UAlberta Pro-Life’s tactics are disgraceful

In an online Gateway article published Feb. 23, a member of the student group UAlberta Pro-Life argued “being uncomfortable with the way someone puts forward an argument, disliking a certain intellectual position, or even hating the people who are trying to advance that position are not good reasons to silence an intellectual opponent.”

The issue with this statement is that the author assumes they have the right to make others feel uncomfortable. He feels his group has the right to shock and shame those who have made a very personal decision his group happens to disagree with. For anyone who had the misfortune of witnessing the display last year, UAlberta Pro-Life covers Quad in large posters of stillborn births and bloody fetuses. There are no signs of warning, and the brochures they hand out are false advertisements aimed to force even more graphic images on unsuspecting individuals.

It is not an academic discussion. An academic discussion on abortion is like what took place between philosophy professor Howard Nye and Jojo Ruba from the Centre for Bioethical Reform, also on Feb. 25. People actually had the choice to attend, and any graphic images or discussion would come with a warning, a basic safety one would expect on a university campus. What UAlberta Pro-Life engages in can only be defined as bullying. The only other group known of who purposely use shame and shock to get a viewpoint across is the Westboro Baptist Church, an organization not even allowed into Canada due to its tactics.

As it stands, UAlberta Pro-Life should not have the ability to pay any amount of money to put on a graphic display in the middle of campus’ most public space unless they put it in a tent. It is a campus area frequented by children, students, and folks on the way to work.

Would the university allow displays of pornography or violence in the middle of Quad? No, they would not, because there would be many people who wouldn’t want to see those images. Some simply out of taste, others because they’re being exposed to an image that can bring up memories of past trauma.

What is the most angering is that UAlberta Pro-Life will not even consider putting its graphic display somewhere less public. They won’t consider the rights of others over their assumed right to cause harm. And as for the $17,500 they are publicly calling a “fee on free speech,” it is a fee any other student group would have to pay. When any student group holds an event on campus that the University feels requires security, they make the group pay a security fee.

Want to throw a party? You need to hire security. Want to use university or Students’ Union space? Better have a damage deposit available. It’s unfortunate, but a part of planning events any campus group leader knows all too well. Want to hold a two-day event as UAlberta Pro-Life requested? Well, understandably, security costs will rise. No one is taking away the group’s free speech, they’re simply being told to follow the same rules as everyone else.

In a nutshell, UAlberta Pro-Life is asking for the right to side step the same requirements any other student group would need to go through, in order to host an event that places graphic imagery in the middle of campus to purposely shame folks into its viewpoints. They can talk about wanting to “have a discussion” all they want, but they know as well as anyone that you do not start an academic conversation by using shock and shame. UAlberta Pro-Life wants the university to foster academic conversations and difficult discussions, but UAlberta Pro-Life needs to start by actually acting like academics first.


  1. If they would be honest and use proper pictures I am sure more people would be OK and open to listening to them. Most women terminate an unwanted pregnancy 20 weeks.

  2. I find his whole ordeal absolutely insane. Pro-Life is essentially saying “But you can’t infringe on my freedom of speech like that!” while literally infringing on everyone elses rights. I just want to add that I am no expert on law but here is what I pulled up from what I do know

    Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
    “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”

    I believe that restricting the Pro-life freedom of speech is justified by the reactions that the general public had to this event. It is also backed up by section 8 of the Charter: “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”. Forcing people who walk through this public area could very well be justified as cruel and unusual treatment. Especially for people who may have had a traumatic experience in the past who unknowingly tried to walk through quad to get to class. The intent of the graphic images was not inform people. It was to guilt them into following the pro-life ideals.

    Lets cover the big question though. Freedom of speech. I assume that what is being referred to as “freedom of speech” is actually people referring to section 2b of the Charter “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication” and maybe even 2c “freedom of peaceful assembly”. However, just as the Pro-life group is free to have their own beliefs and are free to express their beliefs, they need to realize that everyone else also has the freedom to their own beliefs and should NOT be pressured into changing their beliefs via the scare tactics of the graphic images. Additionally, in relation to 2c, the images make it blatantly clear that this assembly was not intended to be peaceful but rather intended to shock and scare people with images that are clearly inappropriate.

