JCCF challenges University of Manitoba Student Union on campus free speech

October 3, 2013

WINNIPEG: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has sent a legal warning letter to the University of Manitoba Student Union (UMSU), which has threatened to remove club status from a campus pro-life club because some students find the club’s expression offensive.  The University of Manitoba Students for a Culture of Life (UMSCL) held a pro-life display on campus (at the Curry Place Pedway) from September 23-25, 2013.

UMSU has accused the campus pro-life club of “creating an unsafe environment for students” based not on any misbehaviour on the part of club members, but purely on the basis of the opinions and beliefs that the club expressed.  UMSU plans to hold a vote on Monday October 7 on a Motion to revoke the club’s status as a student group on campus.  Such Motion, if passed, would effectively silence UMSCL and preclude it from holding further events, activities or displays on campus.

The Calgary-based JCCF has sent UMSU a five-page letter explaining why and how the pro-life club is legally entitled to exist on campus and express its views in a peaceful manner, without discrimination based on political belief or political activity.  The campus pro-life club relies on the ManitobaHuman Rights Code, the law of contract, principles of statutory interpretation, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the University of Manitoba’s own principles and policies.

In regard to academic freedom, the U of M Board of Governor’s Core Principles state:

We will protect the right of everyone in our academic community to intellectual independence and critical inquiry.  Advancement of understanding in research, scholarship and creative work and the transmission of that knowledge to students requires the privilege of speaking and writing freely.  Members of our University have a personal and institutional commitment to academic freedom in the performance of their academic duties.

The University’s Respectful Work and Learning Environment policy recognizes “a commitment to academic freedom and freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression among its members which may result in respectful disagreements regarding beliefs or principles.”

JCCF has warned UMSU that if it passes the proposed Motion, it will result in court proceedings against the student union.