SSMU Council voted 15 for and two against with two abstentions this Thursday to censure a Choose Life event, “Echoes of the Holocaust.” The club had invited Jose Ruba from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform to give the talk, that many believe would violate SSMU’s Constitution and Equity Policy. It was argued that the talk would slander women who had decided to have abortions, and belittle atrocities committed by the Nazis.
The motion included a clause that would render the club ineligble for SSMU funding if they followed through with the event.
During the debate, VP Clubs and Services Sarah Olle, who co-authered the motion with Arts Senator Sarah Woolf argued that likening the Holocaust to abortion – and comparing post-abortive women to Nazis – violated human dignity, and that the comparison was disrespectful to Jews and other communities.
“Respecting human life also means respecting the dead,” Olle said, later adding, “This event seeks to use the millions of dead in the Holocaust to manipulate emotions.”
Clubs and Services Representative Corey Omer also took issue with the premise of the event, suggesting that Ruba’s reference to the Holocaust would not be academic but rather aimed to shock and appeal to emotion. Omer noted that other SSMU clubs, including Hillel McGill, had petitioned against the event.
Choose Life President Natalie Fohl, however, argued that the event would not seek to compare the Holocaust with abortion, as they are two events which “cannot be quantified or compared in any way.” Instead, Fohl said that the talk would confront the question of whether unborn children are dehumanized by the medical profession in a similar way to that in which the Nazi regime dehumanized Jews. Fohl added that the prohibition of this event would be an abuse of SSMU’s power.
VP External Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan took issue with the graphic images of fetuses that would be used by Ruba during his presentation. Ronderos-Morgan felt Choose Life had broken a verbal commitment made last autumn to not use disturbing visuals.
“[It is a] shame they have misled Council,” Ronderos-Morgan said. “I would speak in favour of this motion.”
However, Law Rep Joël Lightbound and Residences Rep Mark Bay expressed concern that a censure would limit the opportunity for discussion on campus. Olle also explained that because the event was scheduled outside Shatner and was not sponsored using SSMU funds, the Society could not directly censure the event. Following Council, Olle explained that she helped to put forward the resolution to show SSMU’s stance against the event.
On Friday, Fohl confirmed that the talk was cancelled, but emphasized that the decision to cancel was not a direct response to SSMU’s decision, which the club opposed as a restriction of the right to freedom of expression. She said the decision had been made voluntarily given that the majority of her club’s membership felt it was not the right time to hold the presentation. Though Fohl indicated the threat to the club’s funding was considered in their decision, she said the club has never received funding from SSMU.