Carleton Lifeline Sues Carleton University

Carleton Lifeline has filed a lawsuit against Carleton University and its administration. Five pro-life students were arrested in October for trespassing on their own campus, and later that month the group was intimated further for putting on “Choice” Chain, despite other groups holding similar graphic displays on campus without threat of arrest or non-academic misconduct charges. As the National Post reports, the pro-life club claims that “the administration broke its own codes of conduct regarding human rights and academic freedom as well as violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

You can read the entire statement of claim from their website.

That same eventful month, October 2010, the Pridgen Precendent was set. In ruling against the University of Calgary, Justice Strekaf said that a university campus is “not a Charter free zone” (though it didn’t deal directly with any pro-life student club issues). I believe that ruling is still being appealed. This will be yet another critical case for pro-life students and organizations across Canada. Carleton Lifeline is also still considering legal action against the student union if they continue to discriminate against the club as well. It’s hard to count the number of pro-life clubs under attack across the country in similar ways, so kudos to Ruth Lobo and John McLeod for taking a stand.

And, hey, they’re accepting donations to help cover their legal fees.

Carleton University: We Have a Place for Unpopular Opinions

Why Pro-Lifers “Still Exist”

Samantha Dellapina, staff writer for The UTSC Messenger, wrote an opinion piece a few weeks ago entitled “Pro-lifers still exist?

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just tackle it line by line.

Legalized abortion and a woman’s right to choose is a topic that has been under fire by religious-based organizations for years.

Religion is the focus in the opening sentence, yet watch how little it has to do with the topic of the article, and who’s bringing it up when it’s mentioned. Nevermind the fact that most campus pro-life groups — the primary subjects of her article — aren’t religious organizations.

Perhaps it used to be the popular opinion that abortions should remain illegal, but it also used to be a popular opinion to keep slavery alive in the United States.

Comparing a push to make slavery illegal with a push to make abortion legal? This betrays incredible intellectual dishonesty, or an incredible void of historical knowledge. If anything, the comparison between abortion and slavery weakens the pro-choice stance. The stronger comparison is between those who sought to outlaw slavery and those who seek to outlaw abortion.

Slavery was justified by denying the personhood of slaves, as abortion is justified by denying the personhood of pre-born human beings. Through all of the legal and political challenges, it was this denial of personhood that upheld the institutions and legality of slavery for so many decades in the United States. (“In the eyes of the law…the slave is not a person.” -Virginia Supreme Court decision, 1858)

In the case of slavery in the United States, human beings were denied personhood because of the colour of their skin or their racial background. In the case of abortion, human beings are denied personhood because of their size, or location, etc.

In both cases, dehumanizing rhetoric serves to justify dehumanizing treatment. The n-word wasn’t just offensive, but it was dehumanizing language that serves to support slavery or other civil rights atrocities by attacking the humanity of the African American. We don’t commonly use cold, scientific terms to describe human beings after they are born, but before birth, pro-choice advocates stick to terms like fetus, embryo, blastocyst to dehumanize pre-born children.

This dehumanizing rhetoric and denial of personhood is a common denominator to the worst human rights abuses, and especially to slavery and abortion. To take a subsection of the human population and say that these are human beings but not persons is the very formula of a human rights abuse.

I could go on, but Dellapina’s article gets more absurd (and we’re only two sentences in!).

What is right and what is wrong is subject to the individual, as opinions will always vary, which is why Canada has legalized abortion.

Moral relativism as a defence of abortion is not surprising, but as a defence of slavery? Moral relativism didn’t and couldn’t abolish slavery. (“No one is forcing you to own a slave, but you have no right to impose your morality on others and prevent them from owning slaves if they want to!”) Slavery was abolished because the abolitionists made an objective, moral argument. It didn’t matter that some Southerners believed slavery was okay. The abolitionists said it was objectively wrong — wrong in the North, wrong in the South. They challenged the legality of slavery with moral arguments, in defence of the humanity of those whom society, the courts, the government would deny personhood.

If what is right and wrong is subject to the individual, we have no right to make slavery illegal. The comparison of abortion to slavery does not bode well for a pro-choice argument which relies on moral relativism to succeed.

