Last year's protest held by UAlberta Pro-Life. Photo courtesy of UAlberta Pro-Life

Campus pro-lifers sue Alberta university

  • May 3, 2016

A campus pro-life group has filed a lawsuit against the University of Alberta claiming it infringed on the pro-lifers’ freedom of speech by charging the group a $17,500 security fee to host a public event on campus.

UAlberta Pro-Life filed the court action on April 26 with the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta. The group is asking the court to examine the legality of the security fees that forced the cancellation of a February event.

“Our freedom of expression has been violated,” said UAlberta Pro-Life president Amberlee Nicol. “First, when the university failed to provide a safe environment for free and open expression when they allowed students to obstruct our events... and because of the problems they caused through their inaction, they wanted to charge us with amounts in security fees that we simply could not afford to pay.”

Nicol said the lawsuit was the result of year-long tension with the university which began when the group held a similar event last year, authorized and approved by the university. UAlberta Pro-Life displayed signs showing the consequences of abortion at the event, which was violently shut down by a counter-demonstration of pro-choice students. 

“Campus security was there but they didn’t do anything,” said Nicol. “They just kind of suggested, ‘Hey you guys shouldn’t be doing this,’ but they didn’t go any further than that... Our event was surrounded by a bunch of shouting, angry students.”

Because of tensions from that event, when the group applied to hold a similar event in February, the university wanted to take extra measures.

The event was scheduled to be held on Feb. 23 and 24. Eleven days prior to the event, UAlberta Pro-Life treasurer Cameron Wilson received an e-mail from the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) with a security assessment and a bill for $17,500.

“My jaw just kind of hit the floor,” said Wilson. “The UAPS would make us try to pay for security fees of $500, $600 here and there, enough to make it difficult for our group to fundraise it, but not enough to make it prohibitive. But when they threw us the $17,500, I thought this is an obscene number.”

The security costs were to cover UAPS officers on special duty and Edmonton police, as well as a double-perimeter fence “ensuring that sidewalks remain unobstructed.”

“It seems a little odd, particularly because the university’s legal position is that nothing illegal happened when the mob surrounded our display,” said Wilson. “And yet, it was because of that event that security was required to prevent that from happening again.”

John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, has been the group’s legal advisor and will present the case in court. The Justice Centre has represented many pro-life student groups in similar battles with university administrations, including groups at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Carpay said that although court action is not the only way to hold universities accountable, it becomes the last resort for student pro-life groups.
“When you’ve got a very blatant violation of rights and you’ve got a refusal of the university to uphold the rule of law on campus... you’re in a situation where as a last resort, you’ve got to go and seek a court order to tell the university to enforce its own code of conduct.”

The university didn’t return inquiries from The Catholic Register as of Tuesday, May 3. All allegations have yet to be tested in court. The application for judicial review will be heard in Edmonton July 12.

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