Justice Centre fights for free speech rights of pro-lifers
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is an organization that, according to its website, seeks “to advance human rights and constitutional freedoms… through research, education, and litigation to safeguard individual freedom and equality before the law.” Their fight for human rights and liberty has led them to defend pro-life students facing university censorship and other cases protecting the freedom of speech of other pro-life and pro-family activists.
John Carpay, a former Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and former executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, founded the JCCF in 2010 and serves as president. He told The Interim the JCCF deals with numerous issues but focuses on campus free speech and is “the only organization in Canada that is actively defending campus free speech rights of university students.” It does this, he explained, because the free speech rights of campus pro-lifers are important as “free speech is a seamless garment,” meaning “if we tolerate the abolition of free speech in one place, particularly where is should be most cherished, it harms the free speech rights of Canadians everywhere else.”
Carpay has taken the case of seven members of Campus Pro-Life, the University of Calgary pro-life student group, and sued the university and its board of governors claiming UC violated the Charter rights of Alanna Campbell, Peter Csillag, Leah Hallman, John McLeod, Cristina Perri, Joanna Strezynksi, and Cameron Wilson, by imposing onerous burdens on their right to “peaceful expressions of their opinions” and thus arbitrarily censoring them. Since 2008, pro-life students have been charged with trespassing and violating the university’s Non-Academic Misconduct Policy in relation to their pro-life activities. The case is expected to be heard in the Fall.
In a separate case, Carpay also expects to challenge the University of Calgary’s student union’s discrimination against the pro-life students through conditions they have placed on their activities.
The JCCF is also defending pro-life and pro-family Christian activist Bill Whatcott, who was found guilty of promoting hate against homosexuals by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal after distributing pamphlets expressing disapproval of the homosexual lifestyle in Regina in 2002. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeals overturned the SHRT decision, but the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case will be heard Oct. 12.
Carpay told The Interim the Whatcott challenge is a “very important opportunity for Supreme Court to reverse previous decision affirming the constitutionality of free speech restrictions in human rights legislation.” In its 1990 Taylor decision, the SCOC narrowly upheld the restrictions and Carpay is hopeful that the Court will reconsider free speech rights.
The Justice Centre is less than a year old, and has thus far accommodated the incoming requests, but Carpay said he hopes resources will grow. Like most pro-life and pro-family groups it does not receive government funding and is dependent on voluntary donations.
Carpay explained that litigation actions are an expensive but necessary component of changing public policy. Courts, he said, more than ever, “shape public policy and if conservatives do not make their voices heard in the courtroom, they are not availing themselves of very important tools.” He said it was “foolish to make no attempt to use” the courts to win back lost rights.
The JCCF is also undertaking a study of freedom of speech at public universities. The Campus Freedom Index, which will measure and rank freedom at 12 universities, will be an annual project of the center.