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National Campus Life Network > Blog > University of Calgary

Free Speech Victory

Last fall, we wrote about ‘the Pridgen Precedent’, or the ruling made by Madam Justice J. Strekaf in Pridgen v. University of Calgary.  John Carpay’s recent article gives a good refresher on the case.  This ruling was not about pro-life students or even abortion at all, but the ruling would, we wrote, set a positive precedent for our pro-life students.  Why?  Because the ruling stated that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms DOES, in fact, apply to universities.  And this means that the freedom of speech of students is protected on campus.

The University of Calgary appealed the decision but, last week, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.

John Carpay, who is also the lawyer for the University of Calgary’s Campus Pro-Life group, wrote a column in the National Post regarding the decision.  He wrote:

If universities were private, they would not be engaging in “government action” so as to invite the Charter’s application. But when the University of Calgary obtains over $600 million from taxpayers each year by claiming to be a forum for free expression for all people and for all views, it forfeits its right to censor speech it dislikes. Holding the U of C to account, as this court ruling does, is good news for students and for taxpayers.

In particular, this precedent will help the students in Ontario and Alberta who have taken Carleton University and the University of Calgary to court in regard to the censorship of pro-life viewpoints. But that is a subject for another column.

This is certainly a victory for not just the Pridgens, but also for students nationwide.

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Press Release: Calgary students take university to court over free speech

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Students take university to court over free speech

CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) today announced that members of Campus Pro-Life at the University of Calgary have gone to court to assert their campus free speech rights.

JCCF President John Carpay has defended the University of Calgary students’ free speech rights since 2007, and also defends the campus free speech rights of students at other universities.

The students and their lawyer will be available for media comment at the Courthouse in downtown Calgary at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday April 13, 2011.

Seven students are Applicants in an Originating Notice filed at the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench today.  Their application for judicial review asks the court to quash a University of Calgary decision that the students are guilty of “non-academic misconduct.”

In May of 2010, eight students were found guilty of “non-academic misconduct” for having set up a pro-life display on campus while refusing to comply with the university’s demand that their signs be set up in a circle facing inwards, such that people walking by could not see the signs.  This finding of guilt was upheld in January of 2011 by the university’s Board of Governors, which rendered its decision without scheduling a hearing to listen to the students’ appeal.

“The right to free expression simply cannot exist if citizens enjoy a legal right not to be disturbed or offended by speech – including images – that they do not wish to see.  The University of Calgary’s patronizing and paternalistic approach – trying to decide on behalf of students what they can and cannot see – has no place in a free society, especially not at a public university that is funded by Alberta taxpayers,” stated John Carpay.

The group’s display has been held on the University of Calgary grounds without incident eleven times since 2006, for two consecutive days each of those eleven times.  In 2009, the University charged six students with trespassing, but the Crown Prosecutors’ Office stayed these charges prior to trial, as the University of Calgary was not able to explain what rule, policy, regulation or by-law the students had violated.

The U of C has no objection to other graphic photos on campus.  For example, posters on campus from a pro-seatbelt group show a mutilated face that has gone through a windshield; the caption states “Without a seatbelt, things can get real ugly.”  Gory, disturbing photos of Falun Gong members tortured by the Chinese government are also tolerated on campus.

U of C President Dr. Elizabeth Cannon has continued her predecessor’s policy of suppressing free speech on campus.  The U of C claims that nobody should be “forced” to look at disturbing visual images, but this standard is not applied to photos of windshield-scarred faces, or torture victims.

The U of C boasts an annual budget of $1.09 billion, of which 60% comes from taxpayers.

For further information, contact: John Carpay, President, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, (403) 619-8014.

 

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting constitutional freedoms through education and litigation.  The JCCF relies on voluntary donations from Canadians to provide citizens with pro bono legal representation in defence of free speech, and other constitutional freedoms.

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Universities fail to uphold freedom of expression

Below in an article by John Carpay, taken from Pages 5 and 7 of The Lawyers Weekly article, 29 October 2010.


The arrest of five pro-life students at Carleton on October 4, 2010 is a repudiation of the university’s mission is to pursue truth, which necessarily requires vigorous debate and uncensored speech.  Yet students Ruth Lobo, James Shaw, Nicholas McLeod, Zuza Kurzawa and Craig Stewart were handcuffed and driven off in paddy-wagons while attempting to set up their pro-life display on a prominent place on Carleton’s campus, in an area where numerous other student groups have been allowed to express their views freely.

Carleton asserts that “the students were in no way denied the opportunity to express their views or to mount their exhibit.”  But Carleton expressly refused to allow the pro-lifers to use the same well-travelled location on campus (Tory Quad) which other Carleton students are allowed to use to express their views.  This past August, Carleton official David Sterritt told pro-life students that they could not set up their display outdoors because “the Genocide Awareness Project uses promotional materials which are disturbing and offensive to some.”  Carleton offered the pro-lifers an inconspicuous indoor space (Porter Hall) which has no walk-through traffic.

