Five times over the past three years, members of the University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life club have participated in GAP – the Genocide Awareness Project – to vividly bring the issue of abortion to their fellow students.

GAP uses graphic images to compare abortion to slavery, the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. In the past, the university’s administration and student council have harassed and threatened CPL, but the demonstrations have continued without incident.

This year, however, the university’s administration ratcheted up the intimidation, threatening to fine, suspend, expel or even arrest the students if they did not turn their GAP signs inward, out of the sight of passers-by.

The school defended its threat, saying: “For several years, the University of Calgary has attempted to find a reasonable compromise with Campus Pro-Life that would give members of the university community the choice to view or not view the Genocide Awareness Project display.” Among the “reasonable compromises” the university highlighted were repeated requests to “turn (the) display signs inward.”

Calgary Sun columnist Roy Clancy said such a compromise would have amounted to saying: “Sure, you can hold your protest rally. Just do it where no one can hear you.”

The university said it had to make the request to protect students, because the disturbing nature of the photos might lead to verbal and physical confrontations, even though there have been no such problems at five previous GAP displays.

In 2005, the pro-life students were attacked by those who disagreed with the presentation, leading many to wonder why security has not been protecting the pro-life students during a GAP display, rather than harassing them.

Leah Hallman, president of Campus Pro-Life, agreed that the pictures are disturbing, but that is precisely the point: to force the public to face the reality of abortion. “The pictures are incredibly hard to look at,” Hallman was quoted as saying in the Calgary Sun. “But you have to wonder why they are so hard to look at. If the images evoke this kind of response from people, what about the action itself?”

Although the students were not arrested on the days of the demonstration (Nov. 27-28), there is still the administration’s threat to charge students with trespassing.

Canadian Constitutional Foundation director John Carpay challenged the notion that students properly enrolled at the university could be charged with trespassing on campus and said the university’s actions reek of censoring the pro-life views of some students. Calgary Herald columnist Nigel Hannaford seconded that notion: “The University of Calgary has defined itself as a censor.”

Four University of Calgary political science professors – Barry Cooper, Tom Flanagan, Marco Navarro-Genie and Mark Milke – wrote a guest column in the Calgary Herald, condemning the actions of the administration.

They wrote: “The university administration has gone overboard in this matter by seeking to restrict students’ freedom of speech. The university’s mission is to encourage, not discourage, critical thinking. Any university interested in free thinking should not look for an excuse to censor; it should look for reasons not to limit student speech.”

As for censoring the GAP images because they are disturbing, the political scientists said: “The university would never order an activist animal rights group that might display pictures of animals bleeding, suffering or dead to turn its pictures inward. Nor would the university censor or threaten anti-war activists for posting pictures of those burnt alive in Hiroshima or Dresden by Allied bombs.” Thus far, the students have not bowed to the school’s pressure and plan to hold another GAP display during the spring semester.