But UBC pro-lifers continue free speech fight

By Mike Mastromatteo
The Interim

Pro-life students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are not giving up in their battle to win freedom of expression.

As of late February, students with Lifeline, the UBC pro-life organization, hired lawyer Craig Jones of the BC Civil Liberties Association, to represent them in a lawsuit against the university’s Alma Mater Society (AMS). The students claim their freedom of speech was denied when the society took no disciplinary action against three pro-abortion students, who last November violently trashed a peaceful pro-life display set up on campus.

The pro-life display, which had been authorized by the university administration, was similar to Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) presentations organized by the California-based Center for Bioethical Reform. They feature grisly photographs of unborn children dismembered by abortion. The displays are designed to link abortion with the Holocaust and racism as another form of genocide.

Although extremely graphic in nature, the UBC display was aimed not only at revealing the true nature of abortion, but also to generate debate and discussion among UBC students about right-to-life issues.

The three students who perpetrated the November assault – all members of the university’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) – overturned tables, tore up and stole signs, and scattered pro-life literature. They claim the graphic presentation is propaganda and that it promotes hatred of women and abortionists. The attack was captured on videotape, and may be viewed at www.lifesite.net.

Officials with the Alma Mater Society say the three students acted on their own accord. Nonetheless the society to date has failed to condemn their members’ action. University officials have scheduled a hearing this month to look into the November incident.

Meanwhile, LifeLine organized a second pro-life demonstration at UBC February 23. The pro-life group initially sought a court injunction to prevent abortion supporters from attempting once again to destroy the exhibit. Although the injunction was denied, the event went ahead successfully. Nonetheless Lifeline is still seeking justice for having its free speech denied last November.

The assault on a pro-life demonstration on the campus of UBC becomes even more ironic when one considers the university’s support of the very confrontational protests that accompanied Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings held there in 1997.

To date, only a few voices in the mainstream media have defended the LifeLine group’s right to free speech. As John Hof, president of Campaign Life Coalition B.C. noted, “The actions of these (AMS) students have only proven that the term pro-choice is a clear misnomer. In the name of choice, they deliberately eliminated any choice by others to view or discuss the display. They stooped to cheap totalitarian means of suppressing opposite views, rather than debating or rebutting them.”

The choice of Craig Jones to represent the LifeLine group is an inspired one. While still a law student, he was at the centre of the controversy over the federal government’s involvement in the suppression of the protest against APEC, emerging as a stalwart defender of the protesters rights. Although he claims to support the “pro-choice” position, his defence of freedom of speech ideals has compelled him to defend LifeLine’s interests in the current case. Jones contends that free speech not only allows all views to be heard, but that it encourages debate, challenge and even protest.

Pro-lifers shut out at UVic

In a related development, pro-life students at the University of Victoria recently learned their request for official status as a campus organization has been denied.

Citing its official “pro-choice” policy, the UVic Student Society Feb. 17 rejected a motion to offer official group status to the pro-life Youth Assisting Youth organization. By denying official status, the pro-life group will not be entitled to funding or space on campus for its activities.

The Youth Assisting Youth group had enjoyed official club status during the 1998-99 academic year, but that status was withdrawn last winter when the group began circulating a poster calling attention to the lack of an abortion law in Canada.