Opinions

Letter from the SU prez: Why Campus Pro-Life was de-sanctioned

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The Campus Pro-Life club was recently de-sanctioned by the Students' Union. As President of the Students' Union I am writing to explain why.

For the past few years Campus Pro-Life has run an event called the Genocide Awareness Project which features displays of aborted fetuses, victims of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide among other images.

Every time the event takes place it has a significant impact on the campus community. The SU receives complaints from some students expressing their discomfort over the images and hears from other students who purposely avoid the display by taking detours across campus. Alternately, other students support the event or remain indifferent.

This year, before the GAP event took place, the university informed Campus Pro-Life that they were required to turn their signs inward so that people could choose whether or not they wanted to view the displays. With this information, the SU issued a letter to the Pro-Life Club stipulating that while the event was approved (all club events must be approved by the SU), this permission would not absolve the club from following any of the rules or limitations imposed on the event by the venue provider, in this case the university. The SU agreed that giving students the choice to view this display was the best way to ensure that the interests of all students were met-- those who support the message and the way it is being delivered and those who do not wish to view the images because of their disturbing content.

In spite of the letter sent to Campus Pro-Life, the club proceeded to violate the regulations set out by the university. The SU has measures in place in the event any club violates university regulations, including possible de-sanctioning. These measures are agreed to by every club as a condition for becoming sanctioned under the Students' Union. Campus Pro-Life was no exception.

Campus Pro-Life has argued that they have violated no written rule or policy.  However, the university was quite clear in outlining the conditions by which they could set up their display.  They even put it in writing.  By ignoring these stipulations the Students' Union and the university believe that their rules have been broken. 

The decision to de-sanction the club was not about the issue of abortion. It was about holding a club accountable for violating clearly communicated rules and policies. The Students' Union does not take a stance on the abortion issue. We believe the students we represent are capable of forming their own opinions. For this reason we have supported the club and its right to have a presence on campus for years.

The Students' Union unequivocally believes that students subscribing to pro-life values have the right to share and promote their views on campus. However, like any other campus group, their message must be delivered with a respect for all students.

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Comments

Can you show a section in an official university document that states that a letter from university administration constitutes a policy?

Since you so strongly believe that the university has the right to limit the public from viewing the images that some members of the public may find offending, here are only three matters that you as the SU president could propose university administration implement in future events:
1. 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 slanderous fabrications.
2. Instruct Palestinian protesters and their supporters to turn their pictures of dead children inwards, because they insult many Israeli students.
3. Hold the next gay parade in an enclosed area, so that many Christians on campus who oppose gay relationships
(and think they are deadly sins because of which God has in the past burned whole cities that tolerated them) do not have to be exposed to these offending images when they walk across campus.

Thank you for your daily share of hypocrisy. (Just to make it clear, I would not support any of the three measures proposed above, but if you really believe what you wrote in this letter, you should, because they meet the criteria you specified).

It was established by 1998 that violating a facilities agreement would be grounds for imposing sanctions on a club. The Reform Party on Campus club was an acknowledged political target for some members of the SU at the time. The SU found that because the club had left a room window open after a meeting, in violation of the facility agreement (and even though the facility operator did not formally note or complain about the windows being left open at the time that it happened), such an a violation was sufficient to initiate the de-sanctioning process.

The de-sanctioning was not successfully prevented by a number of the best legal minds on campus and in Calgary who informally helped the club in its defense.

Since then (or likely since the inception of clubs on campus, or more likely since each person is taught "manners"), clubs, other groups and students have operated on the understanding that disrespecting the facility or its rules is naughty and will have negative consequences, especially if the facility is being provided as a courtesy.

So according to you, because injustice had been committed at some point in the past, it is OK if it is done again?

Once again, cite the policy that CPL broke?
Here's the web-site that is supposed to list all the policies of UofC, so why don't you find me which one they broke: 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. That is why they are charging these students with 'trespassing', not violating a university policy.

So until you cite a REAL policy, as opposed to expressing your opinion that an abstract policy should exist, there is nothing to discuss.

How do you explain the fact that no real newspaper is supporting UofC's stand? How come other universities allow this event to happen?

