Students march to the meeting on Saturday. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum
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Students march from Morisset Library to meeting at Marion Hall

The General Assembly (GA) to decide whether an anti-abortion group could receive resources and support through the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) failed to come to fruition after the meeting faced difficulties reaching quorum of 300 students. 

A group of about a dozen students gathered outside Morisset Library to march to the meeting at Marion Hall on Saturday to protest the preliminary club status U of O Students for Life (UOSFL) received back in October, a decision that has sparked controversy over the past few months.

UOSFL was previously stripped of their club status in 2017 by the school’s former undergraduate student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, which also blocked them from accessing funding, resources, and support through the union. 

The UOSU has responded to student backlash by taking a pro-choice stance on abortion and amending their clubs code to block any groups that advocate against access to legal abortion from union funding.

Carrying signs reading “policing someone else’s body is violence” and chanting “abortion is health care, health care is a right,” the protesters looked to push the union take a step further and officially revoke UOSFL’s preliminary club status. 

Revoking that status would prevent the club from accessing resources such as tabling and room bookings through Campus Vibez uOttawa (CVUO), the body that coordinates clubs under the UOSU. 

UOSU executives attempted to kick off the meeting almost an hour after the 1 p.m. scheduled start time but they were about 90 students short of reaching quorum. Under the union’s constitution, 300 students must be in attendance for a GA to take place, at least 150 of whom must be there in person. 

The executives looked to start the meeting two more times, but both attempts failed. With students visibly frustrated, the meeting became a town hall instead, with the decision on whether to revoke the club status of UOSFL no longer on the table.

Instead, the decision will now move to a more internal process, outlined under the clubs code the UOSU amended at their Board of Directors (BOD) meeting on Nov. 24. 

Under the amendments, the union can now rescind or deny recognition of a club if their activities are unlawful, violate U of O policies, constitute discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, or impede legitimate, lawful activities of U of O students.

Club status can also be withdrawn or denied if the club’s activities have “a substantially negative impact on a significant number of U of O students.” 

The process is started when the UOSU receives a petition signed by 500 students, outlining how the club in question is in violation of the criteria. At that point, an executive of the club in question and the creator of the petition would be asked to meet with the student life committee.

The club’s status could be denied or rescinded if at least three-quarters of the committee backs the decision. The decision could be overturned if either four-fifths of the BOD or the majority of a GA was in favour of doing so. 

In the case of UOSFL, the petition has been received and the union is in the process of setting up the meeting, according to student life commissioner Jason Seguya. He added that the hope is to hold the meeting before the new year.

“I want to look at every single person in this room and I want to tell you I am proud of you,” said Bridget Dueck, the student who has spearheaded the movement against UOSFL. “Even though a lot of us are disappointed with not meeting quorum, this isn’t over.” 

Dueck also read the speech she prepared for the GA to the crowd in the lecture hall. 

“Saying that I don’t have the right to receive medical care is not a simple harmless idea or your opinion, it’s a tool of oppression that breaks down women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, basic human rights as a whole, and it is not OK,” said Dueck to applause. 

Representatives from UOSFL did not appear to be in attendance, but the group did have a handful of supporters at the meeting who questioned whether revoking their club status would infringe on freedom of speech.

“Our goal is not to stop UOSFL from assembling, especially in an academic setting,” said Ellsia Ferreri, a fourth-year conflict studies and human rights student. “Their goal is to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime and I will be damned if one cent of my tuition money that seeks to dimish my rights.” 

“This is a really, really good example of what democracy looks like,” said Jayde Lavoie, president of the Conflict Studies and Human Rights Association. “I want to reiterate that this isn’t a discussion about whether or not abortion is right because our nation has determined abortion is a right a very, very long time ago.” 

The UOSU’s BOD met on Sunday and will meet for the first time in the new year on Jan. 19, time and location to be announced.