Pro-life group alleges censorship by the university and Feds

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In an event titled, &ldquo;Abortion: A Human Right or Human Rights Violation?,&rdquo; UW&rsquo;s central pro-life club, Students for Life (UWSFL) invited pro-life advocate Maaike Rosendal, of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, to speak at SLC&rsquo;s Great Hall. The event, which was to be held March 24, faced possible cancellation as the club received an email from Sian E. Williams, an associate university secretary and senior legal counsel, notifying them that the event could no longer be held unless certain precautions and provisions were met.</p>

According to Josh MacMillan, the president of UWSFL, they received the email March 23. In the email, Williams mentioned that the event hadn’t been approved by Feds, and that the event be held be at 1 p.m. instead of at noon as originally planned. As a final condition, the university asked that UWSFL provide $100 each hour for security services of two guards, and that the guards would need to be present for a minimum of three hours. 

 “We chose to organize this event to raise awareness on campus of the reality of abortion as a human rights violation, and start an open discussion on the topic,” MacMillan said in an email interview with Imprint, further describing this as an incident of censorship. 

This isn’t the first time that an event hosted by UWSFL has faced cancellation. In March 2013, UWSFL invited then MP Stephen Woodworth to lecture about his opinions on abortion and fetus rights. However, the lecture was short-lived. Protesters interrupted the discussion as they began shouting over Woodworth ­— some came dressed in vagina costumes, while others held signs. Despite his attempts to speak over the crowd, Woodworth eventually gave up. 

“Security stood passively by. The officers did nothing to protect our right to free speech, and allowed the protesters to stop the talk from proceeding as planned,” MacMillan said about the Woodworth speech. 

UWSFL attempted to organize another discussion with Rosendal in March 2014. 

“[We] encountered censorship when we were informed less than a month before the event that we would need to pay at least $300 in security fees,” MacMillian said. “This was completely unexpected and as such we had to cancel the presentation.”

Since the Woodworth protests, UW president Feridun Hamdullahpur along with the acting secretariat at the time, Feds, and other stakeholders came together to determine precautions for additional security measures if a similar situation were to occur again. 

In regards to last Thursday’s event, the “process started once the university was made aware by Feds that this event was planned, and that wasn’t until very shortly before the event,” said Nick Manning, UW’s director of media relations and issues. “The university received a letter from the lawyer representing UWaterloo Students4Life, so that’s why a lawyer at UW responded.” 

According to Manning, the process of putting in provisions is “nothing new,” and is a practice that’s been in effect for other high profile events. 

“It’s just unfortunate on this occasion that the university was made aware of this event and the need for security only a couple days before the event,” he said.

Manning went on to say that asking for outside security is not uncommon, as campus police are often occupied with day-to-day management of school affairs. 

MacMillan further explained that UWSFL sent in their form to book the space with Feds Feb. 8 and Scott Pearson, the SLC operations manager approved the booking the following day. Jake Riesenkonig, Feds clubs manager, emailed the club March 1 asking to confirm the content of the discussion, later stating that the discussion be “‘PG,’ meaning that there will be no graphic medical details, ‘shock and awe,’ or anything potentially unsettling.” 

UWSFL responded to Riesenkonig March 15.

 “The email was vague and rather subjective,” MacMillian said, adding that the SLC had a showing of Inglourious Basterds, an R-rated film, Feb. 23. “We see this as censorship, and, with the risk of our event being shut down at the whim of Feds.” 

Alternatively, Manning explained that in sending the email, the university’s intentions were not to censor.

“The university values freedom of expression, and it’s one of our core values, and the silencing of anybody who offers an opinion is wrong and we want to make sure that events such as those that took place very successfully just the other day can take place and we protect the right to speak and speak on behalf of their importance,” Manning said. 

Despite the email and choosing not to pay the hundreds of dollars, UWSFL continued to host the event at the initial 12 p.m. slot.

“I’m glad the event was able to take place without any incidents,” Manning said. 

The Women’s Centre (WC) was unable to comment on the specific event, but stated that they are a pro-choice organization. 

“We believe that all people should have the right to body autonomy,” said Sarah Wiley, the services co-ordinator at WC. The WC offers access to sexual health or reproductive health support or resources. 

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