The University of Waterloo is investigating after an anti-abortion Conservative MP was blocked from delivering a lecture Wednesday night by protesters led by a man dressed as a giant vagina.
Ethan Jackson, 21, an art student at nearby Wilfrid Laurier University, said he calls his pink costume Vulveta, and that Stephen Woodworth’s talk about the universality of human rights came from an oppressive western discourse that ignores the rights of indigenous people.
“That kind of speech, that kind of facts, are not acceptable,” he said. “We decided to go by the route of using satire instead of intimidation…. We decided to make Stephen Woodworth feel as uncomfortable as he makes us feel.”
Ellen Rethore, associate vice-president of communications and public affairs, said the disruptive behaviour was “unacceptable,” and that a joint inquiry of the school’s secretariat, police, and student success office was underway.
“Our goal is to ensure an environment of tolerance and uphold the right of individuals to advance their views penly,” she said.
Mr. Woodworth — who gave a third of his talk before woman in a red dress commandeered the podium to award him a trophy as “Kitchener-Waterloo’s Nastiest Misogynist” — said it is “a mark of extremism to take disrespect of others as a virtue.”
“I couldn’t outshout the shouters. I’m not there to engage in a shouting match,” he said.
After the talk was cancelled and the protesters left, Mr. Woodworth said he was able to stay and have a discussion with a few people.
He was speaking about the section of Canada’s Criminal Code that, in the context of defining homicide, says a child “becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
His legislative effort to have Parliament study the definition of “human being” failed in a House of Commons vote last year, despite support from eight cabinet ministers, including Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. It cannot be revived in this Parliament.
“What we’re really getting at is at what point do we say that an individual has equal worth and dignity,” he said in an interview. “You can’t do that arbitrarily, you can’t do that without regard to the nature of the individual… Would you be justified in taking someone’s life simply by pretending they weren’t a human being?”
He said the willingness of people to grant the state the power to declare who is not a human being betrays a lack of confidence in their own justification for abortion.
One person in attendance said the protesters became unruly when he mentioned other instances in which laws declared people to be non-human, such as in 1930s Germany or the age of slavery in America.
Mr. Woodworth called this “oppression,” to which someone shouted “oppressor.”
In a video of what came next, the costumed Mr. Jackson can be seen confronting Mr. Woodworth, and shouting: “We’re not going back to this!”
Mr. Woodworth muttered an inaudible comment, to which Mr. Jackson shouted: “I’m disgusting? Who do you think you are trying to impose your bigotry, your views on society through your Christian monotheistic faith.”
The woman in red was even more forceful, backed by people holding placards saying “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” and “If you cut off my repro-choice, I will cut off yours,” with a drawing of scissors.
“In the name of every c—, we stand here today refusing to let you further devalue the anatomical jewel, and moreover refusing to let you keep talking about removing it,” the woman in red said. “We are the defenders of the c—. You are threatening the freedom of all c—s while disseminating anti-c— misinformation in institutions that require academic integrity.”
Ms. Rethore, for the university, could not say what sanctions a student might face for disrupting the lecture, other than to say that “silencing of anyone who proffers an opinion is totally unacceptable.”
She said the school would welcome Mr. Woodworth back, and prevent a repeat.
The disruption of controversial speakers by student protesters is a common problem at Canadian universities. Lectures often begin with recitations of student codes of conduct, and host groups are encouraged to document everything with video.
Last week at the University of Toronto, for example, someone pulled a fire alarm to try to stop a lecture by a men’s rights activist. A few months previously, another speaker invited by the same student group drew such a large protest that police intervened to protect a classroom.
As a hub of activism with several colleges and universities, Waterloo is familiar with the problem, and was embarrassed in 2010 when a talk by Postmedia columnist and author Christie Blatchford was cancelled because protesters used bike locks to affix their necks to the stage, making their forced removal unsafe. She was later able to deliver the talk, about aboriginal protests in Caledonia.
Ms. Rethore said police were at the event Wednesday to guard the safety of everyone, not enforce rules of academic debate.