by Steven Ertelt
January 10, 2007
Ottawa, Canada (LifeNews.com) — The pro-life organization at Carleton University in Canada has been approved as an officially recognized student group. That’s despite a previous vote of the university’s student government preventing any student association funds from paying for pro-life activities.
Representatives from 32 student groups voted to grant Carleton Lifeline official status, which makes it eligible to receive funds from the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA).
Te-Anna Bailey, programming coordinator for CUSA’s clubs and societies office, said the approval was based on paperwork the pro-life group submitted.
"I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve never seen a club denied certification at a certification meeting," she told the CBC.
However, whether the club will be denied CUSA funds because of the previous vote modifying the council discrimination policy against funding pro-life activities remains to be seen.
In December, the CUSA approved a motion banning the group from using its resources on a 26-6 vote. The motion targeted any group that seeks "to limit or remove a woman’s options in the event of pregnancy.”
After the decision, Carleton Lifeline applied 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 — something the original vote denied.
Sarah Fletcher, president of pro-life group, told the Ottawa Sun newspaper before the vote that the original motion unfairly targeted her club and she hopes the application will allow her group to continue to function.
“If it’s not targeting us, I’m not really sure what the point of the motion is,” said Fletcher.
She said members of the student government have made conflicting statements about the motion, its intent, and how it will be enforced.
“What they’ve done, basically, is they’ve changed the definition of pro-life to what they want it to be,” said Fletcher, “which is that you can advocate for the pro-life choice, as long as you’re still open to abortion. And our group is by no means open to abortion.”
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 Ottawa Citizen that the decision means the group can’t be recognized or get space if it openly advocates prohibiting abortions.
Fletcher has said the group has been considering legal options following the vote but wants to keep that as an option of last resort.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has offered legal assistance to the group and said it 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 said.
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."
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.
The forensics group on campus was 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].