Student unions in Canada exercise an immense amount of power on their respective university campuses. They are largely funded by left-leaning activist organizations like the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and the university administrations have bestowed the unions with the power to recognize student groups as ‘clubs’ and provide them with the necessary funding for club activities.
This power is frequently abused, since the unions discriminate against student groups which do not fall on their side of the political spectrum by refusing to recognize them as clubs, refusing to provide them funding, and even going so far as censoring and slandering them.
One such student union is the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU), which oversees student affairs at the Mississauga campus of the University of Toronto, Canada’s largest university. For the past few years, the UTMSU has been involved in the suppression of one student group which does not politically and socially align with the Student Union’s views, a pro-life group called UTM Students for Life (UTMSFL).
UTMSFL was founded by a student named Lisa Caballero in September 2014, with the aim of promoting awareness about the evils of abortion through one-to-one conversations and visual media. Upon being accepted as a student group by the university, UTMSFL applied to be recognized as a campus club under the UTMSU. Thanks to Caballero’s friendship with the then-president of the student union, UTMSFL was recognized as a club by the UTMSU and was placed under a one-year probation period, something all new clubs must go through before they are allowed to enjoy funding and other benefits from the union.
Close to the end of the one-year probation period, the club applied for formal recognition in the summer of 2015. Over that same period, the student union elections had occurred and new executives had been elected; executives who were politically far-left, and thus opposed to any sort of pro-life activism.
In August 2015, the president of UTMSFL, Chad Hagel was informed their club status had been officially rescinded by the student union and their club would not be formally recognized for the upcoming academic year. Taken by surprise, Hagel and UTMSFL sent several emails to the union attempting to discover why this had occurred. After a long delay, Hagel was vaguely informed the club had violated union policies and for this reason their club status was rescinded.
UTMSFL decided to seek legal help in this matter from a civil rights organization called the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). The JCCF threatened legal action unless the union gave solid grounds for their rejection of UTMSFL’s application. It slowly became clear the only reasons for the rejection were the pro-life views the club wished to promote, as this somehow involved telling women what they could and could not do with their bodies.
After a long period of negotiation, the union recommended that UTMSFL amend its constitution and add a fourth executive member to their existing club executive team. Upon completion, the club was then informed they were to conduct a general meeting to vote on the changes to the constitution and the executive team and one of the Vice Presidents of the student union would also be attending this meeting.
On the day of the meeting, Hagel and his three executives were surprised when the Vice President walked into the meeting with five strangers; people who had nothing to do with the club or with any of the decisions which had to be made that day. The Vice President asked for the vote to be conducted with all the members in the room, and while the four members of UTMSFL’s executive team voted for the changes which would get them the club status, the five strangers voted against those changes. The union, through its Vice President, had successfully sabotaged the meeting by bringing in those five members, effectively ending UTMSFL’s bid to regain club status.
Angered, Hagel and UTMSFL decided to take the fight to the union. They, with the help of the JCCF, decided to file a lawsuit against the union in January 2016. While they had given up any hope of getting club status, they wanted to get the union to provide an explanation for their actions and hopefully establish a precedent which would prevent other pro-life clubs at other universities from being mistreated in the same way by their student unions. Unfortunately, UTMSFL lost the lawsuit, with the court ruling against them by stating there was no evidence of anything more than incompetence on the part of the union.
Despite not being recognized by the union as a club and thus receiving zero support or funding for materials/events, UTMSFL continued to operate as a valid student group under the university and conducted several pro-life outreaches throughout the next academic year. The student union did not give up on its attempted persecution of the club, pulling various tricks to discourage them, such as sending spies to secretly take pictures of UTMSFL members during pro-life activism. Hagel was specifically targeted, with union members approaching several of his professors with slanderous remarks. Several pages of editorials in the school newspaper were dedicated to attacking the club as a hate group.
Nonetheless, UTMSFL has persisted. They continue their pro-life activism and have seen several minds changed on the issue of abortion as a result. Most recently, they have been able to use abortion video photography alongside their usual pamphlets during their outreach sessions, which has led to people seeing the ghastly nature of the act of abortion and admitting it is immoral.
Their success does not change the fact they are still being discriminated against by the organization which funds and allows various other religious and social groups to thrive on campus. And this is not just true at the University of Toronto; several pro-life clubs throughout Canada have been persecuted by their respective student unions, some of them being denied their basic freedom of assembly.
This is reflective of the Canadian attitude towards abortion. Canada is one of the very few nations in the world with zero legal restrictions on abortion. The current Liberal government has actively discriminated against pro-lifers, with a recent decision which requires all organizations that provide summer jobs to students to sign an attestation that affirms a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. The situation is so dire that many consider the abortion issue to be a lost cause in this country.
Our country, its government, and its universities need your prayers. Pray groups like UTMSFL and others will stand tall in the face of adversity and continue to do their part in defending life. Pray minds are changed through their work so we can revive a respect for humanity in our generation. Pray we vote to elect a government which fights for all who are oppressed and persecuted, even those in the womb.
And most importantly, pray we avoid placing our hope in human expectations of what can or cannot happen, and instead place our hope in the fact the truth always triumphs.
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