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University pro-lifers win appeal over security fee that nixed events

The Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled in favor of a student pro-life group that was charged a $17,500 security fee to stage events on the University of Alberta campus.

“It’s very significant. This is an encouragement for anybody to say things on campus that may be unpopular, so long as it is lawful and peaceful,” said Jay Cameron, a lawyer representing UAlberta Pro-Life. The court decision was announced Jan. 6.

“The courts saw that when students are speaking at a public university, there are constitutional rights implicated in that activity, and the university was improper in imposing that security fee. Our constitutional rights exist whether our opinions are popular or in the minority, and our universities ought to function in the same way,” Cameron said.

In 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life staged a campus-approved event. Its display provoked a protest in which university students and others attempted to cover graphic images of aborted fetuses in the display.

When UAlberta Pro-Life applied for a similar two-day display in 2016, the university demanded the students first come up with $17,500 to pay for security and to barricade their display.

At the time, the university released a statement supporting the group’s right to free expression. However, UAlberta Pro-Life has been the only campus group charged such a large security fee, and the cost has prevented the group from hosting events on campus. Smaller security fees have been issued for other student events, such as those that include alcohol.

“The thing is, if the university makes it too expensive for a student group to express themselves, then that is a form of censorship,” said Amberlee Duteau, the former president of UAlberta Pro-Life who initially took the matter to court.

“Whether it’s pro-life clubs or other groups, I hope this will give them that extra security and legal certainty they need to be empowered and express their opinions on campus. Because the court ruled in our favor, places that haven’t had to deal with this censorship won’t have to now.”

Duteau is also a member of the National Campus Life Network, a Canada-wide organization that works with pro-life university students. She said it is common for pro-life groups to be singled out on campuses.

Duteau said she hopes this court decision emboldens UAlberta Pro-Life and other pro-life groups.

Read more at Crux. 

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