Pro-Life students at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) are currently in a legal battle to be recognized as an official club. The University of British Columbia Okanagan Student Union (UBCOSU) holds the power to grant or deny club status to campus groups. For the school year 2005 until April 2006, the pro-life club, University of British Columbia Okanagan Students for Life (SFL), was granted status and able to operate as all other campus clubs do. This included room booking privileges, being able to put up posters in the Student Union Building and have a table during Clubs Days (where many clubs find new members).
It was when the club applied for a renewal of its status for the school year 2006-2007 on Sept. 25, 2006 that they ran into problems. At that time, none of the student union board members were willing to put forward a motion in support of SFL. This led to the pro-life students attending another board meeting on October 10, 2006 to reapply. The board members again resisted making a motion and the issue was deferred to a special general meeting (SGM) for the general student body to attend.
At the SGM, the general student population was able to vote on whether or not the SFL club should be granted status. Since the club was not official, its member were unable to put up posters to advertise the meeting. Meanwhile, the Women’s Centre was able to garner support from pro-abortion students with flyers and posters. The vote did not support the ratification of a pro-life club with a vote of 60-40 per cent.
Marlon Bartram has been involved with the club since his first attempts for club status in 2003. He was responsible for getting club status for 2006-2007 and has remained active and supportive of the current efforts. After the defeat at the SGM, Bartram filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which is still being processed.
Anna Rutherford, a second-year student at UBCO, also helped Bartram with the complaint and is the intended president for the club. She noted that having a club is “helpful for connecting people on campus that share the same views. It also just shows that there are people out there who don’t think abortion is okay or harmless.”
Although there has not been much public attention recently to this case, when the club was first denied, there were letters to the editor in the campus newspaper. Rutherford recalled that, “Most agreed that it was simply a matter of freedom of speech and not about pro-life or pro-choice.”
The UBCOSU has applied to the tribunal to have the case dismissed on the grounds that being given club status does not offer any significant advantages or privileges to students. SFL is countering this with a few points.
The first is that when a club has official status under the student union, it is given privileges that are considered to be significant. For example, clubs have access to administrative and financial opportunities. They also are given more avenues to present their respective messages to the student body, such as conducting poster campaigns. Another reason for countering the UBCOSU’s statement is that without club status, the SFL’s message is deemed to be inferior or less important, especially in relation to countering the pro-abortion view. As well, if club status is nothing significant, than why not just give them status?
If the tribunal does not dismiss the case, a preliminary hearing will be held early this year.