Opinions
Jen Grond/the Gauntlet

Does Campus Pro-Life deserve what it gets?

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This is not an article about abortion, so check your opinion on that issue at the door. I do not care whether you are an ardent supporter, a till-I-die opponent or are apathetic towards the whole matter. At issue here is the presentation of graphic and disturbing materials by a student group in a manner that limited people's choice to participate. I fully support free speech and freedom of expression, but does free speech and expression endow the right to exhibit disturbingly graphic displays in a manner that circumvents the public's option to be involved or to opt out? The subject of abortion and individual feelings on the issue can quickly mar a discussion, so let us step away from Campus Pro-Life's arguments on a complex social issue and instead look at the decisions by CPL, the University of Calgary and the Students' Union in a different light.

I fictitiously and wholeheartedly disagree with everything Barney (the purple dinosaur) represents. In my opinion the TV show is damaging to children. I started a campus group dedicated to boycotting Barney. No one is willing to stand up to fight this purple monstrosity so I must. I will burn Barney in effigy. I have hired a contingent of firefighters, a fire truck and have even roped off what I believe to be a suitable area, so the demonstration will be as safe as possible. It is my right to express myself, therefore any objections the university might have are infringements upon my freedom of speech. And to maximize the impact of my message, I will burn the effigy of Barney within sight of the university's daycare centre, so that children and parents alike will witness my objection to this most perverse purple dinosaur. Would anyone be surprised if the university tried to prevent me from proceeding with my demonstration as planned or if I were to face consequences afterwards?

Now, one could argue that burning effigies presents a greater public danger than photos, however grotesque they may be. I will grant you that the physical risks from pictures are likely limited to a paper cut, but what about the emotional and psychological damage they may incur? This is a very real concern and has been expressed by Stephanie Garrett, the executive director of the campus' Women's Resource Centre, which sees a "definite spike of people needing peer support coming into our centre . . . about that time of year when the pro-life rallies occur." Nor is this necessarily limited to abortion, as CPL makes liberal use of parallels to the Rwandan genocide and racial killings. Expecting people to avoid the CPL's demonstration is as unrealistic as thinking children in the daycare centre would not see Barney burn. The location CPL chose is one of the highest foot traffic areas on campus. Ask the Rock-- our very own Stone Age billboard occupies the same spot for this very effective reason.

But perhaps you do not find the idea of burning Barney objectionable. Instead, our fictional demonstration may very well be in support of greater workplace health and safety standards for individuals involved in the pornography industry, complete with four-feet-by-six-feet colour photographs of the conditions under which these people toil. Or an animal rights display showing the skinning of animals to make coats and handbags.

The point is different subjects are objectionable or disturbing to different people. People must be given the choice of whether they wish to view such exhibitions and participate in the discussions. Requiring such does not constitute censorship, but rather civility towards differing opinions. When CPL set up their display, the group was well informed of the U of C's and SU's positions, as well as the range of potential consequences for their actions. So cast not long faces CPL, instead of working towards a compromise you bulled ahead with the demonstration as your group saw fit, irrespective of the opinions and wishes of others to participate or abstain. Perhaps it was done out of conviction or to gain recognition through controversy. The university, for its part, did try to find a middle ground, suggesting that the displays be turned inward; something that could have conceivably encouraged greater participation, as passersby would have had to engage more with CPL to see the displays instead of just glancing and walking past. The U of C is not the dictatorial institution that CPL makes it out to be, but rather an organization attempting to accommodate diverse views while also making its campus a comfortable environment for all.

Has CPL been judged too harsh? That is for you to decide. But should CPL be surprised that they now face consequences for their choices? Absolutely not, but maybe that was the intention from the start. After all, nothing garners media attention like shock tactics and a David versus Goliath spin.

