On May 11, the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) took 23 people to participate in the 2017 national ‘March for Life’ demonstration that occurred at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The group consisted of 14 students, five staff members, and four clergy, including USMC President David Mulroney.
Participants also came from the Newman Centre at U of T and the Ryerson Catholic Campus Ministry. The cost was $100 per student and the fee covered transportation and accommodation.
‘March for Life’ is an anti-abortion demonstration organized by the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), a major activist organization for the pro-life movement. Apart from issues pertaining to abortion, the CLC also advocates against euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and same-sex marriage.
According to the ‘March for Life’ website, 25,000 attendees were present at the march in 2015, 80% of whom are under the age of 30.
The theme for this year’s march was “Life, We stand on guard for thee.” The CLC stated that “the theme comes from the last lines of the country’s national anthem and is fitting, given the country’s celebration of its 150th anniversary of Confederation.”
The march was accompanied by speeches from pro-life politicians, activists, and religious leaders. This year, two of the the Conservative Party’s leadership candidates, Pierre Lemieux and Brad Trost, spoke on pro-life issues. Both Lemieux and Trost received endorsements from the CLC during the Conservative leadership race.
“I am pro-life, I am social conservative, I am pro-freedom of speech, and I am Canadian, and these are Canadian values,” Lemieux told the marchers. “And you and I who share these values with millions of Canadians across our country, we have a rightful place in our Canadian society and we have a rightful place in the Conservative Party of Canada.”
According to Stefan Slovak, the Director of Communications at SMC, the USMC Campus Ministry “provided a small subsidy to reduce the cost of travel and accommodation for participants.” The financial support for the trip came from a fund “associated with [the] campus ministry,” which was used “to help subsidize the trip, the sum of which was approximately $1800.” Slovak also noted that “no funds from the student levy were used.”
USMC’s Campus Ministry receives funding through a series of grants and donations made available to USMC through the support of private benefactors, which are specifically designated for events hosted by the Campus Ministry.
Some dissent towards the trip has arisen from student leadership in the SMC community. “As an SMC director, I do not support SMC’s decision to subsidize an anti-abortion movement,” Myron Atta-Mensah, one of the SMC representatives on the UTSU’s Board of Directors, told The Varsity. “I personally do not support anti-abortion groups within the university.”
In the past, anti-abortion groups and events, some of which were funded by the USMC and its affiliates, have been met with criticism. Such groups include the University of Toronto Students for Life (UTSFL), which has previously been criticized for its activism on campus. UTSFL received funding from the St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU) in 2016.
Anti-abortion groups at UTM and Ryerson University have been defunded by their respective student unions.
U of T’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said that SMC has the “ultimate authority over their own governance” and “the types of [programs] they offer” as agreed upon in the federation framework agreement, which outlines the powers and responsibilities that are separate or shared by the University of Toronto and SMC.
According to Blackburn-Evans, while U of T does “work very closely with [SMC] on academic aspects” of students’ experiences, they do not “weigh in” or cast judgement on initiatives started by the college.
For SMC, associations with pro-life movements relates to its identity as a Catholic institution. “As a Catholic university, [SMC] seeks to provide a platform for voices that are otherwise marginalized and silenced in Canadian society,” Slovak said. “This includes those in our community who defend the sanctity of human life from conception until natural death.”