On the morning of October 20, students, staff and faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University were surprised to see blue and pink flags in the Quad. The Laurier LifeLink, a non-sectarian pro-life club at the university, arranged the display.
Stephanie Breukelman, president of Laurier LifeLink, said the club came to campus earlier in the morning to put up the flags. She explained that each flag represents ten abortions that are done in Canada each day, for a total of approximately 100,000 abortions done every year.
“[The display is] mostly just to raise awareness and educate people because abortion’s such a hush-hush issue,” said Breukelman. “People haven’t thought about abortion and they don’t know what all goes on in these situations and this is just to raise awareness about [what is] being done in Canada; almost 300 little babies are dying each day in Canada.”
According to Breukelman, some of the reactions of those who have seen the display on campus have been positive. Other reactions, however, have been more negative.
“These people have been walking through and pulling out flags and it is a bit scary, but we’re here to educate people and stand up for those babies who are being killed everyday and cannot talk for themselves.”
While this is a controversial issue, Breukelman explained that the university gave them permission to display the flags on campus.
“We did get permission to do this and it’s just … little flags. People have come up to me and said that this is really triggering for people who have experienced traumatic situations and you have no idea what they’ve been through and this is inappropriate,” she continued.
“We’re not here as pro-lifers to say that people who are raped are fine and it’s a fine situation, it’s absolutely not and it’s a terrible situation that can hurt people, but when is killing a human life the solution to that?”
The LifeLink’s display on campus also brought out students who protested against the presentation. Daniel Quintia, a third-year music student, said he was appalled when he heard about the display.
“I came down here and started pulling [the flags] out and spat on their banner,” said Quintia. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for women, or even more so women who have had a personal experience with abortion, so I’m just frankly kind of pissed.”
Special Constable Services were also called to talk to those who were protesting the display.
“The officers are here [telling me] you have to respect their rights and I’m like, but I don’t, I don’t have to respect their opinion. I don’t because frankly, this is harmful,” said Quintia.
“It’s getting political and this is infringing on my views and rights too [for] so many of my female friends and it’s just so upsetting, so I’m coming down, not as a saviour or anything, but as an ally and as a human who’s simply acknowledging women’s rights.”
Dylan Miller, a fourth-year music student, was also angry at what she saw in the Quad.
“It’s shaming. It’s just invasive and it’s a shame tactic and I don’t think that it’s appropriate,” she said. “It’s aggressive and I think that there’s a larger issue to be discussed rather than just saying that abortions are wrong and we need to preserve life.”
Although there were no graphic images on display, there were signs before entering the Quad, one of them stated that a pro-life demonstration was happening ahead.
“I think this is pretty clear, with the pink and blue flags, like what it is and what they’re representing. I think it’s pretty pathetic,” said Miller. “How is this allowed? Isn’t this 2016?”
Later in the afternoon, Laurier’s Centre for Women and Trans People responded to the demonstration on Facebook. Their post read, “An anti-choice demonstration has been happening in the Quad today, though it has been met by protests from various individuals on campus. If anyone needs a place to hang out with social justice values, the DEO is open. Our Centre usually closes at 4, but a coordinator will be keeping the space open until 5:20 or so. The Rainbow Centre will be remaining open until 6. We are unfortunately in Mac House, just across from the Quad, so you may have to walk past the protest to get in. Please stay safe, practice self and community care and feel free to spread the word.”
On October 21, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association, along with the university, released their response to Thursday’s demonstration. Their post read, “An event held by a student club in the Quad on Laurier’s Waterloo campus Thursday afternoon has raised a number of important issues. These include the question of how we, as a university community, accommodate civil discourse of divergent opinions while meeting our obligation to provide individuals with a safe campus environment. The University, the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, the Graduate Students Association, and the Diversity and Equity Office, take these issues very seriously. Together, we are currently examining all aspects of Thursday’s event with the intention of better understanding the issues involved and what future actions might be needed to ensure an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and the provision of a safe campus environment.”
The Students’ Union also mentioned that support can be accessed through Laurier’s Wellness Centres and the Diversity and Equity Office.
“We also want to remind students that your opinions matter and can be voiced at anytime, on anything that affects your Laurier experience,” read the post.