This anatomic model of fetal development at one, two, three and four months is a visual element traditionally included in Edmonton Prolife's KDays exhibition. Photo photo courtesy Darren Leung

Pro-life group challenges ban from Klondike Days

  • June 25, 2024

Edmonton Prolife has filed a lawsuit against the Explore Edmonton Corporation — the local government’s visitor economy and venue management organization — for banning its booth from the city’s Klondike Days (KDays) in July.

“Edmonton Prolife’s application seeks relief for Explore Edmonton’s violation of its section 2(b) Charter right to ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication,’ ” stated a June 18  release from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which is representing Edmonton Prolife.

Lawyers Darren Leung and Allison Pejovic’s Charter challenge originates from Explore Edmonton’s blocking of Edmonton Prolife in 2022. The complaint had to be filed before the two-year statute of limitations passed.

In January 2022, Edmonton Prolife applied for approval to present its materials at the 10-day exhibition — permission it had secured every preceding year dating back to the 1980s. The request was initially approved in July 2022, but Explore Edmonton cancelled the booking eight days later without offering any justification.

JCCF secured internal email exchanges between Explore Edmonton staffers through a freedom of information request that apparently revealed a concerted push to exclude Edmonton Prolife because the government workers “disliked their pro-life message and believed that it made guests feel unsafe, despite a lack of any supporting evidence.”

The email chain — due to enter the public record during July — also reportedly indicated that the then-recent overturn of Roe v. Wade in the United States was a factor in the ban, but the messages did not cite “any evidence of tangible security risks.”

“It is quite unfortunate that the government is picking and choosing what expression is allowable," Leung said. "The Supreme Court has stated many times that in public spaces, the government has to be neutral. The only reasonable limits you can have is that you can’t have violent or extremely graphic imagery in public.”

After opting not to apply in 2023, Edmonton Prolife tried to re-enter the KDays fold this year. On May 14, “it received a vague notice that its application had been rejected because it had not met vendor criteria or because of lack of available space,” stated the JCCF.

Leung provided The Catholic Register with images of the materials the pro-life charity sought to present in 2022 and this year. The display would have included anatomical teaching models of fetal development at one, two, three and four months, twins in the womb at five months and visual representations of a five-month fetus in the breech or dorsal uterus positions. Edmonton Prolife's table would have also featured the brochures “Milestones of Early Life: How You Began Your Journey” and “How You Began.”

Andrew Thomson, president of Edmonton Prolife, said the organization is “just looking to educate, and when this (matter) is looked at from an objective standpoint in court, it will be understood that way as well.”

Thomson added, "Even if you don’t have the same philosophy as we do, understanding where we are coming from is of great value to all. It is not the city’s role to discern what information is out there for the public.”

Explore Edmonton's strategic communications manager, Quinn Philips, notified the Register that “we cannot speak to this matter because it is in the courts.”

Explore Edmonton took over the management of KDays in 2022. Up until 2019, the exhibition was hosted by Edmonton Northlands. Edmonton Prolife’s relationship with the previous operator was not entirely free of controversy. In 2017, Edmonton Northlands attempted to bar it from KDays. JCCF stepped in by sending a formal request for reconsideration to Edmonton Northlands. Ultimately, the organization relented and allowed the pro-life display.  

Alberta's Court of King's Bench will likely hear the case in 2025. Pejovic was asked about her level of confidence in JCCF's ability to secure a victorious outcome for Edmonton Prolife.

“We certainly are in an era where certain political ideologies are more prominent and more aggressively pushed in today’s society, but, legally speaking, it is our view that we have a strong argument that expression, short of hatred, is protected no matter what that expression is,” said Pejovic. “We are confident that we have a solid case behind section 2(b) of the Charter.”

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