University of Calgary reverses its verdict in free expression case: Pro-life students not guilty of non-academic misconduct

September 2014

CALGARY: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) today announced that the University of Calgary has allowed the appeal of seven students who were found guilty, in 2010, of non-academic misconduct for having set up a pro-life display on campus. The University’s decision, rendered by the Student Discipline Appeal Committee of the Board of Governors on June 17, 2014, is a response to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench judgment in Wilson v. University of Calgary (rendered on April 1, 2014).

Since 2006, the students’ pro-life display has been set up on campus numerous times, usually four days per year (two days in the spring and two days in the fall). In 2006 and 2007, the University of Calgary posted its own signs near the display, stating that this expression was protected by theCanadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In March of 2008, the U of C began demanding that the students set up their display with the signs facing inwards, to hide the signs entirely from the view of people passing by. The students continued to set up their display with signs facing outwards, as they had already been doing for the previous two years. In 2009, the U of C tried unsuccessfully to have the pro-life students found guilty of trespassing on their own campus. In 2010, the U of C found the pro-life students guilty of non-academic misconduct for having continued to set up their display with signs facing outwards. In 2011 the students commenced a court action, after the Board of Governors of the U of C rejected the students’ appeal and affirmed this verdict of guilty.

In Wilson v. University of Calgary, the Court set aside the Board of Governors decision as being unreasonable and lacking “justification, transparency and intelligibility.” The Court stated that the Board of Governors had failed to balance the students’ free expression rights with other interests, and did not take into account “the nature and purpose of a university as a forum for the expression of differing views”.

In its June 17, 2014 decision, the Board of Governors stated that the students’ appeal is allowed, and that the 2010 charges of non-academic misconduct had been quashed, and removed from the students’ files.

JCCF President John Carpay, the students’ lawyer, said “We are pleased with this decision. I commend the students for taking a strong and courageous stance, even when threatened with expulsion from the university. Were it not for their courage and persistence, the U of C would have succeeded in reducing the free expression rights of all students. This would have been a step backwards for free expression not only at the U of C, but at every university across Canada.”