VANCOUVER - A free-speech battle by opponents of abortion at the University of Victoria has been shut down by British Columbia's highest court, a decision that civil liberties advocates say is troubling.
In a unanimous ruling, the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected arguments by a pro-life student club claiming the university must consider freedom of expression when restricting use of common space on campus.
The court found the charter did not apply, but the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said the judgment did not consider broader implications.
"We don't think it's right that universities should not have to consider students' free expression and freedom of assembly in making those kinds of decisions."
The group, called Youth Protecting Youth, was approved for a demonstration by the university in January 2013. But an official revoked the permit after learning the student society had sanctioned the group for allegedly harassing students.
The group held the demonstration anyway, in a protest they called a "choice chain."
The university responded by suspending the club's outdoor space booking privileges for one year and warned members that any future disregard of its directions could result in discipline.
A panel of three B.C. Appeal Court judges disagreed.
They sided with a lower-court ruling that examined the university's scope as a private organization, saying that "when the university books space for non-academic extra-curricular use, it is not implementing a specific government policy or program."
However, Paterson said the civil liberties association believes universities making such decisions must take people's charter rights into consideration.
"These types of decisions, we say, should not be charter-free zones," Paterson said.
The case remains open for appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.