UVic’s pro-life group, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), faces a legal setback after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling last week. In 2013, the group was denied the booking of an outdoor space, intended for an event known as a ‘Choice Chain’ in which members present large, graphic images of aborted fetuses to the public. The UVSS considered previous events of this sort to be harassment; therefore, the YPY was banned from conducting further Choice Chain events.
The former president of YPY, Cameron Côté, and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association filed a constitutional lawsuit against UVic in response to this ban, claiming that this was a free-speech issue. However, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson found that “in booking space for student club activities, the University is neither controlled by government nor performing a specific government policy.” As the original suit was founded on the rights granted by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Hinkson found that “The Charter does not apply to the activities relating to the booking of space by students.”
While the B.C. Supreme Court ruling does indicate that the university had the authority to deny YPY booking privileges for a ‘Choice Chain’ event, it does not elaborate on whether YPY will be prevented from future public events of any kind, as demonstrated when a smaller tabling event occurred outside the Clearihue building on Jan. 23. YPY members handed out pamphlets containing images of aborted fetuses, but the tabling did not feature the large placards that proved so contentious during past Choice Chain events.
The UVSS did not meet for an interview on this issue; however, they provided the following written statement:
“There was no finding that the UVSS or University did anything wrong with respect to the Youth Protecting Youth Club. In fact, the decision shows that the University and UVSS have provided extensive opportunities to the Youth Protecting Youth Club to express views on campus, despite numerous complaints against the club over the years.”
In an email interview, Côté wrote that he is “both very surprised and very disappointed with the B.C. Supreme Court’s ruling.” Côté now works for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), a pro-life lobbying organization based in Calgary that organizes Choice Chain events across the country. “I definitely do see this as a setback, not only to Youth Protecting Youth, or even to pro-life clubs, but to all B.C. university students, as it states that B.C. universities such as UVic can pick and choose who can and cannot share their messages on campus without being held accountable to our [Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms]”
The current ruling is only the most recent setback for the YPY. In September 2014, the YPY information table was vandalized with cat litter and a fetal model was stolen. Additionally, in a YPY-hosted debate in November, campus security arrived on scene after protesters showed up chanting, “No debate!”
Despite being banned from protesting, YPY was seen on campus hkanding out pamphlets and pro-life literature. Côté stated, “YPY will continue to demonstrate on campus through the variety of events that we have done in the past and I’m sure in new ways as well.”
To the Times Colonist, VP Student Affairs Jim Dunsdon said that, “The Youth Protecting Youth Club was not abiding by the University’s rules and policies and its request was denied on that basis, not because of its views.”
Regarding further action, Côté stated, “Though I have not had a chance to confirm with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association what our plan of action will be for responding to this disappointing result, we are strongly considering appealing the decision.”