Five hours after they were planted into the quad grass, 10 000 flags were removed by students demonstrating against Youth Protecting Youth, UVic’s anti-abortion club.
Students arriving back on campus today, Nov. 16, after reading break were greeted by an unusual sight — thousands of small flags covered the quad grass outside of the library. But just hours later, counter protesters had taken the flags back out and placed them in a pile on the concrete.
The flags belong to Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), an anti-abortion club on campus that has been the centre of many controversies over the years.
The club planted 10 000 flags — each representing 10 abortions performed in Canada every year. The flags, bright blue and pink, drew curious onlookers who, at first, likely did not realize their significance.
“With this display, we are hoping to raise awareness of the very real consequences that result in a nation without any law on abortion,” explained event organizer and President of YPY Cecilia Fillipone. Fillipone confirmed that UVic had given YPY the go-ahead in organizing the event.
“Since university students are among the age demographic most affected by abortion, it is important to provide the opportunity to engage in open and respectful discussion about the laws of abortion,” Fillipone said.
Once students realized what the flags represented, however, counter protesters stood beside the YPY stand holding signs that read “your body, your choice.”
“I thought that this might be upsetting to some people so I wanted to come out and show my support to folks,” Emily Wiesenthal, one of the counter protesters, said. “We didn’t want to be confrontational or engage in debates . . . We just wanted to be a force of positivity and support for people walking by.”
“Just give an alternate option,” added Madison Innes, another counter protester.
Eventually, 20 or so students began to remove the flags from the ground, leaving them in a pile between the YPY stand and the counter protesters.
Robyn Mack, a first-year student living on residence, was one of the students removing the flags.
“I think the flags were a bit much,” Mack said. “I don’t mind having a stand, to educate or whatever.
“I just didn’t think people should have to walk by and see it,” she said. “I get that there’s freedom of speech, but it’s upsetting a lot of people.”
Fillipone declined to comment on the removal of the flags.
YPY has been at the centre of several controversies in recent years. In 2013, UVic revoked their outdoor-space booking privileges after the club was found to be allegedly harassing students during previous demonstrations.
Former YPY president Cameron Côté led the lawsuit, which argued that UVic was infringing on the club’s right to free speech. This argument was dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court, the B.C. Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada due to the fact that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to UVic’s regulation of its outdoor space.
Files by Myles Sauer
This story was updated to reflect the removal of the flags.