Five pro-life students were arrested on Monday, Oct. 4 at Carleton University in Ottawa as they tried to put up the Genocide Awareness Project to peacefully share the pro-life message on their campus.
Carleton Lifeline had contacted the university in the summer to request permission to have GAP in the Troy Quad, an outdoors, busy area of the campus. The university refused to grant permission but offered an alternate location in Porter Hall, a location in a closed, difficult to find room. Club vice-president James Shaw says, “Telling us we can protest but in a back room no one goes to, is like telling black people they are welcome to ride the bus as long as they sit at the back.”
Ruth Lobo, president of Lifeline explains why they chose to participate in GAP even though pro-life students in Calgary were charged for holding a similar event: “We wanted to do GAP because it is educational and has helped save babies. The reasons as to why students have been charged with trespassing while doing GAP are simply the product of a society that thinks they have the right to ‘not be offended.’ In this way, (the other students being charged) did not play a strong factor in our decision to go ahead.”
On the day of the planned event, the students carried their signs around campus and were stopped by three campus security personnel and at least nine police officers. After some dialogue and warnings, the students were arrested and charged with trespassing on two accounts: failure to leave premises when asked and attempting to go ahead with a prohibited activity.
Although the students discussed the possibility of being arrested prior to the Monday they attempted to erect GAP – a visual display composed of four-feet by eight-feet signs which graphically compare the victims of abortion to victims of other atrocities, such as Jews in the Holocaust or African-Americans during the Civil Rights struggle in the U.S. – Lobo said, “We didn’t think the university would go so far.” She also explains how the campus environment was poised to respond negatively because of the university adamantly opposing the idea of showing the images in public, past experiences with pro-life events on campus and campus security never being friendly toward the group.
Five students were put in handcuffs and put into the paddy wagon. Lobo likens the experience as “being put in a dog kennel.” She said, “It was not necessarily a scary experience. The only time I was slightly panicked was when they put me in the paddy wagon and left me there alone for a while. I didn’t know what was going on or what was happening to my team and that scared me more than anything else.”
Following this, the students were taken to the campus security office on campus. They were uncuffed and informed of the charges against them. Lobo explains, “I was put in another room with the security manager, the chief of police and the cop who had been assigned to me. When they told me I was being charged with trespassing and I asked, ‘How?’, The chief gave me an example: He said that it’s similar to when you buy a house and your neighbour keeps coming on your property but you don’t want him to. You call the police and they charge him to keep him off of your property. I asked the chief, ‘How does this work if you pay money into the ‘house’ thereby making it not completely private property?’ He didn’t respond.”
The students were there for about 15-20 minutes before being let go with no academic sanctions and told they could go to their classes or wherever they want.
National Campus Life Network’s Executive Director, Rebecca Richmond, responds to what happened, “Unfortunately, what happened at Carleton is not an isolated case. While it is, arguably, the most extreme example, we’ve seen censorship and discrimination towards pro-life students at several universities across Canada. Different clubs had used different strategies, but ultimately, it’s not the strategy but the pro-life message that is being discriminated against.”
The students have started a website with press releases, videos and new items: http://carletonlifeline.wordpress.com. They will continue their pro-life work on campus as well as work to get their charges revoked. Their signs were taken away that day and they will work to get them back.
When asked if Lobo would do this all over again, including risking arrest, she said “Yes … Because I care more for those who have no voice than I do for myself. We should all be willing to sacrifice something for the sake of another.”
Stephanie Gray, Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, who was present during the arrests, reflected on the day, “A whole community is rallying to action for these students because we saw their plight. Perhaps we fail to rally for pre-born children with that same passion and fervour because their victimization is one we do not see.” She issues a challenge, “Let us not criticize the university for its refusal to allow the truth of abortion to be shown on one hand, while with our other hand we censor the images ourselves. Let us not be part of the cover-up of the decapitation, dismemberment, and disembowelment of pre-born children. Let us not stand behind the students. Rather, let us stand with them.”