“Infringement on our freedom of speech”: Pro-life students appeal university charge to Alberta court
CALGARY, April 18, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Alberta court will decide if University of Calgary school officials violated the rights of seven pro-life students when they found them guilty in 2010 of “non-academic misconduct” for having set up a campus pro-life display with signs facing outward.
Since 2006, members of Campus Pro-Life have erected the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) twice a year at U of C.
Large billboards show graphic images of abortion victims alongside victims from historical genocides. In 2008, U of C demanded that the Campus Pro-Life turn the GAP display inward, thus preventing people passing by from seeing the group’s message.
Ignoring what they saw as blatant censorship of their message, the pro-life students continued to set up their display twice yearly with the billboards facing outward.
Then in 2010, U of C officials found members of the group guilty of “non-academic misconduct”. The verdict was upheld in January 2011 by the university’s Board of Governors, which rendered the decision without scheduling a hearing to listen to the students’ appeal.
Campus Pro-Life submitted their case to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench this week with the goal of having the decision overturned. The decision, which could take months, will be made by Justice Karen Horner.
Rebecca Richmond, executive director of National Campus Life Network, told LifeSiteNews.com that her organization is “very supportive” of the club’s decision to seek justice in court.
“The imposition of the charges against them was not in line with the university’s policies and it set a very bad precedent for free speech on campuses,” she said.
The Queen’s Bench court has found in a previous case involving freedom of expression at the University of Calgary that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does in fact apply to the University since “the University is not a Charter free zone”.
Richmond hopes that the court will uphold the rights of the students and have the guilty charges removed from their records.
The students are being represented by lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
The pro-life students say that the university’s actions against them is stifling their freedom of speech.
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The displays have continued, signs facing outward, since 2010. The most recent display was last week.
"If you want to demonstrate to someone that there's an injustice going on, there seems no better way than to show them the injustice," said Campus Pro-Life president Cameron Wilson in an interview with The Gauntlet last year.
"I absolutely believe that abortion is genocide. We are showing Canadians the reality of abortion, and it's theirs to accept or reject," he said.
U of C lawyer Peter Linder told reporters that the school’s demand for the pro-life group to turn their signs inward is a reasonable limit on the free-speech rights of the students.
“Provisions were made that allowed them to express their views,” he said to the National Post.
But Asia Wilson, a recent graduate and member of the club, said that the group refused to turn the billboards inward because “we see that as an infringement on our freedom of speech”.
Club president Cameron Wilson said, “as a tuition-paying student at the University of Calgary, I feel that I have the right to freedom of expression. And I would like to exercise that right without the university interfering with it.”
“Because you disagree with something is not a good enough reason for a viewpoint to be banned,” he said.