In the Pridgen case, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld a Court of Queen’s Bench ruling, which held that the right to freedom of expression under Section 2(b) of the Charter applies to students on university campuses.
Two brothers, Keith and Steven Pridgen, along with several other students, had been disciplined for non-academic misconduct after harshly criticizing a professor on Facebook. The Pridgens sought judicial review of the disciplinary decision, arguing that Section 2(b) of the Charter applied to publicly operated universities in Canada.
The University of Calgary argued before the Court of Queen’s Bench, and later before the Court of Appeal that discipline of students was a private, regulatory matter, and not the sort of “governmental” matter to which the Charter is intended to apply. The Court of Appeal disagreed with this analysis, as follows:
I do not accept the characterization of the University’s relationship with its students as a purely contractual matter, particularly when it comes to discipline for non academic misconduct. The argument ignores the fact that the legislature has seen fit to expressly authorize sanctions for student discipline in the legislation establishing the University. The University could impose such discipline regardless of, or in addition to, any consent by or contractual relationship with the student (assuming one exists). Moreover, the regulation of student speech in the context of non-academic misconduct is not merely an internal matter. It is, in my view, analogous to the regulation of expression by professional regulatory bodies.
The Court of Appeal ultimately upheld the Court of Queen’s Bench decision, quashing the internal disciplinary decision against the Pridgens, and holding that the Charter applies to the conduct of university officials. The Reasons for Judgement of Paperny J.A. are a good example of the Charter being applied broadly, not just to government institutions, but institutions at arm’s length from government which perform governmental functions.
Click here for the full text of the decision.