Would Carleton deny a prominent place on campus to gay or Muslim students, just because some people might find their speech offensive?  If other groups wanted to use disturbing photos to expose the injustice of spousal assault, genocide in Darfur, cruelty to animals, or impaired driving, would Carleton limit those groups to an out-of-the-way place?

The Carleton pro-life students could have accepted the university’s discriminatory offer to allow them to set up their display where few would see it.  But like Rosa Parks rejecting a second-class bus ride, these students defied the university’s attempt to appoint itself the arbiter of which views are acceptable enough to be proclaimed openly, and which views can only be expressed in a back room.  As one of the arrested students, Nicholas McLeod, explained it: “The point of a protest is for people to see it.  Limiting an exhibit to an inside room is like telling Martin Luther King that he couldn’t march through white neighbourhoods.”

Like Carleton, the University of Calgary has also attempted to censor pro-life speech on campus while proclaiming that “everyone must obey the rules.”  In 2006 and 2007, the Genocide Awareness Project was displayed on campus for eight days.  The U of C posted its own signs nearby, proclaiming the exhibit was protected by the Charter.  The exhibit generated discussion and debate on campus, without problems or incidents. But in 2008, the U of C started demanding that the students’ signs be turned inwards, such that no person walking by can see the signs.

The “law and order” claims of Carleton and the U of C are fundamentally dishonest because the rules are not being applied equally to all groups.  Arbitrarily denying one group an outdoor place, or ordering a group to hide its signs from view, are forms of censorship and viewpoint discrimination.  Claiming that pro-life groups at Carleton and the U of C enjoy free speech is like claiming that Blacks in the segregated South could attend school, and ride on the bus.  The claim is disingenuous because it’s true only on a very superficial level, while masking the injustice of blatant discrimination.

(Page 7 continuation of The Lawyers Weekly article)

At its core, the right to free expression is a right to offend other people.  Anyone in any country, no matter how oppressive its regime, can say anything they wish so long as it doesn’t offend anyone.  This was true of the old Soviet Union and is true today of China and Iran.  Indeed, these countries will insist that their citizens are completely free to express themselves, provided they don’t say offensive things.  But a truly free society – which Canada purports to be –  is one where people sometimes have to hear and see the things they hate.  For the U of C and Carleton to restrict free speech arbitrarily because some unnamed person or persons might be “offended” or “disturbed” is to place subjective feelings ahead of Charter-guaranteed constitutional rights.

Further, the right of free speech belongs not only to the speaker, but to potential listeners as well.  While claiming to protect “the rights of others” by suppressing unpopular and controversial speech, the U of C and Carleton are trampling on the rights of university students to be exposed to diverse voices.

Recently the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Pridgen v. University of Calgary (October 13, 2010) rebuked the university for its bullying and censorship tactics.  In 2007, Keith and Steven Pridgen (and other students) used a Facebook page to criticize one of their professors as incompetent.  The U of C found the students guilty of non-academic misconduct, and threatened them with the possibility of expulsion unless they apologized.

When the Pridgen brothers challenged these disciplinary proceedings as violating their Charter rights, the U of C tried to rely on McKinney v. University of Guelph, [1990] 3 SCR 229, which held that the Charter does not apply to a university’s dealings with its own employees, by way of a mandatory retirement policy.  However, the Court in McKinney also held that the Charter could apply to university action that is sufficiently governmental in nature.  Applying Eldridge v. British Columbia, [1997] S.C.R. 624, Justice Jo’Anne Strekaf held that the Charter applies in respect of disciplinary proceedings taken by a university against its own students, pursuant to Alberta’s Post-Secondary Learning Act.  Justice Strekaf held that the U of C is “an agent of the provincial government in providing accessible post-secondary education services to students in Alberta” and is “not a Charter-free zone.”  The Court held that “while the university is free to construct policies dealing with student behaviour which may ultimately impact access to the post-secondary system, the manner in which those policies are interpreted and applied must not offend the rights provided under the Charter.”

The Pridgen decision bodes well for pro-life students at Carleton and the U of C, who have courageously resisted the university’s arbitrary censorship.

John Carpay is a Calgary lawyer.  Among his clients are University of Calgary pro-life students who are resisting the university’s censorship demands.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 29, 2010, issue of The Lawyers Weekly published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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Charter defends free speech rights, says lawyer

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director


Today in the Calgary Herald, a column appears concerning Pridgen v. University of the Calgary and its implications.  Written by John Carpay, lawyer for the Campus Pro-Life group at the University of Calgary, the column clearly articulates what this ruling means for pro-life university students.

“This decision bodes well for pro-life students at the U of C and at Carleton University, who have courageously resisted the university’s censorship of their politically incorrect speech.

This court ruling makes it clear that when a university tries to use its legitimate disciplinary proceedings for an illegitimate purpose such as censorship, the Charter protects the students’ right to free speech.”

To read the column, click here.

