For the past few weeks the Western world has been consumed with defending free speech; sometimes even defiantly. At the start of the New Year, it’s likely that 99% of the world’s population (myself included) had never heard of Charlie Hebdo. Due to a series of tragic events, a media outlet which uses freedom of expression to mock and slander all manner of faiths, cultures and lifestyles is now being defended far and wide. The West takes free speech seriously. That is, except when it comes to anything that challenges abortion. Universities, which are supposed to be bastions of free speech, are leading the charge against any discussion about this most “sacred right.”
In response to the Paris tragedy Rex Murphy wrote, “The great institutions of the West, the press and the universities, have been at best complicit and at worst cowardly when it comes up to defending freedom of speech — not from threats of Islamist fanatics with guns, but in much less demanding circumstances.”
That cowardly attitude manifested itself in a British Columbia courtroom this week.
At issue was the tense, and at times hostile relationship between a pro-life club, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) and the University of Victoria. Some of YPY’s activities included engaging their fellow students on the topic of abortion and pre-born human rights. In short, using science and logic they challenged the dogma that allows for abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy. They didn’t have guns, only words. The result of YPY’s attempts at initiating what should be an intellectually stimulating conversation was that some students complained to university staff; they just couldn’t handle their pro-choice ideology being challenged so boldly. The university capitulated and in 2013 revoked YPY’s club privileges for a period of one year. Cameron Coté, who led the pro-life club during his time at the University of Victoria, went to the BC Supreme Court with a petition seeking clarification that the university’s treatment of YPY was inconsistent with the Charter rights of Canadians – mostly notably the freedom of expression.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson, who reviewed the petition, ruled that the Charter does not apply on university property and they are not free-speech zones. The decision to rule against Mr. Coté shows just how schizophrenic society has become. As one friend said to me, “Some judges just don’t get diversity and free speech. How autonomous from the Charter can a University be if TWU [Trinity Western University] isn’t allowed a law school because of the same Charter?”
Universities, which should be welcoming venues for young Canadians seeking to find their place in the moral fabric of society, are becoming the most intellectually sterile environments. Not only are ideas no longer debated freely and openly, but the students are taught that if you don’t agree with any particular idea you simply call on the authorities to shut that person(s) up. It is obvious there are a wide variety of opinions on pre-born human rights. But rather than simply muzzling everyone shouldn’t universities be encouraging vigorous debate?
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is to be applauded for partnering with Mr. Coté in his legal action against the University of Victoria. Though staunchly in favour of abortion, they at least understand that people with differing views ought to be able to express themselves freely.
The clamping down of free speech is not surprising. Those who insist on the right to kill a pre-born child are having an increasingly hard time defending their views. Their last resort is to kill the conversation. And as long as we faithfully stand up for our pre-born neighbours, they won’t be able to.