I hardly think that what "Old Timer" was doing was justifying anything the SU was doing, but merely explaining the history of the rule.

Maybe you should hold back your attack dogs, "Unknown." I realize this is the internet, but perhaps a little bit of reading and then a little bit of thought after the fact would render most of your posts unnecessary.

Unknown@ 2009-02-27 14:13:55
"So according to you, because injustice had been committed at some point in the past, it is OK if it is done again?"

The poster did not comment on the justice of enforcing the policy, but merely established that the policy existed and was, in at least one case, applied more harshly to a non-CPL group.

"Once again, cite the policy that CPL broke?"

Disrespecting the rules set forth by the operators of the facility would be a start.

"Here's the web-site that is supposed to list all the policies of UofC, so why don't you find me which one they broke: https://pr1web.ucalgary.ca/UofC_PPS_Public/Forms/AlphaView.aspx"

The link you cite also describes the list as a work in progress, so there is no reason to believe that it lists all policies, let alone all public policies.

"Or better, don't bother,"

Because following up on the articles you try to cite as evidence reveals flaws in how you attempt to use the articles in your argument?

"I'm sure the administration and their lawyers spent hours looking, but couldn't find anything."

And just how have you allegedly obtained knowledge of the confidential workings of the U of C's legal team?

"That is why they are charging these students with 'trespassing', not violating a university policy."

That's correct. Trespassing is an offense under the policies (they are called "laws" instead of "policies") of a superior level of government.

"So until you cite a REAL policy, as opposed to expressing your opinion that an abstract policy should exist, there is nothing to discuss."

Sure there is. The previous application of the reasoning for the SU's actions, as given by the SU, to a similar case sets a precedent for the SU's actions this time. You've repeatedly asked for evidence of consistency in the treatment of clubs, this is it. You cannot deny precedence out of existence in the Common Law system in which exists the U of C. You are certainly welcome to petition for new policy to be implemented which supersedes precedents established in common law. But unless you are now demanding that CPL be treated under a different set of rules, your counterarguments to this point fail you.

"How do you explain the fact that no real newspaper is supporting UofC's stand?"

I would first point out that reputable newspapers are not policy-making entities, whose staff are not necessarily qualified to adjudicate matters of law by the only virtue of being affiliated with a journalistic publication. Further, since opinions in newspapers are only at best a reflection of a small and biased sample of their audience, whether or not any particular individual or set of publications supports or opposes the university's actions is irrelevant to your argument. However, I would refrain from commenting about all the non-real (imaginary?) newspapers which you seem to perceive, as I apparently lack access or insight into the alternate logical reality in which you seem to dwell.

"How come other universities allow this event to happen?"

You would have to ask those other universities to discover their positions on pro-life displays. Whatever their responses, however, the fact that a particular university allows or perform particular actions does not on its own morally or legally justify or invalidate other actions at any other university. On the clearly undesirable side, universities around the world have been known to: admit only male students, subject undergraduates to medical and psychological experiments without consent, perform surgical experiments on prisoners of war without consent, systematically exclude women/minorities/poor people from positions of power and influence, issue fraudulent degrees, fund programs and chairs with criminally-obtained funds, and engage in the dissemination of information known to be false. (Now, if you look at what universities have done before the year 2000...) As constructed, your argument must also morally support the U of C's adoption of all of the above, which is clearly an untenable position for any rational individual.

(For added fun, this post can easily be construed as "abusive" under the Gauntlet's story commenting policy. I wonder if it will be removed for the reason that the "Unknown" individual to whom it responds *might* feel offended at having his argument torn apart, or if it will stay visible because policies in general are intended to supplement, and not replace completely, the good judgment of practitioners. Unknown, you don't have to read this post which admittedly very publicly eviscerates your shallow attempt at logical argumentation, but I'll leave it unavoidably in full public view just in case you come across it in trying to find other posts in response to this story.)

I have asked for consistency in treatment today, not anecdotal evidence from 10 years ago. Even then, they actually violated a facility agreement, whereas CPL didn't violate any agreement, it simply did not comply with an arbitrary request.

