The space in between Science B and the MacEwan Student Centre resembled a battleground this week as the University of Calgary's Campus Pro-Life Club finally got to display their "Genocide Awareness Project" and were immediately set upon by hordes of really pissed-off people.
On Mon., Mar. 27 and Tue., Mar. 28, cpl displayed their controversial exhibit in which the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide are compared to abortion. The project is designed to raise awareness and create discussion, according to club president Josh Nugent.
"It's a comparison of atrocities in the past where governments and society have stripped the distinctions between human-hood and person-hood," said Nugent. "In the past, when governments have stripped person-hood status from human beings, genocide has taken place. That's what happened during the Holocaust, that's what happened in Rwanda, that's what happened on the killing fields of Cambodia in every case, that is wrong. Just like the unborn, that is wrong. These cases are not the same, but they're similar, and that's the common thread. They've said this is a human being, but not a person, thus it shall not be granted rights as a human."
The exhibit is no stranger to controversy. Last year when CPL attempted to display the exhibit, the club was required to go off-campus where it was subsequently vandalized.
This year, CPL originally wanted to display the project on the MSC south lawn, but when the Students' Union required the group to fence off the area and place the signs facing inward, CPL threatened legal action, causing the SU to pull out of negotiations entirely. CPL then went to university administration with their request and, after hours of negotiating, eventually reached a compromise.
"We're on campus, set up in the way the project was supposed to be set up," said Nugent. "Campus Security is on-site as well, which is the way it's supposed to be done; we don't want any problems. It's very unfortunate and ridiculous how long it took, plus the fact that a lawyer had to be involved just to get this display on campus."
Even though all entrances to the display were marked with signs warning of its graphic nature, many still felt the CPL images were overly gruesome.
Many students took it upon themselves to protest by debating with the campus pro-life members behind the fence, carrying signs, or handing out pamphlets.
"I don't have a problem with the pro-life viewpoint, but I think making the connection between breast-cancer, the Holocaust, and the Rwandan genocide and the Cambodian killing fields is immoral and it's fear-mongering and it's inaccurate," said Jenny Kost, one of the students handing out pamphlets decrying the cpl's assertion that abortions can increase the risk of breast-cancer. "The information they are using in their campaign regarding breast cancer is outdated. In 2004, the British medical journal, the Lancet went back over all the studies from 83,000 women in 16 countries and it has widely been touted as definitive proof there is no link between induced abortion and the risk of subsequent breast cancer."
One group protested by leaving several bags of manure in front of the exhibit around noon on Tuesday.
"I think the main reason is they just won't listen to facts," said fourth-year development studies/womens' studies student and protest organizer "Neil." "I think it's absolutely disgusting that administration would let them display such controversial images that have already gotten a lot of negative attention. Free speech only goes so far as speech that doesn't harm. This harms women, this harms their partners."
Although U of C administration refused comment, they released a statement about the event, noting that while the university allowed the event in accordance with the principle of freedom of expression, CPL should "exercise this right more responsibly."
The Students' Union stands by its initial decision.
"It should be stated and it should be obvious the tactics employed by this group are meant to cause controversy and meant to cause media attention," said SU president Bryan West. "All this stuff plays into the strategy of what this event is all about, whether we put it on or not put it on, the phrase 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' comes to mind. The Students' Union doesn't have a problem with the pro-life message, but we do have a problem with the sensational, aggressive, and ultimately hurtful way they propagate it."