Friday, January 17, 2020

Students have Charter-protected free-expression rights on campus, Alberta appeal court rules

EDMONTON — Alberta’s top court has concluded that students have Charter-protected free expression rights on campus, in a ruling related to a $17,500 security fee a student group would have had to pay to hold an anti-abortion rally at the University of Alberta.

“There has long been confusion about the status of universities — specifically, whether they count as ‘government’ for the purpose of the Charter — and (Monday’s) decision helps push this issue in the proper direction, at least in the free-expression context,” said Emmett Macfarlane, a constitutional law expert at the University of Waterloo, in an email.

Macfarlane said the court’s decision “also serves as a warning to universities across Canada that it may be unacceptable to use ‘security costs’ as cover to dodge these ‘free-speech controversies.’ Although the appellants did not receive a meaningful remedy for this breach, other universities should now be put on alert that they may have constitutional rights obligations in the free-speech context and that shutting down expressive activity by using potential security costs as an excuse may not fly.”


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