December 02, 2006

CUSA gears up the damage-control machine

CUSA needs to remember the First Rule of Holes: When you're in one, stop digging.

This week, there was a blogstorm and a small media frenzy concerning a motion proposed at the November 21 meeting of the Carleton University Student Association, affirming that CUSA is "pro-choice" and banning "anti-choice" groups from using CUSA resources. This came about after an October 30 debate sponsored by Carleton Lifeline, on the question: "Should elective abortion be illegal?" Some campus womyn [sic] were upset that their "safe space" was violated by having someone disagree with them. Hence this motion has been, rightly in my opinion, viewed as a restriction on freedom of speech on Carleton campus.

Since then, various CUSA members and sympathizers have been active in the media and the blogosphere trying to do damage control. Here's a look at some of the more common talking points.

CUSA isn't a "student government"

Someone has posted what could be termed a FAQ on the "anti-choice" motion on this LiveJournal blog. If I am reading right, "whallabee" is Ashley Hunkin, the Womyn's [sic] Centre coordinator, who with Katy McIntyre has spearheaded the motion. (I may be wrong, but that is my working assumption.) She writes:

It is important to understand that CUSA is not a "student government" as some people incorrectly call it. It is a political organisation that takes political positions on all sorts of issues. What is being proposed is that CUSA doesn't support anti-choice actions if asked to do so. This is in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is our right as an organization to decide.

[Full Text]

Technically true, I suppose. However, they are a non-voluntary association that collects mandatory fees from all students. They set certain policies that are binding. They confer status on certain groups and deny it to others; the former are entitled to such benefits as photocopying, booking rooms for meetings at no charge, listing in the clubs directory, promotional tables in Bakers Lounge on "Clubs and Societies Day", and the use of campus bulletin boards, among other things.

A "political organization" - like, say, Canadians for Choice, MADD, or EGALE - is a voluntary organization. If you don't want to belong, you don't have to join, and you don't have to pay them any fees. CUSA is not voluntary - students can't opt out. Maybe I'm just a know-nothing hick from a small Northern Ontario town, but it seems to me that when a group collects taxes, confers status on special-interest groups, allocates resources, and regulates certain aspects of the lives of those under its authority, it's a government. (At least, CUSA is analogous to a labour union, which ostensibly represents the interests of its membership, but often operates as a lobby group for the leadership's political agenda.)

Freedom of speech isn't the issue

Hunkin/"whallabee" writes on:

This means that CUSA wouldn't allocate resources to persons or groups promoting discrimination. These policies do not prevent students from voicing their opinions or engaging in debate, but rather ensure that CUSA is not supporting opinions or debate promoting discriminatory ideals. The CUSA motion would not curtail freedom of speech, but would prevent CUSA from supporting advocacy for anti-abortion legislation on the grounds that doing so would be inconsistent with CUSA's commitment to supporting gender equality.

For the sake of argument, let me momentarily concede this point. It's not about free speech, because CUSA is not stopping Lifeline or its members from holding their opinion or speaking it - they are simply denying resources to such groups.

However, that denial puts Lifeline at a disadvantage. Without club status, it is more difficult to book space for meetings, and will probably cost them - and what students have the money to rent a classroom every week? They would not be authorized to distribute literature, post on bulletin boards, or set up a promotional table on Clubs Days.

In other words, freedom of speech is not the issue - only the freedom to organize, promote, and meet. The "it's not about free speech" argument holds no water, because CUSA's proposed policy creates an inequitable distribution of resources that indirectly restricts speech. Why? Because Carleton Lifeline has the audacity to hold a political opinion - and not one out of the mainstream at that - that disagrees with CUSA's political opinion. This is (dare I say it?) discriminatory. How ironic.

(Perhaps the labour-union analogy isn't so bad after all: if you want to work for the Acme Company, you have to join the union; but if you don't like the union or its politics, as the argument goes, you're "free" to work elsewhere.)

