Calgary students union revokes anti-abortion group's club status

The students union at the University of Calgary has stripped a controversial anti-aborition group of its club status.

The students union at the University of Calgary has stripped a controversial anti-abortion group of its club status.

After a short hearing in front of the union's clubs committee on Tuesday afternoon, University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life lost its status as a sanctioned club.

The president of the University of Calgary Students' Union, Dalmy Baez, said Campus Pro-Life was warned last fall that defying university administrators over a controversial display would put its club status at risk.

"For us, it's strictly a matter of following rules. The only involvement we have in this … is looking at how the club violated the club by-laws and procedures," said Baez.

John Carpay, a lawyer with the Canadian Constitution Foundation who is representing the group, said Campus Pro-Life's charter right to free speech is being violated.

"It's very sad when universities and students unions seem to be disregarding the mission of the university, which is to be a place of open debate and frank discussion and free enquiry," he said.

Clubs get funding, place to meet

As a sanctioned club, Campus Pro-Life was eligible for funding, a place to meet and promotion during Club Week. In exchange, it had to agree to file financial statements and abide by university policies.

Campus Pro-Life ran afoul of university administrators in November for displaying posters of aborted fetuses. The posters compared abortion to the Holocaust, the Ku Klux Klan and the genocide in Rwanda.

University administrators asked that the posters be turned inward during the display on campus, but the group ignored the request as well as a letter threatening legal action. Several of its members have since been charged with trespassing on campus.

"What was written to the club was communicated to all stakeholders in this event so the campus club, the University of Calgary and the students union were all well aware of this policy," said Baez on Tuesday.

But Jacinda Larson, a vice-president with Campus Pro-Life, said the union is on shaky ground.

"The university and the students union have refused and omitted from telling us what specific policy we are not following so therefore it's invalid," said Larson.

In November, university lawyer Paul Beke said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to universities, and freedom of expression protection does not extend to trespassers.

"Protesters are on the university's private property and they have refused to follow the university's instructions. Because they won't co-operate, they had to give notice to the protesters that they will become illegal protesters."