Samantha, if Canada legalized abortion because “what is right and what is wrong is subject to the individual,” and “opinions will always vary,” then why shouldn’t Canada legalize slavery?

This allows individuals to make their own personal and private choices in the matter, without having a law make it for them.

Just like the law denied individual slave owners to make their own personal choices about their own property. But we created laws to deny them that right because we recognized that slaves should not be treated as property, but as persons. Abortion is not a personal or private choice either — it involves denying the personhood of another human being and ending an innocent life.

What pro-lifer’s need to understand is simple: what happens in my womb has nothing to do with them.

What abolitionists need to understand is simple: what happens on my plantation has nothing to do with them.

The property arguments of slave owners only worked for so long. It’s ironic that Dellapina would employ a property-based argument right after comparing abortion to slavery.

I had almost begun to believe the debate had retreated into the background, with more important topics taking the forefront, like the war in Afghanistan, global warming, cholera in Haiti, or Sarah Palin’s new reality television show. It appears however, that in Universities across the globe, pro-lifer’s still exist!

Has Dellapina not been following Canadian politics? Or campuses? Has she searched the web? There was just a vote in the Canadian parliament on a bill to explicitly outlaw coerced abortion (the vote was after the article was published, but the bill was tabled months ago), the Liberal Party was freaking out earlier this year over the Harper government’s approach to exclude abortion from its maternal health initiative, the “biggest-ever” March for Life took place this past year on Parliament Hill with an estimated 15,000 participants, and pro-life campus clubs have consistently received media attention in their freedom of expression battles with university administrations and student unions across the country, with support of organizations like the BC Civil Liberties Association.

It can be helpful sometimes, as a writer, to make the reader feel smarter than you, but not to give the reader the impression that your head is firmly buried in the sand. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt here and assume it was a poorly executed joke.

On October 4, 2010, five pro-life students were arrested after attempting to set up an exhibit within the heavily populated Tory Quad of Carleton University…

Ah, right, the peaceful demonstrators who were hand-cuffed and hauled away in a police van for trespassing on their own publicly-funded university campus.

… After watching the arrest on YouTube it is clear the group was looking for confrontation when they were given many chances to simply move their display. Perhaps they took the arrests as a way to publicize their anti-abortion argument, and in a way, it has worked, because here I am writing about it. Though how much it has worked in their favour has yet to be seen.

Watch the video yourself. There’s a big difference between not backing down when you’re being bullied and denied freedom of expression, and “looking for” confrontation.

Carleton Lifeline was not looking for confrontation with the administration, and certainly didn’t expect the police to be called in to arrest them for peacefully demonstrating on their own campus. But they weren’t willing to let the administration intimidate them into silence (or “protesting indoors only” — which is practically the same). They were willing to risk confrontation with the administration and stand up for their rights (and the rights of others), but they didn’t go looking for the police.

About a month after the arrests, CUSA made another huge stride in silencing LifeLine, by completely denying the group status and funding. The decision to cut the club comes directly from Khaldoon A. Bushnaq, Vice-President of Internal Affairs for CUSA, explaining that the club’s constitution is in violation of CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy, which supports a “woman’s right to choose.” Enraged, Ruth Lobo—president of LifeLine—said, “I will never get over the shock that there is a discrimination policy that allows them to discriminate against us.” No Lobo, there is a discrimination policy in place to prevent you from discriminating against women.

The CUSA discrimination policy says that people and groups with a particular political view — that abortion is in any way unacceptable at any time — are denied privileges that other students have, while still being forced to pay dues to the student union. That sounds like discrimination to me. Holding up GAP signs may challenge or offend, but it doesn’t actually exclude anyone from anything.

I recommend reading Carleton Lifeline’s first response to CUSA on this issue [PDF]. Aside from having a discrimination policy that discriminates against pro-life students, they didn’t even follow their own procedures outlined in their own constitution. If this isn’t resolved within the university, it’s likely to be resolved in a courtroom [PDF].

