City of Prince Albert back in court over censorship of pro-life flag

Jan 22nd, 2020

SASKATOON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca) will be before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal today in the case of Prince Albert Right to Life Association v. City of Prince Albert. This case concerns the City’s refusal to allow a pro-life flag to fly on its courtesy flagpole in 2017, while allowing numerous other political, religious, social and cultural groups to fly their flags on the courtesy flagpole.

The hearing will take place in Courtroom 4 at 520 Spadina Crescent East, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, beginning at 10 AM, on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.

For years, the City of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan maintained a courtesy flagpole in Memorial Square at City Hall and permitted groups or organizations to fly the flag “to help increase public awareness of their programs and activities.”

A wide variety of groups were permitted to fly their commemorative flags on the pole, from seniors’ organizations to LGBTQ Pride.

The Prince Albert Right to Life Association (PARLA) is a non-profit organization, comprised of Prince Albert and area residents, which seeks to promote the sanctity of life at all stages of development. PARLA’s work includes hosting events such as “Celebrate Life Week” and “Life Chain”, as well as providing aid to women and families with unplanned pregnancies.

As explained in the filed affidavit of Valerie Hettrick, PARLA had been permitted to raise a flag on the City’s courtesy flag pole for “Celebrate Life Week” for the past 20 years. Since 2007, PARLA used the same pink and white flag with a logo of “Umbert the Unborn”, a cartoon fetus. The phrases “Celebrate Life Week” and “Please Let Me Live” also appear on the flag.

Despite allowing numerous other groups to fly their flag on the pole in 2017, the City refused to allow PARLA to fly its flag. The City failed to give PARLA any reasons for its refusal, but rather gave a statement to the media that PARLA’s flag, used since 2007, would never again fly at City Hall.

On behalf of PARLA, the Justice Centre filed a court application against the City of Prince Albert for its refusal to fly PARLA’s flag. The court application sought a declaration that the decision to refuse to raise PARLA’s flag violated the group’s freedom of expression, protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prior to the court hearing, the City changed its policy to end the practice of allowing access to a Courtesy flagpole.

The Court of Queen’s Bench heard the application on September 25, 2018 in Prince Albert. In its decision, the Court rebuked the City for its “mishandling of the application tendered by PARLA,” noting: “It is evident that the City did not follow its own Policy or proceed in a procedurally fair manner.” The Court ordered $6,000 in costs against the City of Prince Albert. The Court however dismissed PARLA’s application, concluding that since the City no longer gave community groups access to the flagpole, the case was moot.

The Justice Centre filed a narrow appeal to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal on the basis that the lower court should have issued a declaration that the City violated PARLA’s Charter freedom of expression. The City has cross-appealed against the costs order against it.

“The demonstrable infringement of constitutional rights by government requires redress as vindication for a free citizenry, and as guidance and remonstrance to future government incursion,” stated Jay Cameron, Litigation Manager with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

For more information, visit Active Cases: PARLA v. Prince Albert