SSMU councillors voted 21 to two in favour of granting a controversial pro-life group on campus club status in a vote at Tuesday’s council meeting.
After an animated debate from councillors, concerned students, and the club’s supporters, Choose Life was granted interim status and will be able to apply for full club status after three months as an interim club, the standard for all new clubs. The club will have to hold three events and satisfy other requirements to demonstrate it is active.
Women’s Studies student Andrew Thorne, watching from the gallery, claimed Choose Life was a structurally violent group and opposed its legitimization through SSMU.
“Pro-life is inherently violent against women and against human rights,” he said of the ideological mandate of the group.
When council reached the debate on Choose Life’s club status, ten to 15 students filtered into the room.
Members of the gallery came from various advocacy groups at McGill, including the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and the Union for Gender Empowerment. Signs from the gallery poked up with slogans including “legalize abortion” and “fight gender oppression.”
Choose Life’s mandate, according to its constitution, is to “promote and respect human rights and human life from conception,” which they define in their constitution as “the moment fertilization occurs.”
Choose Life’s director Natalie Fohl defended the group’s legitimacy at the meeting, stressing that SSMU club status will facilitate pro-life discussion at educational events and will ensure that a variety of services and options are available on campus for women and partners faced with decisions about pregnancy.
Fohl felt there was a lack of support on campus for women who decide to carry their pregnancy to term and worried that refusing Choose Life a campus voice would silence pro-life issues.
“The more options there are on campus, the better off [women] will be with making decisions for their own care,” said Choose Life representative Kathryn Sawyer at the meeting.
Councillor José Díaz disagreed with a gallery member who questioned the legal and moral implications of SSMU’s decision to accept a group with a controversial definition of conception.
“Universities are the best places for this kind of debate. SSMU can’t stop pro-life groups just because of their definitions,” Diaz said.
Based on tactics of outside pro-life groups, other gallery members were worried Choose Life members would distribute graphic pamphlets hostile to abortion.
In response to these accusations, Fohl assured council attendees that Choose Life’s activities would be non-incendiary.
“[We’re] against using graphic pictures or circulating literature that could be construed as hateful,” Fohl said.
Devin Alfaro, SSMU VP External, assured the room that if Choose Life was to circulate hateful material during its interim period, the society would stop its activities in their tracks. SSMU’s equity committee is prepared to receive student grievances against any club’s actions.
SSMU President Kay Turner echoed Alfaro’s assertions.
“In the SSMU Constitution, if one club demands recourse with another they can take it to the [Judicial] Board if there is behaviour that infringes or endangers another person’s or club’s livelihood,” she said.
Law Students’ Representative Alexandre Shee supported granting Choose Life interim club status.
“SSMU should not limit freedom, thought, or opinion as defined by the Canadian Constitution,” Shee said.
“All clubs are innocent until proven guilty,” said councillor Hanchu Chen, arguing that Council should respect the group’s right to free speech and assembly.
Other clubs that were swiftly granted interim status at the meeting include the Muggle Quidditch Team, the Thaqalayn Muslim Association, Fetish and Kink Enthusiasts, Dragon Boat Z, Aerospace Medicine Association, and the People’s Liberated Knitting Front.