UVic student union revokes club status of pro-life club

Latest move to silence abortion debate at UVic will likely lead to legal showdown

The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) cranked up their fight against the pro-life student club Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) last week by revoking the club’s status. Previous efforts to silence the club’s controversial message only went so far as to deny the club funding. This latest move denies the very existence of the group, upping the stakes significantly in a conflict that is sure to end up in court.

The spat began in October 2008 when the university’s students’ society refused to give YPY the same meagre funding all UVic student clubs receive. Clubs approved by a committee are entitled to $232 each year in addition to such perks as banner supplies and free room bookings. Upon review in 2009, the committee approved funding for YPY. But the students’ society board stepped in and once again revoked the funding, yet still permitted it to operate on campus.

In an October 2009 meeting, the society’s directors accused YPY of “harassing” female students with anti-abortion posters. Those opposed to YPY have also complained about a YPY sponsored event that featured the controversial pro-life activist Stephanie Gray debate distinguished medical ethicist Eike-Henner Kluge. Director Tracey Ho summed up the society’s position by saying, “No one should debate my rights over my own body.”

YPY fought back by contacting the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), in hopes the organization would defend its right to freedom of speech. BCCLA agreed and in late 2009 threatened to launch a lawsuit on behalf of YPY if the UVSS didn’t reinstate the club’s funding. The UVSS brushed the BCCLA off. (Read our previous coverage here.)

In a UVSS meeting that stretched past 11pm last Monday night, the student society decided to revoke the club’s status for one year, meaning that in addition to losing funding, YPY can no longer rent rooms or access other perks available to clubs. YPY may be able to regain status if it complies to certain restrictions. The catch is that the UVSS hasn’t yet determined what those restriction are, so YPY’s status won’t change until the restrictions are written at some unspecified time in the future.

The decision was in part a response to a complaint filed by the UVSS Women’s Centre. “Reproductive rights are elemental in women’s collective and individual potential for equity in all realms of social life,” the complaint letter states. “Access to abortion free from harassment is one of these reproductive rights that YPY continually undermine through the proliferation of inaccurate information and the creation of hostile environments.”

“YPY’s identity and actions as a pro-life organization inherently discriminates against women. Through intimidation tactics and moralist evangelizing, YPY limits the ability of women on campus to access accurate information about abortion free from harassment.”

John Dixon, president of BCCLA, finds this argument illogical. “It is worthwhile to consider, for a moment, what this really means,” he wrote in an email. “It means that the very civil, moderate pro-life YPY club at UVic doesn’t even have to get out of bed in the morning to discriminate against women; it means that no matter how mild, moderate, and circumscribed its advocacy, it discriminates against women. There is no appeal to reason here, but a weird evocation of a kind of secular flavour of sacrilege.”

In a Thursday email to UVSS chairperson Veronica Harrison, YPY president Anastasia Pearse asked the UVSS to call a special general meeting to reconsider their status. “We are unaware of any policy or bylaw that gives the Board discretion to withhold club status indefinitely based upon a yet-to-be-developed policy,” Pearse wrote. “We refuse to participate.”

Harrison has maintained that the UVSS has every right to deny funding to YPY. “Freedom of speech of course can happen, but not when it’s harassing or oppressing other people,” she said in December.

UVSS Director Nathan Warner was one of the minority who voted against revoking YPY’s status. “I’m pro-choice but I’m also pro-debate,” he told Maclean’s. “Abortion is not an easy topic for anyone and I believe that no matter what you ask it will likely offend someone. I don’t think that is reason enough to merit banning a club from campus.”

Warner concedes that YPY is asking tough questions in its anti-abortion campaign. But, as he points out, YPY’s posters don’t include graphic images that have been associated with other pro-life campus activism. “This attack on freedom of expression is unfounded and needs to be stopped,” he said.

It seems unlikely that the BCCLA will back off either. According to Dixon: “At the University of Victoria, the values of freedom of conscience, opinion, religion, and expression are decried as quaint residues of an irrelevant past.  The Board of the Student Society has drunk deeply at the well of post-modernist ideology, and they are determined to drive the very moderate and civil student pro-life club from the campus. What certainly seems separate from this university is the faintest memory of the very idea of a ‘university’ as a place dedicated to the preference of dialogue over force.”

Related: Closed for debate. Also see, Uvic’s pro-choicers up the ante against pro-life club

- With files from David Foster

UVic student union revokes club status of pro-life club

  1. The irony, perhaps, is that this persistent campaign against YPY by the UVSS has probably done more to raise the profile of YPY and allow their message to reach a wider audience than the meagre $232 from the UVSS likely ever would have.

