Reflections on responding to censorship – and to people in need

Censorship. What an ugly, awful sounding word. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s becoming the norm today across North America. Particularly on university campuses. Whether it’s protesters shutting down an event hosting Jordan Peterson and Ezra Levant at the University of Toronto, or violence erupting at the University of California Berkeley campus over the presence of a politically incorrect speaker, censorship is alive and well across the continent. It practically grinds the bones of the soldiers who fought in the World Wars into the dust, who worked to make our nations free from oppressive powers.

While censorship can take many forms, perhaps the worst comes from student unions. In their fight to end the systems of oppression they see, student unions perpetuate that oppression by limiting or eliminating groups that go against their particular ideologies. One favourite target is those that promote the pro-life stance. In Canada, the past year alone has seen five separate university pro-life clubs enter into lawsuits against their student unions, with varying levels of success. Brandon University Students for Life, for example, was successful in theirs, while Students for Life at Ryerson University ultimately lost their lawsuit following a lengthy court case.

Pro-life students at other campuses are having no less of an easier time. University of Waterloo Students for Life, for example, is on probation following allegations of club misconduct from the university administration. In October of last year, the club at Wilfrid Laurier University had their 100,000 flag display commemorating abortion victims ripped up in a few hours.

This oppression even raises the question of personal safety for some students. It certainly did for the pro-life student at the University of Windsor who was assaulted walking home this time last year. To bring it closer to home, recent developments surrounding the actions of the pro-life group at the University of Toronto Mississauga has had its president falsely accused of spreading hate speech and harassment by both the student newspaper and student union.

To some reading this, it may seem like I am painting a bleak picture. There is no denying it is bleak. A monster is prowling across university campuses, snapping up unsuspecting students, chewing them up and leaving them groaning in campus hallways. All too often, those in its crosshairs are forced to comply with its demands and have most of their autonomy taken away. Those who stand up, wipe the blood from their lips and stare the monster down with defiance are severely punished, becoming the targets of sabotage, subterfuge and downright insane attempts to silence their message, all in an effort to stop their pro-life voice – and the silent voices of the pre-born – from changing campus culture.

How do you beat this monster?

One word: Laughter. Laugh at the shenanigans of those opposed to your viewpoint. Laugh at the effort they expend at silencing your voice and those of the pre-born, be it with newspaper articles or bedsheets. Laugh at the lengths they are willing to go so that you don’t appear on campus ever again, whether it is by forming groups in opposition to yours or going straight to the administration with complaints about your display in an attempt to remove your group permanently. Laugh to yourself as you survive the fireballs launched your way and go on to do another day of activism – you have beat their attempts to ruin you and have cause to celebrate!

All of this comes to naught, however, if you espouse this laughing and celebratory mood during activism. That same monster which sought to beat you down has already beaten down (or is looking to beat down) men and women who have, are, or will go through difficult situations from which they feel they have control over. It’s devastating to see, and you have to respond appropriately. Many of these same shenanigans coming from student unions come from a place of hurt and a refusal to acknowledge the emergency at hand. Respond with love. Respond with warmth those in difficult circumstances may be seeing for the first time. Affirm others’ humanity. Offer support to those who need it. Above all, remember that you are not speaking for yourself – far from it. Not only are you speaking for the pre-born, you are also speaking for (and to) those battered men and women who are seeking refuge from that horrendous monster. Those who come to me and my fellow activists are the ones who need the most assistance.

To those activists who have been beaten down by the monster: There is a second chance to get up and keep soldiering on! Change is possible! If you don’t believe me, just look around at the Canadian landscape – 2016 was a banner year for the movement in Canada and 2017 looks to be just as promising, maybe even more so!

To those activists who are staring the monster in the face: Don’t give up! I know it’s scary. I know a lot is on the line in your personal lives. But even if we led just one person to the support they need, make abortion unthinkable for just one person on campus, it will all be worth it. Trust me. It’s what keeps me going on my darkest days – change is possible and it is happening already.

Finally, to those who are reading this and feel there are no other options available: There are other options there and we are there to help you access them. You don’t have to face them alone – in fact, we don’t encourage you to! We have connections with people in pregnancy care centres. We regularly collaborate and enlist the help of people from other life-saving organizations, be it through the materials we offer or having them on campus during our tabling (albeit as members of the group). These are just snippets of the support we offer. We’re not pretending it’s going to be easy to approach us. It takes effort – for anyone – to admit they need help and are seeking support. But trust me – it only takes one small step for our lives to be changed. Whether it is for better or for worse is up to you. You are the creators of your own world.

Together, let’s make abortion unthinkable in Canada.

Chad Hagel

Chad Hagel is currently the president of UTMSFL, and specializes in History while minoring in Classics. He is in his fourth year.