Brute Censorship on College Campus

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Each semester, members of the Kelowna Right to Life Society bravely expose the reality of abortion on the campuses of UBCO and Okanagan College. The images we show are difficult to look at for some, but we believe keeping abortion hidden from view only perpetuates the injustice by allowing society to retain their sense of comfort with it. We very much appreciate the commitment to the principles of free speech and the accommodation of both institutions in these initiatives.

Students are notified of the displays well in advance. They are warned of the graphic nature of them, offered alternative routes so they can avoid them, and given information about available counselling. Notices may also provide information about the importance of respecting freedom of expression on campus, even the expression of ideas that may be unpopular, even offensive to some. In these ways, preparations for the demonstrations on both campuses are similar, but that’s where the similarities end.

On the campus of UBCO last month, pro-abortion students set up their own tables and displays at two separate locations in the main courtyard. They maintained a distance from us that more than adequately allowed for our expression as well as their own. This is really all we ask: a forum that allows all sides to express their views, arguments, opinions, and evidence so that observers can formulate opinions and conclusions based on all the available information.

The UBCO students were respectful of our efforts, in no way attempted to censor us, and even engaged in rational and constructive dialogue with us. We very much admired their restraint and their commitment to upholding the university campus as a marketplace of ideas. Sadly, we can’t say the same for the group of about 20 students & faculty at Okanagan College.

Their behavior, it pains me to say, was simply disgraceful. Instead of following the example of their peers at UBCO, this group resorted to knee-jerk censorship and even intimidation as they blocked our signs with sheets and signs of their own and interrupted conversations. Ironically, they accused us of harassment when anyone paying unbiased attention could see it was them who were the aggressors.

Perhaps as a pre-requisite for admission into post-secondary education, potential students ought to pass a simple test demonstrating their understanding of the hallmarks of a free and democratic society, including the freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly. Maybe they ought to show they understand that these rights should not be limited or denied simply because someone (even the majority) may disagree with or be offended by what is being said. There is no “right not to be offended” and if they don’t like something someone else is legitimately expressing, tolerance or respectful engagement, not censorship, are the appropriate responses.  For the sake of all our futures, the leaders of tomorrow should at least be made aware of these basic principles before embarking on their post-secondary careers.

The censorship antics at OK College were sad to witness not only because many students were denied learning the truth about abortion, but because people with influence today and tomorrow were leading the charge.  Knowing the students at UBCO are the leaders and policy-makers of tomorrow leaves room for hope. To think the same of the censorship brigade at OK College is reason for concern indeed. 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash