At the University of Victoria, a strangely anachronistic battle is playing out, one that feels plucked right out of the 1950s: a pro-life group vs. proponents of abortion rights on campus. The group -- called Youth Protecting Youth -- filed a lawsuit against the university in 2013 after it was blocked from holding an event on campus, as it club was found not to be in good standing. The B.C. Supreme Court ruled last week that the charter right to free expression does not guarantee the club's right to hold a so-called "Choice Chain" on campus, one of YPY's signature events that feature large images of aborted fetuses.
The club has a rocky history at UVic. Since 2008, the school has found that YPY has harassed students on several occasions, often launching on-campus campaigns shaming women who have had, or are considering, an abortion. Additionally, the group frequently held lectures that openly equated abortion to genocide, one such lecture titled "Echoes of the Holocaust." UVic withdrew the club's funding in 2008, before eventually restoring it.
Strangely enough, the lawsuit was filed in partnership with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which supports abortion rights. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, however, ruled that the university’s ban does not violate the charter, and that it is within the school’s jurisdiction to set acceptable parameters for free expression.
"It's quite a narrow and technical point in a way, because it's not about abortion," Nitya Iyer, who represented the UVic Students' Society, told the Times Colonist. "It's about the balance between government and private entities in terms of regulation of free speech."
Little mention of abortion was made in the ruling, which instead focused on the legislative balance of public and private entities; however, the decision constitutes a major victory for pro-choice activists on campus.
"Reading the recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief for current students at UVic," says Shantelle Moreno, a former UVic student and 2008-2010 co-chair of the UVic Choice Club. "It is well within the university's rights to create guidelines around the expression of free speech that uphold the safety and security of students, especially students who are part of vulnerable and/or marginalized populations."
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