Monday, April 7, 2014
CALGARY: The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled it was “unreasonable” for the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary to refuse to hear and fully consider the appeal of seven students found guilty of non-academic misconduct for having set up a pro-life display on campus.
“We feel vindicated by this Court decision. We should not have been found guilty of non-academic misconduct just for expressing our views on campus,” stated Cameron Wilson, Past President of Campus Pro-Life, and a second-year student when he was charged with non-academic misconduct in 2010.
In 2010, seven students appealed to the University of Calgary Board of Governors, asking the Board to reverse a decision that they were guilty of non-academic misconduct for having continued to set up their display with signs facing outwards.
In 2011, the Chair of the Student Discipline Appeal Committee (of the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary) refused to convene the Committee to hear the students’ appeal, thereby affirming the prior decision that the students were guilty of non-academic misconduct. Cameron Wilson, Alanna Campbell, and five other students challenged this decision in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, commencing proceedings in 2011. The Court heard oral argument in 2013.
The Court released its decision on April 1, 2014, ruling that the University’s decision was “unreasonable”, and ordering the Board of Governors to give full consideration to the students’ arguments.
Since 2006, the students’ pro-life display has 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 posted its own signs near the display, stating that this expression was protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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 the 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.
Court ruling in Wilson v. University of Calgary
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 took into account 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.