EDMONTON: The Justice Centre will be in court on Thursday, September 17, on behalf of the Alberta March for Life Association (AMLA) to compel the City of Edmonton to turn over a list of causes and events that the High Level Bridge has been lit up for. The virtual hearing will take place at 2:00PM and is required for the Applicants to be permitted to provide the court with evidence and to obtain further evidence from the City.
In October 2019, the Justice Centre filed an application for judicial review on behalf of AMLA against the City of Edmonton, after the City abruptly cancelled a scheduled lighting of the High Level Bridge for the 2019 March for Life.
Operated by the City of Edmonton, the High Level Bridge is outfitted with 60,000 programmable lights, lit every day in the morning and evening. Through the “Light the Bridge” program, the City invites members of the public and community groups to request the Bridge be lit in specific colours to reflect their event, cause or campaign.
On March 6, 2019, Jerry Pasternak, Vice Chair of AMLA submitted an application to the City for the Bridge to be lit up on May 9, 2019 in the colours of pink, blue, and white, the colors of the March for Life. AMLA’s bridge lighting application was approved by the City on March 7, 2019. However, on April 5, the City cancelled the scheduled lighting, claiming that “lighting the bridge for this event cannot be approved due to the polarizing nature of the subject matter.”
Judicial review is the only way a government decision can be legally challenged in Alberta. Typically, only the government is allowed to provide evidence. The party bringing the action requires special permission to enter evidence. In this case, the Justice Centre is requesting the court order the City to provide a list of past Bridge lightings, to demonstrate the Applicants’ claim the City acted in a biased manner when it cancelled the scheduled lighting for the March for Life. Although requested by the Applicants, the City has refused to produce such a list.
The Justice Centre is also asking the court to permit affidavit evidence as part of the judicial review. The Bridge is regularly lit in association with various political causes, some of which result in “polarization” among Edmonton residents. The Justice Centre has filed an affidavit containing evidence the City has lit the Bridge in association with Anthropogenic Climate Change events and campaigns, despite extensive evidence of the intensely “polarizing” nature of Climate Change.
A second affidavit has been filed containing evidence of the many times the City permitted the Bridge to be lit for “political” events and commemorations, in breach of the City’s own policy regarding the lighting of the Bridge.
Under the Charter, the City cannot discriminate against the content of free expression in spaces it has opened up to the public for expressive purposes, such as the High Level Bridge. In deciding to cancel the lighting of the Bridge for the March for Life, exclusively because the organization expresses pro-life views, the City failed to explain how such expression is “polarizing”, or whether it is more “polarizing” than other causes, or how the City determines which organizations or issues are sufficiently “polarizing” to justify being denied the right to use a public space that is available to a long list of other causes.
“The City must not biasedly promote favoured ideological causes while excluding other causes by arbitrarily labelling them as “polarizing,” states Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.
“The Applicants are seeking to ensure the court has a full record of evidence in making a decision whether the City acted unlawfully in cancelling the lighting of the Bridge for the March for Life, including evidence of the City lighting the Bridge in violation of its own guidelines,” concludes Kitchen.