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Photo: Screenshot/UOSFL Facebook

The UOSU has adopted a pro-choice stance after a motion from the interim equity commissioner was passed on Sunday

The anti-abortion group University of Ottawa Students For Life (UOSFL) has regained official club status after losing it under the school’s former student government in 2017, sparking a petition to reverse the decision and drawing backlash from some students.

Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO), the organization that coordinates clubs under the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), granted UOSFL official club status on Oct. 8, according to CVUO president Hassan Ahmed. He said at that time, the UOSFL did not violate any policies.

UOSFL announced in a Facebook post on Oct. 19 that they had gained official status, but they are not listed on CVOU’s website. The CVOU posted on Facebook on Oct. 22 that they will be reconsidering the club status of the UOSFL after “recent controversy” of the approval. 

Back in November 2017, a motion was passed by the now-defunct Student Federation of the University of Ottawa to make their stance pro-choice, stripping the club of its official status and blocking them from resources, space and funding.

On Sunday, the UOSU unanimously passed a motion from interim equity commissioner Judy El-Mohtadi at their Board of Directors (BOD) meeting to make the union’s stance pro-choice as well. However, they did not make any decisions on the club’s official status or how their pro-choice stance would impact that status. 

“It is important to note that being pro-choice must not be conflated with being pro-abortion,” the passed motion reads. “UOSU believes in students’ right to free speech. However, it is in violation of our constitution, and moral imperatives, to promote and allow speech with oppressive content that is negatively affecting the student community at large.”

Student life commissioner Jason Seguya added an amendment to the motion to say that an equity code will be presented to the BOD by the next board meeting (set for Nov. 24), “outlining what it means to be a pro-choice organization among other equity stances.”

A draft of the equity code shown at the meeting included a section that said the union may withhold recognizing an organization if their activities meet a set of criteria in the eyes of the BOD and the General Assembly (the fall GA is set for Nov. 7). 

That includes activities that are likely to be unlawful, violate U of O policies, constitute discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, impede legitimate, lawful activities of U of O students, or have “a substantially negative impact on a significant number of U of O students.” 

A number of supporters and critics of UOSFL attended the meeting, including Bridget, who would only speak on the condition that her last name not be used in this article. Bridget organized and runs the UOttawa Defenders of Our Campus Facebook page that is rallying against UOSFL, with 175 members at the time of writing. 

Bridget has also created a statement that outlines concerns over the group’s official status and funding. As of Sunday, Bridget says 151 students and student groups have signed the statement. El-Mohtadi also said she’s received over 40 emails from students with complaints and concerns.

“I don’t believe in them (UOSFL) getting a part of my tuition and student union resources,” said Bridget. “I don’t want my tuition to go toward a group that advocates against my basic human rights.”

The UOSU said no recognized clubs have received funding yet. CVUO also provides recognized clubs with a number of resources, including room and tabling booking, free photography and post-production services, and promotion through shared social media posts.  , 

Garifalia Milousis, co-president of UOSFL, also attended the BOD meeting. She says the club is focused on providing information about alternative options to abortion and the issues in Canada on gender-selective abortion. 

Milousis says five members make up the student leadership team for the UOSFL and a few dozen students are active in the club. Milousis says she has been a member of the club for six years now. 

“If other groups are getting funding, then arguably our group should as well,” said Milousis. She says the club’s main concern is a lack of support from the union and potential logistical challenges, including room bookings. 

“What I do see a problem with is when the UOSU then takes on a position where they say not only are we going to be working to represent the interests of students, but we’re going to actively undermine and oppose interests that don’t align with the majority’s view.” 

She says the stance and the potential risk of losing club status is a violation of students’ right to freedom of speech. 

“All students on campus by nature of coming to this university should be able to speak freely and express their ideas,” she said. 

Bridget says student’s main concerns have focused on triggering gory images and speech against a person’s right to choose. Milousis says the UOSFL has never used graphic imagery to get their message across and does not plan on doing so. 

Ellsia Ferreri, a fourth-year conflict studies and human rights student, said she could not believe an anti-abortion group was granted official club status.

“Their group actively seeks to dismiss women’s personal rights, personal freedoms, autonomy over their own bodies,” Ferreri said. “That should not be supported financially through any group that seeks to represent the best interests of their students.”

Bridget says the UOttawa Defenders of Our Campus is not promoting abortion. 

“Being pro-choice means we are taking the middle ground rather than promoting any option over the other,” she said. “A pregnant person should be able to make that decision without any outside pressures and have equal opportunities and resources to pursue each choice.”

“Just to be clear, this is not a ban of anti-abortion groups or views on campus, we just don’t want to fund anti-abortion activity with our tuition,” Bridget said.

Bridget says students will still be able to voice their views on campus without official club status. She says the student union has a right to decide what student funds are used for based on the opinion of the students themselves. 

In 2007, two students from the University of British Columbia (UBC) brought a lawsuit to the province’s Supreme Court after their anti-abortion student group was denied status and funding from their student union. 

Students Dianne Gray and Anna Rutherford represented the University of British Columbia – Okanagan Students For Life (SFL). They stated that the denial of club status by the University of British Columbia Students’ Union – Okanagan (UBCSUO) violated religious freedom. Their case was denied by the Supreme Court.

More to come.