A pro-life group is looking for official club status from the Brandon University Students’ Union after an inquiry in August was shot down by the board.
BUSU responded to an email request by stating there was no pro-life group on campus and that it would not like to create one.
Brandon University Students For Life was referred to the Women’s Collective, a group which advocates for all women’s issues and gender issues on campus.
The pro-life group rehashed the issue and brought forward an official application to council for club status and hopes to receive an answer by the end of the month, according to an email statement to the Sun from club president and organizer Catherine Dubois.
Dubois, a first-year student, posted her intentions on a church bulletin board, stating the group was denied club status and is looking for like-minded people to get involved.
“We have been denied club status by the students’ union and I know that it will be an uphill battle from here,” the poster reads. “I hope to work alongside my peers to create a campus where free speech is allowed on every issue and where life issues can be discussed in a respective and open manner.”
The poster continues: “As Catholics it is our duty to protect the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and I feel God is calling me to spread the pro-life message on campus.”
Dubois responded via email to the Sun after several attempts for an interview.
“As of right now we have submitted our application to BUSU and we are currently waiting for a response as to whether we will be granted club status or not,” the email reads.
BUSU president Carissa Taylor said council felt a pro-life club would be “redundant” since the Women’s Collective deals with all gender issues.
“BUSU decided not to give them official club status because we have other groups on campus that deal with women’s reproductive rights and those kinds of issues,” she said.
“We had a meeting with them and talked about some of their issues, and they have been quiet since then, they haven’t asked to use space, they haven’t asked to make posters, to do anything like that until this came up again.”
When pressed if council’s decision was based on the fact a group was dealing with the contentious issue of abortion, she said no.
“I wouldn’t say that,” she said. “I don’t think we shy away from contentious issues, it’s just a redundancy with the clubs that we have.
“BUSU hasn’t officially said we’re pro-life or pro-choice, we don’t currently have a stance on that issue.”
The primary incentive for receiving club status is getting funding through BUSU, including money for printed material and partial funding for events hosted by clubs that are considered beneficial to students.
According to Taylor, BUSU told Students For Life that although it would not be receiving club funding, it can still ask for donations from BUSU. However she said the pro-life group had not approached BUSU since August until the most recent request for club status.
According to the minutes of BUSU’s August meeting, then-LGBT commissioner Stefon Irvine said the union can’t have a group that condemns the choices of other women.
“You can’t have a group on campus that tells another group of women that what they did was wrong,” Irvine said according to the minutes. “Pro-choice doesn’t mean pro-abortion.”
Irvine voiced his desire to have the discussion in order for BUSU to establish a view on abortion by giving the Students For Life a “simple answer.”
Fellow board member and science commissioner Corey DeGagne said having a pro-life group “is similar to having a group that is pro-white.”
Kris Keen and Brad McClelland said referring the group to the Women’s Collective isn’t appropriate.
“The pro-life group are trying to make abortion illegal and the Women’s Collective is more towards morality as opposed to law,” Keen said according to the minutes.
Women’s Collective chairperson Sarah Tomchak said she was never approached by the pro-life group, but said they would welcome its members despite the collective’s general pro-choice stance.
“If anybody came to me wanted to talk to the Women’s Collective about pro-life or anything like that, it’s a gender issue and we would hear it,” she said. “As long as it’s not hurtful or disrespectful to anybody.”
Tomchak said she isn’t bothered by a pro-life group on campus, but recalls similar groups in the past at BU, which she said were “disrespectful.”
“They were pushing graphic images on campus and throughout the community that people just didn’t want to see,” she said. “If someone wants to look into that, they can do that on their own time.”
BUSU was correct in deferring the group to the women’s collective, said Tomchak, and said she believes the group welcomes all viewpoints on gender issues, “as long as it’s respectful.”
The Women’s Collective is a resource centre, which offers free pregnancy tests, and will even reimburse students for the morning-after pill, but Tomchak said they offer information on all other pregnancy options.
“We’re not just going to say ‘there’s the abortion clinic in Winnipeg,’ that’s not what we do,” she said. There are several avenues.”
If Students For Life is granted club status, a pro-choice group will soon follow, Tomchak believes, which she thinks could lead to animosity.
A similar story unfolded in late 2012 at a university in Langley, B.C., which very nearly ended up in a courtroom.
A first-year agriculture student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University was denied club status by that school’s student union for his anti-abortion club application.
He applied for his group, Protectores Vitae, to become a funded campus club, but the student association’s executive denied that status because it is a pro-choice student government, according to a National Post report.
The group then threatened to sue and soon after gave the group full club status.
President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms John Carpay said the B.C. student union’s original decision to deny Protectores status a “textbook example” of censorship, not only of the union in question, but student unions all over Canada, according to the Post report.