Re­view de­nied on U of A’s han­dling of anti-abor­tion group’s cam­pus protest

Edmonton Journal - - CITY -

A cam­pus group that staged an anti-abor­tion protest at the Univer­sity of Al­berta that sparked a noisy counter-demon­stra­tion by other stu­dents and fac­ulty has lost a court chal­lenge over how the school han­dled the event.

UAl­berta Pro-Life was seek­ing a ju­di­cial re­view of the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion not to in­ves­ti­gate the group’s com­plaint that coun­ter­demon­stra­tors should have been dis­ci­plined for block­ing its dis­plays in 2015 that in­cluded pictures of dis­mem­bered fe­tuses.

The group also wanted a re­view of the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion that the group would have to pay $17,500 to cover se­cu­rity costs for a sim­i­lar anti-abor­tion protest it wanted to hold in 2016.

The cen­tre wanted the court to rule that charg­ing a se­cu­rity fee in­fringed on free­dom of ex­pres­sion un­der the Char­ter.

Jus­tice Bon­nie Bo­ken­fohr of Court of Queen’s Bench dis­missed both ap­pli­ca­tions.

Bo­ken­fohr ruled that UAl­berta Pro-Life was treated fairly and the univer­sity was within its right to re­quire the club to pay for se­cu­rity if it wanted to hold an­other protest.

“The univer­sity rec­og­nized that the event was a form of ex­pres­sion and ex­pressly stated that it val­ues the ex­pres­sion of di­verse points of view,” she wrote.

“The de­ci­sion bal­anced this against the univer­sity’s obli­ga­tion to en­sure safety and se­cu­rity and the fi­nan­cial im­pact on univer­sity op­er­a­tions.”

Univer­sity of Al­berta of­fi­cials were study­ing the rul­ing.

“The Univer­sity of Al­berta is pleased with the Al­berta Court of Queen’s Bench de­ci­sion to dis­miss both ju­di­cial re­views re­lated to the UAl­berta Pro-Life stu­dent group events,” Bryan Alary, a univer­sity spokesman, said in an email.

Jay Cameron, a lawyer for a group called the Jus­tice Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tional Free­doms, rep­re­sented UAl­berta Pro-Life in court last June.

Cameron ar­gued that cam­pus se­cu­rity did noth­ing to pre­vent a “mob” of counter-pro­test­ers from dis­rupt­ing the dis­play. He also ar­gued the school failed to ad­e­quately in­ves­ti­gate a com­plaint filed by mem­bers of Pro-Life.

There was no doubt that club mem­bers were ha­rassed mer­ci­lessly, he said.

“If the univer­sity wins, the mob wins,” he said at the time.

Cameron said the group will ap­peal Bo­ken­fohr’s de­ci­sion.

“We are dis­ap­pointed that a party who did noth­ing wrong and had per­mis­sion to be there would be pun­ished and cen­sored for the mis­deeds of oth­ers,” he said Thurs­day.

The univer­sity ar­gued that its dis­ci­pline of­fi­cer han­dled the case prop­erly when he found that rules spelled out in the school’s code of stu­dent be­hav­iour were not bro­ken by the pro-choice pro­test­ers.

The of­fi­cer had de­ter­mined that the counter-demon­stra­tion was it­self a form of free speech.

“Free speech is not a clean process where peo­ple will al­ways take turns and treat each other with def­er­ence,” read the of­fi­cer’s con­clu­sion that was in­cluded in the univer­sity’s brief sub­mit­ted to the court.

“We have to ex­pect that pro­found dis­agree­ments over con­tro­ver­sial top­ics may be loud and vig­or­ous. It fol­lows that the univer­sity should tread lightly in ap­ply­ing dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses when peo­ple are en­gag­ing in a con­flict of ideas.”

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