Student group takes University of Alberta to court over $17,500 “security fee” demanded in order to express views on campus
EDMONTON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca) today announced that a pro-life student group at the University of Alberta has filed a court application against the University to challenge a $17,500 “security fee” demanded by the University in order for the group to set up a peaceful display on campus. The court application also challenges the University’s decision to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour (Code) directed against the pro-life club in March of 1015.
On January 11, 2016, UAlberta Pro-Life applied for University authorization to set up a stationary educational display on campus on February 23 and 24, 2016. Only eleven days prior to the scheduled event, the University of Alberta notified the students that they would need to pay $17,500 in “security fees” to proceed with their peaceful educational display. In its communication, the University demanded that pro-life students pay for the wages of security guards and police, and costs of barricading the venue, and pay for the potential misconduct of people who would violate the University’s Code of Student Behaviour by obstructing and disrupting the display. Unable to pay $17,500, the campus club was forced to cancel its planned event in February 2016.
“Pro-life students are not being treated fairly at the University of Alberta, despite paying the same fees and abiding by the same rules as everyone else,” stated Amberlee Nicol, President of UAlberta Pro-Life. “Why are we being made to pay simply to express our views on campus? This shouldn’t be part of our post-secondary experience.”
In March of 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life held a similar event, which (then) President Indira Samarasekera supported through a public statement that the University must facilitate and protect the peaceful expression of all views, regardless of popularity. In defiance of the President’s clear statement about free expression and the rule of law, a student-led mob blockaded and obstructed the club’s display, in violation of the Code of Student Behaviour. Although the University had advance notice that a mob was being organized to obstruct the display, and although Dr. Samarasekera had warned that any misbehaviour would be investigated and prosecuted, the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) did nothing to stop the blockade of the club’s display. UAPS did not photograph or seek to identify any blockading student, even though the Code clearly prohibits students from disrupting or obstructing University-related functions.
On March 11, 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life filed a formal complaint with UAPS against the disruptive students pursuant to the Code of Student Behaviour. It took UAPS over eight months to release a decision in regard to the Complaint. In its November 30, 2015 decision, UAPS confirmed that the University would neither charge nor prosecute the students who disrupted, blocked and obstructed the March 2015 display on campus.
On December 18, 2015, the Justice Centre wrote to the University of Alberta Office of Student Conduct and Accountability to appeal the UAPS Decision. On February 4, 2016, the Office of Student Conduct and Accountability dismissed the appeal.
In its court application, UAlberta Pro-Life seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to impose a $17,500 security fee on the Club is illegal and unjustifiably infringes the fundamental Canadian value of freedom of expression, also protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court application further seeks to prohibit the University from imposing a financial burden on the students as a condition for the exercise of their freedom of speech.
This court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to condone the conduct of students who disrupted and blockaded the university-authorized campus event of UAlberta Pro-Life in March of 2015, is unreasonable and therefore illegal.
The Justice Centre is acting on behalf of Amberlee Nicol, Cameron Wilson, and UAlberta Pro-Life in this court application. Calgary lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay stated: “The decisions of the University of Alberta to charge a security fee, and to refuse to enforce its own Code of Student Behaviour are a violation of these students’ Charter freedom of expression, as well as to the principles of natural justice.”
The students previously filed a court application against the U of A in September 2015, in relation to the March 2015 blocking and obstructing of their campus display, but in November 2015 the court dismissed their application for an interim injunction.