Canada is known throughout the world for many things: our almost perpetual winters, our wonderful maple syrup, our clueless prime minister, and the overabundance of far-left craziness.
The last thing on the list has manifested in many ways, including the infamous law that criminalizes anyone who refuses to use transgender pronouns and a totalitarian provincial law that allows for children to be seized from their families if not allowed to ‘transition’ to their gender of choice.
One common manifestation of this far-left craziness is found among university student unions. The unions possess the power to grant club status and funding to any campus group. This has led to them picking and choosing which clubs they wish to give this recognition to, on the basis of whether the club aligns with their ‘values.’ Clubs that don’t align with these values can be censored and even openly attacked.
For the past few years, pro-life clubs across the country have been the ones that have been most affected. To get an insider’s perspective on what this experience is like, I decided to have a chat with Chad Hagel, the President of the pro-life club at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus (UTM). Chad is a History Specialist and a Classics minor who has been at UTM for five years, and has been the President of the UTM Students for Life since September 2016.
Q: Chad, it’s great to talk to you today. Perhaps we could begin with a little bit about what motivated you to get involved with the UTM Students for Life, and perhaps a brief introduction to the club itself?
A: Allow me to begin with my own story. I was born at 26 weeks gestation, making me one of the early ones. Being so early meant that I had some delays when it came to becoming physically mature. These delays have been with me my entire life in the form of disabilities, leaving me hard-of-hearing and with cerebral palsy. Nonetheless, these disabilities have made me very appreciative of life, in addition to making me morally aware that it is wrong to take a life without cause. This is why I am pro-life- I have a vested stake in it. My involvement in pro-life activism began once I entered the University of Toronto, Mississauga as a student and reengaged with my faith.
In January 2015, I joined the UTM Students for Life (UTMSFL), a pro-life club formed by a student named Lisa Caballero the previous September. To give some context, all clubs on our campus have the option of either being formally recognized by the university, the student union, or both. Most go with the student union, which places a one-year probation on all new clubs before they can receive full benefits of being under the auspices of the union, which includes funding. Lisa’s friendship with the Catholic ex-president of the UTMSU was probably the only reason why our club was approved back then.
Our goals were simple– to educate the UTM populace on the truth of abortion, including the procedure and the after-effects. We worked towards this by simply asking questions at first, but by October 2016, we had supplemented this with abortion video photography, which made it much more effective in communicating our goals.
The initially-favorable attitude of the student union did not stay that way for long. Could you tell us about the problems that arose with the union?
It was around February of 2015 that the club applied for recognition as a student group from the university itself and managed to get approved later on. In June, since our one-year probation period was almost up, we formally applied for re-recognition from the union so we could get those benefits. This is a normal procedure for freshly-minted clubs. Everything seemed alright until August of 2015.
Over the summer, the student union executives who were sympathetic to our cause had stepped down, and new executives had been elected. These new executives could be described as being far on the political left.
On August 26, 2015, I received a message from one of our club executives, stating that our club status had been formally denied by the student union. We were given no indication that our club had become a concern for the union prior to this. After a long wait and many frustrated emails that attempted to discover the reason for our rejection, we were informed that we were rejected for being in violation of certain union policies.
We did our best to cooperate with them, but soon it became clear that we needed legal counsel. We were put into contact with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an organization that provides legal help to those whose constitutional freedoms need to be defended. JCCF helped us confront the union and demand that either additional information be provided or action be taken. It was during the course of this we found out we were officially denied simply on account of our stance on abortion and because we had allegedly told women what to do with their bodies.
Eventually, the union finally conceded to our efforts at reconciliation. They asked us to amend our constitution by November 6th, 2015 and asked us to hold a general meeting to approve of these changes and add an additional fourth executive member. We did as they asked. They then asked us to hold another meeting to have another vote on the changes, and they would send their Vice President-Campus Life to supervise this meeting. We agreed.
After some back and forth, we determined that the meeting would take place on November 23rd, 2015. The four executive members, myself included, went to that meeting expecting it to go without a hitch. However, the then Vice-President-[of]-Campus-Life of the union walked in with five total strangers, who apparently wished to attend the meeting but none of them said a word to us.
We had not been informed of this beforehand. The vote was conducted via secret ballot, and while the four of us as executives voted in favour of the changes, the five strangers who were brought in voted against them, causing the amendments to fail and our club status to be denied. It was nothing short of a deliberate act of sabotage on the part of the union to prevent us from getting club status.
That’s absolutely shocking. What did you do then?
