A group of students who face possible expulsion from the University of Calgary for posting graphic images of aborted fetuses on campus have pledged to take their free-speech fight to court if disciplinary hearings held this week result in even the mildest of sanctions.
Eight members of the anti-abortion group Campus Pro-Life were charged with a "major violation" under the institution's non-academic misconduct policy earlier this month after setting up their exhibit contrary to the wishes of university officials.
Closed-door hearings against two students accused of "failure to comply with a campus security officer or university official in legitimate pursuit of his/her duties" were held Wednesday, while the remainder are set to meet with the university's vice-provost on Friday.
"I fully admit and am proud of the fact that I did not leave when campus security asked me to," 22-year-old science student Ryan Wilson said after his hearing. "However, I think the real question should be whether or not campus security had the legitimate right to ask me to leave in the first place, which seemingly was not a question that they were willing to address."
The students were told rulings would come in five to 10 days.
Lawyer John Carpay, executive director with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, is acting on behalf of the students in what he calls a case of a publicly funded institution singling out one group for censorship.
"If the university imposes sanctions, we would plan to appeal that further.... It may end up in the Court of Queen's Bench," he said.
The university has declined to talk about the case, but officials haven't shied away from controversy before.
Last month, provost Alan Harrison supported the right of Ann Coulter, a provocative right-wing American pundit, to speak on campus after her organizers cancelled a speech at the University of Ottawa in the face of protests.
"The purpose of a university is to encourage and promote the free exchange of ideas," Mr. Harrison said at the time. "To do anything other than that is, I think, to go against what the university stands for."
The club's incoming president, Alanna Campbell, called it ironic that the university defended Ms. Coulter's right to free speech.
"But when it comes to their own students on campus, it's a different story," she said. "We have been told to turn our signs inward so people can't see them, basically censoring our point of view."
Campus Pro-Life has set up its Genocide Awareness Project - which uses explicit photos of aborted fetuses juxtaposed with pictures of the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide - nine times since 2006.
In 2008, the group erected the display despite the university's request to turn the posters away from passersby. Six people were charged with trespassing, but the charges were dropped last fall due to insufficient evidence.
Sanctions for the most recent display range from a warning, to being kicked out of school. Ms. Campbell promised to do whatever it takes for complete exoneration.
"We've done nothing wrong," she said. "We've broken no policies or bylaws of the university."