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the Gauntlet

Editorial: Campus Pro-Life has a right to speak

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For a brief spell it looked like Campus Pro-Life was safe. The trespassing charges the university laid last year were dismissed before the case went to trial, and CPL thought they had won their case. But after the group put up their provocative display again in April, the university charged the members of the group with non-academic misconduct.

The university administration has responded poorly. Having threatened action for years, the university should have acted more promptly to handle this situation. When the real charges were stayed, the administration acted in bad faith by issuing violations. The situation was aggravated by the manner of the hearings: blocking legal representatives from attending and prohibiting the accused from making their case (or even asking questions) makes the administration's case look weak. Their covert handling of this issue is cowardly.

A bigger question exists: on what grounds does the university justify its action? No laws have been broken--CPL's parent group has a truck that drives around Calgary with the same images and they have never been charged for it. Insofar as freedom of expression is concerned, the signs, while graphic, are within the limits of what society does (and should) allow. There is no danger of people being physically harmed by these images, nor is the campus disrupted by class cancellations. The images are offensive -- that's exactly the point of using them -- but causing offence isn't a crime.

There are two reasons why free expression is worth protecting. First, regardless of the strength of the majority opinion, it's worth allowing dissent so an argument can take place. If society blocks contrarian views we risk forgetting the justification for our opinions. Democracy is strengthened by debate, and a university is a good place for that debate to occur. The manner of initiating that debate, whether it's in bad taste or not, is inconsequential. Students who oppose CPL's views should, as I do every semester, make a point of telling them why they're wrong. Those who can't make that argument are wrong to turn to silencing the displays as a solution.

The second reason is that history has shown that majority opinion can turn out to be wrong. A woman's right to choose what happens to her body is strongly supported, but not all views popularly held are as justifiable. The reason for allowing dissenting views is that we might be wrong--if we have the argument there's no reason to worry.

University administration should let CPL continue their display without penalty, and the Students' Union is spineless for going along with whatever the university decides to do -- two poor decisions are worse than one. Meanwhile, the student population should use the opportunity to do what a university is supposed to: make reasoned arguments without resorting to scare tactics.