‘We feel marginalized’: Pro-life group sues Manitoba university for denying them club status

A pro-life student group in is suing a ’s for stripping them of their official club status, a move the anti-abortion group says is “tainted with bias.”

Brandon University Students they didn’t learn Brandon University Student’s Union (BUSU) had shut down their group until January this year, nearly three months after the decided to revoke their standing. Students for Life said the union disagrees with their stance on abortion, despite the fact they “aren’t really interested in condemning people that have had abortions.”

“We feel marginalized, censored and discriminated against by BUSU, simply because we want to host , share our views and have discussions about life-and-death issues such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide,” said Catherine Dubois, Students for Life’s president, in her affidavit. 

The group said its objective is to promote the protection of human life from conception until natural death, and educate others through “peaceful protest” and “charitable volunteerism.” In the past, group members have worn “Right to Life” T-shirts, statements in chalk on sidewalks and created posters comparing abortion to slavery and a lack of indigenous rights.

Handout A statement written in chalk on the sidewalk by Brandon University Students for Life group

Without club status, Students for Life aren’t recognized as a group, and aren’t granted access to membership benefits. They also have to pay fees if they wish to book a meeting room — a cost groups are exempt from.

While the university’s student union declined to comment on the case, minutes from a February council meeting showed BUSU expressed concern over students feeling uncomfortable with the pro-life group on campus.

At the meeting, where Students for Life appealed their revocation, the council questioned whether the club was necessary, and asked why the majority of their campaigns were anti-abortion events. Despite the group highlighting the fact they’ve also protested euthanasia, the union rejected their appeal.

But this isn’t the first battle the controversial group has faced.

“They were banned as a campus club throughout the 2012-2013 school year,” said John Carpay, a lawyer with the Justice for Constitutional Freedoms who is representing Students for Life. “They were discouraged from even applying.”

Handout A poster used by Students for Life

In support of the group, , an Alberta-based libertarian organization that has also intervened in a case involving a University of Alberta anti-abortion group, sent the union a letter threatening legal action unless it granted the club status.

The letter worked, and from 2013-2015, Students for Life operated like a regular club on campus.

“Then the problems started again,” said Carpay.

In November 2015, Carpay said, the union revoked the club’s status, without telling the group, or giving them a chance to defend themselves. Students for Life discovered their fate when a member tried to book a space in the student union centre and was denied.

“Our position is based on the student union’s own policies and bylaws, which include commitment to diversity of speech and , and protecting free ,” Carpay said. “What (the union is) doing is completely illegal.”

The right-to-life group is demanding it be reinstated, citing a university policy that states the campus must “maintain a respectful environment in which students, teaching, and non-teaching staff can engage in free inquiry and open discussion of all issues.”

“It’s up to them to choose their own response,” Carpay said.

“They can bring an end to the court action by simply reinstating the club, and also promising not to engage in illegal censorship in the future.”

About Laura Hensley