UVIC pro-life student group sues student society
Youth Protecting Youth, a pro-life student group active at the University of Victoria, has begun a lawsuit against the UVIC Students’ Society, arguing that a decision to bar funding to the group was illegal. The petition filed last week by YPY in BC Supreme Court asks for a declaration that all previous refusals to fund or ratify the group’s status were illegal; an order for immediate funding and ratification; an order preventing similar treatment in the future; an order for the deposit of the funds denied in the past few years, and so on. (See my previous post on this issue here.)
The BC Civil Liberties Association intends to try to become an intervenor in the legal proceedings.
Justin McElroy at McLean’s On Campus commented that restrictions on pro-life campus groups are becoming part of a common script:
Step 1: A pro-life student club (or traveling exhibition) compares abortion in some way to murder/genocide/terrible, terrible things
Step 2: The university’s student council, in all its wisdom, decides to ban said group or club from campus.
Step 3: Gnashing of teeth commences.
As McElroy points out, there have been a series of similar decisions by student governments across the country over the past couple of years, and rarely has the dispute wound up in court:
Case law on the subject is murky. In 2008, BC’s human rights tribunal dismissed a complaint by UBC-Okanagan’s pro-choice student club, Students For Life, allowing the student union to continue to deny them club status. However, at the time William Black, a law professor at UBC, said the case probably wasn’t precedent setting, arguing “It looks like it was rejected not as a matter of principle, but based on the facts.” At UBC-O, a special general meeting was held to ban Students For Life. At UVic, all decisions involving YPY have been made exclusively by the UVSS council. In America however, the Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that student clubs cannot be denied funding based on their viewpoint.
The costs of commencing an action usually require a certain basement dollar amount at stake before proceeding. Experience shows that legal fees, up to a certain point, often total a third of the amount being claimed. In this case, it’s all about principle.
Two prior claims before the BC Human Rights Tribunal by similar groups have resulted in different decisions (see judgments on CanLII here and here). YPY’s choice of how to frame its complaint is likely based on lessons learned from those experiences. Many other pro-life groups – and student governments – will no doubt be watching this case for a sign of things to come.