A recent move by the University of Calgary to charge three students with trespassing has generated headlines across the country.
Three members of Campus Pro-Life were served notice over the past week and a half, said club treasurer Alanna Campbell. Another three are expected to be charged shortly.
"Getting the call that the police showed up at the door was a little shocking," said the second-year student who's taking a double degree in biology and Spanish. "It had been a couple months, so we were kind of thinking they had backed down."
The charges stem from a display the club put on in November. Titled the Genocide Awareness Project, the large signs show graphic images of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide alongside photos of abortions.
Due to complaints and the fear of violence-- the university cited a request from CPL last spring to provide "assistance to prevent an escalation of physical conflict"-- university administration called for the group to turn the display inwards.
After a lengthy discussion, six members of the group decided to go ahead with the display as intended, said club president Leah Hallman.
The university responded by placing security guards next to major walkways around the triangle of land between Science A and the Prairie Chicken, where the display was being held, and threatened the members with arrest, fines and/or non-academic misconduct.
The university declined an interview, but issued a news release Monday which stated the U of C "has attempted for several years to find a reasonable compromise with Campus Pro-Life that would give members of the university community the choice to view or not view the Genocide Awareness Project display."
Despite a relatively quiet showing on other campuses in North America, the display, in its seventh year on the Calgary campus, consistently causes quite a stir. In previous years, the display-- at the request of the Students' Union-- was held just off of campus property. It often attracted large crowds of counter-protesters from organized rallies put on by campus club Feminist Initiative to Recognize Equality, to large groups of offended onlookers.
"As soon as people know that it's about that time of year when the pro-life rallies occur, we get a definite spike of people needing peer support coming into our centre," said Women's Resource Centre executive director Stephanie Garrett, to the Gauntlet in 2007.
The Canadian Constitution Foundation has taken on the case pro bono and will represent CPL when they face off against the university in court Feb. 27.
Executive director and head lawyer for the case, John Carpay, said everybody agrees the display is offensive to some people, but stressed the issue is now freedom of expression.
"When one person's free speech is reduced or diminished, it reduces the free speech rights of all Canadians," said Carpay, an alumni of the U of C's law school.
Hallman said she's disappointed in the university.
"Growing up you have this very ideological view of the world, and of universities in particular, thinking they're places where you can engage in intellectual dialogue," said Hallman. "I guess my hopes have been shattered."
Campbell said that above all, she's alarmed it came down to group members being charged.
"That we would have to fight for our right to express what we believe on a university campus-- that's just really sad."
CPL could also have its official club status revoked by the SU next Tuesday, said SU vice-president of operations and finance Alex Judd.
"When they submitted their event proposal we told them, 'If you don't abide by the university's regulations, then the event is not approved and you will be faced with punishment," said Judd.
The SU Clubs Committee, CPL and their lawyers will meet publicly at 4 p.m. Tuesday in MacEwan Student Centre executive council chambers.