Supreme Court dismissal concludes student club legal battle

Campus News

On Dec. 1, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) dealt a final blow to a UVic pro-life student cub in its extensive legal battle with the university.

The UVic club Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) originally filed a constitutional lawsuit against the university in 2013 when its outdoor-space booking privileges were revoked for one year after the club was found to be allegedly harassing students during prior demonstrations.

This latest appeal to the SCC was seeking to overturn a previous ruling made by the B.C. Court of Appeal (BCCA) on April 22 this year. That BCCA decision was itself a second appeal of a previous decision made by the B.C. Supreme Court which had favoured the university on a case in January 2015.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which had brought the case forward on behalf of YPY, argued that the university’s actions directly infringed on the club’s right to freedom of expression. The BCCA ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to UVic’s regulation of its outdoor space. In dismissing YPY’s latest appeal, the SCC agreed.

In response to the ruling, former YPY president Cameron Côté said that he was “disappointed,” and that the decision sets a troubling precedent for free speech.

“This will allow universities in British Columbia to continue to pick and choose who can say what on university campuses,” Côté said via email. “Abortion is a matter in which human lives are in the balance, and it is essential that pro-life groups such as Youth Protecting Youth are able to share this message that all human beings deserve human rights with their peers.”

Although YPY wasn’t pursuing legal action against the UVSS, the society was named in the case. Alysha Flipse, UVSS director of outreach and university relations, said they were happy with the court’s ruling, and were “glad to have it all finally wrapped up.”

Jim Dunsdon, UVic associate vice-president of student affairs, told the Martlet that the university “welcome[s] the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on this case and appreciate[s] that this legal challenge has been resolved.”

And while this ruling may be seen as a setback, Mahisha Canagasuriam, YPY co-president, said it would not “deter us from continuing our mission on campus.”

A timeline of YPY’s legal battle:

Jan. 29, 2013: UVic gives permission to YPY for an outdoor demonstration to take place on Feb. 1, but revokes it shortly after when the UVSS advises Jim Dunsdon, associate vice-president student affairs, that it had prohibited YPY from holding further events.

Mar. 7, 2013: YPY has its outdoor booking privileges revoked by the university for one year after it goes ahead with a ‘Choice Chain’ event without university approval.

Oct. 10, 2013: The Martlet reports that the BCCLA and Cameron Côté, former president of YPY, are pursuing a constitutional lawsuit against UVic, arguing UVic has infringed on its right to free speech.

Jan. 29, 2015: The B.C. Supreme Court rules in favour of UVic, stating that Charter rights do not apply in the booking of university spaces by students.

April 22, 2016: YPY takes its case to the B.C. Court of Appeal, but the courts once again rule in favour of the university. The BCCLA and YPY say they will consider appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Dec. 1, 2016: The Supreme Court of Canada rules in favour of the university and dismisses YPY’s appeal, ending a years-long legal battle.