Campus reacts to YPY demonstration

Campus News

YPY president disappointed with removal of flags

As students trickled back onto campus from their holidays, Thursday Nov. 16 might have been just another sleepy autumn morning  had it not been for the public demonstration from Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), UVic’s anti-abortion club.

It reignited campus discussions around protesting, free speech, and the issue of abortions in Canada, and it led to a statement from the UVSS criticizing UVic’s handling of the demonstration.  

Photo by Cormac O’Brien, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday morning, YPY planted 10 000 flags in the quad outside of the McPherson library. According to a press release from the club, each flag represented 10 abortions per year in Canada. The flags, bright pink and blue, occupied most of the grass and caught the attention of many around campus, though most did not understand their significance.

Once students realized what the flags represented, they flooded social media with their thoughts and reactions.

“How is that club still allowed on campus, let alone allowed to organize this demonstration?” commented Gayle Ross on a Martlet Facebook post about the demonstration. “Advocating for people (women, but also non-binary and trans folks) to lose their right to bodily autonomy is disgusting. Shame on this group.”

Some defended the group’s right to free speech, and others said the demonstration was relatively tame in comparison to the group’s previous actions.

“All they did was visually represent the fact that a certain number of abortions happen every year in Canada. It wasn’t graphic, it wasn’t misleading, it was the truth. Whether that fact is morally troubling or not was left completely up to the viewer,” wrote Michael Roy on the same Facebook post.

“The YPY, in my direct experience with their members and as someone who has counter-demonstrated against them, are a group of people that care about an issue,” wrote /u/Faamalam on Reddit. “Despite how I feel about that issue (I directly oppose the doctrine and ideals of the YPY) I am glad to see them use a different avenue of demonstration. The choice chains are in poor taste, inaccurate, and in-your-face levels of antagonism.”

Others on Facebook agreed.

“While I don’t agree with their stance,” Krista Cote wrote in a comment on the Martlet’s post, “this is a much better way to demonstrate than gruesome signs.”

“Y’know what, this is true,” replied Tony Carter. “They win the ‘you are slightly less awful than you have been’ award.”

Some people took issue not just with YPY’s demonstration but the whole philosophy behind the club.

“I just have one question for YPY,” read a letter to the editor from a student who wished to remain anonymous. “Why not support things that help stop abortion without taking away anyone’s rights, such as free contraception and comprehensive sex education? These things also have many other positives in addition to helping to reduce abortion.”

Cecilia Fillipone, President of YPY, said she was thankful for many of the discussions she had on the day.

“We had many respectful and compassionate conversations during the morning, both with those who agreed that there should be an abortion law in Canada, as well as those who did not. We are grateful to those who supported our right to free speech despite disagreeing with our position,” Fillipone said in a statement to the Martlet.

“However, we are disappointed with the response to the display as the day progressed. While we remained calm and respectful, attempting to engage in civil conversation, we were faced with raised voices and anger that we were allowed to express our view that Canada should have a law on abortion.”

Fillipone said that the removal of the display was “unfortunate.”

“[It] indicates that free speech is not as highly valued at UVic as some may think.”

Official bodies made their own statements as well; the University of Victoria Students’ Society made a statement on their Facebook page the morning after the demonstration stating their opposition to YPY.

“We at the UVSS stand together with the majority of students in saying that we fundamentally disagree with YPY on this issue. We wholeheartedly support the reproductive freedom of women in making their own decisions surrounding abortions,” the statement read, before criticizing the university for only providing 18 hours’ notice about the demonstration.

Beyond apologizing for not providing the UVSS with a timely warning about the demonstration, the university had not offered its thoughts on the situation at the time of writing.