Carleton Lifeline

November 16, 2010

Carleton Lifeline, the pro-life student group at Carleton University in Ottawa, has been in the news quite a lot recently. Last month five members of the group were arrested for erecting the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) on campus at a location not approved by the university’s administration — that is, in a public location, not tucked away somewhere. GAP is a controversial display that shows graphic photos of aborted babies and equates abortion to genocide.

I have seen the GAP display myself, and there can be little doubt that it is disturbing. I think there are good grounds, even from a pro-life point of view, to be seriously critical of it. Yet the appropriate response to the display, especially on a university campus, is surely vigorous discussion and debate, not police cars and handcuffs. I do believe that Carleton University handled the whole affair shamefully.

But not shamefully enough, apparently. Yesterday the Carleton Undergraduate Students’ Association (CUSA) announced that Carleton Lifeline’s status as a campus club is being revoked. Effectively, Lifeline is being kicked off campus, forbidden from using campus facilities or planning campus events.

This is not entirely surprising. Something very similar happened to the University of Calgary’s pro-life group not long ago, and, in any case, anyone who has spent enough time on a university campus soon learns that student campus politics leans so far to the left that it makes Jack Layton look like Preston Manning. Sending dissenters to Siberia is a tried and true tactic.

It turns out, though, that there is a surprise hidden in the fine print of this story. The particular reason CUSA cites for revoking Lifeline’s status is that Lifeline’s constitution, which states, obviously enough, that “Carleton Lifeline shall work to promote the legal protection of the unborn and their basic human rights to life”, is in conflict with CUSA’s own Discrimination on Campus Policy. The Discrimination on Campus Policy actually says — and my mouth gaped in disbelief when I read it — that “actions such as any campaign, distribution, solicitation, lobbying, effort, display, event etc. that seeks to limit or remove a woman’s right to choose her options in the case of pregnancy will not be supported”. What an absurdly partisan position to be endorsed by a group that, ostensibly at least, represents the entire undergraduate student body! This, I am afraid, makes Carleton look very bad indeed.

Carleton Lifeline has a lawyer, and his reply to CUSA mounts a convincing argument, on procedural grounds, that CUSA cannot dismiss Lifeline from campus in this way. But the argument should not have to be procedural, as though the suppression of pro-life views on campus would be acceptable if only done properly. It would not be acceptable.

If you would like to send the folks at Lifeline a word of encouragement, you can find them here.


UPDATE: Two of the five arrested at Carleton last month were on the Michael Coren show recently to talk about their ordeal. It is worth watching.

4 Responses to “Carleton Lifeline”

  1. ruthlobo Says:

    Hi there, my name is Ruth Lobo. I am the President of Carleton Lifeline and i just wanted to thank you for posting this.

    • cburrell Says:

      It is wonderful to hear from you, Ruth. I offer you and your fellow club members my sincere thanks and encouragement. It cannot be easy to be going through this in the public eye, but you are fighting a good fight, and it does us good to see it. Keep it up, and take care.

  2. KathyB Says:

    I think the decision from CUSA is an affront to free speech, and I am considering that an appropriate response might be to write a letter to both the president of Carleton University, and the premier of Ontario. It is unfair that the public’s money can only support those causes which a particular student union approves of.

    Public universities should either provide equal support to all clubs, or they should not recognize any clubs whatsoever, and let them raise their own money and find their own meeting spaces. The latter choice would at least have the advantage of reducing student fees.

    • cburrell Says:

      Officially, at least, this recent development is unrelated to the GAP display. There is no reference made to those events in the letter which Lifeline received from CUSA. Instead, CUSA has now, after years of granting approval to Lifeline, decided to enforce its absurd policy.

      In other words, it is not quite clear that this is a free speech issue. It is not so much what they say, but merely what they are that rankles. It looks just as much like a good old ideological purge.

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