Justice Centre in court to challenge Edmonton’s cancellation of lighting of the High Level Bridge


EDMONTON: The Justice Centre will be in court November 13, 2020 on behalf of the Alberta March for Life Association (AMLA) challenging a decision by the City of Edmonton to cancel a scheduled lighting of the High Level Bridge in colours chosen by AMLA. The full-day hearing will start at 10:00AM.

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 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 initially approved by the City on March 7, 2019. However, on April 5, Edmonton cancelled the scheduled lighting, claiming that “lighting the bridge for this event cannot be approved due to the polarizing nature of the subject matter.”

The Bridge is regularly lit in association with various religious and political causes, awareness days, religious celebrations, political holidays and commemorations that promote the ideologies, political causes, social campaigns and religious beliefs of their proponents. In deciding to cancel the lighting of the Bridge for the March for Life, exclusively because of the pro-life expression involved, Edmonton 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 Justice Centre will argue Edmonton’s decision unjustifiably violates freedom of expression and that the policy the City uses to manage the lighting of the Bridge also violates free expression.

“Edmonton is home to a diverse population with a wide variety of views, values and beliefs including, unsurprisingly, persons who express pro-life views. The expression of pro-life opinions is part of the diversity of expression found in a free society, and is protected by the Charter,” comments Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.

“Justice McLachlin, former Chief Justice of Canada had it right when she stated: “Freedom of expression serves to protect the right of the minority to express its view, however unpopular it may be; it serves to preclude the majority’s perception of “truth” or “public interest” from smothering the minority’s perception”,” concludes Kitchen.