All Posts Tagged With: "Charter of Rights and Freedoms"
Carleton had anti-abortion protesters arrested in 2010
Former Carleton University students who sued the university and its president after the school had them arrested for trespassing in 2010 can’t claim their Charter right to free expression was breached when the school refused to give them space to protest, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday. Ruth Lobo and John McLeod were arrested after their club, Carleton Lifeline, hung posters of aborted fetuses in a prominent space on campus called Tory Quad. The appeal court agreed with a January decision that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which limits the power of governments, doesn’t apply to the private institution in this case. For more, see the Ottawa Sun.
Emmett Macfarlane on the sorry state of policy debate
Reasoned debate is off the table. The student protesters and the Charest government are sharply at odds – in fact, they despise each other – but they’ve collaborated in one respect: each side has acted to ensure that rather than a robust public discussion about how to fund the province’s universities we get an ugly, protracted battle about the right to protest.
Why has the situation deteriorated so miserably? There is no shortage of finger-pointing on either side.
From the government’s perspective, too many protesters engaged in unacceptable tactics, including blocking non-protesting students from attending classes, vandalism, intimidation and violence. Some critics assert that the peaceful majority failed to condemn, in strong enough words, the hooliganism of those in their midst. Then, last week, classes on one campus were literally invaded, in defiance of court injunctions.
Charter of Rights applies, says judge
Campus free speech advocates are celebrating today, thanks to University of Calgary graduates Steven and Keith Pridgen, 22, and their unwillingness to accept their alma mater’s punishments.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld on Wednesday a ruling that the twin brothers were wrongfully punished for criticizing Aruna Mitra, their law professor, in 2007 Facebook postings.
The university put them on six months probation until they agreed to write a written apology for the statements, which the dean had deemed defamatory after a complaint from Mitra.
Students wanted to show graphic images in high-traffic area
Carleton University has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit by two members of an anti-abortion group who claim they were discriminated against by the administration, reports the Ottawa Citizen.
The school wouldn’t allow Ruth Lobo and John McLeod of Carleton Lifeline to put up a display that included graphic images of genocide and fetuses in a high-traffic square on campus known as the Tory Quad. The university offered them a more secluded space to make their presentation. The students argue that was discriminatory because animal-rights activists and Holocaust awareness groups are permitted to use graphic images in Tory Quad.
Lawyers for the university told the judge the claim is “scandalous, frivolous, vexatious or otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.” They argued that the university’s Human Rights Policy and the policy on Student Rights and Responsibilities are “internal administrative directives and procedures,” and that they do not form a contract between administrators and students.
Lobo and McLeod’s lawyer argued that Carleton University may have been acting as an agent of government and would therefore be subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including provisions on freedom of expression.
Why submitting universities to the Charter is a bad idea
If you question the morality of abortion then a university campus is no place for you. Anti-abortion student clubs are more likely to be subjected to an inquisition or denounced as misogynistic than to be invited to participate in robust debate. Student unions and university administrations have removed their funding, banned them from campus, and have even called the police.
These are not simply internal disputes. Pro-life groups have fought back through the courts, moves that, if successful, may ultimately bring universities within the purview of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To be sure, the militancy and hostility to diverse opinion of pro-choice student unions offends the libertarian norms of the Ivory Tower. But if campaigns to have expressive rights extended to universities are successful, then the precedent could demolish any notion of university autonomy.
While I hold no brief for campus censors, stripping universities of their independence, even for an exquisitely liberal purpose, is a greater threat. Universities should retain the authority to regulate what is and isn’t permitted on their campuses, particularly when it comes to non-academic activities. Just because political advocacy may occur on a university campus does not make it a scholarly exercise.
A University of Victoria pro-life group, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), recently filed a lawsuit with the B.C. Supreme Court against the University of Victoria Students’ Society over a decision to deny the group the same funding that other student groups receive. Although that funding has since been restored, according to their website, the group wants assurances that it won’t be “silenced again.”
If the case makes it to court, it will centre, in part, around the question of whether the student society is in violation of B.C.’s University Act, which states that a student union’s “purpose is to represent the interests of the general undergraduate or graduate student body.”
This is supported by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which argues in an affidavit that accompanied its recent application for intervener status in the case that, “for one group of students to purport to ‘govern’ by suppressing and singling out a group whose lawful expression it does not like is unlawful as being fundamentally offensive to fundamental legal principles.”
Although BCCLA executive director John Dixon has stated several times, including to Maclean’s, that his group believes denying pro-life clubs funding or space violates the Charter, the civil liberties group does not plan to make that argument this time around. Instead, in order to expedite the process, BCCLA simply plans to assist YPY in its lawsuit.
That doesn’t mean a quest to bring universities under constitutional control has been shelved for good. “We’ll look for the right case,” Dixon told me.
Immunity from the Charter, that student unions and university administrations cite in defence of their proclivity toward censorship, dates back to a precedent-setting 1990 Supreme Court ruling. At issue, was a case that sought to have the University of Guelph’s mandatory retirement policy struck down on Charter grounds. As the Charter is only applicable to Parliament and provincial legislatures, the Court first considered whether universities are under government control and ultimately ruled that they were not.
The majority did concede that universities are “creatures of statute carrying out an important public service,” and that “their powers, objects, activities and governing structures are determined by government.”
However, the Court ruled that “universities are legally autonomous” because of the existence of an independent board of governors that does not represent the government. Despite legislative constraints and financial reliance, university institutions “control their own affairs and enjoy independence from government regarding all important internal matters.” In effect, “their decisions are not government decisions.”
Despite this ruling, Dixon points out that the decision did not entrench universities as non-governmental entities as clearly as is asserted by student unions and university administrations. The late Justice John Sopinka, who sided with the majority, wrote in his own opinion of the case that while universities are to be guaranteed strict autonomy in their selection of staff, “some university activities, however, may be governmental in nature.”
In a talk given at the University of Guelph a few years later, Sopinka elaborated on what he meant. “If governing bodies engage in acts of censorship, they run the risk of being classed as government action and subject to the control of the Charter,” he said.