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Comments

So, did the university also instruct Falun Gong activists to turn their pictures inwards, because it insults many Chinese students who support the government of China and believe that these pictures are a fabrication?
Did they instruct Palestinian protesters to turn their pictures of dead children inwards, because it insults many Israeli students?
And will the university make the next gay parade be held in an enclosed area, so that many Christians on campus who oppose gay relationships do not have to be exposed to these offending images?

Thank you for the daily share of hypocrisy.

Hey, Unknown Student! Nice copy-pasta! However, maybe the reason why none of those other groups have been required to do similar is because they don't take an inherently antagonistic stance when they go about their events? I don't see the other groups needing measures such as snow fence and warning signs when they do things...

Perhaps could it be because, gasp, these groups actually provide the high-level of intellectual discourse needed in a university setting, something the CPL has failed to accomplish at pretty much every point...?

Really, I don't think the outcry is over abortion, at all. I think it's because CPL's methodology is ridiculous and even vitriolic while designed to do little other than create media exposure for the club. This isn't about changing students' minds, or ending abortion, censorship, or institutional control or any of that. This is about getting a story in the Calgary Herald, plain and simple.

What exactly does it mean that Falung Gong or Palestinian groups "don't take an inherently antagonistic stance"? I for one have many Chinese friends who are outraged at mere mention of Falun Gong.

The only reason they do not need fences is that groups that oppose them are not as antagonistic as in this case. If you go to certain countries in the world (Serbia comes to mind, not to single it out, but I just happen to know about it), gay-rights activists get beaten and they need heavy police protection when they hold gay parade. Do you recommend that these countries ban gay parades because they are (according to some, not my opinion) outrageous display of obscenity.

And whom are you trying to convince when you say that this is not about changing people's minds. Do you really think that these brave students risked arrest just to get publicity, not because they believe in the cause they are fighting for. And the only reason they got publicity is because they have been banned. I for one haven't heard about CPL Calgary until this year, so whose actions caused publicity?

And since when is the need to "actually provide the high-level of intellectual discourse" a requirement to be a student group.

I do support the right of gay people to express themselves any way they wish, just as I support pro-life and pro-choice groups to express themselves. Stifling of free speech leads to tyranny and anyone who doesn't know that should take some history classes.

You're missing my point.

I don't think the CPL should have had their status revoked; frankly, their total lack of point inevitably ends up helping groups I agree with and makes such a discourse necessary in the first place.

Did the university need to charge the group with trespassing? Well, probably not. However, considering how year after year this group tries to make their point (or lack thereof) through what can only be seen as a malicious campaign of illogic (Indeed, perhaps "malicious" is the better descriptor than "antagonistic"... Like, come on, it compares mothers receiving abortions to Nazis war criminals), this action by the university is somewhat understandable. Perhaps asking CPL to turn their signs inward as an ultimatum demonstrates a failure of the imagination on the behalves of both the group and the admin in finding a compromise, but given that everyone freaks out on campus during their events, and the negative press that ensues, it's understandable the university would want to take some action. This little drama has been going on the entire time I've been in university; the CPL, in consistently refusing to seek a compromise with the university, put the administration in a position where all they could do was charge them with trespassing.

Should the SU have desanctioned the club? Well, probably not. However, given that clubs sign an agreement with the SU to follow all the regulations of the university in exchange for the privileges of being an SU club, the desanctioning is an obvious response to the membership of a club being charged ó by the university ó with a criminal act. It isn't so much that the CPL broke a particular rule of the SU's; they broke the agreement.

My point in saying all this is, the issue is not as cut-and-dry as censorship. The CPL can exist in whatever capacity they wish and not be an SU club; the advantages of being an SU club are not so fantastic that groups on campus cannot exist without them. While the reaction from the university and SU is over the top and very much demonstrating a lack of discussion and innovation, it is, however, well within the rights of both of those organizations.

It should be noted that all clubs, if they want to hold events anywhere outside SU land (basically MacEwan Hall), have to adhere to their agreements with the hosts.

