By Faye Sonier
There are moments when I wish my primary passion was for the establishment of animal sanctuaries. Or fundraising efforts for the purchase of new collections at the public library. Or campaigns in support of cancer research.
That would be easy for me. As a book-loving, cancer-surviving Canadian, whose favourite companion is Hugo, a dog I rescued, I could help advance those worthy causes.
However, the cause that cuts me to the core is the plight of the unborn child. I’m a 30 year old human rights lawyer and a pro-life activist. After a few years of being on the receiving end of withering looks, at times I think to myself that it would be nice to fight for a politically correct cause. It would be nice to raise awareness of an issue without being labelled “anti-woman.” But I believe children in the womb are deserving of more consideration than they’re currently receiving in Canada and so I carry on.
And as a pro-life activist, I feel compelled to speak up when pro-life citizens are being pushed out of the public square, as was recently the case at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Students at the university had their request to form a club with official status rejected on the grounds that its perspective is contrary to the Kwantlen Student Association’s "officially pro-choice" stance. However, when the students announced that they would take legal action, the Association changed its position and granted the students’ club official status.
As someone who already has a law degree under her belt and a job at a national, pro-life organization, I have little to fear in sharing my view. This is not the case for pro-life students who are studying at Kwantlen or on other university and college campuses. By engaging in the same activities that other students do, pro-life students have been arrested; faced charges and expulsion; and have been ostracized, ridiculed and criticized by their professors and peers. Free expression is permitted and even celebrated for most reasons on campus – except when it isn’t. Pro-life expression is one of the few expressions that is met with suppression.
Pro-life students, like those at Kwantlen, aren’t naive. They know they could join other, non-controversial clubs, and graduate without causing a ripple. Yet, they choose a difficult road because their consciences compel them to do so. That takes courage. It is no small thing to risk your education in order to support a cause, no matter how worthy. And today, with rare exceptions, only pro-life students are asked to do so at Canadian colleges and universities.
These aren’t apathetic young adults killing time glued to game consoles or smartphones as life passes them by. These students are actively participating in campus life. They are assembling to express a perspective on an issue that is hotly debated by politicians and in the media. In the process, they are learning about political and social issues, challenging their peers to consider another perspective and being challenged in return. These students are developing valuable skills, such as a public speaking, research, writing and advocacy. Student engagement is an enriching aspect of any university experience.
On campus, no one would think of shutting down clubs that fight animal cruelty, or raise money for the library or cancer research– these are the acceptable causes. But it is only through permitting the expression of unpopular ideas that we are and prove ourselves to be the society we claim to be, one that is tolerant and hosts a true marketplace of ideas. These students’ courage brings a mirror to our collective face and demands that we examine who or what is looking back at us. If for no other reason, we owe these courageous students a debt of gratitude for this opportunity to assess our own commitment to freedom of expression.