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University Sued for Axing Anti-Abortion Event

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - The University of Victoria canceled an anti-abortion event under an unconstitutional bylaw governing the use of outdoor campus space, a former student and the BC Civil Liberties Association claim in court.

In a petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court, Cameron Cote claims the university yanked its approval of an anti-abortion Choice Chain event a day before it was to take place in February.

Cote, a member and former president of the university's Youth Protecting Youth Club, claims an earlier Choice Chain event caught the ire of the university's staunchly pro-choice student's society, resulting in sanctions against the club.

The society also once revoked the club's official status and then backed down after the club sued, and has since remained "hostile" to the club, according to the petition.

"A Choice Chain is an interactive pro-life event wherein participants hold signs with either an image of an aborted fetus or an image of a living and naturally developing fetus," Cote explains in his petition. "Although the images are provocative, the stated purpose of a Choice Chain is to create respectful dialogue surrounding the topic of abortion and participants are trained as to how to interact with passersby."

The university's student society claimed the displays at the club's event constituted "hate speech" or "harassment" in violation of the society's policies. In 2012, the society passed motions to censure the anti-abortion club and revoked public space booking privileges until the spring 2013 semester, according to the petition.

The club planned to hold another Choice Chain event on Feb. 1, 2013, and it was initially approved but later canceled by the university, Cote claims. When the club was first censured and the event was canceled, the student society and the university's associate vice president of student affairs - who also imposed restrictions on the event before the cancellation - allegedly failed to weigh the anti-abortion club members' "rights to free expression, assembly and religion, nor did [they] perform any constitutional analysis," the petition states.

Despite the cancellation, the club went ahead with the event and it proceeded without incident, according to the petition. The university then revoked the club's privileges for a year for holding the unauthorized event and threatened its members with allegations of non-academic misconduct for participating, Cote says.

He graduated from the university in May and was replaced as the club's president, but says the club "continues to be under threat of proceedings for non-academic misconduct arising from peaceful expressive activities on campus."

Cote seeks declarations that the university's policy for booking outdoor space is unconstitutional because it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by unlawfully restricting freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Cote and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association are represented by Craig Jones and Emily Unrau with Branch MacMaster in Vancouver.

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