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Steve Weatherbe

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Pro-life club sues U of Toronto student union for free speech

Steve Weatherbe

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, January 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A pro-life student club at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus is suing the student union for denying it club status and access to fellow students.

According to the suit, which was filed in Ontario Superior Court for the UTM ­­Students for Life club by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union violated natural justice, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, due process, and its own promise in its mission statement to “safeguard the individual rights of the student, regardless of race, creed, sex … or personal or political beliefs.”

Noting that the same mission statement lists the student union’s “fundamental belief” in “diverse voices and opinions,” Students for Life president Diane Zettel told LifeSiteNews, “Universities ought to be about defending freedom of expression and association and fighting discrimination based political beliefs.”

Among the most egregious violations of fundamental justice came when the student union justified revocation of the Students for Life club status because its constitution contained technical violations of student union rules, such as the need for four executive members and two general meetings each year.

But when SFLM tried to elect a fourth executive member, the vice president of the student union, Russ Adade, attended the meeting with five non-members, and took over the election himself, granting his fellow attendees voting rights. They then voted down the nominee, leaving SFL in continued violation of student union rules.

But the student union’s club committee did not initially cite technical reasons to justify its refusal to grant SFLM club status for 2015-16 (after granting it the previous year). That came after SFL started talking legal action. Earlier, in August the committee reported to the student union’s board of directors it had refused to give the club status because of its “stance on abortion in terms of being Pro-Life and using their platform to tell women what they should do in those situations.”

Lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, commented drily, “It appears that UTMSU sees diverse opinions as good for most topics, but not abortion.”

As well, the student union refused to give the club an appeal, then relented, but gave the job of reviewing the decision of the club committee to its own chairman, Russ Adade, the man who had initially turned down the club.

“What’s at stake is the freedom to use student union facilities for our meetings,” Zettel told LifeSiteNews. “And on club days at the beginning of each term, we put up a table in front of the student union with the other clubs to recruit members.”

But also at stake is the principle of a university as a place where ideas are freely expressed and exchanged. “We do this by setting up a table in a university building and engaging people one-on-one,” said Zettel. “They’ve been well received.”

The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the student union’s decision, require it to restore the club’s status, and pay SFL’s costs.

The Canadian Federation of Students, an association of university student societies across Canada, voted in 2008 to direct its member groups to refuse pro-life clubs status. This has led to many legal battles. Student societies frequently argue in these cases that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to them. When universities are taken to court by pro-life clubs after being denied access, they claim the same: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to universities.

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