Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Students' Facebook criticism weathers university appeal

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CALGARY -- The province's top court has dismissed the University of Calgary's appeal for autonomy in disciplining students for non-academic conduct after they criticized their professors on Facebook with an entry called "I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra."

In a written decision released Wednesday, the Alberta Court of Appeal concluded freedom-of-expression provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were infringed in the case of twin brothers Keith and Steven Pridgen, 22.

"The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the disciplinary proceedings undertaken by the university," Justice Marina Paperny wrote in the unanimous decision.

"The decision of the review committee failed to take into account the Pridgens' right to freedom of expression under the charter."

The university had appealed a ruling by Queen's Bench Justice Jo'Anne Strekaf in 2010 that quashed its decision to place the brothers on probation in 2008 for statements made on the website beginning in November 2007.

Tim Boyle, lawyer for the Pridgens, argued last November his clients had a legitimate basis for complaints against the professor.

They alleged she "misrepresented her qualifications" when she took over the class and when she gave harsh marking in the course.

"All 17 students who applied to appeal their grades had their grades increased," Boyle said, noting the university did not begin the disciplinary process until 10 months after the comments were made.

Boyle said several students were told to sign a letter of apology to the professor or face sanctions. The Pridgens were among four students who refused to sign and all were reprimanded.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2012 A10

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