UVic disciplines abortion opponents after 90 complaints lodged

During two-day “Choice” Chain in November, group's members held large images of aborted fetuses and spoke to students about abortion.

A controversial club at the University of Victoria was chastised this week for an anti-abortion campaign held on campus in the fall.

The University of Victoria Students’ Society board of directors disciplined abortion opponents, Youth Protecting Youth, following a review of the group’s two-day “Choice” Chain event, held outside the university’s library in November. During the event, YPY volunteers held large images of aborted fetuses and spoke to students about abortion.

The students’ society found that through the graphic nature of the images, engaging students who chose not to participate and by making digital recordings of students without consent, YPY was in violation of the university’s harassment policy.

Cameron Côté, YPY vice-president and event co-ordinator, maintains that student involvement was voluntary. Video recording was intended solely as a safety measure, cleared in advance with student affairs, and was made known with warning signs posted around the perimetre of the demonstration, he said. While the event is being disputed, Côté will remain in possession of the footage and will destroy it or share it with campus security if needed, he added. “We don’t feel that holding pictures, no matter how disgusting they may be, constitutes harassment,” Côté said. “We’re disappointed that our freedom of speech and freedom of expression has been limited by what we don’t think is harassment at all.”

A UVSS complaints board reviewed the incident and on Feb. 6, recommended YPY be restricted from posting signs or hosting events, as well as from booking space on campus for anything other than regular club meetings. The group may participate in UVic’s Clubs Day, but must also issue a letter of apology to those offended by the “Choice” Chain. The student society received three complaints following YPY’s last demonstration, which compared abortion to the Holocaust and led to the group’s 2010 censure.

“This year, the UVSS received 90 complaints, so I think that speaks to the escalation of the situation,” said Tara Paterson, UVSS chairperson.

“Obviously their tactics and the reaction to their tactics are escalating.”

Former YPY president Anastasia Pearse sued the UVSS in B.C. Supreme Court in May 2010, arguing her club was being censored by a pro-choice board of directors.

The two sides settled in July and YPY’s funding and group status was reinstated.  “None of us like holding images of aborted human beings,” Côté said. “We’re out here because we feel that this is wrong. … We’re going to pursue the most appropriate measure for getting our freedom of speech and expression back.”

Harassment defined

The University of Victoria Students’ Society found the UVic opponents of abortion, Youth Protecting Youth, were in violation of the harassment section of the Clubs Policy, specifically for: “Communicating with another person or group of persons by verbal, electronic, telephonic, written or visual means in a manner that harasses.”

The UVSS constitution states: “Harassment is defined as the abusive, unfair, or demeaning treatment of a person or group of persons that has the effect or purpose of unreasonably creating a hostile, intimidating, threatening, or humiliating environment.”

nnorth@saanichnews.com