BY DEEANNA ROLLINS
On Sept. 28 at 11:30 a.m., the students of Conestoga College received an email from President John Tibbits stating that the Canadian Council for Bioethical Reform (CCBR), an anti-abortion advocacy group, would be on campus. In fact, they were at the college … before the email was even received.
Mike Dinning, Conestoga’s vice-president of student affairs, confirmed that the CCBR contacted the school late the night before they arrived on campus.
The email to students said the CCBR would have “signs and literature that may be graphic in nature.” The email also stated that the CCBR’s visit was allowed in accordance with Conestoga’s “existing policies and procedures (which) is a reflection of our commitment to creating an inclusive culture where all voices can be heard.”
Unlike an email that students at Sheridan College received on Sept. 15, when the same group visited their Trafalgar campus in Oakville, the one from Tibbits did not inform students where or when the group would be on campus that day.
Many Conestoga students were outraged that the group was allowed on campus and they expressed their anger on the popular Facebook page Spotted at Conestoga. Kat Wombwell, a first-year social service worker student, was very involved in the discussion online.
“Five-foot, full colour images of dead bodies is NOT a conversation starter,” she said. “The allowance of (the CCBR) on campus was disrespectful and the complete opposite of all the values we’ve been told Conestoga aims to uphold.”
Wombwell also started a petition that demanded Tibbits “apologize for allowing such a hateful display on our campus, and that anything that discriminates against students ever be allowed on campus in this capacity again.”
In the first four hours the petition had 226 signatures.
Mwenda Ball, a second-year public relations student, started a “pro-choice” movement at the school. On her pro-choice support rally event page, she
said, “We are silent but powerful and we are here to support those who had to endure not feeling safe in their own school. We are here to support the women who have chosen to abort and the women who have chosen not to.”
One student, Megan Pries, even got a tattoo to remember the time; an unalome, which is a symbol of enlightenment in the Buddhist culture.
“It’s a tattoo that I’ve wanted for a while,” said Pries, a first-year bachelor of design student. “I was so outraged it just seemed like a fitting time to get a tattoo, especially this one.”
Another buzz around the school was focused on how triggering and painful these graphic images were.
“Good job Conestoga College. You are literally kicking your students when they are already down. Making students afraid to come to school? Willingly allowing students to be traumatized by triggers of past events? Shameful and sickening. Severely disappointed in my school,” said Jenna Kudoba, a third-year bachelor of community and criminal justice student, in her response to an anonymous post on Spotted at Conestoga, from someone who can only be assumed to be another student, who talked about the CCBR and its posters triggering painful emotions.
“Obviously the school realized these images were graphic and someone could of been triggered by this,” said Cameron Henderson, a practical nursing student. “This possibility alone should of had parameters around the CCBR presenting themselves.”
There were other people in the school who didn’t think there should have been any discussion based on what the CCBR was doing or showing. Some of the students even agree that Tibbits allowing the CCBR on campus with these graphic signs was the right thing for him to do.
“The college is an educational institution meant to educate students on various issues. You can’t blame the college for allowing a group of individuals supporting a cause to enlighten students and professors on their beliefs. What matters most is that you still have the right to distinguish between what is right and wrong,” said Alfred Paul, a Conestoga College alumni and previous CSI employee.
“This is an educational institute and you want to censor out a collection of people’s opinions and arguments because you don’t agree with them?” asked Catalin Floca-Maxim, a University of Waterloo student, on Spotted at Conestoga in response to multiple other comments centred around censoring opinions and graphic images.
Dinning agreed with Floca-Maxim. He said “someone once said ‘free speech can be messy.’ Many us were very offended by what occurred, but does that mean that you can therefore limit someone’s free speech?”
Dinning said in his 11 years at Conestoga, the CCBR has never been on campus before.
“Free speech is not unlimited. It can be very difficult to listen to. It was never our intention to put people at unease,” he said.
“(Conestoga) is somewhat of a sandbox, and if you’re going to play in the sandbox, you have to play by the rules,” Dinning said, explaining that the CCBR were given specific rules and regulations they had to uphold.
The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) consider themselves an educational pro-life organization. It was founded in 2001 “to expose the hidden injustice of abortion and create a public discussion concerning the rights and personhood of the pre-born,” according to their website, www.endthekilling.ca.
In 2013, after a graphic banner was hung on an overpass in Hamilton, motorist Christy Loftchick claimed the group caused her accident. She said that the CCBR should stop doing what they are doing before someone gets seriously injured. Seven months later, in May 2014, hanging any sort of banner on an overpass became illegal in Hamilton.
In 2015, CCBR sued the City of Peterborough for refusing to allow a graphic image to be used as a public transportation advertisement. The city claimed the ad was “divisive and controversial.”
“The City of Peterborough violated our Charter rights, plain and simple. Speaking about abortion does not negate our right to free speech,” said Nicholas McLeod, legal co-ordinator for CCBR, according to Peterborough This Week.
In February 2016 the City of Peterborough decided to allow the ad to be posted, based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.