    Moving forwards we need to recognize that certain rights and freedoms can be revoked if there is reason to believe so. Enter the Oaks Test, which I know is more for challenging unconstitutional laws but I think it is a good think piece in this situation.

    1) Was there a breech in the constitutional/charter rights?
    Lets assume that the pro-life group is having their freedom of expression breached by asking them not to post graphic images or to have them contained in tents.
    2)consider what was trying to be done by breaching the rights
    Why is/are the university/university groups trying to place limitations on this groups expression? I believe that they are trying to avoid emotional trauma on other students as well as protecting unsuspecting people and young children from viewing graphic images, (they don’t let toddlers into R rated movies for a reason).
    3) Is there porportionality between what is trying to be stopped and what these limitations are actually doing?
    Well paying for security to ensure this is a safe experience for everyone seems fair and legitimate, though the price may be extreme the security personnel needs to be paid as they are workers and probably have a high wage due to the nature of their occupation.I think that this is reasonable force
    4)actions must minimally impair rights.
    Pro-life group is still able to present their point of view to consenting adults. The main point is that no one is preventing them from sharing their views, they are only trying to allow students who do not want to participate to do so. This means that the publics right to be safe from obscene images is no longer impaired and the Pro-life groups right to expression is only minimally impaired in order to prevent excessive breech of the rights of others

    Personally? I don’t really have an opinion either way. I don’t actually care whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. This could be an argument on race, sexuality, class, gender inequality, or anything else. My stance would be the same. If you can’t present your arguments in a factual, logically, academic, and respectful manner then you cannot possibly expect people to seriously listen to you. This is not an argument about people not wanting to be exposed to outside viewpoints. This is an issue about a group that used immature and obscene measures to try to get non-consenting people to participate in a dialogue about how people should handle certain situations with little to no regard for others.These actions were selfish and have more likely harmed their position than anything else.

  3. “As it stands, UAlberta Pro-Life should not have the ability to pay any amount of money to put on a graphic display in the middle of campus’ most public spaces unless they put it in a tent.” Yes! Thank you!!!

  4. I wrote basically the opposite of this article here: goo.gl/puEC4R

    Perhaps we could have a discussion in the interest of advancing this line of thinking. Maybe a good article or podcast could come out of it. Get in touch if you’re interested. bwhitloc at. ualberta.ca.

  5. So I’m not really sure that the analysis you presented holds up

    1) You say that the issue with the Pro-Lifer’s position is that they assume they have the right to make others feel uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. They could have rights to freedom of speech in general, subject to constraints. I don’t necessarily have the specific right to speak anonymously in an internet comment, but I’m permitted to do so because this form of speech doesn’t violate any constraints.

    Implicit within your own position is that one of those constraints is “uncomforting speech”. I take it to mean that you mean speech which confronts, shocks, and offends our sensibilities. But I don’t think that this is at all a legitimate restriction on speech. Some people can be genuinely shocked and offended by matters of political disagreement (such as the level/form of welfare benefits, the proper role of government in economic activity, and, ironically, the limits on freedom of speech).

    I think it’s safe to assume that there are large portions of the public who are offended when people argue (I think rightfully) that the sexual orientation of a person ought not to restrict their right to marry or adopt children. Does the fact that these people are offended justify restrictions on pro-equality speech? I’d certainly hope not.

    2) Also, as you acknowledge, the U of A campus is a public space. But the fact something is a public space, to be frequented by people of multiple ideological viewpoints, certainly doesn’t entail that displays on public property must never offend anyone. It seems to be an odd application of liberal neutrality to think that anything occurring on a public space must necessarily be free of any ideological leaning, or must not at all offend anyone. The counter-protest organized last year (a wonderful instance of fighting speech with speech) also probably offended the Pro-Lifers, and the Pro-Choicers probably didn’t give the Pro-Lifer’s “fair warning” about their passionate defense of bodily autonomy. Does that mean that they ought to have been precluded from campus as well?

