The Alberta March for Life Association is suing The City of Edmonton after city administrators approved — and then cancelled — a scheduled lighting on May 9 in honour of the annual pro-life event.
Jerry Pasternak, vice-chairman of Alberta March for Life, submitted an application to light up the High Level Bridge in pink, blue and white for the pro-life cause.
This year’s march, which coincided with similar demonstrations across the country, took place around the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of abortion in Canada in May 1969.
March for Life is held each year, to recognize the dignity of the elderly and the disabled, to protest euthanasia and the decriminalization of abortion in 1969, and to raise awareness of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. The application was first approved by the city on March 7 and then revoked on April 5.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed a court application Oct. 4 on behalf of Pasternak and the Alberta March for Life Association. In a news release, the Justice Centre says the discrimination against Alberta March for Life by denying their request.
According to the court application, the city had cancelled the lighting due to the “polarizing nature” of its message. A similar request was cancelled by the city in 2017.
“The state has no proper role to be playing favourites among ideologies, political beliefs and religious beliefs. They’re supposed to stand neutral,” said Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.
“The March for Life is accused being polarizing, but the City has not explained to them what that means or why it excludes them from having the bridge lit up. The government should not promote or hinder any specific belief or ideology. It’s something that needs to be challenged.”
Since the court application was filed, Kitchen says the City of Edmonton has been in contact with the Justice Centre. It has not yet been determined whether the city will reverse its decision or the matter will be taken to court.
The City of Edmonton has been notified of the lawsuit but is unable to comment while the matter is before the courts, communication adviser Karen McDonnell said in an email.
Alberta March for Life has held a rally on the Alberta Legislature grounds for the past 12 years. An estimated 1,500 people from across the province attended the most recent march.
The High Level ‘Light the Bridge’ Program began in 2014 to recognize Edmonton events and cultural celebrations by lighting the bridge in specific colours. The criteria states that the lighting must be in support of an event of national or international significance, to support a local festival, or to support an issue that builds community.
However, the criteria states that “the City reserves the right to deny requests that do not merit public support or are mainly personal, private, political, polarizing or commercial in nature.”
The bridge has been lit in honour of Pride Parades, religious holidays, and various awareness campaigns. In the past few weeks alone, the bridge was lit for the Edmonton International Film Festival, the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, World Cerebral Palsy Day, and a variety of other requested events.
By denying Alberta March for Life’s request, the Justice Centre says the city is limiting the right to free speech:
“There’s a whole range of events and ideologies this bridge is lit up in association with,” said Kitchen. “They don’t spend all this money to a have a great big platform for expression, and then play favorites and pick who can and can’t use it. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms precludes that.”
The Alberta March for Life Association could not be reached for comment.
Since 1988, Canada has had no law prohibiting abortion at any stage of pregnancy. In Alberta, 12,706 abortions were reported in 2017 and as many as 13,815 in 2014, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Access to abortion varies by province.