The revoking of the club’s status has caused a stir within Pro-Lifer’s across North America, who are using it as a platform to argue for their equal rights. Not surprisingly, the Catholic Civil Rights League has condemned CUSA’s move “as a violation of freedom of expression.” A Christian faith-based website, Wintery Knight, has outwardly called CUSA “left wing fascists.”

Ah, the only mentioned of religion aside from the opening of the article. But, Dellapina seems to suggest that the only concern is coming from fringe groups or “religious-based organizations.” A quick web search finds the following articles which, at the very least, take the freedom of expression issue seriously:

It’s hard to tell if Dellapina is pretending that only “religious-based organizations” are concerned about the freedom of expression issue, or if she simply didn’t search the web. Also, last I checked, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association didn’t report to the Vatican.

Perhaps LifeLine should have seen this coming and kept their little display contained in Porter Hall.

Their “little” display? That Dellapina feels deserves her attention, in Scarborough, two months after it happened in Ottawa? It’s just pettiness seeping through here.

It was only in April of this year, that the University of Calgary notified eight members of the Campus Pro-Life student group that they have been found guilty of a major violation under the Non-Academics Misconduct Policy… The CPL President, Alanna Campbell, has told the press that she would “rather be expelled as a principled person than graduate a coward.” The Messenger presses Campbell to continue to challenge the verdict in hopes that she will discover the imbalance in her life’s priorities.

If only the University of Calgary were so confident. They’ve already lost a big case on the question of whether the Charter applies on campus — a case that they’re appealing, because it spells disaster for their conflict with Calgary Pro-Life. But even the University of Calgary, for all it’s done to intimidate pro-life students, hasn’t had them dragged off campus in handcuffs.

… The Canadian Government closed the books on the debate over a woman’s legal right to abortion in 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R. v. Morgentaler that the existing laws were unconstitutional and therefore struck them down.

That’s… not exactly true. I’m not sure Dellapina understands the difference between the legislative (Parliament) / executive (Prime Minister, Cabinet, Government Departments, Civil Service) branches of government, and the judiciary (the Supreme Court of Canada, in this case).

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the existing laws as unconstitutional, due to the “manifest unfairness” of an awkward administrative procedure involving committee approval required by the old law. Parliament attempted to pass a new law, but it was defeated in the Senate in a tie vote. No subsequent government has revisited the situation as of yet.

In other words, no one closed any books on any debate. The Supreme Court did not determine that any law on abortion was unconstitutional, but that the old law was unconstitutional. Parliament has attempted to pass a new law, and could try again, but has been unwilling or unable to do so successfully, and thus, Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion. It’s an absence of a law, a void — but no one has “closed the books.”

Today in Canada, Medicare covers the costs and the law requires clinics to be funded across provinces.

Right after trotting out the old “debate is closed” line, Dellapina reminds her readers that abortion is publicly-funded with taxpayer dollars… meaning, it’s absolutely a legitimate subject of public, political debate.

What strikes me most about LifeLine, Students for Life, and Campus Pro-Life, is that they intend to take away a legal right in a country that is supposed to represent liberal culture. The desire to remove this fundamental right from women seems equal to taking away their right to vote, or freedom of religion, and then where does it end? All I can say is… don’t you have a paper to write or an exam to study for?

It’s so odd to open the article with an invocation of the fight against slavery, and then to make arguments like this.

First, women were denied a right to vote because they weren’t considered persons under the law — same as slaves, same as the unborn. To equate “freedom to kill your unborn child” with “freedom of religion” is utterly ignoring the second person affected by in the act of abortion. No one is threatening anyone’s right to cast a ballot, because casting a ballot doesn’t involve dismembering an innocent human being.

Second, it’s not a legal right, but an absence of any legal barrier. There is no positive affirmation of some legal right to an abortion in Canada, nevermind as a “fundamental right.” There’s only a lack of any legal obstacles.

Third, Dellapina invokes liberalism right after she brushed aside freedom of expression issues that are on the radar of civil liberties associations across the country and applauded the “huge strides in silencing” political views she disagrees with. Last I checked, freedom of expression was a fundamental right in a true liberal democracy.

The University of Toronto has yet to lay down its own law against its own pro-life club…

Erm… which law would that be?

The club failed to respond to The Messenger regarding the recent events at Carleton University, among other questions, but fortunately for us they have a website.

Yes, we did. Sorry. Seeing the final product of Dellapina’s article, I can only imagine how our words might have been twisted, but, honestly, there was no deliberate attempt to avoid comment. We honestly missed the email until recently, well after the article was published. We were busy, you know, writing papers and studying for exams. Our mistake, but not an intentional snub.

This past Remembrance Day, the group staged a protest downtown…

I guess it wasn’t clear from the website, but for the record, the protest was on Wed Nov 10 — the videos went up the next day.

… I was able to breathe easy watching the video posted on the Students for Life website once I could hear the overpowering voices of pro-choice students silencing the pro-lifer’s.

Our megaphone-wielding friends shouting slogans from the 70s certainly aren’t surprised to find pro-life opposition on campus, since that was the probably the 15th or so public pro-life demonstration I’ve participated in since beginning my studies on the St. George campus in 2005.

As much as I oppose the pro-life opinion, believe it is backwards and should have no place in politics, I still believe everyone has a right to have an opinion.

That’s kind of her, not to question are right to… uh… think for ourselves?

Though, within the walls of a University, I do not believe there should be any room for these opinions.

Spoken like a true supporter of liberalism and academic freedom.

Keep them in your house, talk about them over a beer, join a pro-life group that isn’t affiliated with an educational institution, have a baby when you get pregnant, but get off my campus!

Hey, kind of like don’t ask, don’t tell, but for your political opponents!

The Messenger wants to know what YOU think. Email your opinions to utscmessenger@gmail.com with the subject: ABORTION.

Email us! Because the debate is over, and you should keep your opinions to yourself!

Samantha, I’m sorry we didn’t answer your request for comments earlier. Maybe we’ll take up the questions in another post soon. You said in your email to us, “I think your voice is important regarding this issue.” I’d like to think you meant that (and not just when we keep our opinions to ourselves). But if our voice is important on this issue, why are you so eager to applaud the efforts to silence the voices of Carleton and U of C pro-life students? If you were really a supporter of authentic liberal democracy, and of universities and academic freedom, you wouldn’t be applauding the silencing of people with whom you disagree.

If you take an honest look at abortion in light of slavery, I think you might understand our perspective a just little bit more. The debate clearly is far from over, as evidenced by your article, as evidence by events at Carleton, as evidenced by events on Parliament Hill. As confused as it may be, I think your voice is important in the debate too, and I certainly wouldn’t applaud anyone seeking to silence you. As a supporter of a true liberal culture, you may want to reconsider rooting for those who seek to silence expression with which they disagree.

As long as innocent human beings are denied personhood, dehumanized and killed, pro-lifers will exist. As long as pro-choicers seek to silence any dissent on the issue, pro-lifers will take a stand — on this campus, and across the country.

Michael Coren on the Carleton Arrests

Michael Coren discusses the Carleton arrests on his TV show around the 15:30 mark with panelists Laura Babcock, David Menzies, and Matt Gurney (via @NCLN).

We’ve highlighted his excellent coverage of the campus free speech issues that pro-life students face in the past, as he’s often spoken on campuses for pro-life clubs.

Support from Students for Life of America

Our friend Blaise did a phenomenal job of blogging about the arrests at Carleton University last week. He did such a good job that Students for Life of America sent out a statement regarding the arrests (because it is not like they would have heard about the arrests from anybody else). Here is the statement from Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America:

Yesterday, the Canadian government showed once again that it does not
respect freedom of speech, freedom of expression or the sanctity of
human life. Pro-life students should have the right to speak out on
their own campus, particularly when that campus is publically funded.
The four pro-life students, arrested for trespassing at Carleton
University, showed exemplary faith and courage in the face of
discrimination.  By silencing these students, Carleton University
actually helped advance the pro-life message. The controversy
surrounding this incident will help educate thousands of Canadian
students. Pro-life students across the world stand in solidarity with
the four pro-life student heroes at Carleton University.

