Catherine Dubois, left, and fellow members of Students for Life Brandon University. Photo courtesy of Catherine Dubois

Pro-life group attains club status in court settlement

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  • September 2, 2016

A pro-life student group at Brandon University has won the right to operate on campus after a lawsuit against the school’s student union was settled out of court.

 The settlement follows a summer of negotiations between Brandon University’s Students for Life group and the school’s student union, which had revoked the pro-life group’s status as an official club on campus. Without official standing, the group was unable to participate in major student life events, such as open houses and Student Groups Day, and were denied student union funding and access to campus meeting spaces.

“I am happy to know we have guaranteed club status for this upcoming year and that what happened last year won’t happen again,” club president Catherine Dubois said an e-mail following the Aug. 24 settlement. “I think the emphasis of the year moving forward is to use the momentum we’ve gained from this experience and be really present and engaging on campus.”

The Brandon University Students’ Union (BUSU) revoked the group’s status last November during a council meeting. Dubois was not notified of the meeting, and only learned their club status was revoked when attempting to book a meeting space two months later.

“According to BUSU, they e-mailed us back in November when they revoked our club status, however, that e-mail was never received,” said Dubois. “Apparently, they sent it to the wrong e-mail address.”

 A “frustrating” meeting in February with student union executives failed to resolve the issue.

“There were several times in that meeting where they said, ‘Oh you guys can have a club, if you change your beliefs,’ ” Dubois said.

That led to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filing an application with the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench on behalf of the pro-life group seeking an order to have the club reinstated.  Under the settlement, the student union has agreed in writing to reinstate Students for Life’s official club status and recognize the club for the upcoming school year.

“BUSU was trying to bully Students for Life into silence simply for holding unpopular views,” said centre president and legal counsel John Carpay. “Left to stand, this decision would have had disastrous consequences for future students at Brandon University, and all Canadians seeking a forum for diverse opinion at our universities.”

The Students for Life group was formed in 2013, but only after legal intervention to persuade the student union to grant status to the fledgling pro-life group. After being initially denied status, the group consulted with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, where Carpay helped the students draft a letter that threatened legal action if their application continued to to be denied.

The group has held several events on campus to discuss euthanasia, abortion, suicide and other life issues.

“There have been issues with some of the events we’ve had on campus, though we’ve never had any formal complaints or anything like that from the student union,” said Dubois. “I don’t want to say it’s been tense because that’s not fair to say, but it’s definitely been a challenge to figure out where we stand with the student council turnover every year.”

For now, Dubois said the focus is to form the younger members of the group. She and some of her fellow executives will be graduating at the end of the school year. She said it will be important for the older members to mentor the younger students and create a long-term plan for the sustainability of the group.

“As students of Brandon University, we must have the same right as every other fee-paying member of BUSU to participate fully in campus life, like other student groups,” said Dubois. “With this reversal, we are once again looking forward to engaging with our peers on issues that are important to us.”

(With files from Deborah Gyapong.)

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