You don’t need to be a great social commentator to recognize that when you mix abortion debates with university students, you get a political hot potato. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Victoriaville or Vancouver though, because the script pretty much stays the same.
Step 1: A pro-life student club (or traveling exhibition) compares abortion in some way to murder/genocide/terrible, terrible things
Step 2: The university’s student council, in all its wisdom, decides to ban said group or club from campus.
Step 3: Gnashing of teeth commences.
It happened at UBC-Okanagan, it happened at York, it happened at Lakehead . . . it happens pretty much everywhere. Generally though, the debate stays inside the university. In the case of the University of Victoria, it’s headed to the courtroom.
Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), the pro-choice student club at UVic, has initiated legal action against the UVic Student Society (UVSS) for what they claim is “a protracted campaign of censorship and discrimination against the club, in which the Student Society has deprived YPY of official club status and withdrawn its funding to punish it for expressing pro-life views.” The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has been assisting YPY over the past year, and is seeking intervener status in the lawsuit.
Somewhat ironically, the lawsuit comes after the UVSS restored YPY’s club status. This followed two years of increasing clampdowns on the club, which culminated in the UVSS denying YPY club status in February. Since that time, UVSS elections were held, in which the left-leaning slate that had been in power for over a decade was defeated by a more centrist group, which reinstated the club last month.
It’s a moot point to YPY though. In the lawsuit, they demand what amounts to a formal apology from the UVSS, a guarantee that club status will not be taken away in the future, and financial restitution for funds refused since October 2008.
Case law on the subject is murky. In 2008, BC’s human rights tribunal dismissed a complaint by UBC-Okanagan’s pro-choice student club, Students For Life, allowing the student union to continue to deny them club status. However, at the time William Black, a law professor at UBC, said the case probably wasn’t precedent setting, arguing “It looks like it was rejected not as a matter of principle, but based on the facts.” At UBC-O, a special general meeting was held to ban Students For Life. At UVic, all decisions involving YPY have been made exclusively by the UVSS council. In America however, the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student clubs cannot be denied funding based on their viewpoint.
Where the lawsuit goes from now is anyone’s guess, though in all likelihood will cost thousands of dollars, take months to finish, and remind the majority of students why wading into the waters of the abortion debate is an issue student governments should be wary of.