On Feb. 22, UVic students woke up to a snow-covered quad—but it was hardly noticeable under the sea of pink and blue flags planted by Youth Protecting Youth as part of their pro-life demonstration.
“Our goal is to uphold the dignity of all human life through advocacy and awareness,” reads YPY’s club description. A contradictory statement, considering their blatant dismissal of a woman’s human right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
UVic has policies that prohibit various forms of harassment, including harassment based on discrimination, defined as “behaviour directed towards another person that . . . would be viewed by a reasonable person experiencing the behaviour as . . . creating an intimidating, humiliating or hostile environment.”
As a reasonable person, I would consider tactics used by YPY—like their distribution of pamphlets picturing aborted fetuses—as nothing other than intimidating and humiliating scare-tactics.
The Martlet has documented YPY’s offenses against university and UVSS policy for years. For example, in January 2015, after the B.C. Supreme Court ruled against YPY for the right to book an outdoor space on campus, the Martlet reported that “the UVSS considered previous events of this sort to be harassment” and relayed that “YPY was banned from conducting further Choice Chain events [where large graphic images of aborted fetuses are presented publicly].” The article continues, noting that “despite being banned from protesting, YPY was seen on campus handing out pamphlets and pro-life literature.”
The article also quotes Cameron Côté, YPY President at the time, who stated that “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.”
Clearly, the Feb. 22 demonstration wasn’t the first time, and likely not the last, that YPY contradicted UVic and UVSS policy—policy put in place to, just as YPY says about their own purpose, uphold the dignity of all human life. The organization continues to show no respect for university and UVSS guidelines, yet they are still listed in the roster of UVSS clubs.
According to the Club Policies outlined by the UVSS, the student society issues club authorizations and has a right to reprimand clubs and revoke club status. They also have their own set of regulations to ensure that those who break the rules are not welcome back in the future.
The compliance section of UVSS club policy demands clubs pay “adherence to the University of Victoria’s policies of general application, including Discrimination and Harassment Policy GV0205-1150.” These policies are implemented for a reason—to ensure students feel safe on campus.
So why, then, is there no more disciplinary action for YPY than a slap on the wrist? Well, the UVSS is not to blame. Under the Complaints section, it outlines that “The UVSS does not adjudicate club-related harassment and discrimination complaints. Discrimination and harassment complaints relating to clubs can be made to the University’s Equity and Human Rights Office.”
There’s no other way around it — it’s the university’s responsibility. And by allowing the UVSS to continue advertising YPY on their roster of clubs, the university is indirectly supporting the club’s actions. I for one would like to see YPY stripped of their status as a club on campus.
After losing their case in the B.C. Supreme Court in 2015, YPY lost again in 2016 when the B.C. Court of Appeals ruled against them. Our legal system has twice expressed that YPY has no grounds when their public displays come into conflict with other human rights. In fact, the courts have consistently supported a woman’s right to choose since the late 1980s when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that criminalized abortion as unconstitutional. Yet here we are in 2018, still confronted with the same issue on campus.
Meanwhile, our federal government is changing the funding requirements for the Canada Summer Jobs program to ensure that groups advocating against abortion rights or the equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians will not receive government funding to hire students.
Commenting on that decision to Global News, Darrah Teitel, public affairs officer at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights says those kinds of groups “often disseminate false and intentionally misleading health information which means people are impacted when they try to seek reproductive and sexual health services.”
Though our government thinks funding student programs that advocate against abortion rights is wrong, our university seems to take no issue with it. A portion of student fees directly goes toward base funding for the UVSS clubs, and all clubs have the opportunity to apply for Special Project Funding. This means that YPY could potentially receive upwards of $1 500 out of our pockets each year.
If our federal government does not condone anti-abortion groups, and our justice system upholds a woman’s right to choose, and the UVSS cannot step in when it comes to YPY’s transgressions, the responsibility falls to the university.
So, what more does UVic need to finally reprimand YPY? Their own policy clearly outlines the punishment for clubs that continuously break rules. “If a club is found by the University of Victoria’s Equity and Human Rights Office to have contravened the University’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy, the club shall lose status for one  year.” Yet, YPY seems to be able to get away with it. The university is setting a dangerous precedent by allowing continued transgressions without escalating consequences.
There’s no other way around it — it’s the university’s responsibility.
I spoke with Isabella Lee, Director of Student Affairs at the UVSS, on Tuesday, May 8. She confirmed that YPY had been ratified—meaning they had been granted club status for another semester—at a Clubs and Course Unions meeting the day before. Not only that, but she also confirmed that YPY now has booking privileges at the university. So, any consequences for their actions are now void.
The UVSS’s policy clearly states: “Clubs are intended to foster a positive environment for students to express themselves and to join in activities within the diverse community of the University of Victoria.” YPY’s demonstration — aimed to induce feelings of shame and guilt — made it clear that the group is not open to honest and respectful dialogue or to viewpoints that oppose their own.
That being said, maybe pro-choice supporters have stayed in the private sphere for too long.
In contrast, students who believe in a woman’s right to choose do not push a political perspective in an attempt to shame others. The key difference between the two perspectives is that we who are pro-choice support everyone, no matter what they decide. There is a difference between advocating for student safety and wellness, and advocating for something that is against the Canadian constitution. We are not anti-birth, anti-abortion, or anti-adoption. We are pro-choice. And for those students who are not pro-choice, they are still fully capable of seeking out organizations like YPY off campus— and they don’t need flags planted around to guide them.
That being said, maybe pro-choice supporters have stayed in the private sphere for too long. Maybe we should combat shame and oppression where it’s the loudest. Since the UVSS has failed to recognize and reprimand YPY, and the university continues to ignore their responsibility to step in, maybe it falls to us. Instead of keeping our opinions out of the public sphere, maybe it’s time that pro-choice students ask the University for permission to plant a flag for every uterus-carrying individual on campus, in support of their personal beliefs and their individual right to choose.