by Steven Ertelt
December 7, 2006
Ottawa, Canada (LifeNews.com) — The student government association at Carleton University in Canada may face a lawsuit over a vote to prohibit the campus pro-life organization from using the same student government resources granted to other college groups. The vote has sparked an international controversy over students’ free speech rights.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada may seek a court injunction preventing the student government from implementing the new policy.
Don Hutchinson, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship, told the Ottawa Citizen that the policy violates the religious freedom, conscience and freedom of assembly rights of the students belonging to the pro-life group.
"Even though the policy says it’s endorsing those rights, it’s violating those rights for the pro-life groups that might operate on campus," he told the newspaper.
Hutchinson also indicated that his group would represent Carleton Lifeline, the student pro-life group if it decided to file a formal complaint.
Nicholas McLeod, a member of the group, told the Citizen that it hasn’t yet determined what course of action it will take following the vote.
"We are keeping all our options open on this issue," he said. "I would first like to see how this new policy is implemented."
After the vote, student association vice-president Shelley Melanson, challenged Hutchison and pro-life advocates to sue the college saying, "Bring it on if you have a lawsuit."
The newspaper says the first test could come soon as Carleton Lifeline expects to apply for official status as a campus organization recognized by the student government. That would give it funding from the association and access to student space to conduct events.
That’s exactly what the student government voted 26-6 to prohibit.
The motion the Carleton University Students’ Association approved says "campaigns, distributions, solicitations, lobbying efforts, displays, events, etc. that seek to limit or remove a woman’s options in the event of pregnancy will not be supported."
But, Shawn Menard, president of the students association, said the vote wouldn’t prohibit the pro-life group from being recognized.
"A lot of people think we’re essentially banning pro-life groups," he said. "And a lot of people think that this group, Carleton Lifeline, won’t get certified. That’s simply not the case."
Still, he admitted to the Citizen that the decision means the group can’t be recognized or get space if it openly advocates prohibiting abortions.
Sarah Fletcher, president of Carleton Lifeline, responded to the decision with concern about the future of her organization and its free speech rights.
"I’m not sure what’s going to happen to our club," she told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. "It means we no longer have the right to express our views in student space."
"There are students at Carleton who do have a pro-life point of view, and those students need to be represented," she said previously. "We feel it’s an infringement on our basic rights."
Members of the student government council defended their decision saying the college should allow groups that oppose abortion to speak on campus because it violates Canada law allowing abortions.
Katy McIntyre, vice-president of services for the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), proposed the motion, which would amend the student society’s discrimination policy.
It came in response to complaints from the pro-abortion group on campus about a debate the campus pro-life group Lifeline organized concerning the legality of abortion. McIntyre says pro-abortion women came to her complaining they felt "harassed" by the debate.
Meanwhile, the forensics group on campus is puzzled by the proposal, saying that abortion and other hotly contested political issues should be able to be debated in a college that should support freedom of speech.
"You’re preventing groups from organizing and assembling and effectively lobbying their particular view, which does limit their freedom of speech," Adam Coombs, the head of the forensics group, told the CBC.
Backers of the measure said students can debate on campus but shouldn’t be able to use money from the student government to facilitate it.
Carleton University issued a news release after the meeting stating that the university "has always been committed to the free expression of ideas in an open and respectful way." It said groups not recognized by the student government would still be able to use space on campus not under the council’s control.
Some alumni have already said they will stop giving to the college as a result of the decision.
ACTION: Contact Carleton University and express your views on this proposal. Write to Carleton University 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6 Canada or call (613) 520-7400. Send a fax to 613 520-4474 or contact CU President Dr. Samy A. Mahmoud at [email protected].