The Varsity Blues men’s basketball team is aware of its environment. In their final home game of the season, a 63-48 victory over the Queen’s Golden Gaels, homecourt advantage was key.The team trounced Ryerson in their final regular season game, reaching triple digits in scoring, a rarity in OUA competition. As the Blues had already clinched third place going into the Ryerson game, their match against the pesky Gaels was greatly anticipated. Most of the Blues players shaved their hair into fauxhawks, or “Bluehawks” of various lengths, in a spirit of team unity. Their shorn locks stood in contrast to the Gaels players, most of whom sported flowing blond hair.While the Blues were dressed to impress, they started the game slightly frantic. The visitors brought a physical game with an up-tempo style that the Blues seemed anxious to copy. Blues head coach, Mike Katz, who was generous in his praise for Queen’s, was disappointed with his team’s first-half effort. The Gaels didn’t possess the talent of the Blues, but were exceptional at moving the ball around, even though they did not always convert their opportunities. Queen’s also featured a deep bench, and a constant rotation, while the Blues mainly stuck to their top seven players.The first half was something of a stalemate, as both teams put up a very low number of points, astonishing for a Blues team that scored at will against Ryerson. More amazing is that Queen’s held a slight edge in rebounding, which is one of the Blues greatest strengths.An expected strength worked against the Blues: a large crowd showed up to support the home team, but remained fairly quiet. This was despite the presence of the cheerleading squad, an engineer band that blasted wacky songs throughout the Athletic Centre, and the general misuse of a loudspeaker.The mood was soured by the U of T women’s basketball team, which had just gone down to a stunning defeat, despite a valiant effort. The gym smelled like tears and deodorant. The men’s team seemed anxious to get the crowd into the game early, but in doing so, they compromised their style, appearing listless at times, especially in the second quarter. It didn’t help that players from the women’s team would occasionally wander into the stands, revealing long faces and sad eyes.The men’s team, who had watched the end of the earlier game from the sidelines, seemed intent to wash away the memories of the bitter defeat. Once forward Ahmed Nazmi knocked down a critical three-pointer at the start of the second half, the sense of momentum clearly shifted. Nazmi waved his hands in a motion that suggested “on your feet,” and the crowd responded, many actually standing up. Shockwaves erupted throughout the stands. “I was just praying it would go in, so I could turn to the crowd and give them something,” said Nazmi of the shot. “The crowd just gave us what we needed, and we went on from there for a couple of baskets”.Nazmi had knocked down his only three shots of the first half, lay-ups from in close. Nazmi admitted that he prefers outside shots, and had the bold idea to launch a three-pointer. “I really try and keep an eye out for the crowd. The crowd is, I think, after the five players on the court, the most important factor. This is why home advantage is so big for us,” he revealed.On the next trip down the floor, Nazmi attempted a behind-the-back shot that just glanced off the rim. The crowd gasped with excitement as the team managed to score on a putback. “[I try] anything that can get the crowd revved up and get them involved […] They are a beautiful crowd, they come right back with that enthusiasm, and that gets us going. This is why I love playing at U of T,” concluded Nazmi.From that moment on, the game was transformed, and the Blues started to maneuver the court with a newfound sense of confidence. They held the lead for the rest of the game. “I thought we did a good job in the second half, rebounding and catching the ball, and pretty much ran our offence,” said head coach Katz. “Our guys have been good all year enough to win.”Two Blues players reached double digits in both points and rebounds against the Gaels. One was sharpshooter Ahmed Nazmi, who while battling a cold all day, quietly and efficiently added 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points.The other player to score a double-double was Nick Snow, earning the Blues player of the game title with a whopping 15 rebounds, to go along with his 11 points. After the game, Snow was drenched with sweat from his effort, but beamed from ear to ear, elated from the victory. Though the always humble Snow was quick to praise his guards for their clutch shots, often it was Snow’s battle for the rebound that led to his teammates’ second chance points. Snow talked about the difficulty of putting shots up from inside, and battling hard for rebounds. He clearly had the advantage of extra practice time during reading week, when the coach stressed the value of fundamentals. “It has been a point of emphasis we’ve had the last couple of weeks—rebounding, especially offensive boards, second chances, easy points,” said Snow.Nazmi and Snow were especially needed because the Blues’ leading scorers, dynamic duo and potent one-two punch Rob Paris and Nick Magelas, did