A Carleton University Students’ Association’s policy amendment passed last month that barred campus “anti-choice” groups from receiving status or funding has raised controversy, with several groups arguing that the policy infringes on the student body’s right to free expression.
Among groups protesting the bill is Carleton Lifeline, a pro-life student group at the university which campaigns for the re-criminalization of abortion. “The motion seeks to ban Lifeline and other pro-life groups from assembling in CUSA space and obtaining CUSA funds and resources,” said Sarah Fletcher, president of Carleton Lifeline.
“The motion will not affect pro-life groups and everyone will still have a right to their opinion on the life of a fetus,” explained CUSA president Shawn Menard, “but we have drawn the line at discriminatory actions such as throwing plastic fetuses at people, calling women baby killers, displaying graphic images of botched abortions in public, etc.” However, anti-choice groups tend to advocate the re-criminalization of abortion, and CUSA would be unwilling to support efforts to remove a woman’s freedom to decide her best option during pregnancy.
The Carleton University Debating Society, however, said that “The anti-choice movement to criminalize abortion is … a legitimate political opinion that should be allowed to be expressed.”
Referring to CUSA’s decision, U of T poli sci professor Nelson Wiseman said that “Any such move by a student union is bound to misrepresent certain students.” Asked whether he thought such political side-taking is appropriate or not, he responded, “I do not believe student unions should not represent any political opinions that are not their own.”
The controversy began with a debate between lifers and choicers arranged by the Carleton Lifeline in October, attended by more than 200 students. Reasons cited for the proposed bill include harassment of pro-choice groups during that debate, as well as accusations that anti-choice groups compromised the personal safety and self-esteem of women who are contemplating or have had an abortion.
“I attended the entire debate, and I can assure you that no such harassment took place,” said Fletcher. “The debate was videotaped for security purposes, and it was respectful and peaceful.” The debate was moderated by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
On Dec. 5, the CUSA executive voted 25-6 in favour of the controversial policy amendment, concluding an intense four-hour meeting, with the representative body stiffly divided on the subject. The amendment states that anti-choice groups are to be excluded from funding and acknowledgment, and bans them from campus spaces managed by CUSA. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the meeting attracted so many students that it had to be moved into a larger room.
According to reports in local newspapers, both Menard and Katy McIntyre, CUSA VP Student Services and author of the amendment, have received physical threats.
Commenting on CUSA’s controversial decision, SAC chairperson Jen Hassum said that “The decision was made democratically and it is not our place to make judgments about it.”
Meanwhile, the real implications of the motion are largely symbolic, with pro-life groups still technically being funded and recognized by CUSA. Anti-choice groups, as determined by CUSA, will still be allowed to campaign and hold events on campus, although not in places under the student union’s jurisdiction, and without funding from it. Carleton Lifeline’s status as a group remains to be determined at a certification meeting later this month.
At least one pro-life organization, University of Toronto Students for Life, enjoys club status at this university. The club clashed with SAC last summer, after being prevented from inserting pro-life pamphlets into frosh kits. UTSFL complained that this was on account of the organization’s political views, but SAC leaders disputed that account.