Ottawa police arrested five people on trespassing charges for attempting to display graphic posters of abortion at Carleton University after the university administration turned down the students’ display application.
Four Carleton students, members of the group Carleton Lifeline, and one other supporter were arrested on trespassing charges on Oct. 4. They tried to display posters from the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) on the heavily used campus square called the Tory Quad.
The four-by-eight-feet posters show bloody images of aborted fetuses with images from the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. They were confiscated and given to police as evidence.
Carleton spokesman James MacDonald told the National Post that no students are allowed to set up displays on that area of campus. He said the graphic nature of the photos was another reason for rejecting the application.
He said that the university offered the students an alternative space where interested students could go to see the posters.
Carleton Lifeline president Ruth Lobo, one of those arrested, said the alternative site was lightly traveled and “like a tomb.” She justified the posters on the grounds that the abortion debate is meaningless without specific images.
“No one really understands the debate until they see consequences of abortion. The university is supposed to be a place of free ideas,” she told the National Post.
She also cited Time Magazine’s recent photo of an 18-year-old woman whose nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban to show the atrocities in Afghanistan.
MacDonald told The Charlatan that the pro-life advocates indicated to police that “they wouldn’t respect the fact that we told them they didn’t have permission to set up in the quad.”
Rebecca Richmond, a member of the National Campus Life Network present during the arrests, said she was concerned with what she saw, calling the arrests “a message of discrimination that goes across the country.”
For his part, fourth-year Carleton student Scott Bacon called the attempts to relocate the display “insulting” and the arrests “a sad day for Carleton.” He had remained on the scene amid the arrests and continued to hand out pro-life pamphlets.
The students’ lawyer, Albertos Polizogopoulos, said they feel their application was refused “simply because their opinions are unpopular.”
“They believe the university has acted outside of their own policies” against discrimination and in favor of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.
“This is not a case of pro-life versus pro-choice; this is a free speech issue,” he told the National Post.
The Charlatan reports that those arrested face a $65 fine.
Another case of pro-life students displaying GAP posters is ongoing at the University of Calgary. Eight students were charged with trespassing but the Crown declined to prosecute. They have appealed a school ruling that they are guilty of non-academic misconduct.