Lakehead Student Union Bars Clubs From 'Negative' Messaging

January 2009

Clubs at Lakehead University must make their messages “positive,” cannot be seen to be offensive or disparaging and they are not allowed to impose their views on anyone else, new amendments to the student union constitution say.

Richard Longtin, the president of the Lakehead University Student Union, in Thunder Bay, Ont., said the new rules are designed to create a more civil atmosphere in which students respect one another.

For example, he said the campus NDP club could put literature about why the NDP is the best political party without disparaging the Liberals or Conservatives. There is no point, he said, for one party to attack another. “The purpose of a political party is to explain their point of view,” he said, “not to disparage other points of view.”

Under the new rules a club can set up a booth during club days but is not allowed to approach a student with its material. Rather, Mr. Longtin said, the student must approach the booth. That would avoid, he said, having someone try to impose their views on someone else.

Any student that is offended by the material of any club can bring their complaint to the student union and the issue would be reviewed, Mr. Longtin said.

But a campus anti-abortion group, which has been trying to gain official status since 2007, believes the new rules make it impossible for them to ever spread their message effectively — even if they ever did get club status.

“[The student union is] working to create a simple happy world, where expressing a single critical thought that may upset anyone is banned, and where [student union] will be the final arbiter of what is acceptable,” said a release from Lakehead Life Support this week.

Francisco Gomez, president of Lakehead Life Support, said they could still attempt to become a club, but it would be pointless.

“We could be a club but we would have all these restrictions. I believe anything we’d do would come back to these restrictions and we would be penalized,” said Mr. Gomez.

“So we can say ‘adoption is a loving option’ but we can’t say abortion kills a human being, which is what we believe.”

In effect, Mr. Gomez said, the club would have to be pro-choice — which is actually the official position of the student union. The new amendments state:

“Campaigns must be positive in nature and cannot slander the opposing stance of the campaign.”
“All club publications shall not have content that may be deemed as offensive or in bad taste to any identifiable group.”

“Members of the club are not allowed to impose belief(s) or practice(s) of the club to anyone who does not give them consent to outside of the club’s meetings.” Mr. Longtin denied that the new rules are aimed at the pro-life group.

He also added that the new rules do not interfere with normal political discourse but only prevents the imposition of views on others.

The pro-choice stance of the student union, Mr. Longtin said, is actually a “neutral position” not in favour of any side in the debate.

Since last summer, a number of universities have been embroiled over the issue of free speech, particularly as it applies to anti-abortion groups. At the University of Guelph, York University and the University of Victoria, just to name a view, anti-abortion groups have been denied status because the official policies of the student associations are pro-choice.