Carleton Student Association Bans Anti-Abortion Club

January 2011

Carleton University’s official student association has banned the Ottawa institution’s anti-abortion club, offering it just one way to get back into good graces: support abortion rights.

On Monday, the Carleton University Student Association (CUSA), decertified Carleton Lifeline for its anti-abortion views. It told the club that being against abortion violated CUSA’s anti-discrimination policy, but that it could get recertified in a day or two.

“We invite you to amend your constitution to create one that respects our anti-discrimination policy as laid out above,” wrote Khaldoon Bushnaq, CUSA’s vice-president of internal affairs. “If you are able to resubmit a constitution that meets our criteria by Thursday, November 18th we will be able to certify your club for this semester.”

Ruth Lobo, the president of Carleton Lifeline, said CUSA assumes all students are “pro-choice,” which is not necessarily the case. Its policy, she said, smacked of hypocrisy.

“It’s very ironic that they have a discrimination policy that allows them to discriminate against pro-life groups,” she said. “CUSA claims to be representative of all students. As a pro-life student I am not represented by an organization I am forced to pay dues to in my tuition. Either they should create a policy in which students can opt out of fees or get rid of the discrimination policy,” Ms. Lobo said.

“Pro-choice should also mean that a woman has the right to not have an abortion, so I think CUSA is being anti-choice by not allowing people to hear the other side.”

CUSA did not return phone calls on Tuesday. The Canadian Federation of Students, an umbrella group for student associations, said it does not get involved with local matters on specific campuses.

The letter from Mr. Bushnaq noted Carleton Lifeline believes in the “equal rights of the unborn and firmly believes that abortion is a moral and legal wrong.” Therefore, because of CUSA’s commitment to the pro-abortion-rights position, Carleton Lifeline can no longer promote its views on campus or lobby in any way that would oppose that position.

It can no longer book space for advocacy or events, nor is it eligible for funding.

Ottawa lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos, who is defending the Lifeline students, said CUSA’s “appalling” decision goes against all principles of free speech.

In a letter to CUSA, Mr. Polizogopoulos noted that CUSA’s own constitution, which overrides all bylaws and policies enacted by CUSA, calls for “maintaining an academic and social environment free from prejudice, exploitation, abuse or violence on the basis of, but not limited to, sex, race, language, religion, age, national or social status, political affiliation or belief, sexual orientation or marital status.”

Mr. Polizogopoulos continued: “Since the Discrimination on Campus Policy explicitly calls for the discrimination [against] individuals on the basis of their political belief that life begins at conception, [therefore] it cannot, according to CUSA’s Constitution, continue to be in effect.”

Late on Tuesday Carleton University said in a statement: “CUSA is an independent, incorporated organization; they operate independently of the university and the university plays no role in and has no standing with regard to CUSA’s decision making.”

The Carleton Lifeline became certified in 2006 after a failed attempt by CUSA to keep the club off campus.

Ms. Lobo said she can only speculate why CUSA decided to ban them now but she assumes that it is related to an incident involving the club last month.

On Oct. 4, Ms. Lobo and four other students were arrested on campus by Ottawa police for attempting to display graphic anti-abortion posters. The police were called in by the school administration and the students were charged with trespassing. The case is still pending.

John Carpay, a civil liberties lawyer from Calgary, who has dealt with similar bans on anti-abortion groups, said CUSA’s offer to reinstate the club if they agree to endorse abortion rights can only be laughed at. “That’s awfully generous of them to offer an opportunity for repentance,” said Mr. Carpay. “But it is truly alarming that CUSA would so easily suppress free speech. It’s tragic.”