  2. As a pro-choicer I am embarrassed and appalled at this. I am PRO-CHOICE but I am also PRO FREEDOM OF SPEECH! To ban a group just because you don’t like what they’re saying is cowardly and oppressive. By doing this you are showing that you are no better than the right wing conservatives.

    “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
    Voltaire

  3. “Reproductive rights are elemental in women’s collective and individual potential for equity in all realms of social life,”

    Wait a minute, this letter is actually saying that women need abortion in order to be equal to men? Oh really?! That is extremely offensive to me.

  4. @Artemis. No it’s not saying that women need abortion in order to be equal to men. There’s this misconception that pro-choice means pro-abortion. That is completely untrue. We simply believe that women should be ALLOWED to have an abortion if they choose to.

    That being said, I am absolutely disgusted by the actions of the UVSS. I am especially disturbed by the quote, “No one should debate my rights over my own body.” Actually, the right to debate is absolutely necessary to have a free society. I don’t care if you’re a right wing Bible thumper or a left wing communist or anything in between. Obviously there are some instances where free speech should be limited, for example if you’re encouraging violence or if you start harassing people. However, this pro-life group has done neither. Putting up posters and organizing a debate does not qualify as harassment. You can always choose not to go to the debate or to ignore the posters. If they were sending hate mail or heckling women at clinics then that would be harassment.

    I would sure be pissed off if I was attending a conservative university and the student society tried to deny funding to a pro-choice group. Free speech is a two way street. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

  5. Pingback: UVIC Students’ Society votes to revoke status of pro-life club « Education Law Blog

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  7. Pingback: Maclean’s and Other Publications Feature YPY`s Free Speech Battle « Youth Protecting Youth

  8. I was present for a more recent club meeting where YPY (they had club status at the time) was present. During the meeting there were written statements from students reporting that the recent poster campaign was offensive and considered harassment by those who signed. I believe there was a total of 38 complaints.

    It was suggested that because this was not a first time complaint and because they had been asked to desist previously that they should be penalized.

    The Martlet has done a number of articles about this issue. So here a a few and some additional articles.
    http://www.martlet.ca/article/20842-old-issues-rear-their-heads
    http://eyeontheuvss.blogspot.com/2010/02/martlet-mangles-medical-missive.html
    http://www.martlet.ca/article/21069-ypy-protests-board-s-decision
    http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2010/02/15/uvic-student-union-revokes-club-status-of-pro-life-club/

    I actually had the chance to sit down and talk with one of the YPY advocates. And together we went over what the main mandates were.

    -to increase awareness of fetal development
    - to provide information on positive alternatives to abortion
    - to generate support for women facing untimely pregnancies and/or those who have had abortions and to provide information on services available
    - to increase awareness of other human life advocacy issues such as euthanasia and capital punishment

    My problem is not simply that women on campus are feeling harassed, but that from YPY I’ve not seen or heard any mention of positive, viable options (for students.) Additionally, and most importantly I think, YPY has not generated any support or helped to alter the situation/difficulties facing pregnant students.

    During our discussion, this was in fact, what I was led to believe was the main focus of YPY. That women seem to have to viable options other than abortion and YPY wanted to work towards resolving these difficulties so that students could keep their babies and support themselves or study.

    Unfortunately, their campaign seems to be based on how abortion is wrong rather than how to go about fixing the difficulties that it is assumed cause it in the first place.

    I would like to point out that it was also stressed to me that YPY is not listed as an anti-abortion group. It is not in their mandate.

    Which, I think, is part of the reason it is able to clash with Uvic’s policy on the matter.

    Well, I may not have added much to the conversation, but I was able to point out the reasoning given for the removal of club status. So I hope this was helpful somehow.:)

  9. I am proud of the stance that the UVSS took in this issue, and want to raise awareness and concern about the reporting that has covered this issue, as it has been incredibly polarized and has neglected the context of what has gone on.

    David foster- the person who Erin cites as a source, is a right wing, biased blogger whose factitious coverage continues to confuse people about YPY and the UVSS. Quite frankly, I find it embarrassing that any Maclean’s author would rely on such a source. A very dismal job indeed; however, it is one that serves its political purpose- of making YPY look like “victims” of freedom of speech.

  10. Thanks for the appreciation, but I wonder what is meant by referring to me as “factitious.” Is that meant to “fictitious” (unreal?) My articles and posts are all backed up by first-hand experience or reliable journalistic sources. I tape recorded hours and hours of debate on the YPY issue in the UVSS, so I can verify that everything I wrote was accurate.

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