Take note also of what the existing discrimination policy already says, as quoted by Hunkin:

CUSA and CUSA Inc., discourages and will actively work to prevent members of the Ku Klux Klan, the White Aryan Resistance, the Heritage Front, the Heritage Foundation, Canadians for the Preservation of English and any other group or person who actively promotes hate or discrimination as a form coming to Carleton University to promote hate or discrimination as their presence is unwanted and undesirable.

CUSA is talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, they want to claim they don't curtail freedom of speech; on the other, there are already certain kinds of speech that they want banned - not only from use of CUSA resources, but from the Carleton campus completely. So what is to stop someone from defining pro-life speech as "hate or discrimination" and treating pro-life advocacy the same in the future?

Well, not much:

"Anti-choice" speech is discrimination

Hunkin writes:

["Anti-choice" activities are] problematic, as the reason abortion was originally decriminalized in Canada is because the Supreme Court ruled that to keep abortion illegal is to deny women their Charter rights to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed by Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thus, persons or groups that lobby to make a law against abortion are lobbying to deny persons of these Charter rights. Moreover, this attempt to deny Charter rights is discriminatory to women because women would be the only ones directly affected by this proposed law as women are the only sex that can become pregnant.

Um, no. What the Supreme Court ruled in R. v. Morgentaler is that the procedural requirements (i.e. the Therapeutic Abortion Committee that certified each abortion as medically necessary) caused an unnecessary delay that threatened the woman's health, and that was a violation of Section 7. Moreover, the Court did not say that abortion could not be criminalized at all; rather, they placed the onus on Parliament to decide when human life begins and to pass laws restricting abortion. (To date this has not been accomplished.) Finally, there were three different majority decisions written, none having more than two signatures; therefore, Morgentaler creates no precedent at law.

Hunkin's argument is circular. You cannot appeal to a particular argument in support of your position, when that particular argument is the very thing in dispute. Moreover, it's based on a faulty reading of the Morgentaler decision, which itself is not the last word on the subject. CUSA's stance is built on a foundation of sand.

(One could also argue that if only women can become pregnant, then men cannot have abortions; hence recriminalizing abortion equalizes men and women by giving them the same rights. Yeah, it's silly, but it's equally silly.)

"Anti-choice" speech is hate speech

Check out these comments from this Facebook wall set up to discuss the motion, by one Kenneth Woolliscroft:

Actually I base my attributions not on what I think this group might do, but what the anti-choice movement in general utilizes as its tactics. This motion is not about this one group, its about identifying the anti-choice as discriminatory- and MY assertion is that anti-choice is also violent against women. Yes, there are laws, but somehow especially when the tactics of abuse involve not physical violence, but words and especially the graphic images they use, these groups get away with a lot. So I will hyperbolize as much as I feel appropriate. Opening the club system to this movement is as unthinkable to me as opening it to any other hate groups. That’s what anti-choice as a movement is, regardless of whether this individual group has any plans to use those tactics. (Emphasis added)

There you have it. To some moonbatty supporters of CUSA, "anti-choice" = both discrimination and hate; and a group that affirms the entitlement of unborn human persons to the same fundamental right to life as everyone else, is the moral equivalent of the KKK.

A little further down Woolliscroft reiterates the point about pro-life speech being "violence against women":

[T]he tactics used by the anti-choice movement are brutal. They are visually explicit, and these groups specifically target women who they feel are in danger of having an abortion, or on their way to doing so. Anti-choice tactics are violence against women.

ROFL! Do these people even live on the same planet as the rest of us?

If graphic pictures of abortion are "violence against women," then what is an actual abortion? What is more violent, image or reality?

Along the same lines, on CFRA's "Maynard in the Morning" program on Wednesday, CUSA president Shawn Menard either wanted to equate pro-life speech with racist speech. Or didn't. Read this (or listen to the whole thing [MP3] yourself) and try and figure out what he's arguing:

Mark Sutcliffe, guest host: [I]s there not a difference between saying that "we don't agree with that position, we're taking a stand for example in favour of gay marriage, we're taking a stand against recriminalizing abortion" - is there not a difference between that and saying that a group that has a different point of view is not legitimate and should not be allowed to have any resources to express that point of view?

