Campus Pro-Life, an anti-abortion student club at the University of Calgary, stirred up controversy this week with a series of provocative displays which used graphic photos to compare abortion to historical tragedies like the Holocaust.
The display, titled the "Genocide Awareness Project" featured 4´ by 8´ placards with images of aborted fetuses alongside photographs of Holocaust victims and hanging corpses. CPL also handed out pamphlets entitled "Unmasking 'Choice'" in which abortion was compared directly to the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Cambodian Killing Fields and the lynching of African-Americans in the United States during the Jim Crow era.
Some groups and individuals on campus were offended by the content of the displays, set up at the University LRT station on Tue., Mar. 22 and at the intersection of University Dr. and 24th avenue on Wed., Mar. 23. In fact, an entirely new organization sprang up on campus to stage a counter-demonstration against CPL.
As a result of the display, CPL is now embroiled in a battle with U of C administration, as posters they put up on campus were torn down by Campus Security and three of their members have allegedly been banned from campus.
"We're here to raise awareness about the truth of what abortion is," said Josh Nugent, CPL Vice-President and display coordinator at the train station.
The depictions of the Holocaust were deeply upsetting for members of the Jewish community on campus.
"I understand that it's an important issue, but you can't drag the Holocaust into it," said Hillel President Leah Gingrich.
"The means and the ends aren't the same. Imagine if a student here was raped and conceived a child. Her choosing to have an abortion is not the same as the Nazis murdering Jews. I think if [Holocaust] survivors saw this, they'd be outraged."
CPL feels that the graphic nature of the images was a necessary evil.
"We find the images upsetting," said CPL President Theresa Nugent. "We don't like them either, we're just trying to show that right now abortion is horrible and these babies have been denied their person-hood."
The display at the LRT station sparked the founding of Campus Pro-Choice, a group of concerned students who staged a counter-demonstration directly across the street from the Mar. 23 pro-life display.
"This is a spontaneous reaction to what was going on yesterday," said Andrea Ryer, spokesperson for the fledgling group. "We want to establish that there's more than just that opinion on campus. We also want to refute some of the claims they're making, like the claim that abortion causes breast cancer."
The displays were held off of U of C property. CPL claims in a press release--and in several letters from their lawyer they have retained for their case--that this was because the Students' Union and U of C administration censored them and denied them their right to put up the display on campus.
"We gave them three options." said Roman Cooney, U of C VP External , "First, to put the full display inside Mac Hall, second to put a scaled-down display on the south lawn or third to go off-campus. The only restriction was on the size of the photos. We made this decision because the images are deeply offensive to many on campus. We would argue that images of hangings and Holocaust victims are not debate, they're provocation."
Cooney was also concerned about the possibility of 100-200 children aged 6-16 on campus for a dance festival being exposed to the graphic content.
The SU felt the display would likely inflame tensions on campus. They suspended their approval until Campus Security was able to address their concerns.
"The SU didn't deny them the right to put on their presentation, but we respect Campus Security," commented SU President Bryan West. "Any event is subject to security approval. That's the name of the game. They weren't denied, they were just restricted and I guess they aren't happy about that."
Even though the displays were held off campus, security concerns did present themselves. Police were called to the display at the train station as two different men came and ripped the posters.
Campus Security was called upon to remove posters that CPL posted around campus. According to Nugent, Campus Security also banned her and CPL club members Natalie Sanesh and Charles Marple from campus for an unspecified amount of time. CPL claimed Campus Security were unwilling to provide a reason for the ban in writing.
"No student has been banned, that is flatly incorrect," said Cooney "No students were banned, some non-students have been banned indefinitely."