Monday morning saw students at the Abbotsford campus greeted by an uncomfortable, complicated issue as Life Link, a UFV student club with the mandate of providing information on “alternatives to abortion,” sectioned off a large part of the green where they placed 10,000 small flags, signs, and a tent. According to Life Link president Raymond Kobes, the pink and blue flags were meant to represent the estimated 100,000 abortions that occur in Canada annually. Kobes said the decision to represent these numbers with flags was so Life Link “can just show simply the information, the number of abortions happening in Canada every year.”
However, prior to the arrival of Life Link members and before the flags were placed, the same area of the green was the site of an object protest against Life Link’s highly visual event. Instead of flags, protesters, who did not remain at the site and did not identify themselves scattered the green and the walkway from Tim Hortons to the SUB with coat hangers, many of them affixed with slogans including “Her body, her choice” and “This is the alternative.” Following a history of contested, confrontational abortion-related events at UFV and other B.C. campuses, the decision to use coat hangers — and the visceral imagery connected to them — was an aggressive expression of the protesters’ disapproval of Life Link’s event.
According to Kobes, upon seeing the hangers, he handed them over to security: “A security person came by and we gave them all the coathangers.” Once the hangers had been removed, Life Link members began planting their flags ahead of the 8:30 a.m. start time of most classes.
Students passing by on their way to and from classes could not miss the display of 10,000 flags, Life Link members, under their tent, were standing close by the walkway, ready to give students their information about abortion practices in Canada. Several students did stop and engage in conversation, but the majority seemed uncomfortable and moved past the space hurriedly. One such student, who requested that she remain anonymous, said, “All of this makes me feel tense. I mean, people can talk about this, absolutely they should. But it was stressful to walk past it.” Life Link member Joy Penner said, “Our purpose today was to set up a display and raise awareness of the issue … not really open conversation, but make people aware of the gravity of the situation.”
Several concerned students set up camp on the other side of the pathway from Life Link in protest. The consensus among these students, some of them holding signs, was that the event was held in an unavoidable location, and that while the discussion should certainly be had, it should be had in an area of campus where students have the option to see it or not.
One of these students, Kyle Stamm, president of the Feminist Initiative club, said: “The goal of [the display] is, to some extent, to create a sense of shame and guilt — whether or not that’s intended, that certainly seems to be the outcome.”