Editor’s Note: Material in this article might offend some readers.
On March 13, pro-life MP Stephen Woodworth was forced to cut short his talk to a group of students at the University of Waterloo when nearly a dozen abortion activists interrupted his speech, took control of the microphone, and started to use vulgar language to make their point.
Woodworth was about one third through his presentation at an event organized by Waterloo Students for Life when a group of abortion supporters interrupted his speech and took control of the microphone. One pro-abortion protester, Ethan Jackson, from neighbouring Wilfrid Laurier University, was dressed as a vagina, and a woman who was speaking into the microphone repeatedly used a vulgar term for the female anatomy to make her point. Jackson confronted Woodworth, asking, “who do you think you are, trying to impose your bigotry, your views, on society?” as the MP ignored the protest against him and counselled his hosts to pack up and close down the event when it was clear that campus police were not going to remove the disruptive protesters.
Clarissa Luluquisin, central campus coordinator of the National Campus Life Network, attended the event and said campus police stood idly by claiming they, she said, “couldn’t do anything because (the protesters) had the right to free speech as much as Mr. Woodworth did.” She was told the police did not intend to intervene unless the protesters became violent.
The National Post reported that Jackson deemed Woodworth’s views “unacceptable.” He donned a giant pink vagina suit as another protester yelled into the microphone that they were “defenders of the c—” to counter what she called Woodworth’s “anti-c— misinformation.” Jackson explains the group of students and one unnamed professor used “satire instead of intimidation” to counter “that kind of speech, that kind of facts,” which they deemed “not acceptable.” Jackson further explained, “we decided to make Stephen Woodworth feel as uncomfortable as he makes us feel.”
The University of Waterloo rebuked the group of pro-abortion protesters, providing a statement to LifeSiteNews.com: “The University of Waterloo believes that ideas should be shared in an environment of tolerance and respect and that individuals have the right to advance their views openly … unfortunately that didn’t happen … and Mr Woodworth was unable to finish his remarks. The silencing of anyone who proffers an opinion is unacceptable to this institution.”
Rebecca Richmond, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, said her organization was “pleased” the university recognized the silencing of Woodworth was unacceptable, but urged them to take “appropriate action.” The National Post reported that Ellen Rethore, the university’s associate vice-president of communications and public affairs, said its police and student success office were undertaking a joint investigation of the incident and that the university would conduct a review of its policies regarding such matters.
Hannah Bailey, president of Waterloo Students for Life, said in an NCLN press release, “we expected better from our peers at the university. Their behaviour was an embarrassment to the entire university community.” She told the Waterloo Region Record, “they failed to do anything in regards to controlling the situation.”
John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which has represented pro-life students in cases against schools that ban or restrict pro-life clubs and that compiles an annual list of the state of freedom of speech on Canadian universities, wrote to University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur saying that the school cannot say it respects freedom of speech and at the same time “accommodate a co-existing ‘right’ of loud disruptive protesters.”
Hamdullahpur said in a statement: “We are examining ways in which we can ensure all invited speakers, whatever the topic, are able to speak in a safe and productive environment. We are also exploring ways in which we can partner with student groups to provide appropriate support for their events on campus.”
Woodworth told LifeSiteNews he does not hold the actions of a small group of individuals against the entire university, but condemned the “tiny minority of extremists whose single-issue preoccupation with abortion causes them to disregard democratic values such as freedom of speech (and) respectful dialogue.”
After about 15 minutes, the protesters left, but not until after they were effective in bringing the Students for Life event to an end.
This is not the first time a pro-life speaker has been prevented by unruly pro-abortion demonstrators from addressing a campus pro-life group. In 2009, Jose Ruba, then of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, was prevented from talking to students at St. Mary’s University in Halifax by a noisy disruption and later that year shouting protesters cut short one of his talks at McGill University in Montreal.