ABCA divided on application of Charter to university disciplinary proceedings

Yesterday the Alberta Court of Appeal rendered a significant decision ab0ut whether a university is obligated to consider students’ Charter rights in disciplinary proceedings.

This case involved University of Calgary students found guilty of non-academic misconduct in disciplinary proceedings for posting criticisms of a course and its instructor on Facebook. The Court unanimously upheld that part of a judicial review decision which found that the students should not have been found guilty of non-academic misconduct. However, the Court was sharply divided on whether the Charter would apply to this case.  Paperny J.A. found that the Charter applied to the disciplinary proceedings undertaken by the University and that a review committee had failed to take into account the students’ freedom of expression right as protected by the Charter. She rejected the University’s argument that “the application of the Charter in these circumstances undermines the University’s academic freedom or institutional autonomy,” finding that academic freedom and freedom of expression are not competing values. McDonald J.A. found that while it may be time to reconsider whether or not universities are subject to the Charter, the judicial review court erred in undertaking such an analysis in this particular case. O’Ferrall J.A. found that the issue here was not whether the university was a “Charter-free zone,” but whether the university’s disciplinary body ought to have considered whether its discipline violated the students’ right to their freedoms of expressions and association, freedoms which long pre-dated the Charter.

More to come on this decision in a while.

Pridgen v. University of Calgary, 2012 ABCA 139


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