On Nov. 23, 1999, pro-life students at the University of British Columbia had their Genocide Awareness Project display trashed and vandalized by three pro-abortion student leaders from the Alma Mater Society, the student society at UBC. On Sept. 16, 2002, the pro-life students finally got their day in court.
The court saw a video that showed the vandals – Erin Kaiser, Jon Chandler and Lesley Washington – demolishing the pro-life students’ display. Chandler was also seen making an obscene gesture. Kaiser and Chandler were members of the AMS External Commission and Washington was a student representative for the Faculty of Social Work.
Appearing on the witness stand was Nathan Allen, a director of the AMS and vice-president of external affairs at the time of the attack. Allen was seen on the video calmly smoking a cigarette, while watching the display being destroyed. Allen said in court that the GAP “images are harmful.” He also admitted that an email had been sent to numerous people, where the phrase “anti-choice bigots” was used. He was asked if he used the words in a newspaper interview: “GAP got what they deserved,” to which he replied, “I don’t remember.” He had difficulty with his memory a number of times.
Allen was asked about a motion that was made by representatives of the AMS to provide funding for a group called Students for Choice. Voting on this motion were Erin Kaiser and Jon Chandler, two of the vandals. Kaiser and Chandler were members of Students for Choice and appeared to be in conflict by voting money to their own organization.
Also appearing on the witness stand was Bernie Peets, general manager of the AMS. He admitted that the AMS was a multi-million dollar operation that runs several businesses. When asked about the role of the Alma Mater Society’s External Commission, Peets said they “do grunt work.” A truer phrase could not be spoken, when one saw Kaiser and Chandler of the External Commission doing “grunt work” destroying the pro-life display.
It is also worth noting that the AMS Council took no disciplinary action against its own leaders and did not condemn their actions. The Vancouver Sun editorial at the time of incident condemned the AMS: “The society’s failure to condemn the assault on freedom of expression is disappointing.”
Not only that, but the Ubyssey Magazine of Nov. 26, 1999, said, “The AMS previously passed a motion opposing the presence of GAP in the SUB (Student Union Building), and worked to prevent it from coming to UBC at all.” The AMS has, and continues to, censor the pro-life club, Lifeline, from displaying GAP images in the SUB. This ban goes so far as to prevent small photographs of GAP displays and a video about the project.
An AMS lawyer attempted to prevent the showing of the video during trial. However, the video was shown the next day.
Another questionable aspect of this case is the fact that the AMS’s lawyer is to be paid out of compulsory student fees, yet the pro-life students whose fees help fund the AMS have to depend on the donations of supporters of their free-speech rights to take their case to court. One might call this a travesty – your own money is used against you in the fight for justice.
A decision on this case is not expected for a few months. It is worth noting that the Lifeline club at UBC is the only club that has severe restrictions on its freedom of expression. This at a time when universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech and free expression.
Ironically, the university’s policy on academic freedom states that: “Behaviour which obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas which are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the university’s forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.