not have their typical shooting games. Both aggressive players dictated the flow of the offence. They managed to find open looks for their teammates, and clearly outclassed their opponents while the Blues played on. As the Blues started to make their shots, and even for the shots that they missed, they grabbed the offensive rebounds. They would often rip the ball right out of the hands of Queen’s defenders, and go to the net without hesitation.The Blues changed their style in the second half, using their talented guards to distribute the ball, rather than trying to put up long-range shots. The Blues started to execute their set plays to great effect, and stopped trying to keep pace with Queen’s running game. Reserve point guard Anthony DeGiorgio overcame a rough start, shooting some clutch-free throws in the third quarter, essentially putting the game to bed.The Blues are a team that clearly plays with a sense of purpose. The coach stresses fundamentals, keeping the game simple, focusing on rebounding, execution, and defensive intensity. The squad is resilient. They stick to their plan, and if that is not working, they find a new way to attack their opponents, and exploit their weaknesses. They show great tenacity, and revel in their roles as hard workers and crowd pleasers. Though they lost the quarter-final to the Gee-Gees on Saturday in Ottawa (96-81), the Blues are always in it to win it, and greatly appreciate the support of their fans.
Varsity Blues defeat Queen’s, remain kings
Blues bounced from playoffs
They were the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference of women’s OUA basketball, riding a 14-game win streak that dated back to Nov. 29, 2008. They were a confident and experienced group, strengthened by their leadership and emboldened by their talent.That confidence was dashed on Feb. 25, when the Blues hosted the Ottawa Gee-Gees at the Athletic Centre Sports Gym in a single-elimination playoff battle for OUA Eastern Conference supremacy. But far from playing like a top-seeded team, the Blues played what was perhaps their worst game of the year in their most important match as they were steamrolled 68-55, losing for the first time 2009 in what became their last game of the season.“Ottawa came in and basically beat us up on our home court,” said head coach Michele Belanger, her voice tinged with the disappointment of a lost opportunity.It was an uphill battle from the beginning. Struggling with their shots and consistency, they opened the game with a terrible first quarter. Costly turnovers in both zones and poor decision-making by the Blues allowed the Lady Gees to scorch them to a 17-9 lead in the first. It was the first time an opponent has succeeded in limiting the Blues offence to only single-digit points in a quarter this season. The Lady Gees employed a strangling zone defence and a swift transition game that left the Blues running around offensively and defensively.Only after the Lady Gees extended their lead by as many as 15 points in the second did the Blues slowly wake from their stupor. Sparked by fourth-year guard Jessica Hiew’s three-pointer at the eight-minute mark of the second, the game opened up as they roared with a 12-4 run to finish the first half down 28-21.A back-and-forth affair in the third quarter saw the Blues play tougher in the paint and smarter in team positioning. This cut the Lady Gees lead to 42-37 and within five points to start the fourth quarter. The game was still in hand and a victory still possible.But whether it was the nerves of having to battle from behind, or the aggressiveness of the Lady Gees, the Blues fell apart at the seams in the final quarter. They first lost the on-court battles before losing their on-court composure.“We fell apart,” explained Belanger. “They just fell apart. We didn’t close out well, put them on the foul line and they started making their foul shots. And they got a lot of shots in the second half.”Of the 27 free-throw attempts made by the Lady Gees, who have been brilliant from the line with a free-throw percentage of 88.9 per cent, 23 of them came in the second half. The Blues by contrast shot only 58.3 per cent or 14-for-24 from the free-throw line, a costly statistic that proved to be the Blues undoing.“They shot the ball well from the foul line,” said Belanger. “We didn’t shoot the ball well from the foul line. We didn’t shoot the ball well, period. Not sure what that’s from, it’s certainly more a personal thing than a mental thing. We were offensively out-of-synch.”The better team won the game. Ottawa outplayed, outsmarted, and outlasted Toronto, superior to the Blues in nearly every major category and aspect of the game. They succeeded in containing Toronto’s OUA All-Stars in fourth-year Alaine Hutton and third-year Nicki Schutz, as they struggled against their shots. They combined for only 15 points in the game, a number well below their regular season average and arguably their worst performance of the year, a bitter and crushing ending to a solid year of women’s basketball at U of T.“Overall, I’m pretty pleased [with the season],” said Belanger with a last smile. “They amounted to a lot. We just ended up falling apart and it’s just unfortunate it had to happen in this game.”