The sabotaged meeting and vote was the last straw for us. The union had acted in such bad faith that we couldn’t let them get away with it. We decided to file a lawsuit against the union, but not for the purpose of getting club status– the university had recognized us as a student group and that was enough for us. We initiated the lawsuit so that, firstly, the union would have to explain why they acted in such a manner, and secondly, to set a precedent for the many other pro-life clubs in other campuses who have also suffered similar injustices at the hands of their respective student unions and even university administrations.
The lawsuit was initiated in January 2016 and has just been concluded. Unfortunately, the court ruled in favour of the union, dismissing the union’s actions as being merely out of ‘incompetence’ rather than bad faith or conspiracy. It was most certainly a disappointing decision.
That is indeed a sad end to a spirited fight. Yet, I see that you continue to actively fight for the rights of the unborn on campus. What is it that keeps you going? And what has been the reaction from the union and from your fellow students?
I joined this movement out of a desire to do what is right; I couldn’t just sit by and watch this awfulness go on without doing something. This desire has been deepened by my becoming aware of particular facts like who is likely to have an abortion. For instance, women between the ages 18-24 are most likely to have an abortion, a demographic that most university students find themselves in. This is what drives our club to change hearts and minds about abortion on the university campus.
This has not been done without adversity. The student union has been particularly hostile to the club. Early in 2017, the club was made aware that people were sent on missions by the union to secretly take photographs of us doing activism. I also received reports that the union had gone to some of my professors, making negative remarks about me as a person. In 2016, the student newspaper published negative remarks about the club over the course of two full-page and one half-page editorials. On occasion, we’ve had volatile discussions during activism, where people raised their voices and were unwilling to give into the mere possibility of the pre-born having rights from the moment of conception.
It can be easy to dwell on the negatives, but it is undeniable that the club has enjoyed significant success and positivity alongside the negative aspects. For instance, the same student newspaper graciously interviewed me for their November 14th, 2016 issue, allowing me to explain the club’s purpose on campus with little editing. We constantly witness hearts and minds being changed as we hand out pamphlets describing abortion. We even heard of one faculty member declare that he had changed his mind through our work, while another faculty member thanked and commended a member of our club for being brace to stick out our necks for pointing out the barbarity of abortion.
We have several more such stories from several club members. I am buoyed by the positive effect we’re having on our campus. Far from bringing unpleasantness into the campus hallways and doing nothing about it, we are taking a proactive stance on an unpleasant issue. Even if we haven’t changed a mind, we have planted a seed. We see our pamphlets scattered across campus, either in hallways, or on the ground, or in the classrooms. We stick to our belief that abortion cannot be consigned to closed rooms. It is something that needs to be talked about because it affects the very core of society – the family.
Before we close, could you describe some of the challenges that the pro-life movement faces in Canada today?
Canada has had it rough since 1988, the year the infamous Morgantaler decision declared that any prohibition or restriction on abortion was unconstitutional because it infringed on a woman’s right to the security of her person. In 2017, the Trudeau government decided to insert an attestation that all applicants to the Canada Summer Jobs Program, a program providing summer employment to high school and postsecondary students, have to sign… affirming a woman’s right to abortion. As one can imagine, this caused a great deal of consternation in the pro-life community, including the commencement of legal action.
Canada has also had it rough on the university landscape. UTMSFL is not the only club that was censored. Across Canada, pro-life clubs from the University of Victoria in British Columbia to Western University in Ontario have had issues with their university administrations or student unions, or both. At Ryerson University, in Toronto, the student union suppressed even the slightest interest in starting a pro-life club by denying any such club the freedom to assembly.
However, pro-life activity began to be conducted on the public streets around where Ryerson is located, and the reaction from the student union has been dramatic. They have formed a counter pro-abortion group to block our signs, get rid of pro-life activists via policy changes, and has frequently discriminated against the campus leader of the pro-life group. Ryerson is the extreme case of hostility towards pro-lifers. A lot of our other activism does result in people listening to us.
Is there any advice you might have to give to other pro-life activists who are reading this?
With regard to any advice that I might have, you have heard what the club I head has gone through. You have heard what other clubs have gone through. There is a lot of adversity and it can wear people down– it did wear me down for a while. But what got me up was the positive side of things– the good stories, the conversions of mind and heart, the thank-yous and the thumbs-ups. That is my advice to you. Hold onto and cherish the stories of your activism, for they are worth well more than their weight in gold.
Another piece of advice I would give is to build a strong network of support for when you can’t do pro-life work. I had a few setbacks in my personal life last year and couldn’t actively lead as I would’ve liked. Yet, the club kept going. This was because I had several contacts who took charge and led activism, even if I couldn’t.
Be sure you have that. Because while the going gets tough and the tough get going, the bumpiness of the journey is a whole lot smoother when you have someone else on the same ride as you.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.