Carleton University Pro-Life Club Sues Over Discrimination

International   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 23, 2011   |   12:30PM   |   Ottawa, Canada

The pro-life student group at Carleton University has sued the college over the decision by the Carleton University student association’s decision in January to uphold a decision it made last year to kick out the pro-life group.

Carleton Lifeline lost its club status in November because  of the student association’s policy against discrimination, which mandates that student clubs respect the so-called right to abortion. Without officially recognized status, the pro-life club won’t receive funding or access to space.

The student association decided in December to reject a policy change to allow pro-life student groups and Ruth Lobo, Lifeline’s president filed a challenge to that decision. However, the student government association dismissed the challenge.

Now, Carleton Lifeline has informed it has sued the University and its administration  for the discriminatory treatment they have been subjected to during the 2010-2011 academic school year.

“We believe that the behavior of the University is actionable. We have suffered discrimination and intimidation, we have been arrested and threatened and we are seeking restitution”, said Lobo. “The University’s discriminatory actions are shocking, to say the least. We want to ensure, through law, that this behavior is not repeated at Carleton University ever again.”

Lifeline is asking the Court to declare that Carleton University and its administration have breached their own internal policies regarding freedom of expression, academic freedom and discrimination. As such, Lifeline is also requesting that the University is ordered to comply with these internal policies. 

On October 4, 2010, Carleton University had members of Lifeline handcuffed, arrested, charged and fined with trespassing for attempting to display an exhibit that the University administration deemed disturbing and offensive due to the graphic nature of the display. In November 2010, Carleton University’s administration provided Lifeline with an ultimatum  regarding the expression of their opinions and threatened further arrests.

“Carleton University has allowed other exhibits using graphic images on campus,” commented Albertos Polizogopoulos, Carleton Lifeline’s lawyer. “Clearly the University opposes Lifeline’s message and not its medium. This is censorship and viewpoint discrimination and it violates Carleton University’s internal policies.”

Kristan Hawkins, the president of the U.S.-based Students for Life of America, says her group strongly supports the Carleton pro-life club in its lawsuit.

“Students for Life of America stands behind Carleton Lifeline today in their law suit against Carleton University. The discrimination and persecution they have faced for their pro-life beliefs is unbelievable. Carleton Lifeline has been heroic in their courage in the face of this discrimination and has led the way in exposing the disgusting hypocrisy of their Administration,” she told

The student government took issue with the group’s constitution, which says: “Carleton Lifeline believes in the equal rights of the unborn and firmly believes that abortion is a moral and legal wrong, not a constitutional right. Therefore, Carleton Lifeline shall work to promote the legal protection of the unborn and their basic human rights to life.” The student government claims the constitution violates the campus discrimination policies that call for stduents to “respect and affirm a woman’s right to choose her options in case of pregnancy.”

A letter  from the student government to Lifeline read: “We invite you to amend your constitution to create one that respects our anti-discrimination policy as laid out above. If you are able to resubmit a constitution that meets our criteria by Thursday, November 18th we will be able to certify your club for this semester.”

It maintains Carleton University Student Association regulations say no officially-recognized student group can use resources from the student government for “actions such as any campaign, distribution, solicitation, lobbying, effort, display, event etc. that seeks to limit or remove a woman’s right to choose.”

Polizogopoulos, the attorney for the pro-life campus group, says the letter from the student government “was appalling” because it violates the rights to free speech and association of the members of the club. He maintains that CUSA pointing out that their Discrimination on Campus Policy is in violation of CUSA’s own constitution and in violation of a number of Carleton University policies. He also pointed out that the manner in which CUSA denied Carleton Lifeline certification was not in line with CUSA’s own policies and procedures.

James Shaw, vice-president of Carleton Lifeline adds that even if other students disagree with their views, a student’s association must respect the diversity of opinion within their own membership.

“Our constitution has not changed since our club was first certified in 2007,” he said. “We have always received funding and status whenever we applied, and were always re-certified as a club from year to year.” [related]

After Carleton Lifeline lost its status, the university said in a statement that it “will continue to be offered public space and tables on campus which is consistent with the university’s practice with respect to other student groups.”

The decision is so egregious that the pro-abortion Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the group are supporting Carleton Lifeline. Rosiers told the CBC the decision to revoke the status disrupts the group’s free speech rights.

“Associations like ours are pro-choice, but that doesn’t mean that you can deny the right to an anti-abortion group to have access to their facilities to express their views,” said Des Rosiers. “You are strengthening your choice view if you allow others to speak.”