Protectores Vitae promises to sue if they are not given club status.
By Matt DiMera
The president of a pro-life student group has threatened legal action against the Kwantlen Student Association (KSA), for denying them official status as a campus club.
Oliver Capko, a Kwantlen agriculture student, submitted an application to make Protectores Vitae an official club to the KSA on Oct. 12, but received notice nearly a month later that it had been rejected.
At the Nov. 9 meeting of the KSA’s executive committee, a motion to approve the club’s application was defeated, with the KSA’s director of external affairs and women’s constituency representative, Arzo Ansary, noting her opposition on the record.
During the meeting both Ansary and the then-director of student life, Amrit Mahil, spoke against the club’s application.
According to an email from Ansary, dated that same day, “the Executive Committee decided it was against the interests of the Kwantlen Student Association, and it’s Executives, to vote in favor of the creation of a club that is clearly against our own standing policy on Abortion and a Woman’s Right to Choose.”
“I believe that life issues and other such controversial issues should be discussed in universities where free speech and new thoughts and ideas are formed,” Capko told The Runner by telephone.
“No matter how controversial they might be, different perspectives always give a fuller approach to anything. So instead of just seeing one side of the argument I feel it’s important to get the other side out there.”
Anastasia Pearse, the western campus coordinator for the National Campus Life Network and a student at Trinity Western University, has been helping Capko and the Protectores Vitae with their application and subsequent rejection. Pearse made headlines of her own in 2010, when as the president of an anti-abortion group at the University of Victoria, she sued the University of Victoria’s Students’ Society for denying them funding.
“I see that a university is such a key place for us to be sharing our pro-life message because the demographic that is most susceptible to abortions are university students,” said Pearse, explaining her continued involvement through the NCLN.
“We need to be reaching out to these students, educating them on life issues and also pointing them towards positive alternatives to abortions.”
Capko said that as a new student to Kwantlen he has been disappointed and frustrated by the treatment of his would-be group and said that many of his attempts at communication with the KSA had been rebuffed.
“I feel a bit ignored and that they’re not trying to contact me in anyway,” he noted. “As we all know exams and term papers are coming up and it’s not the ideal time for me or anyone to be going through all this attention.”
Capko sought legal advice and is now being represented pro bono by John Carpay, president of The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).
Carpay sent the KSA a letter, dated Nov. 23, demanding that Protectores Vitae be approved as a club.
“Denying a club the right to exist and operate at Kwantlen merely because you and other students disagree with this club’s beliefs and opinions amounts to censorship,” wrote Carpay.
“Student associations should be supporting free speech and vigorous debate, not attempting to muzzle it.”
That letter gave the KSA a Nov. 29 deadline, promising legal action if they didn’t reverse their decision.
“We’ll take them to court on the basis that they’re enforcing their policies and their opinions on the whole student body,” said Capko.
“We’re demanding that the KSA end their illegal discrimination of pro-life students and grant [our] club status.”
The KSA has denied that they are preventing Capko’s group from getting their message out and suggested through their legal counsel, that Protectores Vitae could be approved as a recognized group instead, which would allow them access to space on campus and free photocopying, but not KSA funding.
The KSA currently has ten recognized groups listed on their website, including several religious and political groups.
In a Dec. 3 press release, Protectores Vitae rejected the KSA’s offer of recognized group status, reaffirming their decision to sue.
“After discussion amongst Protectores Vitae members, we have decided to move forward with the lawsuit,” said Capko, in a written statement. “It is unfortunate that we have to sue our own student representatives in order to secure equal and fair treatment on campus.”
“We are not religious, nor are we political. Our activities would lead to consideration of bio-ethical issues at Kwantlen, which would surely enrich the extracurricular experience of students. That is why we applied for club status and not for recognized group status.”