If, say, the Ski Club held an event that was supposed to be dry and served alcohol, that would violate their agreement with that venue and bring sanctions upon that club. If there were no sanctions, what's to stop everyone from breaking those rules?

So what rules did CPL break? Everybody avoids that question.

I have to emphasize that I do not support CPL's way of advancing their cause, but I do have issues with autocrats who invent rules to stifle opinions they disagree with. University administration is a group of people hired by university to uphold its rules, values and principles, and to change them as necessary. Rules are changed in appropriate proceedings through committee meetings, consultations with interested parties, they are voted on and they are published as official documents. Administration cannot simply write letters that make up rules as they please, otherwise they are autocrats and bullies. The fact that this has been happening for five years further proves my point. If this is so outrageous, why didn't the administration through last five years introduce a policy that would prevent such an event, or limit its scope?
The answer to that is simple in my mind: it is not possible to write such a policy, because I cannot imagine a wording of the policy that would cover CPL, but would not cover Falun Gong, gay activists, or Palestinians. All of them are offensive to many, and to limit one of them, would mean to limit them all. Would the policy state that the images have to be offensive to certain number of people? Certain percentage of people? So if all students who think gay is not OK signed a petition, would gay students have to turn their signs inwards?
If you think I'm wrong, propose the text for a university policy that would force CPL to turn their displays inwards, but not gay activists to hold their parade out of public view.

The reason this happened now, and not last year, or any of the previous years, is because somebody who has problems with pro-life stand has climbed high-enough up the hierarchy at UofC to actually impose their view on this matter and to bully CPL. Therefore, this is all about abortion, and not about "offensive images" or what not.

Other questions that come to mind: how come other university administrations in Canada repeatedly allow this, only UofC's administration seems to be smarter than everyone else's? (yes, there have been some actions taken at other universities, but they were all from student unions, not administration).

Also, how come civil liberties association, which is staunchly pro-choice supports CPL in this matter?

And to address the previous poster; if a Ski Club had an event at a venue that allows alcohol to all other groups, but chooses to force the Ski Club to hold a dry event, the club would rightly question motives of the venue owners and could claim to have been discriminated against. In your scenario, you also assumed that the two parties agreed that the event would be dry, which was not the case with CPL (they are bound only by existing university policies and never agreed to the arbitrary request by the university administration). Also, the two situations are not quite comparable, because clubs and venues (the way you describe them) are usually private parties. The situation here is between a public university and its students.

Proposal to formalize a policy that already exists: Types of events which have previously caused documented indents or increased risk of harm must be evaluated for ways to reduce their potential harm in subsequent incarnations.

BSD does this every year. The burning car demonstration does this every year. Sexual Awareness Week does this every year. The Fall Kickoff event at McMahon does this every year. New events to campus do this at every instance. Every conference hosted at the university must not cause harm to everyone else on campus. Why should CPL be exempt from the risk mitigation procedures that every other campus or non-campus group has to follow? especially when local health providers are documenting the psychological trauma this event causes to some people?

That is very interesting. The problem is that I have not heard of university charging CPL with violating this policy. Instead, they are being charged with 'trespassing' at their own university.
I have also not heard the student union responding to the CPL's question on what university policy has been violated.

First of all, you have not provided a reference for the (invented?) policy that you cite. Here's the web-site that is supposed to list the policies of UofC, so why don't you find me where the one you stated is listed: https://pr1web.ucalgary.ca/UofC_PPS_Public/Forms/AlphaView.aspx
Or better, don't bother, I'm sure the administration and their lawyers spent hours looking, but couldn't find anything.
So until you cite a REAL policy, there is nothing to discuss.

Even if such a policy existed, risk mitigation does not mean changing the event to the point where the event is unrecognizable. This would be equivalent to the burning car demonstration being required to burn a toy car instead of a real one. And such a request would be more justified than the request to CPL, because the burning car does not strive to send a message or change people's opinions; it's pure entertainment.
Your comparison to other events is unfair, simply because no other event was required to remove itself from the public view the way CPL was.

