By Alanna Wallace
CUP Ontario Bureau Chief
WATERLOO, Ont. (CUP) — The pro-life club at Carleton University has launched a lawsuit against the university after five students were arrested at a demonstration last fall.
On Oct. 4 of last year, the students were arrested and charged with trespassing when they attempted to erect a controversial display on campus called the Genocide Awareness Project, which compares pictures of aborted fetuses to historical atrocities like the Holocaust.
The university says it will “defend itself vigorously” against the $225,000 lawsuit.
“We’re suing them for the discriminatory treatment that we received in the 2010-11 academic year,” said Ruth Lobo, president of the campus pro-life group Lifeline.
She also explained that the group is demanding an apology from the university for their conduct and “openly declare that they violated their own internal policies — specifically the students rights and responsibilities policies” and the university’s human rights codes.
“The money that Lifeline would receive in this situation is definitely secondary to the behavioural changes that we would like to see,” said Lobo.
Carleton’s objection to the group’s usage of graphic images was the main catalyst for the disruption in October when the university tried to get the group to hold their display in a less high-traffic area of campus. When the group refused to move, they were arrested for trespassing.
“This lawsuit is very much about freedom of speech in that any student group could be shut down if the university deems their display or their opinion to be not popular and therefore can’t be shown in public,” said Lobo, who was among those arrested in October.
However, she believes the group’s use of images is not unique and the issue runs deeper than Carleton Lifeline’s displays.
“The definition of discrimination is differential treatment and that is what Lifeline has been receiving from the university, especially because other organizations that display graphic images have been allowed on campus without complaint,” said Lobo, who cited animal rights groups and a Holocaust awareness group who also use graphic depictions on their posters.
Carleton’s concern with the group revolves around their use of graphic images. At the time of the original incident, Jason MacDonald, a spokesperson for the university, said other jurisdictions have deemed the content disturbing or offensive to some people because of its graphic nature.
A recent statement by the university assured that “Carleton remains a marketplace of ideas, a place where members of the community can debate and discuss a full range of issues and ideas.”
It’s a statement Lobo disagrees with.
“It really does suggest that it’s more about content than it is about the medium by which we choose to express our views,” she said.