The pro-life group Choose Life is now a full-status SSMU club. Council voted 16 to seven, by secret ballot, to approve the change from interim to full status after a long and divided debate involving councillors and an overflowed gallery.
The Clubs & Services Committee Chair, Sarah Olle, said Choose Life deserves to exist as a full-status club because “their application was complete and extremely thorough,” and because Council has twice agreed that Choose Life is acceptable as a club – once when it voted to approve it for interim-status, and once when it accepted the Equity Officers’ decision not to reprimand the club for its event displaying fetuses at the Y-intersection.
“Their mandate works toward opening up a discussion which, again, the Committee supports,” said Olle. “The Committee continues to believe that this club should not be shut down.”
But Councillor Sarah Woolf said that Council should not approve Choose Life now just because it was approved in October.
“This is not the same debate we had three months ago,” said Woolf. “We could not allow a club to form without seeing what they would do. We can [now] ground our opinion in the club’s actions, not on hypothesis.”
Woolf also pointed out that denying Choose Life the right to exist as a club would limit students’ freedom of speech, and would instead reflect back on SSMU.
“Students have opinions; clubs have goals,” said Woolf.
She went on to compare the issue to blood drives, which were banned in the Shatner Building in 2006 because homosexual men could not give blood, sparking a year-long debate that extended to a General Assembly (GA), a referendum question, and a Judicial Board challenge. Woolf said that even if there are problems with the procedure, everyone could agree that blood drives were objectively good, while that could not be said for showing students who have had abortions pictures of aborted fetuses around campus.
“My constituents don’t want to go around questioning the things they’ve done,” Woolf said.
In presenting the official report that Council eventually approved to change the status, Olle explained that even with approval, Choose Life would still be held accountable for its activities.
“Full status is not ‘permanent’ status,” said Olle. “Both interim and full status clubs are subject to the same scrutiny of SSMU. Any group can be reprimanded or disbanded at any time by J-Board, the Equity Officers, Council, or the Executive Committee.”
Iris Erdile, the SSMU Equity Commissioner and Officer, spoke as a member of the gallery and said that she disagreed with the Equity Officers who decided that Choose Life did not violate the anti-oppressive policy of SSMU, namely President Kay Turner and VP University Affairs Nadya Wilkinson. Erdile compared the event to the recent GA at which students decided SSMU should not engage in divisive political issues, while reminding the room that the equity policy was in the midst of being updated.
“We have a very recent precedent of SSMU members refusing to discuss an issue because it was divisive,” said Erdile.
But Councillors vociferously supporting the club, including Clubs and Services Representative Alexandra Brown, Arts Representative Hanchu Chen, and Law Senator Alexandre Shee, focused on Council’s past nearly-unanimous support of the club’s right to exist – Choose Life was was granted interim status in a 21-to-two vote.
“That right was proven months ago when this legislative body said ‘You provide a unique service,’” argued Chen.
“At the Council meeting where we ratified the equity report, nobody spoke up or raised concerns,” added Brown.
And Shee confirmed with Olle that Choose Life had fulfilled every single criterion for becoming a full-status club.
Chen also answered former Law Senator Erica Martin’s question about whether the Clubs & Services Committee considered constitutionality in those criteria.
“Constitutionality is something we discussed when considering interim club status,” said Chen. “We decided it was constitutional.”
The change from interim- to full-status will allow Choose Life to apply for an office and to the Club Fund, privileges denied to interim groups, complicating booking rooms for events; getting a mailbox, email address, and web space from SSMU; and applying to the Campus Life Fund for money.