If we were in 1960's the likes of you and UofC administration would be trying to stifle gay movement (remember, their events were causing incidents). If we were in another point in history, you would prevent people of colour from marching for their freedoms. And if we were in today's Belgrade (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride_parade#Belgrade), you would prevent gay activists from marching in this day and age, or would at least make them "turn inwards".
I'm sure that in your hypocritical mindset you see these issues as different, but the only difference is that you agree with them, and you don't agree with CPL.

Finally, like I said, many other groups experience psychological trauma (Chinese, Israeli, Christian) when other groups hold graphic protests (e.g. comparing Israel to apartheid, which no objective person would do), but university doesn't make them turn their signs inwards. There is no right not to be offended anywhere on the books, and that is the reasons that these things go on.

University did many other things to increase security of the event, such as putting warning signs and bringing in security, which is OK. Although, I haven't really heard of any 'incidents' in the past, so I'm not sure why increased security was necessary.

Making people turn their signs inwards is tantamount to saying: you have the right to speak freely, you just can't speak loud enough so that people can hear you!

Dear "Unknown",

Your ad hominem arguments and assumptions about other commenters do not sustain any points.

Your post at 2009-02-26 19:50:23 had asked for a policy that would minimize negative impacts to bystanders, and yet protect the right to free speech, Zha at 2009-02-27 10:08:13 articulated such a policy, which has been in effect since Campus Security and Risk Management came on scene decades ago. All major events undergo a risk assessment, an input into which are risk or security related concerns from previous events of the sort.

Are you being deliberately argumentative, or do you genuinely not realize that: a) not all enforceable policies are written (there's no written policy explicitly preventing a company from flyering every seat on campus, and yet we routinely ask and welcome security to intervene when such fliers become a floor slippage hazard), and b) in the case of demonstrated or demonstrable potential harm (such as the fire fighters recruiting/promoting safety with their car burn and extraction demonstrations), those in charge of a public space do not require a specific written policy to address each specific conceivable threat to public safety in order to act on potential or actual threats.

In the course leading to the poster exhibition, Campus Security and Risk Management would have become aware of the potential threats to public safety. Competent professionals at those organizations would have provided input to the University with respect to that anticipated use of their facilities. Assuming that a) the University's retention of Campus Security and Risk Management units is based on a formal policy which includes public safety and tresspassing, and b) Campus Security and Risk Management were competent at carrying out their duties at the time of the poster display, and c) Campus Security and Risk Management are enabled to do perform the duties in their unit titles by a written or unwritten policy, every enforcement action of Campus Security, including their notification of the administration that there was unauthorized use of its real property, would have been in accordance with one or more university policies.

Uniformly enforcing a policy mitigating risk and harm to the public could reduce the visibility of the other displays you cite (or any other displays), when someone collects and presents evidence that such displays are causing trauma (such evidence is as easily collected as the evidence from counselors and mental health practitioners that the CPL displays have caused harm, and yet no one as yet has made a case against those other displays citing evidence of that sort).

Risk mitigation can very definitely go as far as changing or aborting an event. I cannot, for example, solicit for engineers to work at my explosives factory by blowing up parts of campus, even though such a demonstration would get much attention about my company, but I might be able to demonstrate SFX squids or the like.

Also, it would be very easy to trespass in your own university. Try to access the Den kitchen or a private office without permission, or start selling movies out of a van parked on the south lawn without paying the rental fee. If you do not have explicit or implied permission to access or use another person's real property for a specific purpose, it is an act of trespass. The university had specifically and repeatedly explicitly denied a particular use to this group.

I challenge you to devise a policy which would both allow the CPL posters to be displayed, and yet prevent posters of sex with corpses under the same physical conditions, since the CPL's position is that abortion should fall under the same or more serious class of moral and legal impropriety as society would generally situate sex with dead corpses.

