VANCOUVER (13 February 2015) – The BC Civil Liberties Association is asking the BC Court of Appeal to hear its lawsuit challenging restrictions on campus free speech.
The BCCLA and a member of a University of Victoria pro-life club (Youth Protecting Youth – YPY) 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 BC Supreme Court issued its decision in the case last month, holding that that space booking by students on campus is part of “a sphere of autonomous operational decision-making reserved for the University” and not an exercise of governmental power. As a result, it concluded that “the Charter does not apply to the [University’s] activities relating to the booking of space by students.”
Craig Jones, Q.C., acting as counsel for the BCCLA, said: “The BCCLA believes, with respect, that the Court got it wrong when it decided that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply to a public university’s decision about which students are allowed to hold a demonstration on campus. Universities are meant to be places of free discourse and the competition between ideas, not places where university administrators can shut down some students’ speech based on whatever arbitrary criteria they adopt.”
The claim centres on the University’s attempted cancellation of a “Choice Chain” event, and its threats to punish students who put on similar displays in the future. The University purported to cancel the event because the Students’ Society characterized the YPY group’s pro-life advocacy as “harassment.”
The BCCLA and Cameron Côté argue that in regulating the use of common space on campus, and in the imposition or threatening of discipline for non-academic offences, a university performs a function that is governmental in nature and that its actions are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The BCCLA takes the position that university students should have the same expression rights as students at community colleges, where the Charter does apply.
The BCCLA has a long history of pro-choice advocacy and action. It stated that it regards safe, effective access to abortion as a civil right – both as a matter of democratic principle, and as a fixture of Canadian law. However, the BCCLA stated that it also stands strongly for the right of students to express themselves in the university environment, whatever their opinions.
The BCCLA is represented by Craig Jones, Q.C., and Andrea Greenwood of Branch McMaster LLP
View our notice of appeal here
Read our petition to the BC Supreme Court here
Read the BC Supreme Court’s decision here