He had to threaten a lawsuit to do it, but 18-year-old student Oliver Capko was finally able to convince the Student Association at Kwantlen Universtiy in Greater Vancouver to grant club status to Protectores Vitae, a pro-life group he had formed. He learned of the student association’s about-face in early December of last year. Student leaders had denied his original request because his club contravened their pro-choice policy, and it was only when Capko retained constitutional lawyer John Carpay that they thought better of their heavy-handedness.
Capko is not the first Canadian student to have discovered that his desire to promote the protection of unborn children put him in his student association’s line of fire. Students at many other Canadian universities have faced sanctions either from their representatives on council -- who have frequently denied funding to pro-life associations -- or, even more shockingly, from their university administration.
In 2010, for example, a group of five students at Carleton University in Ottawa was arrested by the police and removed from campus for displaying graphic images of aborted fetuses as part of their Genocide Awareness Project. While it is true that their posters were disturbing, the students themselves were quiet and unobtrusive. They did not harass anyone, shout, obstruct a speaker, or prevent other students from going about their business; they merely sought a prominent place to show images of abortion. Other student protesters -- such as those who forced the cancellation of pundit Ann Coulter’s planned talk at the University of Ottawa in 2010, or those who tried to do the same to men’s rights advocate Warren Farrell at the University of Toronto last November -- have been far more abusive and disruptive, and been treated by university officials with far greater leniency.
Universities’ willingness to impose harsh measures and student councils’ consistent animus against pro-life clubs highlight the unique vilification of this small but committed group of students. They advocate nothing violent or illegal or immoral; they merely speak about what has been deemed unspeakable in Canadian society.
A tacit agreement has made abortion a political no-go area in this once-conservative country. The present Conservative government under Stephen Harper -- though continually accused by detractors of harboring a “hidden agenda” (supposedly dedicated to returning women barefoot and pregnant to the kitchens of the nation) -- has shown itself averse to addressing the matter, leaving Canada the only country in the Western world without any abortion law. It has been that way since 1988, when the Supreme Court struck down the existing law, and no government since then has been able to draft a new one. Although statistics on late-term abortions are very difficult -- in some cases impossible -- to attain in Canada, it is acknowledged that a significant number occur after 21 weeks gestation, the point at which the Canadian Medical Association declares the fetus viable outside the womb.
When a Conservative backbencher sponsored a motion last September to study the Criminal Code’s definition of human life’s beginnings, his initiative was vociferously denounced by members of the opposition New Democratic Party as an attack on “women’s rights.” Purportedly the beginning of the hidden agenda’s implementation -- and likely indeed an attempt to pursue a workable compromise on abortion -- the motion also prompted major players in the Conservative government, including the prime minister, to distance themselves from a pro-life position, stating their conviction that Canadians preferred to leave the matter alone. The motion was defeated by a large majority.
What is one to make of the marked determination, not only on the part of pro-abortion advocates but also on the part of all but a few stalwart pro-life supporters, to accept a de facto ban on abortion debate? Certainly there is less and less place for pro-life advocacy on either side of the political spectrum.