Choice Chain, a campaign where volunteers held pictures of aborted fetuses, was held at the University of Victoria in November. The campaign is one of the reasons Youth Protecting Youth has been censured by the school’s student society. Photo by Bronwyn Lawri

Youth Protecting Youth censured at UVic

By  Bronwyn Lawrie, Youth Speak News
  • February 15, 2012

VICTORIA, B.C. - The University of Victoria (UVic) Student Society’s board of directors has censured campus pro-life club Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), effectively silencing the organized pro-life voice on campus.

On grounds of violating the university’s harassment policy, the board’s decision Feb. 6 is a response to the 90-plus complaints against the club related to a “Choice Chain” event on campus in November and the club’s use of posters from the National Campus Life Network. The “person poster” juxtaposes historical statements made by secular authorities against the personhood of African Americans, natives, women and Jews, comparing them to statements by the Supreme Court against the personhood of an unborn child. “Sometimes the most important lessons take the longest to learn,” reads the poster.

After three months of discussion, a society-run complaints committee recommended that YPY be censured, have its booking privileges on campus suspended until the spring of 2013, be prevented from using similar posters again and be asked to write a formal apology letter to complainants. An amendment to the poster motion removed YPY’s postering privileges until the student society passes a policy regulating acceptable poster content.

The committee did not release reasons for its action. Student society chairperson Tara Paterson — who is also the student and youth representative for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada — did not respond to a request for comment on the harassment policy, the board’s decision or the meeting, which she chaired.  

“We see this as a major violation to our freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” said Cameron Côté, YPY’s vice president. “It’s like saying you’re allowed to have your own thoughts, you just can’t share them. With this motion we can’t share our view that abortion kills an unborn child with the general public, the people that need to hear this message.” 

The board decided that both Choice Chain and the posters broke its harassment policy. The policy defines harassment as “the abusive, unfair or demeaning treatment of a person or group of persons that has the effect or purpose of unreasonably creating a hostile, intimidating, threatening or humiliating environment.”

“There’s no way of proving that someone is innocent of harassment if harassment is simply based on a feeling,” said Côté. “Being offended is incredibly valid, but being offended is a feeling, whereas harassment is an action. None of the complaints cited an action or a behaviour done by any participants in Choice Chain or by the poster itself.”

YPY is still allowed to book private meeting rooms for club members and to have a table at the twice-annual Clubs’ Days event.

The club is discussing its response to the motions.

“We’re going to have to find other ways of expressing our freedom of speech and expression,” said Côté.

“There’s no way anyone can restrict our conversations with our peers, with our lab partners, with people in our classes. We will just continue on as a club and host whichever events we’re able to host within the new restrictions until we’re able to resolve them.”

YPY was asked to write an apology letter to the Students of Colour Collective, the Women’s Centre, the Native Students Union, Israel on Campus and the Jewish Students Association. These groups felt that the NCLN poster co-opted the experiences of marginalized populations to further arguments against abortion.

“We’d be more than happy to issue a clarification letter,” said Côté. “We can see from the complaints and from the board meeting itself that both the poster and Choice Chain were misunderstood.

“There’s certainly been a banding together of club members because of this hardship,” said Côté. “We are incredibly confident that we are still in the right.”

(Lawrie, 20, is a creative writing major at the University of Victoria.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.