You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take, says hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. An old Dutch proverb asserts that “he who makes no mistakes usually achieves nothing at all.” These principles are being tested by courageous Canadians who, by standing up for their own freedom, are defending others’ freedoms as well.
Colette Schouten is one of these courageous Canadians. She wanted to display 10,000 small pink and blue flags at Eau Claire Park in Calgary in September 2016, with volunteers present to engage with the public about pre-born human rights. The City of Calgary denied Schouten’s event application, based on a policy to give lower priority to “events that are primarily religious or political in nature.” Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lawyer Marty Moore wrote to the city, explaining how freedom of expression applies in city parks. He demanded that the City of Calgary reverse its denial of Schouten’s application. The city reversed its decision, granting Schouten a permit to set up the display on the same date she originally sought, and in the same location she originally desired. Schouten had taken a shot, not knowing the outcome, but also knowing she could not let this infringement on her freedom of expression stand. She scored, and the event went ahead.
Mary Stanko of St. Catharines had been publishing a community newsletter for seniors for 18 years, providing historical sketches, information on local events, and editorials. But in the spring of 2015, the St. Catharines Public Library refused to allow Stanko to place her newsletter in their newsletter stands, because of an editorial quoting the Charter and its recognition of the “Supremacy of God.” Among other things, Stanko wrote: “Yet, why are we law-abiding citizens allowing these Apostates and Atheists, who are in the minority, to install their undemocratic rule of terror in which mention of HIS Name has become anathema in Public Governments, their arms length Commissions, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, Universities and some Secular Media?” The Justice Centre informed the library of its duty, as a government entity, not to censor materials based on the content of the views expressed. The library reversed its decision. Freedom scored another point, thanks to Stanko taking a shot and standing up for her rights.
This past August, Voices of the Nations (VOTN) held its annual Christian music festival in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, showcasing the talents of numerous performing groups and artists from a broad cross-section of the Christian community. This would not be newsworthy, except for the fact that the Yonge-Dundas Square Board of Management had denied VOTN’s application to continue with its annual event in 2016. A legal warning letter, explaining Charter freedoms, resulted in a reversal of the city’s decision. By challenging this municipal authority (rather than simply accepting its unjust decision), VOTN scored a goal for itself and for the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians.
Brandon University Students for Life took the Brandon University Students’ Union (BUSU) to court, after BUSU stripped the pro-life club of its registered club status in November 2015. This removal of student group status meant that Students for Life could not set up a table during Clubs’ Week, and could no longer book meeting rooms unless it paid fees that no other student groups were required to pay. After club president Catherine Dubois and other club members sued BUSU, the student union reversed course and restored club status to the pro-life club for the 2016-17 school year. This student union now knows it will get sued again if it tries to censor speech in the future. Another shot, another goal.
In Toronto, the Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) has taken the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) to court for denying club status to the student group, therefore effectively preventing these students from freely expressing their opinions on a university campus. The student union opposes the club’s mission “to host discussions and bring social awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school.” This court action is another shot for freedom, and another chance to score a goal.
Governments are providing no shortage of opportunities for Canadians to stand up for individual freedoms. But court actions consume a great deal of time, energy and money, with no guarantee that justice will be served. People fear public backlash and prefer not to rock the boat. Many are unaware of their Charter freedoms. Nevertheless, courageous Canadians are standing up for their freedoms.
Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents the individuals whose stories are outlined in this column