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University of Toronto Students for Life: Working Together To Build A Culture of Life: The NCLN Campus Blogs Aggregator

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Blaise Alleyne. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

In August, I helped the National Campus Life Network launch the campus blogs section of their new website. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and many pro-life students already know about it. These past couple weeks, with the arrests at Carleton, it’s been great to see it serve as a way for pro-life students to band together across campuses.

A feed aggregator is a software application that pulls in syndicated content from a variety of sources and displays it in a single convenient location. You can install a feed reader on your own computer to read content from all sorts of different blogs and websites in one place (an “inbox for the web”), but in this case, we used a web-based feed aggregator to display content from all of the Canadian campus blogs on the NCLN website.

We started off with six blogs—Brock, Alberta, Queen’s, Ottawa, Victoria and Toronto (that’s us!)—but we’ve already see two more campus pro-life blogs appear in the last few weeks—Calgary and Carlton.

The campus blogs aggregator has been a great hub of information with recent events at Carleton, with a preview of GAP from Calgary Pro-Life, our posts appearing alongside uOttawa Students for Life’s show of support, more support from Queen’s Alive, Brock University’s perspective on freedom of expression, and of course posts from Carleton Lifeline itself. I decided to caption some of the photos (which I believe were taken by Ania Biernacka of the University of Alberta on behalf of the CCBR), and Brock Students for Life showed that the students were in good company, by comparing photos of those arrests to the arrests of civil rights activists for “protesting without a permit” in 1963.

And beyond Carleton, there are just some great posts coming from campus blogs, whether it’s UVic’s recap of clubs day conversations, uOttawa spreading the word about 40 Days for Life or finding encouragement from a fortune cookie, Calgary Pro-Life sharing news of their ongoing battles with the university administration, or our own Danny Ricci spreading news from a UTSFL club member about an information series for expectant mothers provided by the U of T Family Care office, or our own Gianna Marks highlighting a remarkable article from the NY Times who refused prenatal testing to screen for Down Syndrome.

I am so impressed by pro-life students from campuses across the country, and we’re only getting started. I’m working with NCLN a bit to help get other clubs online and blogging (more on that later), and I hope that the campus blogs aggregator helps to strengthen the community ties between groups across the country, and challenge us all to keep sharing information, supporting each other and ultimately working to build a culture of life together in our own communities.

Together, in our own communities—that’s what’s so cool about this project to me.


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

Students Risk More Penalties from University of Calgary for Defying Censorship

September 27th, 2010: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CALGARY – Despite warnings from the University of Calgary administration, members of the Campus Pro-Life (CPL) student group found guilty of “Non-Academic Misconduct” for having set up a pro-life display on campus this past April are once again displaying the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) on the U of C campus. The controversial display compares abortion to past historical atrocities, such as the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The display is scheduled to be set up between the MacEwan Student Centre and Science B buildings today (September 27th) and tomorrow (September 28th).

“The images are difficult to look at admittedly, we don’t like looking at them either, but the images are only upsetting because abortion is upsetting,” stated CPL President Alanna Campbell.

After the display was previously exhibited last April, members of the group were charged and found guilty of a ‘Major Violation’ under Section 4.10 of the University of Calgary’s Non-Academic Misconduct Policy for “failure to comply with a Campus Security officer or University official in legitimate pursuit of his/her duties” by refusing to turn their display inward. Other major violations in this category include sexual assault, the use of explosives and firearms, and selling illegal drugs.

The guilty verdict was “a formal written warning” that if the students “fail to comply with directives of Campus Security staff in the future” it will “result in more severe sanctions,” wrote Acting Associate Vice-Provost Meghan Houghton, who was the sole decision-maker in the guilty verdict. More severe sanctions can include the possibility of expulsion. The University’s Appeal Board refused to hear the students’ appeal, and members of the student group will appeal the guilty verdict to the Board of Governors.

“This will be the tenth display of GAP on campus. We have always found that this display has a large capacity for healing, educating, and raising awareness,” said CPL Vice-President Cameron Wilson. “That makes this display, without a shadow of doubt worth the cost that the university seeks to exact from us individually.”

The group has displayed its Genocide Awareness Project on the University of Calgary grounds, without incident, nine times since 2006. In 2006 and 2007, during the first four Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) campus displays, the University defended the students’ right to expression under the Charter, but in 2008 the University reversed its policy without explanation. In 2009, the University charged six students with trespassing in relation to the display, but the Crown Prosecutor stayed these charges prior to a trial scheduled for November of 2009. Since then, members of Campus Pro-Life have been threatened with Non-Academic Misconduct upon each display, and the University has found eight students guilty of Non-Academic Misconduct.

“We believe in the effectiveness of the display and we believe in our right to display it. For these reasons, we will not give in to intimidation and will challenge all attempts at censorship. We are proceeding now just as we have in the past,” stated Peter Csillag, CPL Vice-President.

For further information, contact Club President Alanna Campbell at (403) 690-5217, Vice-President (External) Cameron Wilson at (403) 668-9624, Vice-President (Internal) Peter Csillag at (403) 465-1777, or lawyer John Carpay at (403) 619-8014.


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