    3) As far as “triggering or offensive images” go, there are two examples I’d like to ask the authors to comment on:

    (i) Suppose someone attempts to bring awareness to the violence of war and the evils of racial violence by sharing photographs from post-conflict zones such as Rwanda, Nazi Germany, etc. These photographs are likely to offend, and perhaps even trigger survivors of violence. While I whole-heartedly disagree with the factual claims of the Pro-Lifers, and reject their equivocation of abortion to genocide or infanticide, I do believe their belief is just as sincere as the hypothetical anti-war activist, and unless we think universities and governments should be in the business of telling individuals that their basis of belief is factually incorrect and that their religious beliefs restrict their ability to speak in public, I can’t see any principled way to resolve the conflict

    (ii) Regarding the whole “security fee” thing. I think it’s disconcerting to see former and current SU executives side with university administration when the university imposed, with less than 10 days notice, a requirement for over $17,000 in security fees, with no transparent assessment to evaluate their own internal calculations upon a student group with profoundly limited financial resources.

    Also, suppose a student at Liberty University in the United States, wanting to celebrating the recent ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges (gay marriage) wanted to set up a public art display on campus championing the transcendental nature of love, i.e. that no matter or size, shape, color, sexual orientation or age, love is love, and ought to be celebrated.

    Some of the photographs contained positive expressions of interracial and homosexual clubs, and given Liberty University’s conservative student population, the university feared a violent response from their bigoted students, and imposed a $17,000 security fee on the pro-equality activist, with 10 days notice?

    is there a principled difference between this case and the one on the U of A campus? Do Mr. Woods and Mr. Diaz support the security fee in both cases? Why/why not? And doesn’t the whole security fee process go beyond a rational externalization of security costs, and just blame the (potential) victim of violence?

    I’d welcome a response.

    1. I find public display of mutilated flesh or remains a violation of my expected right to arrive at my destination without being subjected to visual and verbal harassment. Harassment is against the law.

      1. Where does this “expected right to arrive at your destination without being subjected to visual and verbal harassment” come from? Do you have a court case? A constitutional document?

        I buy verbal harrassment, but what on Earth is “visual harrassment”? Is there any philosophical and legal literature on the topic?

        Simply asserting that X is harassment doesn’t make it so.

        1. While there is no constitutional document for “expected right to arrive at your destination without being subjected to visual and verbal harassment,” I believe this person would fall under the category of victim.

          Criminal Code of Canada Sec. 163 purports to “obscene” material. To quote the entire section (further discussion below the quote):
          ” 163. (1) Every one commits an offence who

          (a) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, circulates, or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever; or

          (b) makes, prints, publishes, distributes, sells or has in his possession for the purpose of publication, distribution or circulation a crime comic.


          (2) Every one commits an offence who knowingly, without lawful justification or excuse,

          (a) sells, exposes to public view or has in his possession for such a purpose any obscene written matter, picture, model, phonograph record or other thing whatever;

          (b) publicly exhibits a disgusting object or an indecent show;

          (c) offers to sell, advertises or publishes an advertisement of, or has for sale or disposal, any means, instructions, medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a method of causing abortion or miscarriage; or

          (d) advertises or publishes an advertisement of any means, instructions, medicine, drug or article intended or represented as a method for restoring sexual virility or curing venereal diseases or diseases of the generative organs.

          Defence of public good

          (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the public good was served by the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence and if the acts alleged did not extend beyond what served the public good.

          Question of law and question of fact

          (4) For the purposes of this section, it is a question of law whether an act served the public good and whether there is evidence that the act alleged went beyond what served the public good, but it is a question of fact whether the acts did or did not extend beyond what served the public good.

          Motives irrelevant

          (5) For the purposes of this section, the motives of an accused are irrelevant.

          (6) [Repealed, 1993, c. 46, s. 1]

          Definition of “crime comic”

          (7) In this section, “crime comic” means a magazine, periodical or book that exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially

          (a) the commission of crimes, real or fictitious; or

          (b) events connected with the commission of crimes, real or fictitious, whether occurring before or after the commission of the crime.

