Carleton University students opened up a can of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms worms in December after passing legislation denying certain types of clubs funding, though whose rights are being violated is in question.
On Dec. 5 the Carleton University Students’ Association voted 25 to 6 in favour of a motion banning all groups from using CUSA resources and space that seek to “limit or remove a woman’s right to choose.” CUSA justified taking their stance on the abortion issue by saying they were a political organization and were allowed to take stands on political issues. The motion passed after over five hours of debate.
Though it was carefully worded to not single out any specific campus groups, the CUSA decision was clearly meant to limit the Carleton Lifeline club, similar to Campus Pro-Life here at the University of Calgary.
There are a couple of questions here, beyond the typical questions in any abortion debate. Is CUSA justified in taking a stand on this issue at all and which rights are really being violated?
CUSA is an elected organization designed to represent student issues. The student body at any university represents a large collection of people from many backgrounds, with different beliefs and varied ideals. CUSA has denied funding and use of CUSA space to any group that believes in limiting a woman’s right to choose, silencing one side of the debate in favour of the other. By taking a stand on an issue as contentious as abortion, CUSA is saying that the student body is united in one belief. In reality, it isn’t, as evidenced by the very existence of a pro-life group on campus like Carleton Lifeline.
The motion was started by the campus women’s centre, based on the assumption that most groups who are “anti-choice” believe in recriminalizing abortion. The women’s centre believes that recriminilization of abortion is in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms–specifically, the right to security of the person. The unfortunate aspect about the CUSA motion is that it is vague and there are questions as to how it will apply since Carleton Lifeline has already been granted club status.
When CUSA had a chance to shut Campus Lifeline down, CUSA instead approved club status for CL, with the assumed inevitability of funding it.
The pro-life argument is based on debatable, yet legitimate, concerns about whether life officially starts at conception or birth. Not everyone agrees with it, possibly because the argument is often rooted in religious belief and identifies the killing of a fetus, regardless of which stage, as murder. The pro-life argument can come from a variety of angles–not just those based in religion–and regardless of where the belief comes from, it is a legitimate opinion.
Abortion gained its legal status when it was declared unconstitutional for abortion to be banned since it violated the right to security of the person, not because of an artificial “right to choose.” Whether or not that should be a right added to the Charter is another debate, but as of right now, it does not officially exist and should not really be called a right. The desire to choose, and the arguments behind it are legitimate, but it’s not an inalienable right. I can drink alcohol, but I don’t have a charter-protected right to drink. It’s just not illegal. That could change and so could abortion on any conceivable timeline with a change in the criminal code.
Maybe Carleton Lifeline does believe that recriminalizing abortion is the answer, and if they believe abortion is murder, why shouldn’t they? Unfortunately, the right to express that opinion on the Carleton campus has been removed, since it infringes on a woman’s “right to choose.”
What really is at stake here is free speech and the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, as listed in the Charter. By limiting what a legitimate side of an argument may propose, CUSA has violated the Charter more than any pro-life argument has done. Though many disagree with the extremist element of the pro-life movement, there are legitimate beliefs and questions to back it up in the sanest of senses. Denying a group the right to speak, just because others disagree with what they have to say, is beyond the scope of what CUSA really is: an elected representation of the student body, regardless of which ideals or beliefs elected members may carry.