BCCLA challenges “laughable” ban on free speech by Prince Rupert school board

Unconstitutional school board ban on t-shirts displaying Charter of Rights descends into farce

VANCOUVER – The BCCLA is calling on the Prince Rupert School District (No. 052) to reverse its ban on teachers wearing t-shirts displaying section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the provision that protects free speech. The t-shirts display the Shakespeare-inspired question “2(b) or not 2(b)?” on the front, and the text of section 2 of the Charter on the back: 2(a) freedom of religion, 2(b) freedom of expression, 2(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, and 2(d) freedom of association.

The BCCLA argues that the ban on these t-shirts is a violation of the constitutional right to free speech displayed on the t-shirt itself. Freedom of expression guarantees the rights of speakers and listeners alike. In banning these shirts, the School District has violated both the teachers’ and students’ rights to learn, think and talk about their fundamental freedoms.

“The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA. “The School District has an obligation to respect free speech, and there is no lawful justification for the District to ban these t-shirts.”

As a government body, School District No. 052 is bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the guarantee of freedom of expression and freedom of association. Governments can only limit such rights in a narrow range of circumstances, according to legal tests established by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lyster added that the ban on these t-shirts is contrary to the principle that schools should be places for open discussion and inquiry: “Banning these t-shirts seems to be short-sighted attempt to cut off discussion and thinking about the basic constitutional rights that the t-shirts display. We assume that this ban has provoked a lot of discussion among Prince Rupert students. Unfortunately, the District has provided an example of a government violating the constitutional rights for its students to discuss, rather than the better example of a government respecting those rights.”

Letter to Prince Rupert School District Board >>

Executive Director Josh Paterson discusses the issue on CBC’s Daybreak North: