Dear Friend of Justice,
In August, I wrote to you about the situation facing students at Brandon University in Manitoba.
Brandon University Students for Life is a campus student group seeking to generate debate and discussion among students about euthanasia, abortion, suicide and other life issues. Students for Life has been active on campus since 2012, when it first sought student group status from the Brandon University Students’ Union (“BUSU”). BUSU initially denied recognition to Students for Life, but after receiving a warning letter from the Justice Centre, BUSU changed its position and granted student group status to Students for Life in September of 2013. Since then, Students for Life has conducted numerous peaceful events on campus to engage with fellow students.
But in November 2015, BUSU revoked student group status from Students for Life, without informing the club of its intentions to do so, and without providing any opportunity for Students for Life to defend itself!
Students for Life did not learn that its group status had been illegally revoked until January of 2016, two months later.
This sudden news forced Students for Life’s long-time president, Catherine Dubois, to make a difficult decision to cancel its event in the Mingling Area, for which it had been preparing for weeks. Catherine understands well that, without official club status, it’s practically impossible for students to organize events, invite speakers, sponsor debates, or set up a table during Student Groups Day in September.
If BUSU’s decision to revoke club status—without notice!—was not egregious enough, the way BUSU attempted to justify its illegal behaviour was far worse. BUSU excused its conduct by arguing:
- That the club’s message has made some students feel “uncomfortable” and “intimidated”;
- The club was affiliated with a Canadian pro-life group that BUSU “had issues with”;
- The club’s beliefs did not align with the Canadian Federation of Students’ official pro-choice stance; and
- The club was redundant, because the issues of suicide and abortion are already being addressed by the LGBTQ Collective and the Women’s Collective.
In fact, BUSU told Students for Life they could regain their club status if it they “changed” their pro-life views. BUSU insisted that Students for Life “can’t really talk about personal issues,” can’t hold events that make students feel “uncomfortable”, and “you can’t put your views out to a larger body.”
The Justice Centre filed a court application on behalf of Students for Life against BUSU in July of 2016. In the court application, Students for Life seeks a Court Order that its student group status be reinstated, and that BUSU be prohibited from further illegal discrimination.
The Justice Centre was eager and ready to take this court action as far as necessary, in order to protect the free expression rights of these courageous students.
We turned to you, and in return, you donated to support this important action.
Thanks to your support, we could generate a nationwide discussion about this issue. And we did. We generated media attention from major local and national media outlets, including CTV News, the National Post, the Winnipeg Free Press, and other outlets. We published a column in the Brandon Sun, and generated a debate in student newspapers on campus, culminating in garnering the focus of the lead editorial of the Brandon Sun.
In the face of significant public attention, and the Justice Centre’s carefully prepared legal briefs, the Brandon University Students’ Union backed down. The court action was settled on August 24, 2016. BUSU agreed in writing to reverse its 2015 decision revoking Students for Life’s student group status, and to recognize Students for Life an official student group in the 2016-2017 school year.
We won. And we couldn’t have done it without your support!
Since winning this victory, Students for Life has a fresh appreciation for their right to free expression—and they are exercising it!
In January, Brandon Students for Life sent us a tweet, showing us what our legal defence and public education had done for them:
In addition to participating actively at the Fall Clubs Tabling Day, Brandon Students for Life held a free speech table in January to raise awareness about the importance of protecting speech for all viewpoints, including pro-life views.
We applaud the efforts of these students. And I think it’s important to show you the tangible results of what we have achieved, together, thanks to your support and the support of more than 2,500 Canadians who believe in freedom and equality before the law.
These students have proven that universities and student unions can be held to account when they unfairly censor the discussion of ideas on campus.
But friend, while this battle is won, other students still need our help.
At Ryerson University in Toronto, a group of students calling themselves the Men’s Issues Awareness Society were denied official club status by their student union. Again, the denial was purely a result of the student union disagreeing with the club’s opinions. The Ryerson Students’ Union claims that men have “systemic privilege,” and that a group focused on men’s issues would necessarily “harass” women and make women feel “unsafe” merely by peacefully discussing men’s concerns, and that there is no need for a men’s issues group on campus.
The Justice Centre has also had to file court applications against the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, as well as the Student Association at Durham College in Oshawa, after student groups on each campus were denied club status, too.
Their crime? Being pro-life!
In addition to these court applications against student union censorship, we are also fighting a battle for free speech at the University of Alberta on behalf of students who have been slapped with a $17,500 “security fee” just to be able to express themselves on campus.
All of these fights, which you can read more about here, are crucial to protecting the free society. They are also expensive.
We have a talented, capable legal team: staff lawyers Jay Cameron and Marty Moore, and articling student James Kitchen, who will be called to the bar and become a lawyer later this year. Along with our network of lawyers and constitutional experts across the country, they are doing great work. These court actions for freedom require hundreds of hours of time to conduct proper legal research and analysis, to prepare well-written court briefs, and to put forward effective and persuasive advocacy in the courtroom. Our legal team carries out this work happily and enthusiastically, while earning salaries that are about half of what they could be earning at a regular corporate law firm. They work for the Justice Centre because they believe in our mission, and want to help defend freedom in Canada.
I know that you want to defend freedom, too. And I am so thankful for the support that you, and over 2,500 other Canadians, have been providing since the Justice Centre was founded in 2010.
Your generosity has helped us to secure more than 20 court victories and favourable out-of-court settlements, including this important victory for students at Brandon.
Friend, will you help us win these upcoming legal fights to defend free speech on campus?
All students deserve to have a voice on campus. Help us give these students back their voice.
Click here to donate now.
Please support our court applications with a tax-deductible donation today. You can donate securely at www.jccf.ca, or mail a cheque to 253-7620 Elbow Drive SW, Calgary, Alberta T2V 1K2.
John Carpay, B.A., LL.B.
Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms
#253, 7620 Elbow Drive SW • Calgary, AB • T2V 1K2
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