I've taken a particular interest in the pro-life activities of Canadian students in recent years because of the bravery and commitment these students display in the face of unbearable restrictions on their speech. I've also warned that if we do not zealously protect our freedom of speech in America, then pro-life students here will begin to encounter the same restrictions as their friends north of the boarder. But only recently have I realized how similar we've become. Events this month at Carleton University in Ontario are strikingly similar not only to our video series about Hanna, but also to our case involving Rock for Life at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Carleton arrested five students on October 4th for displaying Genocide Awareness Project signs on campus. GAP signs show the horrors of abortion by comparing it to genocide in other contexts. The students were members of Carleton Lifeline, a student club at the university, and obtained permits for the event. However, as the Brock Press reports, Carleton shut down the event and arrested the students for trespassing because the GAP signs might have offended some people:
Jason MacDonald, a spokesperson for the University, said other jurisdictions have deemed the content offensive because of its graphic nature.
"We need to balance the students' right to express themselves on this particular issue and to do so freely with the fact that some people may not be comfortable seeing larger-than-life images of aborted fetuses as they walk through campus," said MacDonald.
MacDonald said the University offered the students the opportunity to display their exhibit in an auditorium called Porter Hall, an area that Lobo calls isolated and "off the beaten path".
The students refused to move the event, so police arrested them for trespassing. You read that right, tuition-paying students arrested for trespassing on their own campus. Here's a video of the arrest at Carleton:
Compare the situation at Carleton to Hanna's story that we posted a few days ago:
Additionally, the situation at Carleton is eerily similar to what our clients experienced in Rock for Life v. Hrabowski. In that case, pro-life students at University of Maryland, Baltimore County applied for permits to bring the GAP display to campus and when the students began setting up the display, the University, like Carleton, moved them to a vacant field far away from student pedestrian traffic. The students complied, and likely averted arrest, but sued the University for moving the event and for threatening them with punishment under the University's harassment policies.
Each of these situations demonstrate that universities strive to avoid discussing the merits of reproductive policy. Instead, they simply stigmatize students by labeling their speech "offensive" and then move them to a location where no one will hear. I applaud the students for standing up for the unborn and free speech, and will continue to monitor the developments at Carleton.
UPDATE: ADF allied attorney John Carpay writes in today's Calgary Herald that a recent decision in Pridgen v. University of Calgary, may help the Carleton students. The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench ruled that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects students' rights to express their opinions on campus. The column is worth a read.
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