U Alberta students challenge $17,500 fee in Court of Appeal, Wednesday, November 28

The Justice Centre will appear before the Court of Appeal of Alberta in Edmonton on Wednesday November 28 on behalf of Amberlee Nicol, Cameron Wilson, and the student club UAlberta Pro-Life.  Their court application challenges the University of Alberta decision to impose a $17,500 “security fee” as a condition of peaceful expression on campus.  In the case of UAlberta Pro-Life v. University of Alberta, the students also challenge the University’s decision to condone violations of the Code of Student Behaviour directed against the pro-life club in March of 2015.

This hearing will begin on Wednesday November 28 at 10:00 a.m. at the Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench, 1A Sir Winston Churchill Square (South Tower). The hearing is expected to run for a few hours.

The Court of Appeal is being asked to overturn the ruling of the lower court, which upheld the University of Alberta’s behaviour in relation to two separate incidents.

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.  The Code of Student Behaviour expressly prohibits disruption, obstruction and inappropriate behaviour.  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 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 argues 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 being 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.

This case was heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench on June 8 and 9, 2017. On October 11, 2017, the Court upheld the decision of the University of Alberta to impose the $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.

On October 12, 2017, UAlberta Pro-Life announced it would appeal the Court’s ruling, with a hearing date scheduled for November 28, 2018. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) was awarded leave to intervene on October 29, 2018.

“The University is effectively censoring students who wish to convey an unpopular message that no person is required to accept or agree with,” stated Calgary lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre.

“Rather than enforcing the University’s own provisions against physically obstructing campus events, the University blames the victims of this misconduct,” continued Carpay.

Further background information about this case, including all court documents, is available at JCCF.ca/our-cases/.

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