Inconsistency for the Blues is like a bad penny, it keeps turning up.In the first and third period, Toronto matched McGill in intensity, speed, and physical play. The middle stanza was their undoing in a season that ended too soon for the Blues.The Redmen took full advantage of Toronto’s lack of focus as they scored three second-period goals en route to a 6-3 series-clinching win at Varsity Arena on Saturday night.“We held the play for a good portion of the game but silly mistakes got the best of us,” said Blues forward Joel Lenius. “I thought we played a good 40 minutes but it’s the other 20 minutes, where we didn’t play our best, that kind of caught up to us.”McGill had the upper hand in the battle of special teams. In game one, of the best of three, the Redmen scored three power-play goals in a 3-2 win last Wednesday night.On Saturday, the visitors converted on two of five power plays while the Blues went scoreless in seven opportunities.“We had a really good year as far as penalty-killing went,” said Toronto head coach Darren Lowe. “When you get to this part of the season, it’s special teams that win and lose games for you and unfortunately, we didn’t do as good a job on our penalty-killing or our power play […] and that’s the difference in the hockey game.”The winning goal came on the power play at 6:50 of the second period when Eric L’Italien jammed a rebound through the legs of Blues goalie Russ Brownell.The Redmen opened the scoring at 3:41 of the first period when Andrew Wright beat Brownell with a wrist shot that hit the right post and went in.Blues rookie Byron Elliot had a chance to tie the game three minutes later. He intercepted a McGill pass in the slot but couldn’t finish.The Redmen made it 2-0 at 12:43 when Guillaume Doucet found himself alone in the goal crease. A pass squeaked between Brownell’s legs and the right post as Doucet tapped the puck into the empty net.Toronto responded with desperation, as Elliot scored a much-needed goal at 14:32 to cut the lead to 2-1.Andre Picard-Hooper and Marko Kovacevic also scored for the Redmen in the middle stanza.Brownell allowed three goals on nine shots, as Lowe yanked him at the end of the second in favour of Andrew Martin.“I’m sure [Brownell] might have been a little tense coming home down a game,” Lowe said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way […] I can’t say enough about the way he played for us this year. He was fabulous.”Goals by Sean Fontyn, in the last minute of the second and Claudio Cowdrey, early in the third made the score 5-3.The Blues thought they narrowed the game to 5-4 with 15 minutes remaining when the puck appeared to cross the line, but the referee waived it off.“For sure the puck was in the net,” Lenius said. “The puck bounced off the goalie’s glove and I pushed it in over the line.”The Blues pressed the issue, but McGill goalie Kevin Desfosses made some big saves, including a right leg stop on a breakaway for Toronto forward Joe Rand with 1:40 left in the third.“[Desfosses] joined us at Christmas time and he has given us some stability in the net,” said McGill head coach Martin Raymond. “Having him down the stretch has helped as we keep going [to the next round].” Desfosses stopped 23 for the win.The Blues pulled their goalie with 1:29 remaining, but it was too little too late.Vincent Lambert iced the game with an empty netter.“The guys really battled hard in the third period,” Brownell said. “Our guys never quit. That’s one thing that characterizes our team: the guys never give up.”
