October 13, 2021
A pro-life group demanding an Edmonton bridge be lit up with their colours is not constitutionally protected free speech, a judge ruled.
Blacklock’s Reporter said the decision came on a pro-life legal challenge of light displays on Edmonton’s midtown landmark High Level Bridge.
“Freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter,” wrote Justice Kevin Feth of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.
However, the protection typically imposed a “negative obligation on government not to interfere, rather than imposing a positive right to government assistance.”
The Alberta March for Life Association in 2019 petitioned the City of Edmonton to light up the bridge in pink, blue and white to coincide with an Edmonton march.
“Pink represents unborn girls, blue represents unborn boys and white is for the purity of love,” the court was told.
The city refused the request as too divisive.
“Lighting the bridge for this event cannot be approved due to the polarizing nature of the subject matter,” staff wrote in an e-mail cited in court.
The bridge is typically lit for observances like Mental Health Day, Waste Reduction Week or the Edmonton Oilers’ home opener.
“Public discourse about controversial and morally complex topics, while having innate value in a democracy, frequently divides the population,” wrote Feth.
“That division is discordant with the targeted function of the bridge lighting project.
“In a free, pluralistic and democratic society a diversity of ideas is inherently valuable to both the community and the individual. Freedom of expression ensures that individuals can, without fear of censure, manifest their thoughts, opinions, beliefs and expressions ‘no matter how unpopular, distasteful or contrary to the mainstream.’”
The March for Life Association already had ample access to freely express its views with a public rally in Edmonton, said the court. The city could not be compelled to light up the bridge in colours that would be seen as a municipal endorsement of the Association’s views, it added.
“Reasonable members of the community might interpret the display on a municipally owned and operated platform as a signal of support by the city’s government,” wrote Feth.