Ruth Shaw, executive director of the National Campus Life Network, at the National March for Life last May. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Doug Ford's free speech policy misses pro-lifers, advocates say

  • January 16, 2019

OTTAWA – Doug Ford’s free speech policy for Ontario universities may not stem the censorship and even violence against pro-life expression on campuses, say pro-life activists.

The Ontario Premier’s policy that demanded all publicly-funded colleges and universities develop free speech policies by Jan. 1 or risk losing some of their funding fails to address the chief cause of censorship on campus coming from student unions, said Ruth Shaw, executive director of the National Campus Life Network (NCLN).

Most student unions have administrative structures that are separate from that of the university, she said. “That’s an egregious error on the part of the Ford government.”

“In the past eight years, there has been a growing trend of censorship and violence on university campuses against pro-life students,” she said.  “From 2009 to 2015, it was mostly administrative censorship from student unions deciding they were a pro-choice body.”

That led to some student governments across Canada refusing to grant pro-life clubs status so they could book space for events, put up posters, have tables at club fairs or receive a portion of student union dues.

In more recent years, pro-life activists have seen their displays destroyed or stolen, and some have faced violence.  

In 2015, the president of the pro-life club at the University of Windsor had a man send her pictures of aborted babies with the message, “This is your baby after I rape you.”

Ryerson University in Toronto has seen the greatest increase in violence. Last October, a woman from a pro-choice group was charged with assault after a confrontation with two members of Toronto Against Abortion, Blaise Alleyne and Katie Somers.

“We are watching that matter closely and hoping justice will be served,” said Alleyne.

“I think we’ve had about 20 to 30 incidences since we began pro-life outreach two years ago,” he said. Those incidents include theft and property destruction of displays and signs and disruption of demonstrations.

Alleyne, who takes courses at both Ryerson and the University of Toronto, points out that Ryerson has no administrative control over its two student unions, but U of T can ignore its student union policies and still allow clubs without status to book campus facilities.

“I hope the new Ontario free speech policy will set a minimum standard so Ryerson will renew its commitment to free speech,” Alleyne said. 

Meanwhile, Shaw said NCLN is continuing its efforts to change the culture on the ground, and meeting with some success in one-on-one conversations with students.

“We don’t really care about trying to affect major institutions on a macro level,” Shaw said. “It’s very possible to influence young people on the ground. There’s a growing trend. Generation Z is open to conservative values, much more so than previous generations.

“In the past weeks, we have had over 500 conversations on over 21 campuses. Statistics show that 67 per cent moved to a more pro-life perspective after our conversations.”

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