When security measures culminate in collective oppression
“Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism,” says Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli Knesset in an article in Yedioth Ahronoth. Indeed, moral considerations have never played a role in Israel’s politics or diplomacy. After all, Israel was the closest ally of the most racist regime in the post-WWII era, South Africa’s Apartheid. And Israel remains unrepentant about its cynical exploitation of the sufferings of Jews in order to stifle criticisms of its war crimes, one of which is its own alleged crime of Apartheid.Israel’s apologists want you to believe that the sinuous separation wall Israel is building around the West Bank for security purposes is not, in fact, a “wall.” It’s a fence, they say: it’s not illegal, and in the words of Sharon’s top adviser Dov Weissglass, it causes only minor inconveniences to the Palestinians affected. In fact, the International Court of Justice has looked into the semantics and ruled that the barrier is indeed a “wall.” Furthermore, it is “contrary to international law” because it annexes about 10 per cent of Palestinian land and consolidates the settlements in the West Bank, which are themselves illegal under the Fourth Geneva conventions. Some “minor inconveniences” worth mentioning include the demolition of some 4,000 homes, the loss of prime agricultural land, and, for thousands of Palestinians, the severing of ties from their homes, schools, families, towns, farms, and water.The final stages of the wall are planned to completely surround the Palestinians and divide them into ghettoes similar to the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa, making residents permanent prisoners and refugees in their own land.“The day will come when believers in [the illusion that the wall can bring about stability] will realize that ‘separation’ is a means to oppress and dominate, and then they will mobilize to dismantle the apartheid apparatus,” says deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvinisti. It wasn’t hard to compile a list of politicians and public figures who subscribe to the notion that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians constitutes Apartheid: Nobel prize winners Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu; the unanimously elected president of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto; Navi Pillay and Richard Falk, two senior UN HRW officials; top officials in the NSA; and even Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of South African Apartheid.Some critics are quick to point out that the Apartheid allegations are slanderous and anti-Semitic. But where does that leave prominent Jews such as former Israeli MKs Shualmat Alloni and Uri Avery, intellectual Noam Chomsky, or Ha’aretz Arab affairs editor Danny Rubinstein, all of whom have said that Israel is an Apartheid State?The International Criminal Court defines apartheid as “a crime committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” With this in mind, I will examine why Israel may be an Apartheid state.Attitude: In 1932, Ben Gurion, the founder of Israel, declared that the Israeli labourer should earn a higher salary because “[he was] more intelligent and diligent” than his Arab counterpart. In addition, the Jewish National Fund charter states that “land […] acquired as Jewish property […] shall be held as the inalienable property of the Jewish people.” To this day, Palestinians are treated as inferior citizens. Israelis continue to decry the horrors of anti-Semitism, but their attitude toward others is anything but egalitarian. A recent poll has shown that 75 per cent of Israelis do not approve of apartment buildings shared between Arabs and Jews, 60 per cent would not allow an Arab to visit their home, and about 40 per cent agree that “Arabs should have their right to vote for Knesset revoked.”“Israeli discrimination against non-Jews is carefully codified in state of Israel’s laws,” explains Dr. Israel Shaha of Tel Aviv University. Whether it’s against blacks or Arabs, a substantial portion of Israel’s population has always treated non-Jews as inferior.The IDF and Infrastructure: According to Israeli human rights groups BT’Selem and ICAHD, Israel has requisitioned Palestinian lands for the purpose of constructing “Jewish only” roads, reminiscent of the “whites only” utilities emblematic of the Apartheid in South Africa. These roads slice through Palestinian lands, cutting them into “ghettos,” rendering the prospect of Palestinian statehood impossible. From checkpoints to house expropriations to home demolitions, the IDF has instated a wide array of policies to humiliate the Palestinians. They routinely incinerate farmland and encage Palestinian homes near Israeli settlements. They’ve been trained to dehumanize Palestinians: that way they don’t feel as culpable when they uproot their trees, invade their homes, and kill scores of them.Inequity: Though Arabs are represented in the Knesset, they are consistently castigated in a McCarthy-like fashion by other MKs such as Avigdor Lieberman, a prominent Israeli politician, who called for the execution of Arab legislators. Furthermore, Israel recently barred Arab parties from the parliamentary elections after they voiced discontent with the recent Gaza foray. A recent Ha’aretz editorial railed against Israel for “[callous] discrimination against its Arab citizens” as typified by the passing of the JNF bill, the goal of which, according to article 3A, is to “purchase and lease lands on which to settle Jews.” The bill includes several other clauses that restrict land usage to service Jews only, barring Arabs from buying homes in their communities. Richard Silverstein of Independent Jewish Voices describes it as “an abasement of the Zionist enterprise to lows never imagined in the Declaration of Independence.”Such are the policies of the Middle East’s only true democracy.