          Obscene publication

          (8) For the purposes of this Act, any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene.”

          Source: http://yourlaws.ca/constitution/321

          The most recent case to use this criminal charge as R. v. Marek. The man who posted the murder of Jun Lin by Magnotta. See cbc news article: (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/marek-trial-opens-1.3416408)

          Furthermore, the Advertising Standards of Canada disapproves of images that are harmful. Here’s a link to news article with similar issues discussed: http://www.ottawacommunitynews.com/news-story/5735114-ad-standards-wants-aborted-fetus-imagery-removed/

          (below is information about ASC)
          “Advertising Standards Canada is the national not-for-profit advertising self-regulatory body.

          We are committed to fostering community confidence in advertising and to ensuring the integrity and viability of advertising in Canada through responsible industry self-regulation.

          Created by the advertising industry in 1957, Advertising Standards Canada was founded on the belief that advertising self-regulation best serves the interests of the industry and the public. This principle has guided our work and our activities on behalf of our members, the public and the industry for over 50 years.

    2. 1.) Often times freedoms and liberties must be forfeit, in the name of greater freedoms or liberties. For example, the freedom to physical intimidation is forfeit in order to maintain the freedom of safety, and even the freedom of speech. In this instance, these peoples “freedom of speech” in their posting of graphic images, is removing the freedom of others, as they are no longer free from obscenities such as this. The pictures of bloody fetuses are perhaps worse than dismembered individuals, and as such this nature of image should most certainly be banned, in order to maintain the freedoms of everyone. That is not to say that these images cannot be shared, but they must be voluntarily shared on a basis of the consumers choice, it’s the only reasonable way to do such a thing, and the only way to ensure everyone’s basic rights and freedoms.

      2.) The UofA is not a truly public space, it actually acts in much the same way private property does, as it actually has it’s own rules and regulations, as well as by-law like processes, which are the primary determinant of cases on the campus grounds. The issue here is not as you set it up to be via straw man, the problem was not the protest, it was the graphic images. The problem was not the conversation, it was the graphic images. It was the graphic images, I hope we will not have confusion on this.

      3.) This entire point rests on the previous straw man arguments, were these pictures opted into, there would be no issue here. Furthermore, you go on to commit another near-fallacy, with your attempt to compare the pictures of bloody dead fetuses, to images for and against gay marriage.

      The whole security fee thing does seem somewhat odd, but the reality of the situation is that these events were evoking reaction to the degree at which security was reasonably required, it doesn’t matter if the people who were becoming emotional were in the right, the campus is legally required to protect it’s students in a reasonable fashion, as such, high risk of violence or engagement, means high need for security or defusers of engagement. I would also like to see your proof or evidence that these security fees were “with no transparent assessment to evaluate their own internal calculations upon a student group”, going on to claim that this student group had limited financial resources. This is irrelevant, it is no concern of the UofA if the students can afford to host their presentation, whilst yes they are for student expression and presentation, they cannot simply wave the fee of the security that they legally require.

      1. With respect to 1)

        We can assert that a nice thing is a right all we want, but that doesn’t make it a right. You don’t have enforceable claim rights against other people based on a purported freedom from obscenities such as the graphic display. If there is a graphic display on quad, you have every right to avoid that area of campus for the two days the protest is up. The same way that if university students march on the legislature to protest education cuts, and someone is distressed by the noise and political position of us students, they have the right to avoid us, not a right to silence us. Where are you getting this enforceable claim right from? Is it a moral argument or a legal one?

        As far as the restrictions on “sharing of images” does this apply to speech as well? I mean, should someone only have to confront the points of view they accept/affirm, thus being insulated from all other external viewpoints they don’t expressly or voluntarily consent to being heard? Ought they to have legal rights against individuals expressing conflicting opinions within earshot? I don’t see how this position is tenable.

        WRT 2)

        “actually acts in much the same way [as] private property” does not make it private property the same way that me walking around all all fours and barking does not actually make me a dog, and deprive me of the legal rights I hold as a human being. Yes, it has bylaws, but those bylaws are subject to overriding legal restrictions and principles such as freedom of speech protections outlined in the charter. I honestly think the Pro-Life has a plausible legal case that this particular application of university bylaws violates their constitutional rights.

