After applying for club status, Trent Lifeline was denied by the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) and Trent University last week. They are asking that the decision be overturned and that the group be officially recognized.

While denying a club official status is not an uncommon move, this instance has been the topic of much controversy given the group’s political opinions.

In a statement released to Arthur the group’s President, Heather Anne Robertson, writes, “Trent Lifeline is a group of students dedicated to defending life, in all its stages, through advocacy, providing information on issues such as abortion and euthanasia, developing pro-life leaders by educating our members, and offering support by directing the public to various pro-life resources such as crisis pregnancy centres.”

Robertson stated earlier in a press release that in the January 31 decision the group was “banned at Trent University” by the TCSA.

However, TCSA President Brea Hutchinson informs Arthur that this is a misrepresentation of the decision made, and that the “TCSA does not have the power to ban people from organizing on campus. We have, jointly with the university, denied them club status, but we welcome their appeal if they feel they have been wronged.”

When asked what role the university plays in the decision making process Hutchinson said, “A Clubs Committee, composed of Vice President Campus Life and the Clubs Coordinator of the TCSA, meet with a representative from the Office of Student Affairs. Both parties must agree or disagree to support a club application.”

Hutchinson added further that “the university has to agree for the club acceptance/rejection because they offer liability insurance and the use of the name Trent University.”

Despite this, both Trent Lifeline and their legal counsel, President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms John Carpay, place the blame for the decision entirely on the TCSA.

In a letter addressed only to the TCSA, Carpay argues the organization “cannot deny club status to a group simply because that group has a viewpoint that differs from what the majority may believe about abortion, or any other issue or topic.”

Carpay indicates that, in an email to Trent Lifeline outlining the decision, Clubs and Groups Coordinator Vanessa Jones wrote, “Since there [are] so many opinions [on the issue of abortion] it can lead to a very exclusive group, while all the clubs at Trent University must be inclusive.”

In that same email Jones outlines the appeal procedures available to the group. To Arthur, Hutchinson reiterates that the decision could still be appealed and encourages Trent Lifeline to do so if they feel it was unfair.

At the time of writing the group has not yet attempted an appeal. Carpay’s letter indicates an interest in bringing the issue directly to court. In an opinion piece written for The National Post Carpay goes so far as to claim that suing student unions is “the only option” in the short term for groups denied funding.

Hutchinson tells Arthur, “I strongly believe their first course of action should be an appeal prior to seeking [a lawsuit].”

The opinion piece also attacks several Trent student groups for being exclusive yet still receiving funding, including the Trent Queer Collective and Trent Muslim Student Association (TMSA).
Vice President of the Trent chapter of World Literacy Canada, Zara Syed, has previously been involved with TMSA and tells Arthur that it is not an exclusionary club.

Syed was offended by Carpay’s piece and says that it “ignores what [TMSA] has done in the past, such as offering free Arabic classes for any student … or Islam Awareness Week, which several non-Muslims took part in. … These things don’t get talked about.”

Syed also points out that Carpay’s article confuses groups funded through the TCSA and groups funded through democratically implemented levies. “[Levy groups] are student voted. Funding for these groups exists because students voted for it.”

Trent Lifeline is also of concern for Syed with regard to their potential programming. She described to Arthur an experience in first year wherein “pro-life” activists distributed pamphlets with photos of dead foetuses on them, and referred to the campaigning as “very abrasive.”

A source who requested to remain anonymous points out a way in which the group’s ideas could be exclusionary. She tells Arthur, “I have a bicornuate uterus and I can still get pregnant, but around four to five months I would miscarry and I would potentially die during this miscarriage. Therefore, having an abortion would save my life. Seeing pro-life propaganda is triggering and is a reminder that I cannot have children.”

Robertson maintains that “the purpose of Trent Lifeline is to engage students in discussion and provide them with information” and that this should be able to happen “without facing censorship.”

Keep checking Arthur’s website for updates on this situation as they are made available during Reading Week.

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