Slates battle for UTSU
UTSU elections have been non-events in recent years, with student union insiders running unopposed. This year, at least two full slates are facing off. Jason Marin of New College is challenging incumbent Sandy Hudson for the presidency. Marin’s message is, predictably, change, while Hudson will run on her long record with U of T’s largest student union.“We are building upon what we did last year,” said Hudson. “What we want to do is keep focusing on clubs and campus life as our advocacy—campaigns and services have done a fantastic job.”
Both parties agree that the state of the Student Commons (a new student centre for St. George) and clubs funding are significant issues. Hudson proposes working around the existing system to address club-funding concerns and continue lobbying efforts to facilitate room bookings.“The university allows UTSU to book space on campus and we believe clubs should also be able to do that. We are going to advocate on that. We’ll even book the space if [clubs] want us to do that,” said Hudson.Marin wants to create an online database of campus spaces where individual clubs can make bookings. He also proposes to increase base funding for student clubs by 20 per cent and include allowances for space booking.
Campaigns vs. services
Every student union has to decide how much of its time and resources should be focused towards advocacy campaigns, like dropping tuition and ancillary fees, rather than student services.Hudson maintains it isn’t an either/or choice. “We need to make sure we are doing everything to save students money,” she said. “When we are talking about tuition fees we aren’t just talking about tuition fees, we are talking about funding for education. Class size is directly related to a lack of funding for post-secondary education.” Marin thinks some new tactics could make UTSU’s advocacy more effective.“By effective action, I mean reaching out and bringing student and faculty to the table, and starting out with what you agree on and working backwards,” he said. “Over last few years, unfortunately, the UTSU has engendered a culture of us vs. them.”
Hudson and the rest of the current executive have maintained close ties to the Canadian Federation of Students, the umbrella organization to which UTSU belongs. Marin would be less enthusiastic in his support. He does acknowledge that the CFS works on important issues like making education more accessible.“However, I would qualify sometimes the tactics and strategies they use in addressing those issues,” Marin said. “I do support work CFS does in the grander scheme of things, but when engaging them in issues that pertain to U of T, I will make sure those issues are tailored to what our students need and want.”
UTSU’s current executive has been criticized for not making meeting notes easily available.“I think that at our AGM [Annual General Meeting] this year, students made it clear that they were concerned about communication and transparency,” said Hudson. “What we’ve done thus far is created a working plan to make sure we can put minutes online as well as budget and policies online.”Hudson promised that minutes will appear online in a secure format where students can access them using a password-login system.Marin said more can be done to ensure open governance. In addition to posting minutes online, he proposes holding weekly office hours and publishing quarterly report cards so students can monitor the union’s progress.
