By Gillian Long
The InterimPro-life leaders can be assured there are some young pro-life activists stepping up to the plate to reinvigorate the movement.
On March 17, students at the University of British Columbia, University College of the Cariboo, University of Alberta, University of Manitoba, University of Toronto, and Carleton University in Ottawa, working in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, took part in a national day of pro-life activism.
Pro-life clubs at the six universities took part in the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), a pictorial display that graphically compares abortion to historically recognized genocides (see sidebar for more complete explanation). Trinity Western University, as a Christian school, participated with a similar display, the Matthew 28:20 Project. Whereas GAP is directed at the secular community, using civil rights-based arguments, Matthew 28:20 is directed at the spiritual community, using biblically based arguments.
In both situations, the students used a “mini-GAP” display, which features four-foot by eight-foot signs, rather than the original six-by-13 signs used in full-scale GAPs.
Pro-life activism is a constant struggle for free-speech protection, and this event was no different. Several campuses denied the pro-life clubs open, outdoor space to display the images. The dean of students at the University of Alberta, Bill Conner, cited disruptions at other universities during previous GAP displays as his reason for denying the students a forum for their views. Chuck Marple, a student at the U of A, expressed frustration at this response. “I have great difficulty in accepting that my freedom of speech is being denied on the basis of the actions of a few radical pro-aborts. U of A is caving into mob rule. That sort of suppression of academic freedom is alarming, particularly on a university campus.”
Even for clubs that were granted university space, things did not necessarily go smoothly. After weeks of negotiation, the University of Toronto Students for Life thought they had reached an acceptable compromise with student affairs co-ordinator Jim Delaney. They were to be allowed to set up outdoors, but would have to do so under an open-sided tent the university would erect. However, when the students attempted to put up their display, Delaney claimed that the signs had to face almost completely inwards, to make it impossible for the signs to be seen from outside the display. Because the UTSFL would not comply with his last-minute demands, Delaney refused to have pro-abortion protesters removed, despite the fact that they were attempting to block the GAP display from the public’s view with large banners. The UTSFL made the best of a bad situation, orienting the signs toward a high-traffic area that was harder to obstruct. It had so much foot traffic that by mid-day, they had run out of explanatory literature to distribute and had to quickly make copies.
The pro-aborts at U of T, who included Carolyn Egan, a longtime anti-life activist, did not have a permit to protest. Delaney would not comment on why unreasonable demands were placed on the pro-life students, who had gone through the proper channels to get a permit for their event, while pro-abortion students were allowed to set up an impromptu display with no limitations imposed by the university.
The situation at the Okanagan University College in British Columbia was even worse. The Okanagan University College Students for life had been planning to be a part of the event for several months, but on March 16, the university demanded that they pay for campus security to attend the event, and for four extra guards to be hired for the day. Because the students were unable to meet these demands, the university denied them permission to have the display on campus. With less than a day’s notice from the administration before GAP, the students had little recourse and were unable to participate.
At Carleton University in Ottawa, in anticipation of GAP, pro-abortion students plastered the campus with ads stating “My body, my choice.” Despite the fact that not all students agree with that sentiment, the Student Centre appeared to have funded the effort. Jose Ruba, the Ottawa organizer, reported that the attention turned out to be positive. “The campus paper ran an editorial that was in favour of GAP, mostly as a freedom of speech issue. It was good that people were expecting us. They came out and talked to us, which is what we wanted.” The administration was not so supportive of free speech, however, and would not allow the display on the grounds. The pro-lifers were forced to stand across the street from the entrance to the university with their signs. Campus police even checked ID, refusing non-students entrance to the campus, even to use the washroom. They extended this discourtesy to a disabled participant who, because of his disability, requires frequent use of the bathroom.
The dedicated Ottawa students were out from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in -20C degree weather, the coldest temperature reported at any of the GAP locations.
Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical reform, and co-ordinator of the national GAP event, was on the University of Manitoba campus for the occasion. Students for Life on that campus defied the university’s order not to have the debate on the university grounds. “The administration couldn’t produce any policy that would allow them to keep us out,” Gray said. Campus security turned up in the morning and left when they saw the display was peaceful and well-organized.