Dear ìUnknownî, I admire the passion of your arguments but you are making some grand leaps of logic in presenting your points, which seem to hinge on: 1) comparing CPL to other campus groups involved, for example, with Falun Gong, the Palestinian-Israel conflict and gay rights; and 2) that the Genocide Awareness Project and pro-life groups have been treated differently at other universities in Canada.

On the surface it may seem that CPL is being unfairly targeted compared to other groups protesting controversial social issues. However, Iím willing to take a shot in the dark and guess that those other campus groups donít compare their issues to the Holocaust. CPL would have a stronger argument if the pictures displayed only showed aborted fetuses (perhaps still too shocking and graphic for some), but when juxtaposed with images from the Holocaust a line is clearly crossed in the minds of many people. The Holocaust was an event so unimaginably horrific in its scope and execution that attempts by any group to draw modern day comparisons cheaps both the memory of the Holocaust and the message it is being connected to.

The other point you come back to seems to be that CPL and GAP is treated differently on other campuses in Canada. This goes both ways. A number of other universities have refused to even allow a group like CPL establish themselves as a sanctioned club (see http://www.themanitoban.com/campus/pro-life-group-banned-campus-loses-lawsuit-bc and please note that even the BC Supreme Court upheld the decision). The studentsí union at the University of Guelph banned a pro-life group last fall after a similar type of display (both sides are now negotiating reinstatement), York Universityís pro-life group was also banned earlier in 2008, Lakehead Universityís Life Support group lost their status in 2007. Therefore, by your own argument U of C has actually been quite fair to CPL in that they were permitted to form a sanctioned club, receive funding and set up an event on campus.

CPL would better communicate its message by trying to find a way to connect with people and support a healthy debated rather than to try to drive a wedge between people with tactics like GAP.

Hello Anonymous Cow Herd:

Briefly, because I have wasted too much time on this already:

I am being deliberately argumentative because the most sacred right that is the key to free society is being trampled on. The intellectual elite of tomorrow, who are supposed to be protecting it are standing on the sidelines and cheering.

As I previously stated, if there were risks associated with it, putting signs up warning people of graphics display is the way to mitigate the risk. Asking people to turn the signs so that nobody can see them is not.

Feel free to ignore all the complaints from Israeli students whenever 'apartheid' week is held, and pretend that their complaints and their emotional suffering are less important than somebody else's. Just google apartheid week, and you will find plenty of evidence that somebody has 'made a case against those other displays citing evidence of that sort'.

Not to mention that you seek a particular sort of evidence that serves your cause, without providing a real policy that would allow for that. If I present a different kind of evidence, you would probably disregard it.

Sex with corpses is illegal because corpses cannot give consent. 'Christ in the piss' was at its time praised as a 'challenging' work.

Two key questions you keep avoiding:
1. Why has UofC for 5 years insisted that CPL has the right to put the display up, and now all of a sudden reversed its direction? What has changed this year?

2. How come no other university in the country has taken any similar action?

Hello Anonymous Coward.

I don't see what Obama has to do with this. Or do you think you are smart because you can do a reverse IP lookup?
Is your message: be careful what you say here, because I know where you live and I will send police to your door too?
Was that a threat?

I have a suggestion for you; move to North Korea. I'm sure that their great dictator could find a use for such a gifted young man as yourself, who doesn't mind using intimidation tactics to quiet down the opposition.

If you like to use intimidation, how about this: why don't I lodge a complaint to Information Technology Services at U of C against an unnamed Gauntlet web-master, for inappropriately using the technological resources of the university while attempting to reveal identity of a person who clearly wished to remain anonymous? Is there a policy against that? Even if not, I'm sure they can make something up; they are good at that?

Sage, Palestinians do compare Israeli actions to holocaust. Only a few days ago I read an article which stated something along the following lines: children of holocaust survivors are doing to Palestinian people what was done to them during holocaust.

