Campus Pro-Life pulls plug

The University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life Club pulled out of a controversial anti-abortion exhibit after the U of C and Students’ Union set “unacceptable” restrictions on the project.

The Genocide Awareness Project includes large-scale depictions of the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide and Cambodian killing fields and compares abortion to these and other atrocities. The club’s original request was to set up their display on the South Lawn of the MacEwan Student Centre Nov. 21 and 22, but following a letter from the SU and U of C administration outlining a series of restrictions, the club cancelled the event.

“There are certain things that are unacceptable,” said Campus Pro-Life President Josh Nugent, who is completing graduate studies in kinesiology. “The parameters the university has placed on the project has compromised the integrity of the project.”

The SU and U of C said Campus Pro-Life could hold the event provided the club erected their signs in a circle facing inward, surrounded by snow fencing. The conditions also required Campus Security to be on hand and signs be put up warning passers-by of the graphic nature of the display.

The Oct. 26 letter was signed by SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Joel Lockwood and U of C VP External Relations Roman Cooney.

Nugent said the restrictions were unfair, and called them “content-based discrimination.”

“These images are offensive and disturbing because the act of abortion is offensive and disturbing,” said Nugent. “The point of a university is to be a place of intelligent discussion, not to choose what can be discussed and what cannot.”

The restrictions were necessary in order to ensure the safety of participants and so people could choose whether they want to be part of the debate, said Cooney. He also said he was unaware of any precedent for these types of restrictions on a campus event.

“It was a sincere effort on the part of everybody to strike a reasonable middle ground,” said Cooney. “We thought they were going ahead with their event. It was their decision to postpone it, not ours.”

“This is a place for dialogue, but what are the reasonable parameters?” Cooney asked. “There was confrontation last year and on other campuses. This is a non-trivial issue for us.”

Similar issues plagued the club last year when Campus Pro-Life chose to hold the GAP Project off campus rather than submit to restrictions on poster sizes. The demonstration sparked confrontation with some students who ripped down the posters and resulted in at least one case of criminal charges against an individual who vandalized the display.

“We wanted to avoid the whole fiasco that happened last year,” said Lockwood. “We’re treating this like other events we’ve had where there’s a potential for violence. People that do wish to see the display should be able to make an informed decision.”

Lockwood said asking the club to face its posters into the enclosed area is similar to past events in which only those who choose to participate are exposed to questionable material, like last year’s SU sanctioned Sexual Awareness Week.

Campus Pro-Life is still speaking with the university and SU about holding the event.

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