Let the voices be heard

Obscenity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. For most people, looking upon a thing of beauty is much more preferable than something that disgusts them. But sometimes we need to be jolted out of our comfort zones by the terrible side of humanity.

For me, that "jolt" moment came on a hot day in March 2005, in Jerusalem. That day, I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. All of the horrors described in countless books and TV shows about the Nazis' attempt to destroy Europe's Jews suddenly were not just "history." They were all too real.

Because I exposed myself to the horrors of the Holocaust in that most Jewish of cities, I could really understand the depravity of what the Nazis did; not as my Jewish friends feel it in their souls, but the jolt brought clarity to something that until then was abstract historical event. Sometimes, we have to see obscenity—Darfur, 9/11, the Haitian earthquake—to really understand and hopefully act against such obscenities.

So it is with a mixed sense of rage and despair that I look at what some of our Canadian universities—those supposed bastions of free speech and intelligent debate—are doing in essentially declaring war on any and all anti-abortion protesters on their campuses who want to expose young adults to what they see as a war on unborn children.

How else to describe Carlton University's use of police to arrest five of its own students for trespassing simply because they displayed shocking pictures of mutilated fetuses in a campus area heavily travelled by students?

On October 6, Ottawa police had no choice but to arrest the five student protesters when they refused to display their signs in Porter Hall, a closed room on campus that few students pass by and many are even unaware of. Instead, the students set up shop in Tory Quad, a section of campus where student traffic is heavy.

The debate rages as to whether or not the university was following its own policy in denying the group permission to use Tory Quad. While Carlton maintains that the students were breaking trespassing laws by setting up in prohibited space, the students counter that their booking request was made several months before and at no point did the university communicate to the students, or their lawyer, that the Tory Quad is not bookable space for students.

According to Carlton's Booking-Space-On-Campus Policy, Tory Quad is listed as bookable space for recognized student groups, which includes Carleton Lifeline, the anti-abortion group in question. Nor does the policy seem to place restrictions on display size or content.

What should enrage Canadians is that a publicly-funded academic institution is deciding what is obscene and, in fact, shutting down its own peaceful student protestors simply because the university leaders are uncomfortable with the message—in this case, a message not about hate or discrimination, but about (unborn) lives hanging in the balance.

In fact, one could say that Carlton University's politically correct censorship is part of a conspiracy to shut out anti-abortion groups from challenging the uncomfortable fact that abortion is not necessarily just some safe "medical procedure" where "no one gets hurt."

Students at the University of Calgary were found guilty of "non-academic misconduct" for setting up a pro-life display on campus last April (and subsequently defied the university this past September by setting up their display again).

Coincidental reactions from two separate universities? I think not.

The debate here is not strictly about abortion. Unfortunately for the "pro-life" crowd, decades of state-sponsored propaganda has brainwashed most Canadians into thinking that abortion is simply about a woman's "choice" and has nothing to do with the life inside her—akin to having your tooth pulled. So whether or not the anti-abortion students are tilting at windmills isn't the only consideration here.

The fact that the academia in this country are deciding what young minds should or not be seeing—and promoting a definite ideology about what they should be thinking on contentious issues—is outrageous. Can anyone see most Canadian universities denying anti-Israeli groups the right to show "Israeli atrocities" against Palestinian children or anti-war protesters the right to bash the Canadian military's "abuse" of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan because their signs are "too graphic" or "disturbing?"

And to those anti-abortion students whose the fire in the belly is oh-so absent from the academic elites in Canada, take heart that you are part of a long tradition of moral protest, much of it Christian. Consider the words of American anti-slavery crusader William Lloyd Garrison:

"I am aware that many object to the severity of our language; but is there not a cause for severity? I will be harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice…I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard."

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