Opinions

Online Only - Letter: CPL VP responds

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As [SU President Dalmy] Baez stated in her Feb. 26 2009 Gauntlet Opinion piece ["Letter from the SU prez: Why Campus Pro-Life was de-sanctioned"], Campus Pro-Life has recently been desanctioned by the Students' Union; an organization designed to protect its students and ensure their rights are not violated.

Well, Ms. Baez is the poster child for not being capable of upholding the responsibilities of the position she was elected to. The president of the Students' Union should have been horrified that university administration and their bigwig lawyers were harassing a student group on campus with intimidation, threats of arrest and expulsion. Instead, being a mere puppet of the university administration, Ms. Baez proceeded to publically endorse the eradication of a peaceful political group.

Ms. Baez claims that demands made by a party are "policy." Any first year Law and Society student knows that communication documents are not legally binding until an agreement has been reached. If Ms. Baez would take 10 minutes out of her fun-filled SU presidential life to read the communication between the university and Campus Pro-Life's legal counsel (which has been made public), she would be shocked and amazed. There was no agreement made. There was no consensus reached between the two parties. Campus Pro-Life never agreed to turn their signs inwards; to merely comply with the requests made by the University of Calgary administration. This request made by the university's legal counsel was not to be found in any of the official bylaws, procedures or constitutional provisionary documents. The university's "conditions" of setting up the display are not policy. They are simply non-legally binding requests.

Because Campus Pro-Life is a law-abiding club, they repetitively asked the university's legal council which specific established and documented policy the club would be violating if GAP were set up facing outwards. To this date, not a single policy, procedure, bylaw or constitutional provision of the SU or of the University of Calgary has been produced that Campus Pro-Life has specifically violated in regards to setting up the GAP display facing outwards. Once again, a mere request made by one party to another is not legally binding if no agreement or consensus is reached.

Ms. Baez made it a priority of her 2008 campaign to pressure university administration to provide quality education. What about pressuring the administration to provide quality treatment of all students and equality and tolerance toward all forms of peaceful expression? Was that not part of your vision, Ms. Baez? Were you lobbying for an administration who can arbitrarily censor one controversial and seemingly politically incorrect group? Why was your conformity and inability to stand up for the little guy not mentioned in your platform?

The Students' Union acted in a manner that is despicable. By pre-empting the court case and its proceedings, the SU has demonstrated that it chooses to agree with the University of Calgary administration's unlawful censorship, rather than wait it out and see the results of the impeding court case that will determine if the Campus Pro-Life students are lawfully guilty. Ms. Baez should be ashamed of the job she has been doing leading and directing the Students' Union representatives. They are nothing more than puppets of the university; asking "How High?" when the Administration says "Jump."

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It warms my hear that you are being charged with trespassing.
You are supreme at spreading hate and anger.

Just wondering, where is the CPL President, Leah Hallman? Why is she not out there, defending the club instead of leaving the work to the vice presidents?

In her letter last week, Ms. Baez refers to the agreement all student clubs make upon receiving sanction, that a club ignoring university regulations may be subject to disciplinary actions. Any club, group, individual or company requesting to use university property for an event will obviously have to comply with university requests. For example, a concert promoter holding an event on campus would expect to be given a set of guidelines by which they would have to abide. Some of these guidelines are no doubt 'written in stone' in the university's policies and others would likely be added or modified depending on the nature of the event being held. Say a student group dedicated to trampoline acrobatics wants to set up and let students bouncing around in hopes of attracting new members. I doubt that the university has a specific policy to address such an event. Likely, the university would submit a letter informing the group of the guidelines by which the event would have to be run to ensure the safety of all involved. The GAP display seems to fall into this type of event, where no specific policies are written to govern the event and so the university added guidelines tailored to the circumstances. A quick search of the university's policy website yields the follow statement:

"Policy on Establishing University Policies and Procedures: Special Situation (Section 5), Whenever a University Policy must be enacted before it has been formatted in accordance with this policy, it may be distributed in memo or letter form by the Approval Authority, electronically or in print. As soon as possible after the policy is issued, it will be submitted to the University Policy Coordinator for formatting and publication. In the meantime, it is still considered effective and in force."

Now I am no lawyer or law student, but to me that sounds like the university can implement an unformalized policy at its discretion, provided the policy has been communicated in writing to the involved parties. That the university provided CPL with written guidelines for this past year's display is not being debated. I would say by that fact along CPL's position has had its legs kicked out from under it, but that would be assuming they had a leg to stand on in the first place.

Kudos to CPL for standing up for freedom of expression. Canadian universities are grand institutions of discovery and exploration where big questions are asked and students are free to explore unlimited ideas. Or are they? Are ideas and questions being censored and assessed for alignment with a particular world view? Are some questions rewarded and others silenced? This is troubling.

