STORY VIA THE FULCRUM
(CUP) — An anti-abortion group on campus has lost its club status after months of heated controversy and debate, blocking them from accessing resources and funding through the University of Ottawa Students’ Union, or UOSU.
University of Ottawa Students for Life UOSFL first received preliminary club status back in October 2019 from Campus Vibez uOttawa, the body that coordinates clubs under the UOSU. The school’s former student government, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), had previously stripped UOSFL of its club status in 2017.
Anger and backlash from students quickly followed and the status of the club was called into question a few weeks later when a petition with 500 signatures was sent to the undergraduate student union calling for its removal.
In a series of meetings in October and November 2019, the UOSU adopted a pro-choice stance on abortion and then amended its club code to block any group that advocates against access to legal abortion from union funding. A General Assembly was held in early December where students could vote on the club status of UOSFL, but the meeting failed to reach quorum and became a town hall discussion instead.
The decision on the club status of UOSFL was then moved to a meeting of the UOSU’s student life committee, where representatives from UOSFL and pro-choice supporters who launched the petition against the club were invited to attend and voice their arguments. The meeting was held on Dec. 20, with the committee eventually voting to remove the club status of UOSFL, which was announced earlier this month.
UOSFL has the option of challenging the committee’s decision at the union’s upcoming board meeting this Sunday. Under the current ruling, the group can still remain active on campus but does not have access to funds, promotion, or room rentals through the UOSU.
Bridget Dueck, administrator of the Defenders of Our Campus pro-choice group, and Garfilia Milousis, co-president of UOSFL, attended the student life committee meeting. Both said they have experienced harassment and threats in the midst of the debate over UOSFL’s status.
Dueck said a delayed decision from the UOSU has caused her unneeded stress and anxiety. She said she expects there will be an appeal by the UOSFL and encouraged students to attend the appeal meeting to voice their concerns.
“I’ve played a more active role and spoke out more, but it’s really a group,” said Dueck. “This whole movement is kind of an organism of its own. It’s not just one person that’s spearheading the movement anymore. It’s more of a group of students that are all working together.”
Dueck said that along with the resources official UOSU clubs receive, it’s also about the title that comes with it.
“It is a monumental privilege that not every group is going to be eligible for,” said Dueck. ”That title carries a lot of weight to the students and, to me, because they are recognized, they carry around the community, they represent the community.”
Milousis said the UOSU’s process has been much more transparent than the previous decision from the school’s former undergraduate student union, the SFUO, but said that flaws still exist in the new system.
Both Milousis and Dueck agreed that the final meeting held on Dec. 20 and the General Assembly on Dec. 7 were unfair to students who were studying for finals and headed home for the holidays. Milousis called it a learning experience for the UOSU, and the union says it will no longer allow meetings to happen in the middle of exam season.
Other student unions across the country have also taken pro-choice stances and blocked anti-abortion clubs from their funding or resources, but Milousis argued that while principals and examples of other cases may be referred to, they should not be used to influence a decision as the circumstances and details may vary.
“What I would say is different from those cases and the situation at the U of O is recently the Ontario government has put forward a free speech policy that’s supposed to regulate universities and require them to uphold free speech on campus,” said Milousis.
While Milousis commends the student union for listening to both sides of the arguments, she said she believes there was bias in the decision from the start, since the UOSU took a pro-choice stance on abortion at an October 2019 board meeting.
Milousis said she thinks the decision on her club’s status was made even before the General Assembly in December took place.
“By nature of the UOSU taking the pro-choice stance, they’ve already positioned themselves as closer to (the pro-choice) side,” she said. “So not only do I have to address the concerns, but I somehow have to win them over.”
Milousis and Dueck said members of their groups have not engaged in harassment online, but both reported received threats from anonymous and third-party sources.
“I’ve had a number of death threats,” said Milousis.
“I have experienced harassment from fake profiles online,” said Dueck, “I had a message from a profile that felt very threatening, saying that I was going to burn in hell. I don’t want that on campus.”
The UOSU’s next board meeting is scheduled for Sunday at 12 p.m. in the Tabaret Hall Senate Chamber, where UOSFL has the option of appealing the student life committee’s decision.