The pro-life students involved with the pro-life organization at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada have faced attacks on their free speech rights for years and now the organization faces a new one.
This week, the former Canadian Federation of Students national deputy chair Shelly Melanson proposed a referendum question to the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) which is creating a firestorm of controversy. The proposed question involves censoring certain groups, specifically pro-life organizations.
The referendum asks: “Are you in favor of banning groups such as Lifeline, the Genocide Awareness Project, Campaign for Life Coalition and other organizations that use inaccurate information and violent images to discourage women from exploring all options in the event of pregnancy from Carleton University?”
The question has been added to CUSA’s Write of Referenda for 2012, which indicates that the referenda will be held concurrently with the 2012 General Elections.
“Carleton Lifeline has already been decertified as a university club,” said Taylor Hyatt, co-president of Lifeline, the pro-life student group. “What this referenda question amounts to is an attempt to not only censor pro-life students, but ostensibly have them evicted from Carleton’s campus. Is Carleton University and CUSA going to start removing students for doing pro-life activities?”
Carleton Lifeline was decertified and defunded by CUSA in December of 2010, several months after five pro-life students were arrested on campus by police officers summoned by campus security for attempting to erect a graphic display, the Genocide Awareness Project.
Former Lifeline president Ruth (Lobo) Shaw, who was arrested at Carleton in 2010 for engaging in free speech about abortion, commented, “Carleton University and the student union have already made every attempt to silence students who attempt to have a discussion about abortion. They’ve already handcuffed Carleton students and put them in paddy wagons once. Is Ms. Melanson advocating for this to be standard university procedure when faced with dissenting views?”
Brandon Wallingford, the CUSA Arts and Social Sciences Councillor, decried the question as an infringement upon freedom of speech and noted that pro-life students were not the only group targeted.
“It is disturbing that there are those who wish to ban opposing points of view instead of engaging in the type of mature discussion that universities used to be famous for,” said Wallingford. “Instead, we have individuals showing a callous disregard for the rights of those who disagree with them, as is indicated by their attempt at further censoring and banning other student groups on campus including my club, the Firearms Association of Carleton University. These attacks on the rights of Carleton students, whether they be pro-life students or students who enjoy sport shooting, are disgusting and a violation of their fundamental freedoms of expression and association.”
Trespassing charges that had been pressed against pro-life students at Carleton University for putting up a pro-life displayed banned by the administration of their own college campus were withdrawn in November.
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.
The University deemed the pro-life display to be “offensive” and directed the Ottawa Police Service to arrest and charge four Carleton University tuition-paying students and a Queen’s University student with trespassing. The charges were scheduled to proceed to trial.
The Crown stated that the basis for withdrawing the trespass charges is that the issues dealing with the relationship between a university and its students was already being dealt with in Lobo et al. v. Carleton University et al., the civil action brought by two Carleton Lifeline members, Ruth (Lobo) Shaw and John McLeod, against Carleton University and members of its administration.
In July, the Ontario Superior Court heard a motion brought by Carleton University which sought to strike Carleton Lifeline’s Statement of Claim, the document initiating the lawsuit. Had the university been successful, this would have ended the suit. In a split decision, Justice Toscano Roccamo ordered that the action could continue but ordered Carleton Lifeline to make several amendments to its Statement of Claim.
In a subsequent decision regarding costs of the motion to strike, Justice Toscano Roccamo ordered the students to pay Carleton University’s legal costs in the amount of $18,400.87 plus applicable taxes. Carleton University had asked that the students pay $21, 467.68 in legal fees.
“We are pleased that the Crown has decided to withdraw these unjust charges” said Ruth (Lobo) Shaw, former president of Carleton Lifeline. “We have always maintained that we had the right to exhibit the Genocide Awareness Project on campus and that our arrest was unlawful. The withdrawal of these unjust charges is confirmation of that fact.”
Despite the withdrawal of the charges, the civil action against Carleton University is ongoing.
“Although we no longer need to defend ourselves against the trespassing charges, a lot of work still needs to be done to move our lawsuit against Carleton University along and to clarify the legal rights of students to campus free speech and expression,” said John McLeod, current president of Carleton Lifeline.
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 lawsuit 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 LifeNews.com.
Carleton University had attempted to get a court to dismiss the lawsuit the pro-life student group at Carleton University brought over the decision by the Carleton University student association to uphold a decision it made last year to kick out the pro-life group. Carleton Lifeline lost its club status in November 2010 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.