Grandmother censored for concerns about raising gay pride flag at school

Gillies v. Bluewater District School Board

Grandmother censored for concerns about raising gay pride flag at school

Gillies v. Bluewater District School Board

On September 3, 2019, the Justice Centre filed an application for Judicial Review in the Divisional Court in Ontario on behalf of Dr. Ann Gillies against the Bluewater District School Board for its breach of her constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

The School Board holds public meetings, as it is required to under the Education Act and in accordance with its own By-Laws. Those By-laws specifically state that members of the community will be provided with an avenue to speak at meetings of the Board, to foster effective communication between the Board and the community. To register to speak at a meeting, members of the community are simply required to give notification to the Board of their intention to speak, and a summary of their presentation, one week prior to the meeting.

Dr. Gillies is a professional counsellor who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Professional Counselling and maintains a private practice with extensive experience in trauma therapy, crisis intervention, disaster relief work, pastoral counselling, and anger management. She and her husband have several grandchildren, one of whom is a student in the Bluewater School District.

On April 16, 2019, Dr. Gillies wrote to the Board and gave notice of her intent to speak at the upcoming Board meeting on May 21, 2019. Dr. Gillies told the Board that she wanted to speak to Ontario’s mandate to raise a gay pride flag at all schools during the month of June. “I believe that this is a special right not afforded to other interest groups and therefore discriminatory,” stated Dr. Gillies in her notice to the Board.

On May 8, 2019, the Board denied her request to speak, allegedly in accordance with their Human Rights policy.

As a government body, the School Board is required to act in accordance with the Charter, and its decisions are subject to judicial review. The Board created a space for public expression at its board meetings, and that expressive activity is protected by section 2(b) of the Charter. It has a duty not to infringe that freedom of expression, unless it can show that such a restriction is reasonable and justifiable.

The Board also has a responsibility to give proper reasons for its decision, that are comprehensive enough to allow Dr. Gillies to understand why the Board rejected her request to present at a public meeting. The Board does not have the right under its own By-laws to reject a delegation, except on very narrow terms which do not apply here. Its decision to do so was based on irrelevant and unlawful considerations.

The Justice Centre is seeking an order to have this decision set aside, and to require the Board to allow Dr. Gillies to present at a public Board meeting. We are also seeking a declaration that the Board’s decision was made without justification and is an unreasonable violation of Dr. Gillies’ freedom of expression protected under section 2(b) of the Charter.

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