David J. A. Foster, a student blogger at the University of Victoria, reports that he has come across a petition calling for the indefinite suspension of the pro-life club Youth Protecting Youth. The petition, which was found in UVic’s students union building, goes farther than previous efforts by the University of Victoria Students’ Society to limit the club’s activities.
For nearly a year and a half, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) and the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) have locked horns. Since October 2008, the UVSS has denied $232 in annual funding to which all clubs are entitled to. In October 2009 the UVSS board again voted to deny funding. Recently, the BC Civil Liberties Association asked the UVSS board to reconsider their position, arguing that denying funding is an unreasonable limit to freedom of speech on a university campus that should be a bastion of open debate. The board refused and BCCLA is threatening legal action. The Canadian Federation of Students has reportedly stepped up to offer the UVSS legal funding if the BCCLA makes good on its threat.
However, while UVSS has repeatedly refused to fund the anti-abortion club, it has not outright denied its status as a club. This gives the group the right to book space and other perks. This latest petition brings the controversy a step further by asking that the club be denied status full stop.
The petition asks the UVSS clubs council to consider a motion calling for the suspension of the group for “their repeated offensive actions.” These offensive actions, as described in a letter preceding the petition, include: use of GAP (Genocide Awareness Project) materials on campus and hosting the controversial anti-abortion activist Stephanie Gray on campus, who participated in a debate with a philosophy professor. “This is hate speech that caused harm to many people on campus, including but not limited to many women on campus who have had abortions,” the letter reads. “The images and the captions on the posters harassed women and tried to make us feel guilty about a choice that we have a right to make.”
First thing first, according to everyone I’ve spoken to about the topic, GAP materials–which typically feature graphic images of abortions next to those of horrific events like the Rwandan Genocide–have never been used on UVic campus. Ever. Not by Stephanie Gray or anyone. So what this boils down to is a group of students feeling offended by the posters and Stephanie Gray.
I wrote an article on the BCCLA’s legal action against the UVSS in December, which included a description of the event at which Gray spoke. You can read it here.
And as far as I can tell, this dispute is going to go as far as the courts allow. John Dixon of the BCCLA is candid about his organization’s determination to fight for YPY’s freedom of speech and I can’t think of a more aggressive sparring partner than a stubborn students’ association funded by the CFS.