Last October, Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform visited the McGill University campus to present a display entitled, “Echoes of the Holocaust,” which drew parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and an atrocity which is still perpetrated and perpetuated today: abortion. As might be expected, Ruba’s presentation was disrupted by extremists intent on violating the rights that any university ought to cherish most: free inquiry, free assembly and free expression. The real scandal, however, is not that thugs tried to intimidate Ruba, but that the Student Society of McGill University, following their criminal example, dissolved the student club “Choose Life,” which had invited Ruba.
It is disgraceful enough for an ostensibly deliberative organization to imitate the behaviour of a violent mob. But, adding insult to injury, the SSMU offered an offensive fig-leaf of justification to its outrageous behaviour, citing its ambiguous “Equity Policy” as a pretext for violating the club members’ right to free speech. The mob, at least, did not attempt to justify their illegal actions with official resolutions; the SSMU, on the other hand, sullied the very ideals of the university while adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order.
Choose Life has since been re-instated, but only after agreeing to adopt a prohibitive appendix to its constitution that prevents it from “advocate(ing) or lobby(ing) for the criminalization of abortion through the use of SSMU resources.” The SSMU also disallowed the public presentation of “graphic images” and further stipulated that, in closed spaces, such images must never be shown “without the ability of the copyright owner to demonstrate that all images were legally obtained.”
Will the SSMU prohibit other student organizations from advocating and lobbying about social policy issues? Or, given their concerns about offensive images and copyright infringement, will the SSMU champion the prohibition of pornographic material on campus or the illegal downloading of copyrighted music? Of course not. The student organization invokes such concerns only as a means of intimidating and impeding a pro-life group. But imposing such prejudicial constraints on a pro-life student organization creates not only an obscene double-standard, it also sets a dangerous precedent for censoring free speech on campus. Unpopular speech is now not protected. Therefore, free speech at McGill University does not exist.
Thus, by abusing their little brief authority, the SSMU is besmirching McGill’s good name and its prized ideals. The final indignity in this sordid affair, however, is the administration’s refusal to criticize the SSMU’s disgraceful actions. Declining to comment on the situation, a spokesman for McGill said it was a “student matter,” since SSMU is an “autonomous organization.” But the flagrant infringement of their own students’ right to free speech is hardly a “student matter,” nor can the autonomy of the student union be invoked as an excuse to let such scandalous abuse remain uncensured. Which action, then, is more outrageous: the SSMU’s willingness to violate the university’s ideals or the administration’s refusal to defend them?