Naylor responds to claims of pro-Israel bias
I appreciated receiving a call from Dylan Robertson to conduct a tough but fair interview about Liisa Schofield’s blog posting on the above-captioned allegations. Along with correcting two quotes attributed to me, I want to provide some general context as we head into a period of events that address the conflict in the Middle East from different perspectives.Mr. Robertson will recall that he was on a cellphone from Ottawa during our interview. The connection was dreadful, and led to two garbled quotations. I did not say that Ms Schofield was “orchestrating outlash.” I said that her account smacked of “orchestrated outrage” given the fact that the affected group and others with similar positions on the Israel-Palestine issue had already been routinely provided with extensive bookings throughout this academic year and for “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) in March.Mr. Robertson accurately reports that IAW and related activities draw international attention. They have also sparked local concerns about the climate for some Jewish students and Israel advocates on campus. It is no surprise, then, that these events are watched closely by senior administrators, just as we are similarly vigilant when any event targets a particular group or where opinions are strongly polarized.That said, our record on free speech is clear. As is the case with a wide variety of events that deal with contentious issues, we’ve allowed IAW to proceed so long as the relevant laws are respected. We have also repeatedly responded to requests to censor it by affirming our position and our policies around freedom of speech and inquiry.There is a more serious transcription glitch in this quote: “A few weeks ago, an event at OISE was supposed to be open to the public when it was not.” I said “Two or three years ago.” Hence, contrary to the report, I was not referring to the event last February for high school students. The event to which I referred occurred in October 2006. It was an open meeting at OISE led by the Coalition against Israeli Apartheid with OPIRG’s support. Two Hillel staff members registered and attended, but were ejected. An investigation showed that the organizers had failed to follow our policy on whether meetings are open or closed—a non-trivial issue that also arose with the October 2008 booking about which Ms. Schofield complains. The publicity material we received said that the meeting was only “open to Palestinian solidarity activists.” This, as I wrote in an email, was also a problem.If an internal group makes a booking for a closed meeting, they can privately and personally invite whomever they please and refuse attendance to others. That is the norm for clubs and also enables activist groups to do their organizational work in private. However, if a group advertises a meeting as open, either on a first-come-first-seated basis or through registration, they cannot do ideological purity tests on attendees, even if they believe those attendees have strongly opposing views. This holds for all groups, whatever their political stripe. It also means that, at these controversial events, both organizers and those who attend to dissent must conduct themselves with some respect for the reality that there are different viewpoints.In that vein, as we approach IAW this year, I want to encourage all participants to be mindful of a few basic principles. Rational discourse is always more persuasive and constructive than sloganeering and abusive rhetoric. Speakers should be heard out, not interrupted or heckled. Open meetings can only function if the minority is not intimidated by the majority, or if the minority in turn does not willfully subvert or interrupt the meeting. The University also strongly rejects the stereotyping of individuals on the basis of their national, cultural, ethnic, or religious identity.Last, the Administration does not support speech codes. Instead, we have simply emphasized that the right of free speech on our campuses carries with it responsibilities to consider the weight of one’s words, and to embrace discourse along with expressing dissent. The University is counting on all members of its community to take those responsibilities seriously in the weeks ahead.Yours sincerelyDavid Naylor, President
GC elections lack accessibility, says candidate
Joeita Gupta already knew that very little of U of T was designed, physically or philosophically, with any regard for students with disabilities. Gupta, the current VP internal of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, is running to be one of the eight student representatives on U of T’s 50-member Governing Council next year. She is visually impaired and needs an attendant when she visits classrooms or distributes campaign materials.But the going rate for an attendant is $25 an hour, and the election regulations indicate that, as a campaign expense, this money had to come out of her own budget, capped at about $400.The GC elections committee strictly prohibits candidates from spending more than their budget cap, which is determined by the size of their constituency. (For full-time undergrads, the cap is $2,000.) The rules are very specific, going so far as banning the use of any resource candidates normally have access to through university organizations, even a laser printer or photocopy machine.As for why Gupta needs a professional attendant, it only took a few minutes of trying to negotiate The Varsity’s incredibly inaccessible office space (which Gupta charitably called a “labyrinth”) to see how much skill it takes. Gupta added that relying on volunteers left her at the mercy of other people’s schedules, a loss of independence that is not factored in to the university’s policies on accommodation.At the all-candidates’ meeting on Feb. 12, Gupta asked whether her attendant costs were be counted against her campaign expenditures. At press time, she is still waiting for an answer.Nancy Smart, the chief returning officer tasked with conducting the election, told The Varsity that Gupta had asked only about GC’s policy regarding accommodation. Smart said she looked into the issue, did some research, and advised Gupta to contact U of T’s Accessibility Services office.Gupta said she was already aware of the policy, and that she was not interested in using Accessibility Services. She said AS was already overstrained, understaffed, slow, and focused on academic needs irrelevant to the sorts of activities she does on the campaign trail.“GC should have a plan for students who need accommodation,” Gupta said. “By the time all this is dealt with, the campaign period will be over.”Framing her own difficulties as part of a large pattern of disregard for students with disability, Gupta identified a tendency at U of T to treat such students on a time-consuming, clinical, case-by-case basis, rather than make universal accessibility a principle from the ground up.“I don’t think people sit down and conspire to exclude anyone. They inherit systems with exclusivity built into them.”She pointed to the school’s recent decision to make Accessibility Services a subsidiary of Health Services as a clear sign. “Putting Accessibility Services under Health Services leads to treating disability as unhealthy. Instead of universal accommodation, we get individual attention as though it’s a matter of patient care.”Jeff Peters, the governor Gupta hopes to succeed, knows these hurdles well. Peters speaks through an interpreter when he addresses council. Because of the extra time this takes, Peters has been cut off several times during council meetings, before finishing what he had to say. Senior members of the administration have advised him to submit written statements instead of addressing the council verbally, but Peters called this an unfair demand that would restrict his ability to act during meetings. He said his request for accommodations was only approved recently.