Shawn Menard: Well, of course - so - [chuckles] so the example I gave you earlier, right, it's - it's a societal line, it's how far society has come in their thinking, and oftentimes student societies are pre-emptive of the thinking of society. I gave you the example earlier: would you fund, sir, on this radio station, would you fund a racist organization, and allow them resources and space, not to say it's equatable, but just as far as an example, would you fund one?

MS:Well, you're comparing, uh, people -

SM: No, I'm not comparing it, I'm asking as a societal, as a societal thing that exists right now, would, would you fund a -

MS: But why - if you're not comparing it, why is that relevant?

SM: It's as a, it's a social example. They're not the same issue at all, I agree, but I - but you're using an example, saying, should we not give everyone money to just talk about whatever it is they want to talk about, should a political organization give money just to someone they want, to anyone to talk about, would you give money to, for example, a racist organization to spread their message?

MS: But are you suggest - I mean, by that you're suggesting that the position of people who are against, uh, abortion and want to recriminalize abortion -

SM: No no no no no no no. Don't, don't twist my words like that. That is not at all what I'm suggesting. I'm not at all suggesting that they, they, this equates at all. But as far as the social situation and being a political organization funding someone that the majority of students feel the same way about, that's what we're talking about here, so I think you're confusing the situation a little bit.

I don't think it's Sutcliffe that's confused.

If you don't want to liken a pro-life group to a racist group, then you don't use the racist group as an analogy for the pro-life group. Sutcliffe called him on that bit of dishonesty, and Menard weaselled out of it. Poorly.

Free speech is fine, as long as it agrees with us

Here's another message from Katy McIntyre, CUSA VP of Student Services, on the aforementioned Facebook wall:

[I]f the position of Carleton Lifeline is that they don't support re-criminalizing aborition [sic] and they just think pro-life is a good option, then that's fine!

Translation: If Carleton Lifeline were to stop being a pro-life group and became a pro-choice group, they wouldn't be having these difficulties.

Oh, really?

Incidentally, intellectual dishonesty isn't the only kind Shawn Menard engaged in that CFRA interview. Earlier, he lied outright:

MS: What other groups do you have that kind of rule about?

SM: Uh, well, I mean there's several different groups that we could talk about that aren't - you know, direct examples or anything, that people couldn't apply to. For example, if there was a racist group that wanted to become a club, we have policy on, on racism, right, we have policy on discrimination. Um, so those groups wouldn't for example be allowed. The Genocide Awareness Project, right, that, that comes onto certain campuses, that group in the past has been said, well, sorry, this is something that, you know, the majority of students do not believe in, you won't be allowed in our spaces, the Genocide Awareness Project as you know, a group that talks about the fact that the Holocaust did not happen. . . . (emphasis added)

The Genocide Awareness Project [warning: graphic imagery], according to its own Canadian Web site:

The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is a visual display composed of 4'×8' (or 6'×13') billboards which graphically compare the victims of abortion to victims of other atrocities, such as Jews in the Holocaust. It is typically exhibited at universities by campus pro-life clubs. GAP shows students what abortion actually does to unborn children and compels those students to think about abortion in a broader historical context.

In other words, GAP seeks to persuade students of the pro-life position by comparing abortion with other recognized genocides and injustices: ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, the lynching of blacks, and, yes, the Holocaust. Wouldn't it just be a little dumb for them to compare abortion to the Holocaust while denying the Holocaust ever happened? Decide for yourselves whether Menard is stupid, uninformed, or dishonest.

At this point, I'm not even sure if resurrecting Extreme Makeover could help CUSA's public image.

(H/T to Serge on the LTI Blog for various posts that pointed me to some of these sources.)