"Because following up on the articles you try to cite as evidence reveals flaws in how you attempt to use the articles in your argument?"

No, it's because of my next sentence

"And just how have you allegedly obtained knowledge of the confidential workings of the U of C's legal team?"

Because I have one of those things, what are they called, oh yeah, brains.
Going through the courts is costly, time consuming, and exposes the University to negative publicity (self-evident by me writing here, and newspapers around the country criticizing the administration). If the university could deal with this internally, they would. I don't need any confidential knowledge to conclude this.

The fact that newspapers criticize this and that other universities allow this does not create a policy, but does provide something to think about to a rational person. After all, we do live in a free society, where public opinion does matter, and is often the basis to select people who make laws and policies, and these people make laws and policies in consultation with the public. I'm sure some people would prefer to live in a society where other people's opinions can be stifled because they disagree with them.

I have had a misfortune to live in such a society, and trust me, it's not a pretty picture. And if you think that such societies ban free speech outright, you are wrong - they protect free speech like mad. They just put 'reasonable' limitations on it.

Bottom line is - the university has insisted for 5 years that CPL has the right to do this. 6th year, they have all of a sudden decided that it is not OK. Have the policies changed? Has the display changed in any substantial way?
And why don't they charge them for breaking policies in the previous years?
Why didn't they charge them in November when the alleged 'trespassing' occurred, but have instead waited until now?

They'll get their day in court, and we'll go from there.

Getting right back to the basics of this argument, these are my concerns with the CPL display:
- The CPL club itself is made up of very few stuents who attend the U of C. The display in question and the non-students who manage the CPL club are funded by churches in the US. Other Universities have desanctioned this same club on their campus for this reason alone.
- The display itself is not managed primarily by U of C students nor are very many of them present at the actual display.
- I have had intelligent discussions with many who have put on the display, but the conversations deteriorate when CPL is asked about things like "what do we do about the many existing children already stuck in the foster care system" and "does your church have an adoption policy to alleviate the hardships that children experience because they are given up for adoption". Reasonable questions that no-one from CPL have been able to answer for me.
- The information provided, specifically the tie between abortion and increased susceptability to breast cancer has been proven scientifically incorrect yet CPL continues to insist on using this as a fear tactic. I firmly support free speech and was a supporter of this display even though it is contrary to my beliefs, but you lost my support with the refusal to update your information and your refusal to continue research on the subject that would only strengthen the CPL's argument.
- CPL claims they have never done anything wrong to deserve this treatment nor have they broken any rules provided to them. SO WRONG! CPL knows very well that they have only attended to the rules outlined by the Administration and the SU as they saw fit for their own purposes. The Fulan Gong display had their art turned inwards. It is a very simple act on the CPL's part to do the same. If they had just done this one simple thing, we wouldn't be having this argument.
- The SU has the right to desanction any club that refuses to follow the bylaws set out in the Clubs Manual. CPL has broken several bylaws over the years and was given time and opportunity to rectify. They did not. It's simple. Plus referring to my first argument, the CPL has in reality, few actual U of C students on their mebership, and the SU had to force them to bring students onto their exec just so they could remain sanctioned. All positions of title were held by non-students. This is unfair to students at the U of C and ensures the mandate of the CPL club falls along the line of the church who pays for the club, not the views of the undergrads who should be managing the activities of the club.

Excuse my penchant for run-on sentences and please discuss the true issues at hand. CPL must be held accountable for their actions and their spoiled brat behaviour. Their church-funded lawyers have no place at a University that has always allowed free speech. We have held many pro-life and pro-choice debates on campus, and will continue to do so. It is not the issue that is under debate, it is the CPL's disregard for others and their inability to discuss and display the issue in a truthful and intelligent manner.

Please refrain from attacking innocents for their views (ex. Fulan Gong, LGBTQ community, Isrealis and Palestinians). They have managed their debates and displays in intelligent ways that are suitable and expected on a post-secondary campus. This only succeeds in furthering peaceful ways of solving problems and opening eyes to the issues at hand. All I ask is CPL and it's supporters do the same.