The administration at a Sarnia college forced the cancellation of a speaking engagement by noted pro-life speaker Rebecca Kiessling, a move strongly criticized by some staff and faculty.
Organizers of the Kiessling talk told The Interim they were dismayed by Lambton College administration’s actions.
Kiessling, an American lawyer and mother, was scheduled to provide a testimony about her personal experience – her mother twice attempted an abortion after Kiessling was conceived as a result of a rape.
Margaret Carter, a part-time chemistry and instrumentation instructor at Lambton College who helped facilitate the event, told The Interim that she thought “young women should hear” Kiessling, whom she described as a feminist with a different point of view than many would otherwise be exposed to.
Dan Barody, who organized the event, told The Interim that the administration cancelled the March 25 event four days before it was scheduled to occur. Barody said the reason they gave him was that he did not follow college procedures for booking a room, but added that he felt “they were looking for an excuse to prevent” the talk.
He said the problem arose when the Student’s Administrative Council refused to approve promotional posters; the SAC said that the posters would have to be approved by the registrar because of the controversial nature of Kiessling’s talk. Barody said that he got an impersonal email from the registrar cancelling the event after he was given permission to promote it by word-of-mouth and other informal channels.
Barody said that he has worked at the college for 32 years and was unaware of the procedures and never had a problem with the adminstration over the organization of events, such as the prayer groups with the Christian Fellowship on campus.
While the Kiessling talk was not a Fellowship event – it was organized by an informal group of teachers – many of the people associated with the group would have been interested in hearing Kiessling’s presentation, which emphasizes how glad to be alive.
Barody said that one of the reasons the campus has a problem with Kiessling’s presentation is the existence of policy of not allowing controversial speakers on just one side of the issue – a policy that he charges is selectively enforced.
Gillian Long, executive director of Campaign Life Coalition Youth, told The Interim, that “Kiessling’s argument is that she is happy to be alive. The ‘balanced’ view of that would be someone calling for her immediate euthanization. Is that what the university really wants?”
Carter added that Kiessling’s talk was suppose to be a personal testimony. “What is the balancing argument to a personal testimony,” she asked.
Carter also complained about a double standard by the administration, noting that a skit propagandizing for tolerance of the homosexual lifestyle was presented in the school cafeteria several years ago. She said that unlike the Kiessling event which was held in a room that students would go to only if they were interested in the talk, the play was in a public area. “You couldn’t easily avoid it,” she said of the play. But the college defended the play and its location, claiming it was not political but an “educational drama.”
Carter also wondered whether the campus health centre presents both sides of issue when they distribute information about contraception and abortion.
Long said that she is not at all surprised by these events. “The anti-life agenda is evident at Canadian universities. The events at UBC wherein pro life students were first hampered in their efforts to erect a pro-life display, and then put in danger when the student government all but sanctioned a violent attack on the exhibit are prime examples of this.”
She also noted the recent events at Ryerson University in Toronto which “would not even suffer a pro-life club to be formed, despite evident and abundant interest from students.”
Long said “Pro-life students are treated like second-class citizens on university campuses, while liberal administrations cry “tolerance.” The truth is, the only people who are tolerated by these folks are those who agree with them.”
Sources told The Interim that Kiessling and local pro-lifers are considering their options, including possible legal recourse, to the cancellation.
Numerous calls to Lambton College officials were not returned.
Meanwhile, Kiessling did address several local groups. Lou Billet, president of Lambton Right to Life, told The Interim that Kiessling spoke to both local Catholic high schools – St. Patrick’s and St. Christopher’s – where she was “very, very well received. There was nothing but good comments from staff and students.”
During this mini-tour of Sarnia, Kiessling also spoke to the Sarnia Evangelical Missionary Church, where she took part in observances of the Sanctity of Life Sunday celebrations and Billet reported that there wasn’t “anyone in the crowd that a piece of her story didn’t touch.”