John Carpay, president of Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, speaks at the March for Life in Victoria. Photo courtesy of B.C. Catholic

Pro-life club fights U of Alberta in court for allowing mob to suppress opinion

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  • June 14, 2017

OTTAWA – A University of Alberta pro-life club is fighting a growing trend on campuses to allow mobs to suppress unpopular opinion, says the group representing it in a court battle.

On June 8-9, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) argued before the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench on behalf of UAlberta Pro-life in its case against the university. They contend the university failed to discipline students who blockaded and shouted down club members when they put up a display of posters on campus in March 2015.

The JCCF also argued against the university’s imposition of a $17,500 security fee on the club if it wished to mount a display in the future.

The Centre contended the university failed to enforce its own Code of Student Conduct by refusing to take any disciplinary measures against the students who mobbed the pro-life display.

The display in question involved poster-sized photographs of unborn babies at nine different stages of development, juxtaposed with a photograph of an aborted baby at a similar stage.

Justice Centre president John Carpay said the university in effect condoned the obstruction and blockading of the display, even though the behaviour is “expressly prohibited” in the Code.

The blockaders “bragged about it on Facebook,” there were “lots of photographs and video,” and the “university had their names,” Carpay said.

“The university knows who these people are and chooses not to discipline them.”

Discipline could range from a warning, to a fine, to suspension or expulsion, he said.

The security fee of $17,500 “is being imposed on the wrong party,” Carpay said.

“The people who should pay the security fee is the mob that breaks the rules, that blockades, that obstructs.”

The blockaders “are the sole cause of the problem,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Alberta declined to comment while the matter is before the courts.

According to a document filed to the court, the university did not find the students and non-students who blockaded the display broke the Code.

“Ultimately, the Applicants’ complaint is that the counter-demonstrators’ ability to hold up large signs and aggressively share their opinions about abortion with passers-by impaired their ability to hold up large signs and aggressively share their opinions about abortion with passers-by, and that such conduct represents a violation of the COSB,” the university’s document said.

As for the security fee, the university argued that it is reasonable to charge a group for the costs of security.

Carpay said it could take as long as a year before the judge renders a decision in the case.

Carpay sees a growing problem regarding the suppression of freedom of speech on university campuses across Canada and a growing tendency to impose security fees.

“It’s not just a pro-life thing,” he said.

Presentations have been shut down on a range of issues from men’s rights, to conservative speakers. He noted the shouting down last March of a talk by University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson at McMaster University as one example.

“Whatever your issue is, it’s totally wrong-headed on the part of universities to impose security fees on people who want only to exercise their legal right to express their opinion peacefully,” Carpay said.

Amberlee Nicol, president of UAlberta Pro-life for the last three years, said the club knew protesters were going to blockade their display in 2015 because they wrote about it on Facebook and other social media.

“The morning we were setting up the display, they were there waiting for us,” she said

“As soon as we put up our display they surrounded it, waving banners, signs, bed sheets, anything they could hold up to make the display pretty much impossible to see,” Nicol said. “They were also chanting and shouting.”

Carpey urged people concerned about free expression on campuses to sign an online Justice Centre (jccf.ca) petition urging governments to stop taxpayer funding “for universities that censor.”

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