Choosing to come to University allows you to do many things. It allows you to join sports teams or meet new people from different cultures. More crucially, it has also encouraged people to exercise their right to free speech. Last Friday morning, the Kelowna Right to Life Society tested this by holding a demonstration for two hours in the courtyard on campus. It is significant to note, of course, that the use of the location did not mean the University endorsed the message the society was conveying. Yet, their presence on campus highlights a truly important issue. Arguably, something we perhaps take for granted day to day: the ability to voice opinions, no matter how the target audience may receive them. This should in turn be matched by a tolerance by those who receive these opinions.
These exercises can go wrong. That’s hard to deny. Yet steps were taken to ensure that students were warned, and that the demonstration was conducted in a respectful manner.
Firstly, an email was sent out to all students ensuring they were aware an event was taking place. This email also stated resources that they could access if the demonstration caused any offense or if it troubled them.
Secondly, during the demonstration, placards were placed around the site to allow those who wished not to be near the event to keep their distance. This helped build the path to a successful demonstration of free speech.
However, there is another essential element, and that is respect.
Intrigued, I stopped by the protests on Friday. With my background of being on exchange from a University in the United Kingdom, demonstrations of such a sensitive nature on campus was a foreign concept to me.
If this was back home, an event like this would have caused huge reactions and upset across campus that would’ve demanded a response, or even an apology. This was due to the discussion of implementing “safe spaces” around campuses in the U.K; these are places where people can go to feel safe. An enticing principle in theory, yet in practice this means that in these spaces you cannot express opinions or ideas that may offend someone.
Essentially, encroaching on our sacred ideal of free speech. However, the demonstrations by the Kelowna Right to Life Society were conducted with respect and a reasonable amount of discretion. There was no intimidation nor shouting around the courtyard, and those participating only seemed to engage if students approached them first. In fact, the demonstration sparked some to stand opposite their site promoting a women’s right of choice.
Thus, the demonstration did something that is often considered an incredibly hard task: invoking student involvement in contemporary political issues.
With all this discussion about what we should and shouldn’t say, I cannot help but be reminded of a saying: “I disagree with you with all my mind but shall fight with all my heart for you to have the right to say it”.
It is important not to silence opinions just because we don't agree with them. History has proven that when we do, we get into some dangerous waters. This is a value that campus was able to uphold with the presence of these demonstrations.