        WRT 3)

        So are you saying that unless individuals in the two examples I opted into did not expressly consent to the images being shared in public (via some university plebiscite) the images could not be shown on campus? If so, I respect the consistency, but believe that is a foundationally flawed viewpoint.

        Using the word “fallacy” and “straw-man” doesn’t actually make it true though. The type of analogy I’m using here is the basis of common law reasoning, that being treating like cases similarily, regardless of content. Both instances follow the same logical pattern.

        1) A wants to have a public event depicting B
        2) C thinks that B is offensive, and the government thinks that C could potentially react violently to A for sharing B.
        3) Therefore, the government is justified in charging A for the full security cost of C’s potential violence.

        Now, I wholeheartedly agree that, morally speaking, there is a difference between an aborted fetus and a gay couple. But I don’t think my opinion ought to govern what can/can not be shown in public because I think it’s disgusting or wrong. Personally, I don’t think that because I think eating meat is wrong, I’m justified in forcing everyone else to conform to my opinion, and outlaw people from eating meat or speaking about the virtues of it. I think I have an obligation to make my case, and to ground my case moral terms, not just my mere opinions and emotions, and then make my case in legislative and judicial arenas, not by bullying people into agreeing with me.

        There was no violence at the event last year without the Pro-Life group being billed $17k, why did there have to be police this time?

        Also, you can’t hold individuals responsible for the emotional responses of other people. If some one tells me they love me, and I compassionately tell them that I don’t share the same feeling, and they commit suicide, am I liable for their death?

        Even if the government has an obligation to ensure public security, and the government knew that this person had a high risk of suicide, am I still liable?

        Here’s the communication between Chelsea Livingstone, Student Event Risk Management Coordinator, to the Pro-Life group, on the JCCF’s website: http://www.jccf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-2-12-Email-from-Chelsea-Livingstone.pdf

        There’s no mention whatsoever of how the figure was assessed, and the office of the dean has not shared any internal accounting documents at the behest of the JCCF.

        Also, while we’re on the subject of proof, where’s the proof the violence could be reasonably expected? Where’s the proof that what I said was actually a strawman? Where’s the proof that all graphic images should be categorically banned from all public spaces? If you want to talk proof that’s fine, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

        1. So to summarize, you’ve:
          (1) simply asserted a vaguely specified right to be free from seeing things you find offensive in public without any reason to believe it or any legal basis behind it,
          (2) completely responding to every analogous situation I presented, most likely because you recognize the principle inconsistency of your own views, and instead of attempting to resolve the inconsistency or change your opinion, simply attack me,
          (3) (purposively?) misunderstand what being a “public space” entails about use and access of that pubiic space, and
          (4) Rely on the irrational, emotional, aversion to seeing pictures you find disgusting as a sufficient justification for limiting the rights of other people, but object to other people doing the same thing, insofar as you disagree.

          1. First and foremost, I just want you to know that I literally do not have the time to read the massive texts you are producing, that are essentially just repeating the same things over again, so if you wish to have continued discussion the matter please keep it within a reasonable word count.

            1.) Obscenity law, It’s in Canada, a bloodied fetus would be covered under it since the 1959 amendment to it, didn’t think I would have to specify something you could so easily google, it’s a human right to not be exposed to these images without consent.
            2.) This is actually humorous because you are trying to attack me for attacking you as a person, and then try to label me as insecure, which is blatantly attacking me as a person, let’s just move past that whole situation for the sake of discussion, and focus on the meat of that point, which is the concept again of legality. The campus did not press legal charges, they used their own system to go about punishment and justice, therefore their own bylaws and rules are important, in order to understand this, you have to understand that university campuses such as UofA are both literally and legally suspended private properties within public bounds, please don’t make me google this one for you.
            3. ) You clearly committed a straw man, whether or not it be accidental. A straw man is creating a flawed arguement or viewpoint for someone else, often ignoring the actual arugmenet or ideas, and then attacking that argumement yourself. This is exactly what you did, you pretended that the problem here was the concept of having an arugmeent or debate, and that people were upset that this was happening, this was not true, as the real reason for outrage was the graphic images. I am going to repeat this line 4 times in hopes this does not slip through again. The real reason for outrage was the graphic images.The real reason for outrage was the graphic images.The real reason for outrage was the graphic images.The real reason for outrage was the graphic images.
            4.) It is literally illegal, see the rest of this.


