An Alberta judge has ruled in favour of the Lethbridge and District Pro-life Association (LPL) in a dispute with the City of Lethbridge over some controversial advertisements.
“Individuals in Canada have a right to share their beliefs, they have a right to share their opinions and not everyone’s going to agree, and it’s OK to disagree,” said Carol Crosson, counsel for the association.
“I think this decision really solidifies that the right to freedom of expression is for everyone.”
The ruling filed Thursday stems from a city decision in 2018 to reject five of the group’s ads promoting pro-life messages without giving them an opportunity for appeal.
Justice M. David Gates said he found the city’s decision to be unreasonable and that it failed to properly balance the goals of its statutory objectives with the applicant’s Charter-protected right to freedom of expression.
“Sometimes, cases like this, there can be the tendency to make it about the issue or the issue of abortion,” Crosson said.
“What this case was really about was the right every individual has in a democracy to share their opinion.”
The city had removed a previous ad that read: “preborn babies feel pain” from city buses and bus shelters after Advertising Standards Canada ruled the advertisement was inaccurate and misleading and breached two sections of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
The Pro-Choice Society of Lethbridge and Southern Alberta told Global News in a statement that it does not support the decision.
“Buses, bus stops, and bus benches aim their advertising at a captive audience, including children,” the statement said. “A municipality must be able to make decisions about advertisements on their property, and must be able to remove advertising that is harmful and misleading, including the Pro-Life Association’s ad.”
“We hope the City of Lethbridge will appeal this decision,” said Kallie Desruisseaux, the executive director of the Pro-Choice Society.
“The residents of Lethbridge deserve better than being subjected to harmful and inaccurate messaging on government property.”
The city said it’s still going through the decision before determining the next course of action.
“It is a very complete and divisive issue in our community. The city is called to balance all sides and sometimes it can be very difficult to get that balancing right, so we are now reviewing the decision that’s been announced and determine the next steps would be,” said Mayor Chis Spearman.
As part of the ruling, the city is responsible for LPL’s legal costs.
The association can now re apply to the city to have the ads displayed.