Access to Justice in Alberta

Oct 15, 2015 2 MIN READ

The Pro Bono Cause

Since 2007, Pro Bono Law Alberta (PBLA) has impacted the lives of countless Albertans by brokering innovative partnerships between lawyers, law firms, organizations and individuals in need. Through a variety of projects and initiatives that focus on social responsibility, PBLA has created and promoted opportunities for lawyers to become involved in pro bono legal service.

The Osler Pro Bono Connection

Osler’s volunteer lawyers are proud to be at the heart of the legal community in Alberta, participating in the programs offered through Calgary Legal Guidance, which provides free legal assistance, information and advocacy to individuals experiencing financial hardship. As part of a community law project, protecting the rights of the disadvantaged, lawyers from Osler’s Calgary office also provide duty counsel to unrepresented and underprivileged parties in civil matters at Provincial Court.

One notable case: Pridgen v University of Calgary

We intervened at the Alberta Court of Appeal in a constitutional and administrative law case that revisited the question of the application of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to universities.

The students in Pridgen faced sanctions for posting negative feedback about a professor on a Facebook page.  The students and the CCLA argued that the University’s action was an infringement of their freedom of expression and was administratively unfair.

Osler argued for the CCLA that the Charter applied to student discipline because the university was exercising power delegated to it by the government in the delivery of public education.

Two justices of the Court of Appeal decided that the students had been treated unfairly under the administrative procedures and found it unnecessary to consider the application of the Charter of Rights to universities.  The third justice concluded that the Charter of Rights applies universities and that the students’ freedom of expression had been infringed.

Pridgen sets the stage for future litigation where the Supreme Court will have to re-consider one of its earliest decisions, McKinney v. University of Guelph, where it was decided that the Charter of Rights does not apply to Universities.  In this way, the Pridgen case advances the interests of students and promotes freedom of expression.