A pro-life exhibit on the University of Manitoba grounds that uses graphic photos to equate abortion with lynching, the Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda has drawn protests from some students who want the display shut down.
"They're completely graphic and disgusting," Ashley James, a 23-year-old interior design student, said of the photos, which are part of a exhibit by the Genocide Awareness Project. "It's infringing on my ability to focus and learn, which is what I'm here for."
As of Monday afternoon, the administration -- which approved the exhibit sponsored by a campus group called the U of M Students for a Culture of Life -- confirmed it had received "more than two" complaints about the pro-life display.
'They're completely graphic and disgusting'
James wants the display, scheduled to run until Wednesday, shut down immediately, despite the administration's approval. "We're looking for some loopholes because it's completely inappropriate," she said.
The Genocide Awareness Project, which regularly tours such exhibits on Canadian and American campuses, has been in operation since the late 1990s.
University of Manitoba Students Union president Al Turnbull said he favours freedom of speech, but questioned both the graphic and literal nature of comparing abortion to genocide and lynching. "When does it become hate speech?" Turnbull asked.
Josh Morry, a U of M law student, said the exhibit is pushing the boundaries of the debate.
"I believe the manner they're going about it... is offensive," Morry said. "It's dangerous to be throwing such powerful words around on campus. Comparing people who support abortion to Holocaust supporters... is quite extreme."
Morry cited UMSU policy that says any exhibit likely to undermine dignity and self-respect of students is not allowed on campus.
"University is a place you should be learning, not calling each other Nazis," Morry said.
Turnbull said UMSU had received 20 complaints about the exhibit as of Monday afternoon. U of M spokesman John Danakas said the university's human resources department had received "a few" complaints and "we'll be taking those very seriously."
Danakas said the administration, in granting the exhibit request "from a legitimate student group," had to balance the right of free speech with the potential of harassment of students on either side of the abortion debate. "This is one of those instances where that's a challenging balance to keep," he said, adding, "We're monitoring the situation very carefully."
Cara Ginter, vice-president of the Students for a Culture of Life, said there were few confrontations on Monday, as a smattering of students protested just outside the fence. Ginter said one male student began screaming at her, yelling about health concerns for women seeking abortions.
"We don't mind if people counter-protest us as long as they treat us respectfully," said Ginter, a history major. "That's perfectly fine. We understand it's an emotional issue. We just want to be treated the way we treat others."
Ginter acknowledged the graphic photos of the Holocaust and genocide are "absolutely terrible. What we're saying is unborn children are human beings. We're just looking at other times in history where personhood was denied (by ruling powers). We're not saying it's exactly the same. Every injustice is different. But if you're human, you should have human rights.
"If we don't say anything, what does it make us?" Ginter added. "We can't be bystanders to the slaughter. We'll be here rain and shine. We'll keep doing what we're doing."