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Ryerson pro-lifers hope to sue student union for denying club status, but need $20,000

Lianne Laurence Lianne Laurence Follow Lianne

TORONTO, June 10, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A Ryerson University student pro-life group needs to raise $20,000 by mid-July to sue the Toronto-based university’s students’ union for refusing to grant it official club status last year.

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) rejected a request by Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR) for club status in November 2014.

According to an email sent at the time by RSU President Rejean Hoilett, the SFLR was denied status because the RSU “opposes…groups, meetings, or events that promote misogynist views towards woman and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault.”

RSU’s board of directors then unanimously rejected the pro-life group’s appeal of the decision in February 2015.

Now, the newly formed pro-bono legal defence group Charter Defence Foundation (CDF) is poised to sue RSU, says Calgary-based constitutional lawyer Carol Crosson.

“I don’t know if there has ever been a case where students on a campus have been so blatantly discriminated against based on only their social viewpoints,” she told LifeSiteNews in a telephone interview.

SFLR is being “punished” for holding views that the RSU has categorized as “misogynist, as justifying sexual assault. I mean, those are such offensive reasons.”

But CDF won’t initiate the legal action unless it has $20,000 in hand to cover court costs should the student litigants lose, said Crosson. “In Ontario, litigation is very expensive.”

The group needs the money by mid-July, because the lawsuit should be launched before “the student union changes hands in the fall,” she said.

Carter Grant, vice president of Students for Life at Ryerson says, “Our ideal situation is we launch this lawsuit and the students’ union comes back and says, ‘Here’s club status,’” giving SFLR, which currently has ten members and an executive of three, the resources it needs to “bring the pro-life message” to Ryerson, including offering help for students facing crisis pregnancies.

RSU’s implied accusation that SFLR promotes misogyny or justifies sexual assault is “confusing” and “disconcerting,” says Grant, a third-year business student. “We’re upset” because SFLR events and indeed, anything about the group “doesn’t suggest any of those things,” he told LifeSiteNews. And despite SFLR asking for clarification, RSU never explained its reasons for denying the group status, other than Hoilett’s email.

Pro-life student groups have been trying since 2003 to get official recognition at Ryerson University. The biggest benefit of official status would be funding, Grant pointed out. A lesser benefit would be freedom from red tape that hampers an unofficial group’s day-to-day operations.

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The Charter Defence Foundation was formed in the last few months by a group of people who “would like to see more representation for the constitutional rights of people across the country,” Crosson told LifeSiteNews.

In these kinds of cases, “people don’t get a financial settlement or damages” so to offer pro-bono legal services “emboldens” potential litigants to come forward.

The Ryerson lawsuit, if it proceeds, will be CDF’s first action, Crosson said, adding, “This is part of a fairly systemic problem in Ontario on campuses.”

According to a press release by the National Campus Life Network, a similar suit brought against Carleton University by student pro-life group Lifeline had to be abandoned because of legal costs.

“These students are courageous, they’re dedicated and all they want is the right to hold a particular viewpoint and to be treated the same as every other student on campus, to have the right to form a student club,” Crosson told LifeSiteNews.

“If these students win, it means a win for all pro-lifers. It means that other students in Ontario will have a legal leg to stand on when their universities and student unions treat them unfairly. It means that bureaucrats in other arenas will take notice that pro-lifers are not easy prey.  Let’s help these students win.”

Information on donating to the lawsuit is available at charterdefence.com.

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