By Mike Mastromatteo

The Interim

Pro-life students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) believe that the university has suspended three members of the Alma Mater Society (AMS) for their role in destroying a pro-life display on campus last November.

According to information obtained by members of the UBC’s Lifeline group, AMS members Erin Kaiser, Jon Chandler and Lesley Washington could be suspended for four months for trashing a display offering information about the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP). The students overturned tables, tore up and stole signs, and scattered pro-life literature in the name of “choice.” The GAP display, featuring graphic images of aborted children, was brought to the campus by Lifeline to alert UBC students to the true nature of abortion.

The AMS students justified their actions by claiming that the GAP display was a form of “hate propaganda” against abortion-seeking women, since it involved comparing aborted babies with Jews killed in the Holocaust and blacks lynched during the era of slavery.

Stephanie Gray, president of the Lifeline group, told The Interim that while details about the suspensions have not been confirmed, it is believed the offending students received four-month suspensions. The question remains if the suspensions are effective immediately, or will take effect in September, when students return to classes.

“I have contacted the university and asked for an official response regarding the student discipline results,” Gray said. “The university has told me they can only inform me that the students have been disciplined, but can give no further details. I have heard through the grapevine that the students who destroyed our … display last November have been suspended for four months. Since I was not told this by the university administration, however, I consider this news to be unofficial.”

‘Justice has to be seen to be done’

Gray expressed concern that the university is conducting its disciplinary actions in private. “The university should not be keeping the discipline results of this public display of violence, so secretive,” she said, “for as the saying goes, ‘for justice to be done, justice has to be seen to be done.'”

She said the university should use the disciplinary action to send a message that “the attackers’ actions were extremely serious and unjust, and that such violence and intolerance will not be permitted.”

Fellow Lifeline member Athena Macapagal also told The Interim that the pro-life group has made “numerous requests” to the university to determine disciplinary action against the AMS students, but were denied. Macapagal said the university will release full details of the suspensions when it publishes its Student Disciplines list in October.

Gray, Macapagal, and Lifeline member Michelle Laroya, are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the three students and the AMS. The pro-life students claim that their freedom of speech was violated when the university took no immediate action against the three students who tore apart the GAP display. The students are seeking damages, as well as an injunction to prevent the AMS from continuing to stifle their speech on campus.

Last March, the Lifeline members engaged the services of lawyer Craig Jones to represent them. Jones, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, contends that the notion of free speech should extend to all viewpoints, even those that university administrators might find offensive.

When he was a law student, Jones was instrumental in organizing protests against the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Vancouver in 1997. He is on record as supporting the “pro-choice” position on abortion. His support of free speech guarantees however, compelled him to take up the Lifeline cause.

The Lifeline-Alma Mater Society standoff generated a media storm of sorts last fall and winter. Even the pro-abortion Vancouver Sun newspaper supported the Lifeline students in their battle to protect free speech. “The destruction of the anti-abortion group’s materials shows that some students have a major lesson to learn about the fundamentals of democratic public discourse,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

Athena Macapagal said that despite the partial victory to date, the Lifeline group still faces mounting financial hurdles. She said the group has established a Pro-Life Student Defence Fund to collect donations to complete the lawsuit. Anyone wishing to support the Pro-Life Student Defence Fund should send their donations to 4705 West 6th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6T 1C4.