York student government aims to ban clubs opposed to abortion

In response to a series of controversies over abortion debates on Canadian campuses, the student government of York University has tabled an outright ban on student clubs that are opposed to abortion, wrote the National Post May 29.

Gilary Massa, vice-president external of the York Federation of Students, said student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student space, as long as they do it “within a pro-choice realm,” and that all clubs will be investigated to ensure compliance.

“You have to recognize that a woman has a choice over her own body,” Massa said. “We think that these pro-life, these anti-choice groups, they’re sexist in nature…. The way that they speak about women who decide to have abortions is demoralizing. They call them murderers – all of them do…. Is this an issue of free speech? No, this is an issue of women’s rights.”

The school’s administration condemned the decision as contrary to its academic mission, according to the Post.

Robert J. Tiffin, York’s vice-president students, said he was “disappointed” the policy was being enacted when virtually all of the student body has left campus for the summer.

“Student governments need to be aware that these are fairly significant decisions that are being made, and it would be useful to engage the much broader community,” he said. “It’s important to have some of these discussions at a time when the vast majority of students are here to participate.”

He said denying students access to the various aspects of the abortion debate was not in keeping with the school’s mandate and that the administration would try to compensate by providing its own venues and resources to legitimate debates. “It’s part of the texture of Canadian society, this debate,” he said. “We’re committed to ensuring there are the opportunities for these debates.”

Margaret Fung, co-president of York’s Students for Bioethical Awareness, the school’s only anti-abortion group, was not consulted. “It’s just very strange that I was never contacted,” she said. “I guess that means we can’t use the Student Centre Building. We never really received any funding. We don’t even have an office.”

Massa said the new policy would not apply to religious groups that may be opposed to abortion on doctrinal grounds. Rather, it was focused on groups, whether student or external, “whose sole purpose is to provide the anti-choice side.”

“What is happening is anti-choice groups coming on to campus under the guise of debates or through student clubs, to promote anti-choice sentiments, and then student unions responding to it, and then receiving very organized backlash…. A lot of these groups are funded and organized under a larger organization,” Massa said, citing the Genocide Awareness Project, a university-targeted poster campaign of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a privately funded US organization with a Canadian branch in Alberta.

In a recent editorial about the conflict, the editor-in-chief of York’s student paper [Excalibur] called the federation’s stance on free speech “dangerous,” and wondered about its claim that the “vast majority” of students support its position. “When did these people take it upon themselves to decide what we think?” Zalina Alvi wrote.

Efforts to formalize the York ban on anti-abortion groups began in earnest last weekend, when the YFS brought a successful motion to the annual meeting in Ottawa of the Canadian Federation of Students, a national umbrella group of student unions, said the Post.

A similar policy, specifically to ban “anti-choice” groups at York, is to be voted on this weekend [May 30-June 1] at the first board meeting of next year’s YFS executive, which is composed largely of student politicians who are entering their third year on the five-member executive. “I’m confident that it’ll pass,” Massa said.

York graduate student receives apology issued over airport ordeal

A federal agency has formally apologized to York graduate student Marnina Norys after Kelowna Airport security officers refused to allow her to wear a small silver pendant in the shape of a Colt .45 revolver on a WestJet flight Monday, wrote Kelowna, BC’s The Daily Courier May 29.

“We do plan to make an apology to the woman,” said Anna-Karina Tabunar, spokesperson for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), in an interview shortly before calling Norys, a PhD student at York. “In retrospect, the item should have been allowed. Good for her for bringing this to our attention.”

Norys wasn’t expecting an apology. “I was stunned to get the apology. It was quite shocking they actually apologized,” she said from her Toronto home on Wednesday. “Oh my God, it was very funny. I should frame it or something.”

The decision to prohibit her from wearing the pendant on the flight to Toronto was preceded by “weird cloak-and-dagger stuff,” Norys added. As for buying any more replica weapon jewelry, “No way, man,” she said with a laugh.

On air

  • Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s plans to discontinue plastic carrying bags at its stores, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” May 28.
  • Christine Sismondo, humanities lecturer in York’s Faculty Arts, talked about her book Mondo Cocktail, on CBC Radio Thunder Bay’s “Voyage North” program May 28.
  • Global Television and CJNI-FM Radio (Halifax) broadcast more stories about York University researchers’ role in NASA’s Mars Phoenix project May 28.