Obviously, no one could have linked the vocal anti-choice movement in parts of Ontario to the abortion-related news about Obama and his visit to the Ottawa part of Canada in any logical way. The entire world must be out to get, and revolve around, one single pro-choice comment poster because there are no other ways to look at the abortion issue than through that person's clearly distorted and self-limiting view of the world.

It's as though we're watching a cop show on TV, where the investigator makes something up in front of the suspect on the chance that the suspect reacts emotionally to it and blurts out something potentially incriminating. Except, usually, it doesn't turn into a case of the suspect threatening the media in public.

"Unknown"'s posts show several internal contradictions, especially in his/her/its last three inscribed minutes apart, so there's a good chance that we should consider him/her/it as the identity of a corporate entity, or as someone possibly recovering from a dissociative disorder.

Several respondents seem to have picked up on "Unknown"'s inability to coherently formulate a single position, or to carry out a dialog in which the normal challenge/response routine occurs.

"Unknown"'s posts show several instances of astro-turfing, especially in his/her/its last three inscribed minutes apart, so we should consider it as the identity of a pro-life organization.

There, I fixed it for you.

"Unknown", I am aware that different groups do compare their plights to the Holocaust. Perhaps I was unclear before. I have not heard of any group associated with U of C doing so with the exception of CPL. And just because other groups around the country or the world do use comparisons to the Holocaust to draw attention to their message does not change my point; if a group has to use the Holocaust to make its argument, than its argument doesn't really have any merit at all. Any argument with merit can stand on its own, separated from any juxtaposition to the Holocaust.

Re: #18,

I agree, except that I dislike the use of the phrase "the Holocaust" since there were mass killings of large numbers of people both before and after the Nazis, and of people other than Jews. It's a bit like the opposite of Kleenex, except that we are no longer intellectually allowed to have a nice, compact word for the concept of "mass killings of large numbers of people", except for the one case of the Nazis and Jews. It's too bad that people from ex-Yugoslavia or Rwanda don't have more influence in the Anglosphere.

As a society, if we can't stand to look at what we've done, shouldn't we be questioning what we're doing?

The University of Calgary is not helping to produce the moral and civic leaders of tomorrow-- just more "see-no-evil" monkeys of cultural denial.

There's no way in the world this article is logical. We might question the location of burning a purple dinosaur next to a day care, but we wouldn't stop its burning if that's how someone felt. And most certainly, we wouldn't ban the entire group for its desire.


> As a society, if we can't stand to look at what we've done, shouldn't we be questioning what we're doing?

If the group Campus Pro-Sphincter were to express its views by displaying photos of sodomy in the same way as CPL, there would be no question that all bystanders should get the choice to view or not view the display. Why should the CPL group be treated any differently?

If the university denied Loblaws DBA Campus Pro-Megamarkets permission to use its space to advertise its views and then the group proceeded anyway, there would be no questions at all that the university would be able to ask the group to leave. Why should the CPL group be treated any differently?

> The University of Calgary is not helping to produce the moral and civic leaders of tomorrow-- just more "see-no-evil" monkeys of cultural denial.

Your statement admits that abortion is part of our culture. If all culture is so important to you, why do you support a group who seeks to persecute those who participate in parts of it with which you may disagree?

> There's no way in the world this article is logical. We might question the location of burning a purple dinosaur next to a day care, but we wouldn't stop its burning if that's how someone felt. And most certainly, we wouldn't ban the entire group for its desire.

But when the dinosaur-burning group violates the rules (trespassing by using the university's land in a way for which the group did not first acquire permission), we would seek to punish the group for its disrespect of the rules and the facility. There are numerous examples of internal and external groups banned from having events on campus, or who have had their exposure and events curtailed for violating the rules or the law (RPoC, Sexual Awareness Week, a promoter or two who failed to adequately secure the concert venue, etc.). Again, why should the CPL group be treated any differently?