In mid-November 2009, University of Saskatchewan Students for Life (USSL) was granted official club status at the U of S. According to university policy, all campus clubs must renew ratification on a yearly basis. USSL president Christine Ulrich submitted the club’s ratification papers to the U of S Student Union (USSU) in early September, hoping to be ratified and operational a week or so later. This did not happen.
On Sept. 29, Scott Hitchings, vice-president of operations and finance for the USSU, stated (via e-mail) that before the pro-life group could be granted full ratification, both he and Ben Fawcett, vice-president of student affairs, wished to meet with members of the USSL executive to discuss “some of the actions taken by the U of S Students for Life last year, as well as the behaviour of groups whose mandate is similar … on campuses such as the U of C.”
No specific details were given regarding the actions and behaviour in question and, although Ulrich agreed to the meeting, she also requested further information as to the specific nature of the issues to be discussed. She did not hear from Hitchings again until Oct. 7. He was apologetic for the delay, but assured the club that he did not intend to deny them ratification. He added that scheduling complications made it impossible for Fawcett to attend the discussion, and requested a one-on-one meeting with Ulrich.
This suggestion contravened USSL club policy (which requires at least two members to attend all meetings). She then suggested several more possible dates and times for a meeting, but, by late October, received no response. By this time, the USSL began to feel frustrated by their inability to be active on campus.
Repeated attempts to contact Hitchings resulted in a tentative booking for a meeting Nov. 2 between Ulrich, Hitchings and USSL secretary Bronwyn Ragleti. Unfortunately, Hitchings (for reasons of illness) cancelled at the last minute. He apologized for the inconvenience, suggesting that perhaps a one-on-one phone call would suffice instead of a meeting. This, too, would contravene USSL meeting guidelines, since there would be no written record or third-party witness to any discussion.
In some frustration, the USSL contacted the National Campus Life Network and was advised to either hold a conference call, or just to drop in at the USSU office unannounced and request a meeting. Ulrich and Ragleti opted for the second approach and finally met with Hitchings on Nov. 9.
The trio discussed complaints that had been lodged against the USSL during the 2008-2009 academic year. One complainant alleged that a USSL club member manning an information table “applauded” a woman who walked by with a child; another complainant alleged that the USSL (and other groups on campus) approached people who did not wish to be approached.
Another complaint (brought forward by the Women’s Centre on behalf of an individual female) accused the pro-life group of making women feel “unsafe” by displaying “disturbing” graphic images without giving any prior warning to students. (The images were photographs of healthy, living babies, in utero and up to two years old.)
Ulrich was somewhat surprised that these incidents were being brought up again, since they had been investigated and resolved. The pro-life group had submitted to Hitchings’ predecessor a document summarizing complaint resolutions, as well as a copy of club policy, which prohibits solicitation. Hitchings replied that he was not in possession of these documents. Unaccountably, they had not been forwarded to him by his predecessor.
In the end, it seemed that the ratification delay had been mainly caused by internal miscommunication in the USSU office. The pro-life group was willing to give the student union the benefit of the doubt in this case, due to Hitchings’s apologetic and helpful attitude toward U of S Students for Life. He expressed regret in the event that the ratification delay had impeded the USSL’s work on campus and asked if there was any way he could make it up to them.
The executive members responded that they only wanted the right to be on campus and express their views. They also requested that the opportunity for dialogue between the Student Union and the USSL remain available and ongoing. Hitchings assured the USSL that they had just as much right to be on campus as any one else and that he would personally do all he could to ensure that right would not be seriously threatened. He also pointed out that, once a group submits its ratification papers, it has a right to hold events on campus, even before official ratification takes place.
The USSL executive had been unaware of this provision and Hitchings once more apologized for not making that clear. He then went on to tell them about funding that was available to campus clubs and encouraged them to apply for it. He also told them about free advertising options available to clubs.
Although the delay in granting ratification is regrettable, pro-lifers believe the attitude of Hitchings might well serve as a model for other Canadian universities, especially those seeking to deny pro-life groups the right to free speech, open debate and freedom of assembly.