“As a student, the thought of defending my right to express my opinions on campus in the face of disapproval and intimidation from my university was daunting but the support and guidance from JCCF made it seem attainable. I’m so grateful for we’ve been able to hold the UofC accountable for their actions so that other students can be confident in sharing their beliefs on their campuses, without fearing punishment from their university administrations. This has only been made possible because of the talent and dedication of John Carpay and his team at the JCCF.” -Alanna Gomez
Since 2006, students’ pro-life displays have been set up on campus numerous times, usually four days per year (two days in the spring and two days in the fall). In 2006 and 2007, the University of Calgary (“U of C”) posted its own signs near the display, stating that this expression was protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Justice Centre President, John Carpay, has defended the students’ free speech rights since 2007.
In March of 2008, the U of C began demanding that the students set up their display with the signs facing inwards, to hide the signs entirely from the view of people passing by. The students continued to set up their display with signs facing outwards, as they had already been doing for years.
In 2009, the U of C tried unsuccessfully to have the pro-life students found guilty of trespassing on their own campus.
In 2010, the U of C charged eight pro-life students with non-academic misconduct for having continued to set up their display with signs facing outwards, and found them guilty. In 2011, the Board of Governors affirmed that verdict of guilty, through the refusal to convene the Student Discipline Appeal Committee to hear and fully consider the students’ appeal. The Court heard the case of Wilson v. University of Calgary in April 2013, and rendered its decision on April 1, 2014.
In its April 1, 2014 decision, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench noted that the pro-life students, when charged with a “Major Violation” of the non-academic misconduct policy, faced the possibility of expulsion from the university. The University of Calgary characterized the students’ refusal to turn their signs inwards as an offence on par with other Major Violations such as theft, property damage, misuse of firearms, and sexual assault.
The Court noted that the University’s decision failed to address many of the arguments that the students had put forward, such as their right to free expression under the Charter, their free expression rights under contract, and administrative law arguments.
Regarding the University’s rationale of “safety and security”, the Court said there was no evidence before any of the University’s decision-makers as to exactly what it was about the students’ pro-life display that may cause a threat to the safety and security of those on campus. The Court noted that “there is no indication that having the images turned inwards will somehow alleviate any safety concerns.” It was not reasonable to conclude that there existed a rational connection between the Charter-infringing demand (to turn the signs inwards) and the provision of a safe campus.
The Court further held that the University failed to demonstrate that it considered the nature and purpose of a university as a forum for the expression of differing views.
“We are happy with this outcome,” stated the students’ lawyer John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“However, the legal issues are not yet fully settled. The Court has ordered the University’s Board of Governors to hear the students’ appeal and give it proper consideration,” continued Carpay.
On June 17, 2014, the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary allowed the appeal of its decision to charge seven students with non-academic misconduct for having peacefully set up its pro-life display on campus with signs facing outwards.