BCCLA takes University of Victoria to court on free speech

The BCCLA and a member of a University of Victoria pro-life club (Youth Protecting Youth) have filed a constitutional lawsuit naming the University of Victoria and its Student Society, seeking relief from the persistent, illegal censorship of the civil, peaceful expression of pro-life opinion on the campus.

The Petition, filed in BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, centres on the University’s attempted cancellation of a “Choice Chain” event in 2011, and its threats to punish students who participated in similar events in the future. The University purported to cancel the event because the Students’ Society, which has a long history of antagonism to YPY, characterized pro-life advocacy as “harassment”. Our petition is available here

The BCCLA has, of course, a long history of pro-choice advocacy and action. We regard safe, effective access to abortion as a civil right – both as a matter of democratic principle, and (happily) as a fixture of Canadian law since the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Morgentaler case of 1988.

But we regard all attempts to silence dissent through programs of systematic harassment as obnoxious to democracy. And when a public Canadian university, established, funded, and governed under the authority of a government statute – the University Act of British Columbia – forgets its commitment to academic freedom, forgets that its special freedom from “outside interference” was established to protect the special, unfettered, and uninhibited pursuit of truth within its space, it abandons any legitimate claim to independence. It invites, and needs, the scrutiny of the law under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dr. John Dixon of the BCCLA said today “are those of us who are pro-choice so frightened of civil, peaceful speech against our conviction, that we must take refuge in quasi-legal antics to harass, frighten, and ultimately punish those who dare to challenge them?”

Even the Catholic Student Association at UVic is being subjected to much the same treatment, currently under sanction from the Student Society for displaying pamphlets on a Clubs Day that outlined their Church’s doctrine on love, sex, and marriage. The BCCLA has provided legal counsel for them.

The petitioners BCCLA and Cam Cote are represented by Craig Jones, Q.C. and Emily Unrau of Branch MacMaster LLP.