Eight members of the University of Calgary’s pro-life club, Campus Pro-Life (CPL), have been found guilty after closed-door hearings late last month over their presentation of a pro-life display on campus, says the group.
U of C’s Acting Associate Vice-Provost Meghan Houghton told the students that she was issuing “a formal written warning” that if the students “fail to comply with directives of Campus Security staff in the future” it will “result in more severe sanctions.” Houghton conducted the hearings, at which the students were denied legal representation, and was the sole decision-maker in the guilty verdict.
“We are going to challenge this verdict,” stated Alanna Campbell, CPL President. “We did not break a single University bylaw or regulation and so we will defend ourselves accordingly. We will also not cease exercising our rights to free speech just because they’re threatening us. I’d rather be expelled as a principled person than graduate a coward.”
Last month, after having set up the GAP (Genocide Awareness Project) pro-life display on campus for the ninth time since 2006, members of the group were notified that they were being charged with a ‘Major Violation’ under Section 4.10 of the University of Calgary’s Non-Academic Misconduct Policy. The cited reason was the students’ “failure to comply with a Campus Security officer or University official in legitimate pursuit of his/her duties” when asked to turn their signs inward or leave campus.
In Houghton’s decision, she explained the university’s demands: “Signs that welcomed viewers and signs that identified your group as an anti-abortion display could remain outward facing but signs with the actual content of your display… must face away from walkways… or any other areas in which persons on campus would have little choice but to look at your display.”
“That’s blatant content-based discrimination,” responded Peter Csillag, CPL Vice-President (Internal). “Why weren’t abortion advocates, or Falun Gong supporters, forced to place their messages inwards when they protested on campus? You can’t have debate if everyone is pointed inwards on themselves. As far as I’m concerned, this verdict against us pro-lifers is not legitimate, and it reveals U of C to be an institute of censorship and double standards — not of higher learning.”
In 2006 and 2007, during the first four displays of GAP on campus, the university defended the students’ right to expression under the Charter, but in 2008 the University reversed its policy without explanation.
“This recent hearing and result is just another step in a long history of intimidation and censorship and if they think we’ll step down as the result of it then they’re sorely mistaken,” stated Cameron Wilson, CPL Vice-President (External).
The GAP display compares abortion to past historical atrocities, such as the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. In 2009, the University charged six students with trespassing in relation to the display, but the Crown Prosecutor stayed these charges prior to a trial scheduled for November of 2009. Since then, members of CPL have been threatened with non-academic misconduct upon each display, but only now has the University carried out its threats, beginning with this formal warning.
“We’ve been informed that there are a lot of possible punishments involved, ranging from warnings to expulsion,” stated Cristina Perri, CPL Secretary. But, she said, “There’s nothing they can do to us individually that compares to what hundreds of unborn children encounter each day in our country.”