Court of Appeal upholds first decision on Carleton-Lifeline lawsuit

The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled that Carleton did not breach the Charter rights of two former Carleton Lifeline members, according to the court decision July 29.

The Court rejected the claim that Carleton breached Ruth Lobo-Shaw and John McLeod’s right to freedom of expression when the university refused to give them space to display their anti-abortion posters in 2010.

Lobo-Shaw and McLeod filed a lawsuit against Carleton last year. Part of their suit argues that Carleton, as a post-secondary institution, is required to respect the defendants Charter right to freedom of expression. The Charter only applies to government institutions or programs, which Lifeline argued includes post-secondary schools, Lifeline’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos explained.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario disagreed with this statement of claim and agreed with the January decision made by the Superior Court, declaring that extracurricular activities outside of education itself do not fall under “government programs.”

“When the University books space for non-academic extra-curricular use, it is not implementing a specific government policy or program,” the decision read.

“There is, therefore, no triable issue as to whether Charter scrutiny applies to the respondent’s actions.”

Lobo-Shaw called the ruling “disappointing.”

“We were definitely a little bit surprised but not shocked by the ruling,” she said.

On Oct. 4 2010, Lobo-Shaw and Macleod attempted to display images on campus on behalf of the student group Lifeline’s “Genocide Awareness Project,” which depicted images of abortion in comparison to genocides like the Holocaust.

The university refused to give them space in the quad, instead directing them to Porter Hall in the Unicentre. A confrontation ensued and the students were escorted off campus by Ottawa police.

Polizogopoulos confirmed his clients will have to pay a cumulative $42,000 for the university’s legal expenses.

There are still options available to his clients moving forward, Polizogopoulos said, as the lawsuit is still before the Superior Court.

“We haven’t decided yet [what the next steps are],” he said. “We can either [appeal the decision] to the Supreme Court or continue with the lawsuit [which] is still alive and still going on.”

Polizogopoulos said he will be in touch with Carleton’s lawyers once a decision is made regarding the future of the case. If the case does not go ahead to the Supreme Court, the lawyers will discuss when Carleton will submit their statement of defence and when the lawsuit will proceed.

Lobo-Shaw said she feels the case is significant with respect to the  right to freedom of speech in Canada.

“It’s something that’s really important and needs to go to the courts. Universities are supposed to be a place where we can talk about these issues freely, and when people in power start deciding what can and cannot be said on campus…I think that’s really disappointing…and as Canadians [we need to fight for] the right to free speech,” she said.

The university said they could not comment on ongoing legal matters.