Forgive me for my sarcasm in this post, but I feel like I’m banging my head against the wall and not even chipping the paint. The only thing I’m achieving is continuing to frustrate myself and getting a headache. Yet, I continue screaming at the top of my lungs: “Enough! Banning free speech does nothing but make martyrs of the newly-oppressed!”
The latest cause of my frustration is the banning, on Oct. 1, of a pro-life club by the University of Guelph’s undergraduate student union, the Central Student Association.
A few months ago during a similar situation at York University, I noted that banning pro-life groups is actually counter-productive to the pro-choice cause.
The name of the banned club is Life Choice and they stand accused of promoting their anti-abortion/pro-life viewpoint during an event called “Life Fair” in March. The event featured speakers from the pro-life side, including graphic pictures and the distribution of materials to the student body. The CSA says this violated clubs policy and decided to ban the club during its Oct. 1 board meeting.
Life Choice says it didn’t believe it was violating policy.
This is the typical “he said-she said” debate that surrounds this issue. As much as I’m personally disgusted by some of the material and graphics shown by pro-lifers at many events I’ve witnessed, I support their ability to express their viewpoint and distribute their materials.
Sadly, the CSA does not believe in free speech for this political hot potato. According to the CSA, the event in March was so traumatic they had no choice but to ban the club and to issue an apology on behalf of the student body for exposing them to this side of the debate. The apology cites, in partial defense of the CSA’s crackdown on free speech, a recent resolution of the Canadian Federation of Students to support student unions which ban “anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space.”
All of this reflects poorly upon the CSA, but it gets worse. The CSA did not provide due process to the pro-life group.
Under the CSA’s own policy, Life Choice was supposed to be informed that their club status was being review. This would have provided the club the opportunity to speak in its own defense in front of the CSA Board. The CSA did not inform Life Choice of the impending vote as they rushed to ban the club. The lack of due process discredited the decision to ban the club. The CSA took the position that this lack of due process was acceptable because the club could appeal its mistreatment to the CSA Board of Directors, the same people who denied them due process in the first place.
The appeal was to be heard on Oct. 29. In the lead up to this meeting, the local mainstream newspaper The Guelph Mercury, devoted an editorial to the fiasco. In the editorial, the paper called the ban an “incredibly ill-advised choice.” However, the paper noted the appeal offered the CSA a “chance to save face, do the proper thing and return the club’s student group status.”
Sadly, for the already damaged reputation of the CSA, the normal chair of their meetings was unavailable that night and the meeting was unable to render a decision on the future of the pro-life club. According to The Mercury, the CSA will be meeting again tomorrow and still has the opportunity to make the right decision. They can allow for free speech to return to their campus.
Here’s my advice to the CSA: allow Life Choice enough status to participate in the great discussions of the academy. Allow them free speech. Don’t fund them. (They’ve said they don’t want the funding.) Allow them to distribute their viewpoint. If the CSA feels so strongly on the issue, counter their materials. If they are false, as the CSA claims, have confidence in the intelligence of the average university student to be able to realize this.
The abortion debate is exactly that; a debate. What better place for a debate to occur than on an university campus.
This poll closes at 19:00 Eastern Standard Time on November 12, 2008