RELEASE: Student group appealing after judge rules in favour of the University of Alberta charging $17,500 security fee

Posted on Oct 12, 2017 in Justice Update, Latest Updates, News Releases

EDMONTON: Amberlee Nicol and the student group UAlberta Pro-Life announced today that they will appeal the ruling of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in the case UAlberta Pro-Life v. University of Alberta. 

The ruling, filed October 11, 2017, upheld the decision of the University of Alberta to impose a $17,500 “security fee” as a condition for the campus club UAlberta Pro-Life to set up a stationary display on campus. The judge further upheld the University’s decision to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour directed against the pro-life club in March 2015.

The decision follows a hearing of the merits on June 8, 2017, at the Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench.
“My club members and I are deeply saddened by this ruling. We thought a university campus would be a safe space to share and debate ideas, but the University silenced us and condoned obstruction and vandalism of our property,” stated Amberlee Nicol, past president of UAlberta Pro-Life.

“We will appeal this decision,” Ms. Nicol added.

“It’s disappointing that students who did nothing wrong, and were officially authorized to have their display in 2015, should be penalized and censored for the misdeeds of others,” stated Justice Centre Litigation Manager Jay Cameron.

“The University Code of Student Behaviour claims the University stands for free speech for its students, but it takes courage to actually stand for something and not just pay lip service to it,” continued Cameron.

CASE BACKGROUND

In their court application, Amberlee Nicol and UAlberta Pro-Life asked the Court to overturn two University of Alberta decisions.

Students disrupted UAlberta Pro-Life’s March 2015 display

The first decision concerns the University’s choice to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour by students who, in March of 2015, physically obstructed and blockaded a display on campus that was authorized by the University.  In its filed Brief, the University argues that a loud, unruly, physically disruptive mob should be entitled to shut down campus events, as long as the mob is non-violent.  The U of A is defending its decision not to discipline any of the students who blockaded the display.  The Code of Student Behaviour expressly prohibits disruption, obstruction and inappropriate behaviour.  The Code states that its purpose is upholding the freedom to speak, study, learn, write and publish, in the pursuit of truth.  The Code states that for these freedoms to exist, “it is essential to maintain an atmosphere in which the safety, the security, and the inherent dignity of each member of the community are recognized.”

The U of A maintains that students who physically obstructed a stationary display with sheets and banners, making it nearly impossible for a campus club to express its opinions, were legitimately exercising their own freedom of expression.  However, in March of 2015, campus security repeatedly told the blockaders that they were violating the Code.  Further, then-president Indira Samarasekera issued a public statement that the suppression of unpopular views would not be tolerated.

The U of A argued that freedom of expression encompasses all behaviour short of violence.  But the University’s own Code bans not only violence, but inappropriate behaviour, such as disrupting classes and obstructing university-related functions.  The Code serves to curtail “behaviours which if left unchecked would, to an unacceptable degree, infringe upon the freedoms described above and thus threaten the proper functioning of the University.”

The second decision challenged by the students is the University’s demand that the students pay a $17,500 security fee if the students want to set up a display again in the future.