By Patrick B. Craine
MONTREAL, Quebec, April 8, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Student Society of McGill University (SSMU) has reinstated the club status of Choose Life, the campus pro-life club, but only after forcing them to submit to special requirements that restrict the club's ability to share the pro-life message.
The SSMU Council voted April 1st to reinstate the club, but also required them to attach an appendix to their constitution in order to “facilitate their compliance” with SSMU's equity policy.
Natalie Fohl, Choose Life's president, said that she was pleased with the return of their status, but denounced the special restrictions on their pro-life voice. “I think it's a double standard, and it's very disappointing that they think that this is justified, and I hope that at some point it will be rectified,” she told LifeSiteNews (LSN).
In particular, SSMU has banned Choose Life from “advocat[ing] or lobby[ing] for the criminalization of abortion through the use of SSMU resources.” According to Fohl, this means that they will not be permitted to do so in the Student Union building.
According to Rebecca Dooley, SSMU Vice President (University Affairs), who presented the appendix, “Students pay us money, and we have our resources because of our students.”
Post-abortive students “should not be concerned that an organization that they are a part of is giving resources to a group that is trying to take away their rights,” she said, according to the McGill Daily.
SSMU has also disallowed the presentation of graphic images, such as those depicting aborted babies, in open public spaces. Even in closed spaces, the document demands that such images never be shown “without the ability of the copyright owner to demonstrate that all images were legally obtained.”
“We don’t want [Choose Life] to be going around … trying to shame or shock students with graphic imagery,” said Dooley. “We want to be able to have a lot of different groups under the SSMU. However, the way in which you express these views has to be respectful.”
“If people want to consciously seek out information, we don’t want to restrict their ability to go and seek that out,” Dooley added.
Fohl admitted that the restriction of graphic imagery was significant. “Obviously that was a big concession on our part,” she noted.
Choose Life was suspended on November 12 following an October event offered on campus by Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform. Entitled “Echoes of the Holocaust,” the presentation compares abortion with past atrocities, using, in part, images of aborted babies.
Choose Life had hosted the event despite a censure passed by the SSMU Council on October 1st. The University nevertheless backed the club's right to free expression and allowed the use of university premises.
Ruba's presentation made headlines after it was shut down by extremist protesters who persisted in shouting over him and blocking his screen, despite interventions from university security and the Montreal police. The protest continued, albeit in a more subdued fashion, even after two arrests were made.
The November suspension called for the SSMU Equity Committee to meet with Choose Life and draft the appendix that was adopted last Thursday.
In February, the McGill student body voted against a proposed ban on campus pro-life clubs.
Despite the fact that the Jose Ruba event was cited last fall as a violation of SSMU's equity policy, and was the main reason for the suspension, Fohl says the restrictions imposed on them do not prevent the club from hosting Ruba again.
“That's one of the most interesting parts of the whole thing,” she said. Despite a few changes, she explained that “none of the regulations substantively prevent us from repeating past events.”
Nevertheless, the appendix does single out the pro-life viewpoint as needing special restrictions that are not applied to other groups. Besides the provisions noted above, the appendix also requires Choose Life to remove the section of their constitution that affiliates them with the National Campus Life Network (NCLN), though they are permitted to continue receiving support from external organizations such as NCLN.
Another special provision suggests that Choose Life's respect for the law is in question. It reads: “In the event that Choose Life is suspected of violating Canadian Law, external recourse will be encouraged.”
Additionally, the club is being required to cite health information included in their materials, and to include the following disclaimer where appropriate: “The medical information presented here may or may not be in agreement with corresponding information presented by some health authorities; including Health Canada.”
Further, the appendix requires that the information and images Choose Life uses not “accuse pregnant or post-abortive persons of being morally reprehensible.”
“We definitely were singled out,” said Fohl. “It's because people have responded so emotionally to our events in the past and to our existence in general.”
She explained that the club was “very much” concerned that accepting the appendix's restrictions would compromise their position, noting that they had been “considering and reconsidering” what to do. “Obviously in the end we decided that we were going to go with it and use what advantages we could” from the club status, she said.
Theresa Gilbert, NCLN's executive director, told LifeSiteNews that the student union is imposing “unjust” restrictions on the pro-life club. “NCLN objects to any special restrictions enforced on a pro-life club,” she said. “Student unions that even consider applying special restrictions exclusively to a defined group, such as pro-life clubs, are acting contrary to their role as a Student Union by marginalizing students whom they disagree with.”
“Being a pro-life advocate is difficult work on a university campus,” she added. “Pro-life work is made much more difficult when restrictions are put in place that only apply to the pro-life voice, but not to other voices on campus.”
A spokesman from McGill University refused to comment on the situation, saying it is a “student matter” and SSMU is an “autonomous organization.”
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
James Administration Building, Room 506
845 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2T5
SSMU Council: https://ssmu.mcgill.ca
See related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
McGill Students Vote against Ban on Pro-Life Groups
McGill University Students' Society Suspends Status of Pro-Life Club
McGill University Officials Speak Out Against Silencing of Pro-Life Presentation
Outrage: Footage Shows Pro-Abort Students Shouting Down Pro-Life Presenter
McGill Pro-Life Presentation Shut Down by Protesters – Two Arrested
McGill Student Union Threatens Pro-Life Club with Defunding for Hosting Event
McGill University's Student Union to Vote Tonight on Motion to Censure Pro-Life Event