Group files lawsuit against city over anti-abortion flag

The anti-abortion flag that flew in front of City Hall last year. Herald File Photo

The Prince Albert Right to Life Association is suing over the city’s decision to bar their “Umbert the Unborn” flag, saying the ban violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This spring, Mayor Greg Dionne said he would not allow the flag to fly from the city’s courtesy flagpole. The flag has flown for years, but Dionne said he would only be open to a more neutral design. Pro-choice advocates had argued that the flag – which depicts a cartoon fetus and the words “please let me live” – was discriminatory and anti-woman.

But last week a legal advocacy group took up the Right to Life Association’s cause. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit with Prince Albert’s Court of Queen’s Bench on November 2. According to the group’s president, John Carpay, the city’s position is a breach of free expression rights.

“The government has an obligation to be neutral,” he said. “We’ve seen Prince Albert City Council raising the flag for all kinds of different causes – some of them controversial. So state neutrality means everyone has a right to speak.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights presents itself as an advocate for expression, association and conscience rights. Its recent cases have largely focussed on defending clients that oppose abortion.

Carpay said those groups are currently the most likely to fall victim to censorship.

“It’s important to defend freedom of expression for all people,” he said. “The biggest threat to free expression is this notion that unpopular or offensive views need to be repressed, so we want to hold the municipal government responsible for pandering to that particular sentiment.”

Staff at the Court of Queen’s Bench confirmed that they have received the filing. The case is set to go to judge’s chambers on November 21, a very early stage in the civil litigation process. Carpay said the lawsuit seeks an injunction to reverse the city’s decision, and not any monetary damages.

For more on this story, see the Friday, November 10 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.