York abortion debate brings in a full house

Controversy over cancelling an abortion debate at York University probably boosted the turnout at last night’s re-scheduled event, wrote the Toronto Star March 18. In the end, about 130 people attended the 90-minute debate at Curtis Lecture Hall E, a space supplied by the University after student leaders cancelled a Feb. 28 debate at York’s Student Centre.

“I’m just very grateful that the University allowed us to do this,” said York student Margaret Fung, co-president of Students for Bioethical Awareness at York.

The debate, which focused on when life begins and included graphic images shown on a large screen, pitted Jose Ruba, of the Canadian Centre for Bio- Ethical Reform, against Michael Payton, a member of a student group at York called Freethinkers, Skeptics and Atheists, said the Star.

Dominika Dworzanska, 22, a second-year psychology student, said the controversy over the earlier cancellation played a part in her decision to attend. “York does encourage people to voice their opinion,” she said. “We have a multicultural university so everybody has to respect everybody else.”

A vice-chair of the student centre that cancelled the earlier date had said "there is no need for an event, organized by anti-choice campaigners, that is disguised as a debate."

The University, in deciding to put up the lecture hall for the debate, doesn’t share that view, said spokesperson Richard Fisher, York’s chief marketing officer. “Any debate that is legal and protected by free speech needs to occur,” Fisher said. “If it can’t happen at a…liberal arts university, where can it happen?”

Fisher said the number of students, who came close to filling the lecture hall, spoke volumes about the earlier decision to cancel. “I think the biggest publicity they could have given to this debate was to ban it.”

  • Letter-writer Kelly Holloway [vice-chair of the Student Centre executive] is wrong, wrote Calgary’s Stephanie Gray, of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen March 18. The debate at York University was not proposed by my organization. It was proposed by a York-recognized student group, Students for Bioethical Awareness.

We do not harass students with graphic images. We have a high standard of respect and non-violence that we hold all our staff and volunteers to. Do we show graphic images? Certainly. But we don’t harass people. If, upon seeing what abortion does people are bothered, that’s not because of us, it’s because abortion is a bothersome thing. Holloway is confusing education with harassment.

York pushed on safety

A group of York University students has called on the school to hire a women and children’s rights group to perform a safety audit of the Keele campus, wrote The Toronto Sun March 18. “According to the statistics, there is a war against women and it is also being waged on this campus,” York student Stephanie Directo, a member of Women Against Rape, or WAR, told reporters.

WAR said the safety audit should be performed by the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, which has been doing the surveys for 15 years. “The York U administration must be accountable and take preventative measures to make our campus safer,” Directo said.

Safety is a primary concern for the school and York has already spent $3 million this year alone on additional security measures, said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations.

The administration has asked for a safety audit but has to follow procurement procedures, he said. “The University is fully committed, from the president on down, to conducting an independent safety audit,” he said. “But as a public institution, we have to be very transparent about what we do.” The survey would hopefully be completed before the beginning of the upcoming school year, he said.

  • Bilyk spoke on Global TV March 18 about the report of an alleged sexual assault. Bilyk, Directo and York student Daniela Castriota were also interviewed on Omni and CFMT television.

What lies ahead for a post-war Iraq?

The Toronto Star featured a number of authors in an article about the future of Iraq March 18. Among them was Thabit Abdullah, York University history professor and author of Dictatorship, Imperialism and Chaos: Iraq since 1989, who said: 

I believe that, in spite of everything, the country will remain united. In the very long history of the land between two rivers, it has been administratively and economically unified, even though it was composed of a diversity of people.

Nevertheless the war has been a bitter and extremely painful experience that has left deep and justifiable anger at Americans. Some day the destruction of Saddam’s regime will be a cause for celebration, but not a sense of gratitude to America. They have blown that chance.

I don’t think the future Iraq will be a wonderful, prosperous and free democracy. It may be a quasi-oligarchy with certain freedoms that have limits, possibly similar to Egypt. But it will not be a vicious dictatorship.

Federal government delivers on TTC funding

The federal government has finally settled up on an IOU to the City of Toronto for public transit funding, wrote Insidetoronto.com March 18. Mayor David Miller and Lawrence Cannon, minister of transport, were at the Malvern Garage to officially sign the agreement giving the city $303.5 million as part of the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund. The story noted that the funding includes bus rapid transit development from Downsview Station to York University.