SSMU Council voted 16 to 7 by secret ballot in favour of suspending Choose Life’s club status on Thursday.
Two separate motions were put forth to change the club’s status. The first resolution called for the club’s status to be revoked. After being defeated 11 to 12, a motion to suspend followed.
The students who put forth the two motions claimed that Choose Life had disseminated false health information and exposed students to graphic images associated with abortion and fetal life. Additionally, the students felt that past events hosted by the club had threatened safe space for students on campus, and violated SSMU policy.
On behalf of the authors who presented the resolution to revoke Choose Life’s status, Jane* said, “Regardless of whether a formal promise was made, there had been a verbal agreement with SSMU Council and they still contravened the equity policy.”
In her rebuttal, Choose Life president Natalie Fohl addressed general questions and apologized for allowing some of her club’s guest speakers to distribute questionable information in the form of pamphlets in the past. She conceded that this was a serious issue and explained that the pro-life group Silent No More Awareness had provided the material in question at a Choose Life event in September. Included in the pamphlets were statements that linked breast and cervical cancer to abortions, which contradicts statistics from Health Canada.
Fohl also stated that she did not feel that the club had contravened McGill’s equity policy, explaining that the club’s mandate is to promote respect for human life and human rights from conception, defined as the moment of fertilization. Fohl quoted SSMU’s constitution and went on to describe fetuses as victims of oppression.
“The goal of our group is to promote the well-being of all persons, including those discriminated against based on age,” Fohl said.
Members of Choose Life contended that they were being treated differently than other clubs, but opponents argued that no other club has pushed the same boundaries. Last month, SSMU Council censured a Choose Life event called “Echoes of the Holocaust,” which featured Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.
Before his talk was disrupted by protesters, Ruba attempted to parallel what he considers the dehumanization of fetuses with similar tactics used to justify genocide.
During council, Rebecca Dooley, VP (University Affairs), indicated that four complaints against Choose Life have been brought to the attention of the Student Equity Committee since it was granted club status last year. The motion to suspend incorporated a clause which would send the club for evaluation by the Equity Committee.
An amendment was added and stipulated that the club would meet with the Committee to develop a document that would allow for the expression of a pro-life viewpoint while remaining in line with the SSMU constitution and equity policy.
Dooley explained that this would be a long-term process that would start as soon as possible. “We’ve been the ones who have been on the receiving end of most of the student concerns surrounding Choose Life,” she said. “We have been dealing with it on all levels, and I think we are the ones who have the most in-depth understanding of the policies.”
Engineering Senator Daniel Keresteci questioned why the equity committee represented women, as less than half of students on campus are male.
In an email to The Daily, Jane* wrote, “We felt that a lot of councillors listened to our arguments and the facts we presented. However, a couple councillors responded to our arguments by repeating that students should be able to express opinions, even though we had made it very clear that we are against specific actions – not opinions.”
Afterward, Fohl said she was disappointed with the process and outcome. She felt her club had not been treated fairly throughout the whole process and that the club’s right to free speech was being limited.
“I really don’t feel that if people properly understood what our position was that they would be saying what they said,” Fohl said. “It sounds good to say, ‘No, we’re not limiting free speech,’ but it really is saying, ‘You say what you want but only this way.’”
In spite of the motion, Fohl stated that she wouldn’t make any decisions without consulting the rest of the club.
“We will certainly sit down with the Equity Committee and see what their suggestions are but that doesn’t mean that we are necessarily going to accept everything,” Fohl said.
At Council, a resolution to ban the sale of “Red List” fish was also passed. An update on the spread of H1N1 in McGill residences was also discussed.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the student