University of Calgary Pro-Life Student Group Charged with Trespassing

Brandon Mewhort
February 9, 2009

Students at the University of Calgary have been charged with trespassing after refusing to leave campus during an antiabortion protest.[1]University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life, a student group with about 30 members, set up posters with graphic images. The protests started in November when University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life, a student group with about 30 members, set up posters with graphic images.

While the freedom of expression of the protesters may have infringed, a related issue in this case will be whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms[2] applies to the actions of university administrators since section 32 of the Charter limits its application to only those matters within the authority of Parliament and the provincial legislatures.

In the case McKinney v. University of Guelph, the Supreme Court of Canada held the Charter does not apply to universities because, even though they operate under statutory authority and receive government funding, they are considered to be autonomous from government control.[3] Limiting the Charter’s applicability to government action was intentionally done so as not to "strangle the operation of society” or “diminish the area of freedom within which individuals can act.”[4] This decision was affirmed in Harrison v. University of British Columbia.[5]

In the case Douglas/Kwantlen faculty assn. v. Douglas College, the Supreme Court of Canada held Douglas College was indeed subject to the Charter.[6] This case was distinguishable from the aforementioned cases, because colleges are subject to greater government control than universities. At paragraph 16 of theDouglas decision, the Court reasoned that “though the government may choose to permit the college board to exercise a measure of discretion, the simple fact is that the board is not only appointed and removable at pleasure by the government; the government may at all times by law direct its operation. Briefly stated, it is simply part of the apparatus of government both in form and in fact.”[7]
Further Reading:

CanLII, “Canadian Charter of Rights Decisions Digest—Section 32(1)


[1] CBC News, “Anti-abortion protesters charged with trespassing on campus” (2 February 2009).
[2] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11 (CanLII).
[3] McKinney v. University of Guelph, 1990 SCC 60 (CanLII).
[4] Ibid at para. 23.
[7]Ibid at para. 16.
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