BRANDON, MB: Just a year after students at Brandon University in Manitoba regained the right to participate in student life again after having their student group status revoked by their student union, the student group Brandon University Students for Life (SFL) is facing renewed censorship and hostility from the Brandon University Student Union (BUSU) after the union refused to permit SFL to poster.
On October 17, 2017, SFL submitted a poster to BUSU in order to post it in the Knowles Douglas Student Union Centre. The poster contains two images of developing fetuses, followed by an image of forceps, a tool used to perform abortions. The caption reads “Growing…Growing…Gone.” The poster then states “Abortion Kills Children” and invites students to attend Students for Life’s next meeting.
On October 19, 2017, SFL received an email from Mohammed Agavi, Vice President External for BUSU, informing SFL that it could not post its posters in the KDC.
Mr. Agavi relied upon Policy #2016 which states that BUSU will not accept advertising that is “sexist, racist, homophobic, discriminatory or derogatory to any group of people.” SFL’s poster is not “sexist, racist, homophobic, discriminatory or derogatory”. Rather, Mr. Agavi states that SFL’s poster was deemed to be “triggering, offensive and aggressive to a large member [sic] of the student body”. The Policy does not in fact prohibit expression deemed to be “triggering”, “offensive” or “aggressive”, terms with very subjective definitions.
BUSU’s hostility towards SFL dates back to 2012, when BUSU initially refused to grant club status to SFL. After receiving a warning letter from the Justice Centre, BUSU changed its position and granted student group status to SFL in September 2013. However, in November 2015, BUSU revoked SFL’s student group status without informing SFL until January 2016. The reasons produced by BUSU for this decision were, inter alia, that SFL’s pro-life views made some students feel “uncomfortable” and “intimidated”. The Justice Centre filed a court application on behalf of SFL against BUSU for its unlawful decision to revoke SFL’s club status.
SFL student group President Stephanie Kehler expressed her disappointment with BUSU’s latest attempt to censor her group, stating:
We want our message about the seriousness of abortion to be heard by the students of Brandon University. The students union has no right to control what the students should and should not be learning. We are saddened by the actions that the students union has made against us, the very students they claim to support.
The Justice Centre has written to BUSU to demand a reversal of their decision to prohobit SFL to poster, to cease its repeated censorship of SFL. The letter, sent October 25, requests a response no later than November 2, 2017. Justice Centre president and Calgary lawyer John Carpay commented on BUSU’s censorship of SFL’s poster, stating:
Courts affirm the nature and purpose of a university as a forum for the expression of differing views. It is sad that BUSU is once again disregarding the fundamental purpose of a university and trampling on the free expression rights of its own membership. Left to stand, this decision jeopardizes the rights of future students at Brandon University, and indeed all Canadians, to engage in the free exchange of diverse opinions on university campuses.