Faced with a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court by a campus pro-life club – Youth Protecting
Youth (YPY) – the University of Victoria Student Society (UVSS) has agreed to terms under
which YPY has agreed to hold the lawsuit in abeyance. The lawsuit was a response to an escalating program of sanctions and discrimination by the UVSS, directed against the pro-life students, culminating in YPY being thrown out of the society’s group of formally recognized student clubs.
The UVSS took the position that since all pro-life advocacy – no matter how civil or mild in form
– is both harassment (as defined and interpreted by its policy documents), and hate propaganda against women, it had no legitimate right to ordinary claims of freedom of expression.
Supported by the campus pro-choice club, the Canadian Federation of Students, elements of the Women’s Studies Department (which contributed the insight that the mere expression of pro-life opinion created an environment of “ambient violence”), and organizations such as the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the UVSS executive consistently voted for measures designed to punish, stigmatize, and finally brand as illegitimate, all advocacy of pro-life opinion by a campus club.
Now, faced with a Supreme Court lawsuit, the UVSS has reinstated YPY as a student club in good standing, repaid all the funding wrongly denied it in the past, revised its policies to expunge those elements (such as the definition of harassment) that specifically targeted prolife advocacy, and agreed to permit the Supreme Court lawsuit to stand in abeyance rather than be withdrawn, with the BCCLA appearing as an intervener in the event that it is necessary to proceed with the case. This last condition of settlement provides the YPY with the privilege of activating its lawsuit at a moment’s notice if the UVSS, at some future time, should again favour political correctness and censorship over freedom of expression.
“This is an acceptable settlement,” says John Dixon of the BCCLA, which has supported the expression rights of the YPY students, “ but why did it take a lawsuit to extract a modicum of respect for free speech rights on the campus of a public university? Academic freedom, and the claim of universities to independence from outside interference, is predicated on the ancient and honourable idea that the pursuit of truth requires an environment of uninhibited discussion, where even the spirited clash of opposing viewpoints is valued and protected. Hopefully, other Canadian universities will get the message.”