Editorial: Universities should not censor educational films

Recently, Ottawa’s Saint Paul University came under fire for cancelling a screening of Vessel, a pro-abortion documentary film, set to be shown at a film festival aimed at sparking discussion about birth. This incident comes in the midst of a freshly roused debate about free speech in universities from the Lindsay Shepherd case at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

Saint Paul is a Roman Catholic university, and the Roman Catholic Church is widely known for its pro-life stance on abortion. But, while the university may have been called to cancel the screening to follow the stance of the Church, cancelling a film with an opposing viewpoint undermines its status as a university.

Religious or otherwise, universities are meant to be a place for the free discussion of ideas, not censorship of those opposing the university administration’s own. Screening a film with ideas contradictory to the school’s own mandate, does not mean the university endorses the ideas of film. In fact, the university could have allowed the film screening to happen, while expressing its opposition to the film’s ideas.

Even if the film conveys a message opposite to one’s own opinions, it still accomplishes its purpose: to educate viewers about a different perspective. Viewers on their own, have full autonomy to reject or embrace the ideas of the film.

Not censoring the film would have sent the message that the university is willing to engage and connect with those opposed to the pro-life stance. Instead, by cancelling the screening, Saint Paul University consequently sent the opposite message: those with pro-choice ideas are not welcome.