The 2023 Brandon Langhjelm Memorial Essay Contest

Advancing student scholarship in Canada

Exploring Freedom of Expression in Canada

In 2023, the Justice Centre invites Canadian students to investigate freedom of expression in Canada. This contest is an opportunity for Canadians to advance our understanding of either (a) how regulatory bodies are impacting freedom of expression online or (b) how governments are limiting the ability of Canadians to protest and why the ability to protest is an important dimension of free expression in democracies. Keep reading to learn more about how to prepare a winning submission.

Length: 1200–1500 words

Deadline: November 5, 2023

Prizes: First place: $2000 | Second place: $1000 | Third place: $500

Eligibility & Rules
Evaluation Rubric
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Choose one essay question from the list below

Option 1: Free speech and the internet

Canadian governments are implementing policies and laws that limit freedom of expression online. Focus on one case (or related cases) of governments limiting freedom of expression online. Are these limitations reasonable? If they are unreasonable, why?

Option 2: Protests, free speech, and democracy

Protests are considered to be a kind of expression or a way of expressing oneself. Sometimes, governments place limitations on the ability of Canadians to express themselves through protesting. Focus on one case (or related cases) of governments limiting the ability of Canadians to protest. Were these limitations reasonable? If they were unreasonable, why? Further, why is the ability to protest an important feature of a healthy democracy?

Dive into the literature on freedom of expression

Most scholars and legal experts agree that it is reasonable to limit freedom of expression. For example, most agree that it is reasonable to limit the expressiveness of those who would yell “fire!” in a theatre without cause or who would incite others to violent or hateful acts. (More accurately, most agree that it is reasonable to apply significant penalties on those who express themselves in these kinds of ways.) In other cases, it is more difficult to determine whether limitations are reasonable. Contemporary debates about free speech deal with determining whether it is reasonable to limit free speech in controversial cases. By participating in this contest, you are participating in this debate. Your task is to find a case where governments or regulatory bodies limited free expression and to determine whether or not the limitation was reasonable.

The following resources may help you understand the significant positions in this debate about free speech, the history of this debate, arguments for and against free speech, the function of free speech in democracies, and more.

Please note: the Justice Centre does not endorse all of the views contained in these resources.

Meet the winners of the 2022 contest

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2022 contest. Spend some time with the winners of the contest, and read their contributions to student scholarship on Digital ID and the value of privacy.

The 2022 question: Canadian governments are making Digital ID a precondition of access to essential services and goods. What can Canadians do to protect their Charter rights and freedoms against the potential dangers of Digital ID?


How Canadians can protect their Charter rights from the dangers of Digital ID

About Madeleine Roberts

Madeleine was born and raised in Calgary and is studying economics at the University of Ottawa. Her work involves policy research and human rights protection. When she’s not writing, Madeleine is perfecting her sourdough recipe or enjoying the outdoors.

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Taking the Charter back again: The threat of Digital ID and how it can be opposed

About Willow Pawlak

Willow was born and raised in Alberta and is studying biology and English literature. Willow enjoys reading, creative writing, making art, and spending time in nature. Willow is proud to be a Canadian and hopes this will be the case for a long time.

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Digital ID and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

About Sylvie Garabedian

Sylvie is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Science at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After graduation, Sylvie hopes to combine the diverse skills she is acquiring to pursue a career in law.

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About Brandon Langhjelm

In November 2021, the Justice Centre announced the Brandon Langhjelm Memorial Essay Contest, in tribute to lawyer Brandon, who passed away on October 25, 2021. Despite being born with a significant disability, a connective tissue disorder called Loeys-Dietz syndrome, Brandon graduated with a B.A. in History and later went on to obtain his law degree. He began working for the Justice Centre in 2018 and won his most significant court case in 2020, where he challenged the decision of the City of New Westminster to cancel an ethnic church’s youth conference because the City did not like one of the speakers. Brandon was making court appearances on behalf of the Justice Centre until September 2021, when he was hospitalized and diagnosed with stage four cancer. Brandon faced life’s greatest challenge—just like he had faced and overcome other lesser challenges in his life—with courage, conviction and trust in God.