Some say the issue is the graphic and disturbing nature of the images on display. Well, one has only to turn on the television or open a newspaper to be confronted with graphic and disturbing images. Images of death, destruction and all kinds of ugliness are part of life in the communication age. We always have the option of averting our eyes and covering our ears, but do we really want to silence those who tell these stories? Should we pretend the genocide in Rwanda and the holocaust during WWII never happened? Should we ignore war, famine, disease and natural disasters around the world, and prevent them from being reported in the media because the graphic details might disturb someone? Should we ban works of art that portray disturbing topics and prosecute those who put them on display? Should videos of surgical procedures be kept carefully under lock and key to prevent anyone from accidentally catching a glimpse of knife cutting flesh? No more fathers proudly recording videos of their child's birth - someone might see it and be disturbed by all the blood, the pain, the cutting of the umbilical cord. . .

The real issue is not whether the images were graphic and disturbing. As a society we are quite accepting of graphic and disturbing images. And the issue is not whether or not CPL was legally bound to obey the conditions given by the university. This is an issue of freedom. Of principle. And some might say that freedom is a principle worth suffering for. Should certain questions and opinions only be voiced behind closed doors? Do we want our universities to be places where only the non-controversial, easy questions are permitted? Ultimately the question we have to ask ourselves is this: do we want freedom or not? Are we willing to allow those views that differ from our own to be spoken and heard in order to preserve our own freedoms, or will we sacrifice freedom in order to silence those who disagree with us?

May we all be so courageous as to face opposition and prosecution in the name of freedom.

> Are ideas and questions being censored and assessed for alignment with a particular world view?

No. If U of C sought to prohibit the discussion of abortion, they would censor everyone on campus who discussed abortion, and would not have approved the formation of the CPL club in the first place. Instead, U of C is punishing these particular people for violating U of C's property rights, not for expressing any particular point of view.

> Well, one has only to turn on the television or open a newspaper to be confronted with graphic and disturbing images.

That is exactly the issue. Students at the U of C have no choice but to be exposed to the CPL display because of CPL's aggressive tactics. It is as though CPL has denied us the choice to turn off the television, or to close the newspaper, because CPL's rights to speak somehow exceed everyone else's rights not to listen. The right to free speech, if it exists in Canada, is not the same as the right to be listened to. The nature of the CPL display impinges on my right not to hear CPL's speech. Do you get it?

> And the issue is not whether or not CPL was legally bound to obey the conditions given by the university. This is an issue of freedom. Of principle.

That is also correct. Why would CPL be exempt from having to obey the law, unlike every other interest who may wish to express their speech on campus? Should Microsoft or Coke be given unlimited use of campus grounds to promote their points of view, in the name of free speech? Should Axe unconditionally be allowed to emit its perfumes into the air, with the same area of effect as the CPL display? These are clearly not valid unconditional free-speech uses of university property.

Asserting your blanket free speech argument requires you to permit anyone to advertise anything, using loudspeakers, images and scents, on the public property outside your home, whether you approve or not, however much such advertising harmed you emotionally. Clearly, such an interpretation is not in the public interest in the general case, just as interpreting freedom of speech to permit yelling alarm in a crowded space is not in the public interest in the general case.

I\'m a bit late coming into this argument but to #3(Kiva) and #5 - the analogues that you\'re drawing are flawed. Coke/Microsoft/Concert promoters aren\'t student run clubs. The University already agreed to provide the space for them when they became a club (and their club status wasn\'t revoked until after the event). As for the trampoline club, yes I\'m willing to bet the University does have policy in place for it which probably has something to do with their health and safety policy which only need to point to the law (or WCB) which has regulations on safety equipment necessary for humans being elevated past a certain point without guard rails and stuff like that.

Specifically to #3 - that quote is dealing only with policies that have already been set and simply have yet to be formatted. Not with the creation of policies. The policy would still first have to be put through the entire approval process which I\'m willing to bet consists of more than sending someone a letter.

Specifically to #5 - \"Clearly, such an interpretation is not in the public interest in the general case\" - I wouldn\'t say that\'s clear at all. I\'d say that\'s pretty subjective. Even at it\'s worst without going into the realm of hate speech I have a hard time seeing how it\'s a bad thing. Unless it\'s something that you find truly offensive then it\'s only a start to conversation.

But people do seem to find it offensive and that\'s what I don\'t understand. It would make sense being angry that pro choice folk were showing pictures of aborted fetuses for fun because pro-lifers consider those fetuses to be dead people and so it would be glorifying murder. But there\'s no glorification going on here. If you don\'t agree with them then those fetuses aren\'t people so while the pictures may not be aesthetically pleasing they should still only be seen as medical waste. It may not be pretty, but I have a hard time justifying saying something is offensive just because it\'s ugly.

Now if you are pro life and are offended by the pictures, then I can see just cause there. But I have a hard time believing there are that many pro-life people out there who are more offended by those pictures than by what caused them.