A group of pro-life students from Ryerson University are planning to sue their student union for the right to have a pro-life club. Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR) were denied club status in an email sent by the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) Campus Groups Administrator on October 30, 2014 citing that, “The Ryerson Students’ Union opposes … groups, meetings, or events that promote misogynist views towards women and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault.”
SFLR sought a detailed letter containing reasons for why their club application was denied but never received one. Instead they received an email from RSU President Rejean Hoilett, who echoed the initial explanation while adding that the, “Ryerson Students’ Union is committed to working towards creating ‘safe spaces’ on campus, and members of the committee were concerned about your groups ability to create ‘safe spaces’ on campus.”
Calgary-based constitutional lawyer Carolyn Crosson, a counsel for the pro-life students, stated that the “assertion that just because you believe in a pro-life message that you then are a misogynist, that you hate or dislike women … or that you support sexual assault is not only ‘preposterous’ but very ‘offensive.”
SFLR and their executive team of three were confused after their group was repeatedly rejected on grounds that were never explained or conveyed to them. Carter Grant, vice-president of the club and a second year business student at Ryerson, expressed the frustration that he and his group have been experiencing since the club status rejection. “We are disappointed because we feel like we’re not being treated equally compared to any other student group.”
University club status allows groups to book designated rooms and hold events without needing to go through the Ryerson administration each time. It also provides clubs with funds every semester so that the club can host guest speakers and pay for the resources required to hold successful events without having to rely on the pockets of its executive members.
After a few months of meeting with the RSU, the SFLR decided to enter the final stage of the appeal process on February 23, where they presented to the RSU Board of Directors and were met with a unanimous vote for club status rejection.
Since they lost the appeal, SFLR have been busy. Grant, in an interview with The Interim, shares that, “After we lost the appeal, we knew we wanted to get the story out to as many people as we could.” They have since created a social media campaign titled “Support Students for Life at Ryerson” as a means of letting the university and pro-life community know what has been transpiring with the club and student union.
Crosson, who found a particular interest in their situation, has reached out to the club and together, since May, they have been crafting a legal case in order to set an Ontario precedent for the pro-life movement.
Grant notes that, “There have been so many rulings that have tried to bar pro-life students from campus and there’s a heavy bias against pro-life students on university campuses so hopefully with this lawsuit we can give a lot of encouragement to other pro-life students who are going through similar challenges and be a success story that they can pay tribute to.”
According to Rebecca Richmond, executive director of National Campus Life Network, this is not the first time student union policies have discriminated against pro-life groups on campus. “We’ve seen in recent years other student unions behave similarly, however they didn’t get away with it in the cases of Trent or Brandon University,” said Richmond. “They all ended up giving the student groups their status.”
SFLR is committed to putting its legal plan into action, though it will need to find a way to raise the appropriate amount of funds before proceeding. Grant notes that, “The only unfortunate thing is that it’s very expensive to go to court. We are university students and at this point we need to raise money before we can start the lawsuit just to be able to make sure that, in the event of a loss, we wouldn’t be liable for court fees and administrative costs.”
The pro-life group stresses the importance of this lawsuit in the battle for freedom of speech on university campuses across Canada. “I just want to emphasize how important it is for the pro-life movement that this lawsuit goes through. Everybody has a role to play in fighting for this cause.”