The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Cameron Côté, a UVic grad and former president of UVic student group Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), are pursuing a constitutional lawsuit against UVic. The BCCLA and Côté have filed the petition with notice to the UVic Students’ Society (UVSS). They reference the UVSS’s decision, made on Feb. 2, 2012, to revoke YPY’s booking rights and use of public university spaces for one year. The petition is also on notice to Jim Dunsdon, UVic’s associate vice-president of Student Affairs, and mentions his decision to cancel an event planned for Feb. 1, 2013.
The UVSS decided to revoke YPY’s club rights after receiving complaints that the group’s “Choice Chain” event on Nov. 16 and 17, 2011, may constitute harassment. YPY’s booking rights were suspended until the spring semester of 2013, and in the motion passed, YPY was ordered not to repeat the actions and, “in particular, not to organize or conduct Choice Chain or similar events.”
The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), a pro-life organization, defines the Choice Chain on their website as, “people standing on public sidewalks primarily holding 3×4-foot signs of first-trimester aborted babies. Post-abortive women and men who participate are encouraged to hold ‘I Regret My Abortion’ and ‘I Regret Lost Fatherhood’ signs.” These signs are graphic in nature and according to the CCBR are used to “change minds,” and “stimulate debate.”
Côté said the 2011 Choice Chain garnered mixed reactions. “We had a lot of very supportive people. We had a lot of people deeply engaged in conversation, respectful conversation,” said Côté. “There was a lot of people that felt uncomfortable seeing the graphic images of abortion. There was a lot people that didn’t want to see the images on campus.” Côté estimates 23 or 24 complaints were filed to the UVSS, quoting the society’s harassment policy.
After the group’s booking rights were reinstated, YPY planned another Choice Chain event for Feb. 1 2013, which was initially approved on Jan. 29 by Jim Dunsdon. “We were very happy,” said Côté, “but it was what we expected. We expected our university to support our freedom of speech.” However, Dunsdon revoked the approval on Jan. 31, stating that, because of the motion passed by the UVSS in February of the previous year, the Choice Chain event was against the policy for booking an outdoor space. YPY held the 2013 Choice Chain event as planned, against the order of the university. Dunsdon then sent a letter informing YPY that their space booking privileges were, once again, revoked for a year’s time. He also stated that, should they hold such an event against the order of the university again, allegations of non-academic misconduct could be filed against the group’s participants. This would allege that YPY’s behaviour was disruptive or dangerous. The non-academic misconduct policy outlines ways to informally resolve an allegation, including an apology, mediation, education, consultation, or conciliation. Disruptive or dangerous behaviour includes harassment as defined under the university’s discrimination and harassment policy (separate from the UVSS’s harassment policy).
The UVSS’s definition of harassment is in Section 2, Part F of its club policy. The UVSS currently defines harassment as “an action that creates a hostile environment, abusive, unfair, or demeaning treatment, or an attempt to convert members of other religious clubs through membership lists, during club meetings or other organized events.”
The BCCLA has filed the lawsuit with Côté and offered its support. The BCCLA says it has “a long history of pro-choice advocacy and action,” but that they “regard all attempts to silence dissent through programs of systematic harassment as obnoxious to democracy.”
This isn’t the first time YPY has worked with the BCCLA. Côté said, “In the lawsuit we had started against the student society back in 2010-11, BCCLA was very helpful in getting that going and connecting us with legal aid.” That lawsuit pertained to posters YPY had put up around campus, from a pro-life organization called Feminists for Life, which received complaints and were removed. Following the poster removal, the UVSS denied YPY club status and funding.
The BCCLA is also offering its assistance to the UVic Catholic Students’ Association (CSA) in its dealings with the UVSS and UVic. That group’s pamphlets titled Pure Manhood, Pure Womanhood, and Pure Love, which were made available at UVSS clubs days in September 2012, have sparked reactions similar to those that surrounded YPY’s Choice Chain events. Some of the pamphlets’ statements with which the UVSS board takes issue include: “The homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals,” “bodies of the same gender are not made to receive each other,” “Safe sex is degrading,” and, “guys will stare at a girl who wears a short skirt that could be mistaken for a wide belt. But none of them will respect her.” These pamphlets, like YPY’s Choice Chain, garnered complaints citing the UVSS’s harassment policy, and on July 11, 2013 the UVSS passed a motion saying the CSA cannot display those pamphlets at future events, and that the CSA must refrain from committing similar actions again. The BCCLA takes issue with this censorship of a student club. Further business related to this issue is on the agenda for the UVSS Annual General Meeting, which takes place Oct. 17 in the Michèle Pujol room of the Student Union Building at 3 p.m.