Poor marketing does not limit the right to sell

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For the past five semesters, the Campus Pro-Life group has set up a display titled the Genocide Awareness Project. As the name suggests, the display compares abortion to genocide, juxtaposing graphic images from the Holocaust with terminated fetuses.

The University of Calgary is concerned about violence potentially resulting from the controversial display. This year, the university has issued a legal statement to the group, threatening them with non-academic misconduct (possibly leading to suspension or expulsion), arrest and charges.

This case is set apart from previous situations in Canada for several reasons, including the severity of the consequences and the reasons for pursuing the issue. Here, university administration is dealing with the issue, not the Students' Union.

The university's duty is to protect the safety of campus members, but the evidence they have for any potential violence from the exhibit is unclear. The display has yet to have caused a single problem nor has a significant case been recorded at the many other campuses across Canada using the same display. Previously, the university has positioned security to deter confrontations and there is no reason to act differently this semester.

How much culpability should the CPL assume if violence occurs? There is no doubt the display is graphic-- its purpose is to invoke an emotional response. The CPL has solicited security protection and posted warnings of offensive images, though, so they can hardly be blamed for individuals responding with violence instead of reasoned discourse.

However, the CPL's campaign itself replaces reasoned discourse with base emotion and they almost certainly abandoned any attempts at debate and enlightened argument. If you judge engaging them on moral issues as worth your time, go ahead. But if your opinion is of their marketing strategy, the time is likely better spent elsewhere.

The "marketplace of ideas" is a powerful metaphor. In the same way that different products are allowed to be advertised, different views are allowed free expression-- democracy requires this freedom. There are products I have no use for (God), shops I do not frequent (churches) and marketing tactics I disapprove of (proselytizing door-to-door). I do not react with violence, I choose not to buy the product.

Even if the university has the legal right to evict the CPL from their property, and in doing so can press charges to limit future demonstrations, that doesn't mean they should. Violence can be curtailed with proper security and one can avoid offence with proper warning and a different route.

Tolerance is one of the values gained from a university education and with that comes the ability to make moral decisions for ourselves. New situations constantly develop and new situations demand new views. The dismissal of some is inevitable, but we would be morally bankrupt to dismiss claims without a fair trial.