On January 11, 2016, UAlberta Pro-Life applied for University authorization to set up a stationary educational display on campus on February 23 and 24, 2016. On February 12, only eleven days prior to the scheduled event, the University of Alberta notified the students that they would need to pay $17,500 in “security fees” to proceed with their peaceful educational display.
In its communication, the University demanded that pro-life students pay for the wages of security guards and police, and costs of barricading the venue, and pay for the potential misconduct of people who would violate the University’s Code of Student Behaviour by obstructing and disrupting the display. Unable to pay $17,500, UAlberta Pro-Life was forced to cancel its planned event in February 2016.
In March of 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life held a similar event, which (then) President Indira Samarasekera supported through a public statement that the University must facilitate and protect the peaceful expression of all views, regardless of popularity. In defiance of the President’s clear statement about free expression and the rule of law, a student-led mob blockaded and obstructed the club’s display, in violation of the Code of Student Behaviour. Although the University had advance notice that a mob was being organized to obstruct the display, and although Dr. Samarasekera had warned that any misbehaviour would be investigated and prosecuted, the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) did nothing to stop the blockade of the club’s display. UAPS did not photograph or seek to identify any blockading student, even though the Code clearly prohibits students from disrupting or obstructing University-related functions.
On March 11, 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life filed a formal complaint with UAPS against the disruptive students pursuant to the Code of Student Behaviour. It took UAPS over eight months to release a decision in regard to the complaint. In its November 30, 2015 decision, UAPS confirmed that the University would neither charge nor prosecute the students who disrupted, blocked and obstructed the March 2015 display on campus.
On December 18, 2015, the Justice Centre wrote to the University of Alberta Office of Student Conduct and Accountability to appeal the UAPS Decision. On February 4, 2016, the Office of Student Conduct and Accountability dismissed the appeal.
In its court application, UAlberta Pro-Life seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to impose a $17,500 security fee on the club is illegal and unjustifiably infringes the fundamental Canadian value of freedom of expression, also protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court application further seeks to prohibit the University from imposing a financial burden on the students as a condition for the exercise of their freedom of speech.
This court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to condone the conduct of students who disrupted and blockaded the University-authorized campus event of UAlberta Pro-Life in March of 2015, is unreasonable and therefore illegal.
This case was heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench on June 8 and 9, 2017. On October 11, 2017, the Court upheld the decision of the University of Alberta to impose the $17,500 “security fee” as a condition for the campus club UAlberta Pro-Life to set up a stationary display on campus. The judge further upheld the University’s decision to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour directed against the pro-life club in March 2015.
On October 12, 2017, UAlberta Pro-Life announced it would appeal the Court’s ruling, with a hearing date scheduled for November 28, 2018. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) was awarded leave to intervene on October 29, 2018. The Court of Appeal heard arguments on November 28, 2019 in Edmonton.
The Alberta Court of Appeal released its decision on January 6, 2020. Two judicial reviews were before the Court. The Court has unanimously allowed the appeal on the security costs issue regarding the University of Alberta’s imposition of a $17,500 security fee, finding that the imposition of this fee was unreasonable and unlawful. In a landmark decision, the Court also found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection for freedom of speech applies to the University’s regulation of student speech on university grounds. The Court also unanimously dismissed UAlberta’s other appeal regarding the dismissal of its complaint to campus security for non-prosecution of the obstructive students at the 2015 Event.