruba and the club.
Calling the protesters “extremists,” Ruba told LifeSiteNews.com that they were by no means pro-choice, but, in fact, pro-abortion. He said students were “prevented from choosing to hear the presentation by so-called “pro-choice’ activists who really are pro-abortion, because they don’t want discussion to happen.”
Choose Life’s Natalie Fohl, a third-year undergraduate majoring in biology and political science, told the Tribune that she hopes to reschedule so the entire presentation can be given uninterrupted. “It’s really unfortunate that we couldn’t have respectful dialogue.”
Public affairs commentator Joseph Quesnel wrote in the Winnipeg Sun that the censure of the event by the student union before the talk occurred created a climate that “encouraged the mob action that transpired.” The analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy urged Canadian universities to commit themselves to protecting freedom of speech and protecting the rights of speakers by ensuring that campus security and police quickly “remove mobs” that seek to silence those with whom they disagree.
The presentation at McGill was the last stop on a tour Ruba had made, offering various presentations at universities. He had given the same talk at McMaster University and Queen’s University without incident.
However, in February, his talk at St. Mary’s University in Halifax was interrupted by abortion supporters and the university cancelled the presentation. Ruba was forced to continue at a nearby church.
With files from LifeSiteNews.com