UTSFL, along with Students for Life of America,  stands in solidarity with these brave pro-life students. From my own experience I’m not sure how I would have handled the situation that they faced. I do know, however, that we should all feel more courageous in spreading the pro-life message on campus. All pro-lifers need to support these students for their witness to life and educate our peers wherever we may be.

Media Coverage of Carleton Arrests

Just a thought, folks. Has anyone else been following the media coverage of the shameful arrest of peaceful pro-life protesters at Carleton University? Today an article came out in the National Post’s Holy Post section that I thought was interesting. Although it didn’t really focus on the insanity of arresting a group of peaceful protesters for “trespassing” on their own campus, which they paid thousands of dollars every year to attend, or why pro-life protests should be required to host their protests in a small auditorium off the beaten track (no doubt the Carleton Student Union’s next move would have been to move them in a basement behind a locked door). However, it was a fairly thoughtful piece about the use of graphic images in the pro-life movement, specifically the GAP protest style, and whether by using it they were doing more harm than good. This got me thinking about how the other major newspapers are framing the issue. After all this is a big story, right? Students get arrested on campus for protesting. If this had been a protest against the war or other human rights causes, arrests would be all over the newspapers, right? I should have known better. In my scouring of the Internet, I found a short story piece by the Ottawa Citizen… and nothing else. I scanned the major news outlets in Canada, the CBC, the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, The Globe And Mail… not a single one had picked up the story. A full three days after the Carleton University students were arrested and, besides the National Post, the greatest source of news on this issue is an independent blog associated with the Vancouver Sun. Not a single major news outlet thinks it’s in the best interest of Canadians to know that a group of protesters have been arrested by their university in blatant violation of their right to free speech. In fact, here is a fun piece of trivia for you: what is the first thing that comes up when you type in “student arrested for protest Canada”. That’s right, we do. In the whole country our humble blog is the first thing to come up on what should be a huge media story. I don’t know whether to be flattered or horrified. My dearest wish is that somehow I am wrong, that by the time I post this I will be made a fool of a media storm sweeping down to express outrage at the violation of these protesters’ rights. However, given my experience in the movement, I’m not holding my breath.

VIDEO: Peaceful Prolife Student Protesters Given A Choice: “Protest” Inside or Face Arrest

More details have emerged from the arrests at Carleton University this morning, especially with the release of this video from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

Notice, the Carleton official doesn’t want “this display in this location.” What policies guide their restrictions on which displays can go where? As Ruth Lobo, the president of the Carleton pro-life pointed out, the Carleton Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy states that “peaceful assemblies, demonstrations and lawful picketing are allowed within established laws.” Yet, the University told the students to “protest” indoors (is that what they tell union staff when they strike?) or be charged with trespassing on their own campus.

I took a guess that Porter Hall was a little less of an effective location for a protest than where they were heading. Craig Stewart, one of the students, left a comment on our first post about this incident describing Porter Hall as “an isolated old gymnasium off the beaten path.” Ruth Lobo says in the National Post that its “like a tomb to which no one ever goes.” Take a look at where Porter Hall is, according to Google Maps, in relation to the Carleton campus.
Update: Seth left a comment to correct the Google map:

Just for the sake of accuracy, Porter Hall is actually located on level 2 of the University Center building. To be fair, that is the central building right in the middle of campus and it’s packed with students passing through and eating everyday. That being said, nobody really knows where Porter Hall is. It’s a bit of a cave and down a couple of halls from the highly populated areas. Either way, the pin on the map is incorrect. The UniCentre building is just South-West of Campus Avenue from the green arrow. That is the central area of the Carleton Campus.

I guess Google doesn’t know where Porter Hall is either.

Which other campus groups get arrested for not protesting in Porter Hall?

The legal issues are a bit tricky. Does the Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to universities? They assert they are private institutions, yet the majority of their funding often comes from the government, and there isn’t really a clear legal precedent. Notwithstanding the Charter (get it?), the University has a responsibility to adhere to its own governing documents, which outlined a right to peaceful protest under “established laws.” Certain time, manner and place restrictions are reasonable, but cannot be applied arbitrarily, and also ought to be reasonable. Telling the pro-life club that they can only protest on the edge of campus, indoors, seems pretty unreasonable, and I’d be surprised if other groups got the same treatment. There’s also Ontario human rights legislation which could come into play if things were to really get nasty. (Though, note that the students were charged with trespassing under provincial law, not criminal trespassing under the criminal code, so, I’ve been told it’s more like a traffic violation in the sense that you don’t have a criminal record, but just fines.)

