How free should free speech be?

Earlier this week there was news of the controversy at Carleton University here in Ottawa about the decision by the students association to drop its frosh week fundraiser for cystic fibrosis on the grounds that the disease is not inclusive enough of diverse ethnocultural groups.  Now there’s word of a decision by the students association at the University of Guelph to deny accreditation to Life Choice, an anti-abortion student group, “because its anti-choice message was an affront to women“.

“It’s not the responsibility of the CSA [Central Student Association of the University of Guelph] to support them because we are a pro-choice organization. And as a private organization we can choose who to associate with,” said Joel Harnest, an executive member of the CSA.

“My argument is that women are a minority in this country in terms of the power and stake that they have. We are defending the rights of women.”

Here’s what a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association had to say:

“I think that on many university campuses they think that if they have to decide between free speech and equality they will choose equality in the end,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv. . .And the problem is that dichotomy is a false one to start with because freedom of expression and equality go hand in hand. Disadvantaged groups have used their freedom of expression to get their voice heard. They’ve used freedom of speech to show injustice when it’s out there to persuade public opinion. And that’s how we’ve made the advances that we have.”
. . .

“[The Canadian Civil Liberties Association] believes very strongly that women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies,” said Ms. Aviv. “But it’s very hard for me to understand how anybody, including the strongest of pro-choice activists, has difficulty with a group whose sole purpose is to educate and persuade women not to have abortions. How that is not an exercise of choice is rather beyond me. I also see this as an exercise of discrimination on the basis of political ideology.”

She said it is not hard to conceive of a time in the past, or the future, in which a pro-life majority could ban pro-choice groups on the logic that abortion is a form of murder.

“I’m flabbergasted how a student union concerned with basic human rights could fail to see what the situation could look like if the tables were turned.”

On another campus, in Kingston, Ontario, the administration of Queen’s University has hired six students as “dialogue facilitators” to intervene “in conversations among students [to] encourage discussion of such social justice issues as race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. (The program is now being subject to early review.)”.  Back at Guelph, temporary accreditation has been given to Life Choice pending a review.

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