The right to argue about the “right to life”
It is with considerable reluctance that I find myself writing this letter. I have been a pro-choice activist for 20 years, and remain passionate about this issue. But I think the Federation is making a terrible mistake supporting student unions that deny common resources to pro-life groups on Canadian campuses.It is a mistake for two reasons. One, it is fundamentally wrong. As much as we may personally oppose their point of view, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives them every right to express it and proselytize to other students. Two, it is a strategic error; by your actions, you do harm to the pro-choice movement.Let’s deal with the first point. We live in a free country, and among our fundamental freedoms are freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. This means in effect that we can adhere to any belief system or moral code, and that we have the right to freely speak about and publish it, provided it does not promote hate against an identifiable group.While undoubtedly there are individual exceptions, the pro-life movement as a whole does not promote hatred. They argue that a fetus is a person, even blessed with a soul, and as such has an absolute right to life. Consequently they equate abortion with murder. They are sincere in this belief. Personally, I think this is a deeply problematic—I would even say fantastic—notion. And personally, I believe that it is a travesty to suggest that a fetus has rights that are equal to, or surpass, those of an adult citizen of this society.That said, I will also candidly admit that I’m glad they raise the ethical questions they do. While we disagree, their arguments about the definition and value of human life are legitimate additions to our ongoing attempts to understand the human condition. We lose nothing considering these arguments. And through this conflict they keep our side intellectually sharp and help us avoid complacency.My personal and vehement disagreement does not lead me to think I have the right to silence them, nor to deny them the right to any public platform that we pro-choicers have a right to. By denying pro-life groups the chance to take part in public debates on campus, by denying them the resources available to other student groups, you have infringed on their fundamental right to free speech.Here’s the thing about rights: it’s not as though they’re personal. They’re not things we can hold close to our chests to protect. We all share our fundamental rights, equally.And that brings me to my second point. The last thing you want to do is endanger the rights to free speech that pro-choicers have and exercise. If our opponents’ rights can be infringed upon, so can ours. Is it so hard to imagine some kind of adverse official reaction to the blow against pro-life groups, leading to a debate-quashing notion of “fairness” that would leave campus a controversy-free zone?Moreover, you have managed to do the pro-lifers a great favour—you’ve made them martyrs. For now they can legitimately claim to be the underdogs, and their fundamental right to speak on campus on an equal footing with other students has been taken away. That will only enhance the appeal of their message.Worse, the actions of these student unions give the impression—whether true or false—that pro-choicers are unwilling to meet in open intellectual combat and defend our position. Ladies and gentlemen, we should welcome the chance to debate them in public, at any and every opportunity. Make them defend their nonsense in a public forum. Ultimately, their belief that women should not be in control of their own bodies is insupportable, and in a modern liberal democracy will not become a majority position. Don’t be afraid—be eager for the contest!So I ask you to reconsider your position. Denounce any student unions that deny pro-life groups equal status with other student groups. The same Charter that was instrumental in overturning abortion laws maintains the right of Canadians to disagree with that ruling. And indeed, I would argue that same Charter gives young people entering the intellectual ferment of university life a right to hear both sides of this vitally important issue.Nick Van der Graaf is a Toronto writer.