A Victory For Free Speech On Campus

January 2010

The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) today announced that the Alberta Crown Prosecutors’ Office has decided to stay the trespassing charges which the University of Calgary had pressed against its own students.

The Alberta Provincial Court trial had been scheduled to take place on November 4, 2009.

Earlier this year, the University of Calgary charged its own students with trespassing when the students refused to comply with a University demand that they set up their Genocide Awareness Project signs in a circle facing inwards, such that no passersby could see the signs.

“The Crown’s decision is good news for free speech,” stated John Carpay, one of the lawyers representing the students, and Executive Director of the CCF.

“The Canadian Constitution Foundation takes no position on abortion, but we defend free speech for all Canadians, especially on the campus of a taxpayer-funded university,” added Carpay.

Since 2006, the Campus Pro-Life students had set up their provocative signs on campus twice per year, in a circle facing outwards. Large colour photos of aborted fetuses were among the images used to generate discussion and heated debate. The University of Calgary took the initiative to post its own signs nearby, declaring that the display was permitted under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 2 guarantee of free speech.

In 2008, after the Genocide Awareness Project had been displayed on campus without incident on several occasions, the University declared that “security concerns” necessitated censorship, and told the Calgary Police that the display “would trigger violence.”

The University’s lawyers warned the students that a failure to comply with this new demand to turn the signs inwards would result in trespassing charges, not to mention penalties of suspension or even expulsion for “non-academic misconduct.”

The students took the position that they were not in violation of any University rule, policy, bylaw or regulation. The students also argued that the University had no qualms about the display on campus of large colour photos showing the results of torture perpetrated by Chinese Communists on adherents of the Falun Gong religious movement. The students claim that the Falun Gong torture photos were merely one example of a myriad of obscene, offensive, and disturbing expression which the University tolerates on campus.

The University’s own website promises that, as part of its respect for “the rich diversity of our learners,” there will be no discrimination or harassment on the basis of various grounds including race, religion, and political beliefs.