BRANDON, MB: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca) has filed a court application against the Brandon University Students’ Union (BUSU) to defend the free expression rights of a campus student group, Brandon University Students for Life. BUSU revoked Students for Life’s official student group status because the BUSU disagrees with Students for Life’s stance on abortion.
Brandon University Students for Life has been active on campus since 2012, when it first sought student group status. After being initially denied status, Students for Life was eventually granted student group status in 2013, and has conducted numerous peaceful events on campus to generate debate and discussion about euthanasia, abortion, suicide and other life issues.
BUSU revoked the student group status of Students for Life in November 2015, without informing Students for Life of its intention to do so, and without providing any opportunity for Students for Life to defend itself. BUSU further failed to inform Students for Life that its student group status had been revoked.
Students for Life did not learn that its status had been revoked until January 2016, when its communications director Andrew Madill attempted to book space in the Mingling Area in the Knowles Douglas Student Union Centre. BUSU informed Mr. Madill that Students for Life no longer had student group status, and was therefore ineligible to book space in the Mingling Area, a prime location for student groups to engage their fellow students.
The removal its student group status means that Students for Life can no longer book meeting rooms from either BUSU or Brandon University, unless its pays booking fees that no other student groups are required to pay. Further, Students for Life no longer has access to numerous other benefits attached to student group status. Yet, Students for Life’s president Catherine Dubois and other members must still pay mandatory fees to BUSU. In her sworn affidavit, filed with the Court, Catherine Dubois states:
“As members and executives of Students for Life and students of Brandon University, we feel that BUSU is excluding us from the Brandon University community. We desire to associate as a campus club, and to express our views peacefully, but the BUSU’s obstruction and suppression of our views and our expression, including BUSU’s revocation of our student group recognition, have significantly diminished our ability to do so. We feel marginalized, censored and discriminated against by BUSU simply because we want to host events, share our views, and have discussions about life and death issues such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide.”
BUSU has attempted to justify revoking Students for Life’s student group status on the following grounds:
- its message has made some students feel “uncomfortable” and “intimidated”;
- it was affiliated with a Canadian pro-life group that BUSU “had issues with”;
- its beliefs did not align with the Canadian Federation of Students’ official pro-choice stance; and
- it is redundant, because the issues of suicide and abortion are already being addressed by the LGBTQ Collective and the Women’s Collective.
In February 2016, BUSU told Students for Life that:
- it might be able to gain back its student group status if it “changed [its] views;”
- it “can’t really talk about personal issues;” and
- it cannot “put [its] views out to a larger body.”
In the court application filed by the Justice Centre, Students for Life seeks a Court Order that its student group status be reinstated, and that BUSU be prohibited from further illegal discrimination.