A court in Canada recently heard oral arguments in a case surrounding whether a pro-life group was wrongfully denied the right to promote an event via a lights system on a city bridge.
The Alberta March for Life Association filed legal action against Edmonton city officials last year when they canceled their approved plan to promote an event on the High Level Bridge.
During the oral arguments, held before a court last Friday, the plaintiffs argued that the event promotion should have been allowed as a matter of freedom of expression.
James Kitchen, a lawyer for the Justice Centre For Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing the pro-life group, cited the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The expression of pro-life opinions is part of the diversity of expression found in a free society, and is protected by the charter,” said Kitchen, as reported by The Canadian Press.
Shayne Abrams, a lawyer representing the city, argued that the message of the pro-life group was too divisive for the city-sponsored bridge lighting system.
“Various postings (against the lighting of the bridge) on Twitter represent a microcosm of community at large,” Abrams argued, as reported by the Press.
“These (messages) show that the message of March For Life polarizes the community and shows that some citizens take the lights as a message from the city.”
For his part, Kitchen pointed out that the bridge had been used to promote other, possibly polarizing observances like Islamic holidays and LGBT pride events.
The High Level Bridge has 60,000 programmable lights, with groups being allowed to promote their event or cause through having the bridge light up in specific colors.
In March 2019, AMLA Vice Chair Jerry Pasternak submitted an application to have the bridge lit with blue, pink, and white lights on May 9, 2019, to promote the Canadian March for Life.
Although Edmonton officials initially approved the application, they eventually canceled the lighting in April of last year following local outcry over the group’s views on abortion.
In October of last year, the pro-life group filed suit against Edmonton over the canceled lighting, arguing that it was discriminated against on the basis of viewpoint.
For its part, the city explains online that they can “deny requests that do not merit public support or are mainly personal, private, political, polarizing or commercial in nature.”
At present, scheduled light displays for later this month include recognition of World Pancreatic Cancer Day (purple lights), National Child Day (blue lights), the University of Alberta Fall Convocation (green and gold lights), and Barbados’ 54th Independence Day (blue, yellow, and black lights).
“In deciding to cancel the lighting of the Bridge for the March for Life, exclusively because of the pro-life expression involved, Edmonton failed to explain how such expression is ‘polarizing,’” stated the Justice Centre last week.
“… or whether it is more ‘polarizing’ than other causes, or how the City determines which organizations or issues are sufficiently ‘polarizing’ to justify being denied the right to use a public space that is available to a long list of other causes.”