            1. It is literally illegal to have obscene images
            2. You say i’m attacking you as a person and you hypocritically call me insecure and attack that.
            3. The real reason for outrage was the graphic images.
            4. The real reason for outrage was the graphic images. It’s illegal to have obscene images.

          2. I’m not certain you’re getting the point.

            First, because something is law doesn’t make it a human right. A law to protect people from obscenity is active insofar as it does not unreasonably intrude on the rights guaranteed in the Charter. The charter cannot be superseded by legislation unless it is a “reasonable restriction.” Moreover, this legislation doesn’t specifically cite much that can be categorized as obscene, but generally leaves it to the opinion of the court. Under the written legislation, I can be prosecuted for obscenity if I wear a shirt that has swears on it, but we rarely see cases of that nature in the courts because they’re frivolous, in spite of the fact that it might make parents with children uncomfortable.

            So then the question becomes what justifies a reasonable restriction of freedom of speech? And in so expressing that speech is the university actually justified in charging a particular student group to cover supposed costs of displaying graphic images? I would happily point out that the Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan ruled in R. v. Whatcott, that the display of graphic photos of aborted children, represent “legitimate participation in an important political and social debate in Canada.” You seem to be fond of Google, so google it.

            So insofar as the court holds that displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses is legitimate participation, there is no justification for restricting one’s freedom to speak because the images make some people uncomfortable. Your argument then proceeds to implications that the university can do what it wants. I mean that’s not entirely false, but close; it does not mean that the university can arbitrarily violate the Charter.

            Moreover though, even if the uni could just decide who does and does not get to speak, isn’t the point of a university to engage in debate and discourse, not shun people because they say or do things that make others uncomfortable? The university can’t choose sides and perpetuate ideology, it should foment discussion on controversial topics. Otherwise what’s the point.

            You don’t like the images? Don’t look at them. Or counter protest. But just because you disagree with prolifers does not mean you can choose not to let them speak in public arenas. Sweet Jesus, what’s wrong with a campus that engages in wildly unreasonable censure, purported by former SU executives…

          3. “You don’t like the images?” The images aren’t even factual! Most abortions are before 9 weeks! WHY THE HELL show a fetus > 20 weeks. On campus I do not want to see LIES being shoved in our faces and masqueraded as facts.

        2. Actually, with regards to the statement, “There was no violence at the event last year without the Pro-Life group being billed $17k, why did there have to be police this time?”
          Police and security were called in to protect the peace, and I believe the group was footed the bill for this as well. It’s stated in the liability agreement that, “The undersigned Student Group agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Governors of the University of Alberta and the University of Alberta Students’ Union or Graduate Students’ Association, their officers, directors, employees, volunteers, members, and representatives (hereafter referred to as “the University”) from any and all claims, demands, actions, and COSTS which might arise as a result of the activities of the Student Group which are not covered under the University’s insurance program,” emphasis mine. Special Duty Services coverage beyond normal UAPS procedures is not covered in the insurance policy and therefore the student group must be responsible for such costs. As per section 5 paragraph 6 of the Student Groups Procedure, where a group’s event creates and poses risks to public safety and where, therefore, security is required to mitigate those risks occasioned by the event, the student group, as the proponent of the event, is responsible for the costs of mitigating those risks and, in this case, responsible for the costs of providing the requisite level of security for its event.

          As well, the costs are clearly outlined on UAPS website, which is $75 per officer/hour for minimum of 3 hours. If you have officers on duty for 12+ hours for 2 days, then you’re up $1800 per officer, and I’m assuming there would be 8-10 officers requested. Do the math.

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