Though the legal issues are murky, the broader message is not. Carleton University will attempt to squash expression it doesn’t like, they’ll call the cops on peaceful students if they don’t stay indoors with their protests, and they won’t hesitate to discriminate based on the message.

In short, if you express an unpopular opinion at Carleton, you might be cuffed and hauled off in a van.

Pro-life Student Protesters Arrested at Carleton [updated]

Updated: more details in an Updated post


Photo Credit: Hilary Roberts, The Charlatan

The Charlatan, Carleton’s campus newspaper, reports that five pro-life protesters were arrested at the University of Carleton this morning. Four were Carleton students, and one was a Queen’s student. [video clip] Updated: detailed video

The five people were on campus to set up a visual display in Carleton’s quad showcasing images of abortion and comparing it to genocides such as the Holocaust, Lobo said.

Jason MacDonald, director of Carleton’s department of university communications, said the group had requested to set up in the Academic Quad but were told to set up in Porter Hall.

MacDonald said all five were charged under Ontario’s Trespass to Property Act.

They have now been released with Provincial Offense Notices.

Details are still scarce, but this seems pretty outrageous. Students get charged with protesting on their own campus? I’d like to know what steps were taken between the university discovering that the students had set up were they were told not to, and their being arrested and charged with trespassing under provincial law. Were the students asked to leave, and did they refuse? Or was this a heavy-handed response to send a message?

Also, someone who knows the Carleton campus better will have to confirm this, but I get the impression that the Academic Quad is outdoors, while Porter Hall is not. It’d be like if we were told to “protest” in Father Madden Hall instead of the Sid Smith patio. That kind of defeats the point of a protest, and I wonder how many other student groups get arrested if they don’t protest inside. It could be that the students decided to challenge an unfair restriction, that typically isn’t applied to other protesters and would totally undermine the purpose of a protest.

If that’s the case, a talk delivered by lawyer John Carpay at the NCLN Symposium this past weekend will be very relevant… He’s the lawyer representing the University of Calgary students who were charged with trespassing on their own campus for putting on a GAP display. In that case, however, the University stayed the charges days before they were due to appear in court, likely because they didn’t have a strong enough case. Since then, they haven’t tried the trespassing charge again, but they’re trying to bully the students with non-academic misconduct charges and the threat of expulsion. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing images of U of C students in handcuffs… I’m pretty sure they were charged, but not arrested. Carpay’s opinion was that there was too much media attention, and the university would get bad press for cracking down on student speech so visibly. Someone at Carleton didn’t get the memo.

Now, I don’t know the difference between Alberta and Ontario’s trespassing laws, but it seems pretty ridiculous to charge students paying tuition for trespassing on their own campus. Even for the Queen’s student, I’d love to know what steps were taken before the handcuffs went on. Were the protesters asked to leave? Or were they just arrested right away?

My guess is that, regardless, Carleton will come to regret this ridiculous show of force. It’s censorship, and it’s bullying, and I’d love to know what other protest groups have been charged for trespassing on their own campus, and I wonder if Carleton will actually try to defend this in court, which Calgary was unwilling to do. If the University of Calgary is any indication though, these students are in for a long battle. This is more about intimidation than it is about the law.

Carpay also highly recommended the EFC’s reference guide for students and their legal counsel on the law and legal principles involve with pro-life campus club challenges. Highly recommended. I’ve only had a chance to skim it so far, but maybe we’ll dig into it a bit deeper later on.

Lastly, I hope this isn’t an emerging trend of pro-life protesters being arrested for showing images of what abortion actually is…

For now, just waiting for more news from Carleton…

Updated: Craig, one of the pro-lifers arrested, provides some more details in the comments.

Updated: The CCBR has photos.