Students for Life v Brandon University Student Union

Students for Life v Brandon University Student Union

At the start of the 2012-13 school year, the Brandon University Student Union (BUSU) told the Students for Life club that they would not be welcome on campus.  According to BUSU, the issue of abortion and all women’s issues were covered by the Women’s Collective club.  BUSU also wanted to prevent “divisions” on campus.  BUSU further stated that if Students for Life was officially registered, it would need to comply with extreme restrictions that no other campus group faced: no handing out materials or pamphlets; no presence in the common areas of campus; and no recruiting at club day.

In spite of this declaration by BUSU, Students for Life still applied for registration as a campus club.  By the end of the school year, in April 2013, BUSU had still not granted Students for Life permission to exist and operate on campus.  Further, BUSU indicated that it would continue with this discrimination and censorship in the 2013-14 school year.

The JCCF sent a strongly-worded, five-page legal warning letter to BUSU, indicating that continued discrimination against Students for Life would result in a court application against BUSU.  The JCCF’s letter explained how and why Students for Life is legally entitled to form a campus club on par with all other campus clubs, regardless of the students’ opinions or beliefs.

In response to the JCCF’s letter, BUSU’s executive council voted in September 2013 to grant official club status to Students for Life for the 2013-2014 school year.

In December of 2013, JCCF received a letter from a member of Students for Life, Catherine Dubois, in which she stated:

Thanks to you, we have had three months of free speech on campus at Brandon University …  I don’t know if there will ever be a sufficient way to express my deep appreciation for all your hard work and dedication.

This matter was resolved without court action becoming necessary. But 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) has faced renewed censorship and hostility from the Brandon University Student Union 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 wrote to BUSU to demand a reversal of their decision to prohibit SFL to poster, and to cease its repeated censorship of SFL.