BC Civil Liberties Association calls out Prince Rupert School District

Prince Rupert teacher Caren Rennie and Prince Rupert and District Teachers’ Union President Joanna Larson showcase the T-shirt that was banned from the district.   - Martina Perry photo
Prince Rupert teacher Caren Rennie and Prince Rupert and District Teachers’ Union President Joanna Larson showcase the T-shirt that was banned from the district.
— image credit: Martina Perry photo

The president of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has called out the Prince Rupert school district for banning T-shirts containing section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, claiming the decision approaches the level of farce.

“The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, president of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

The letter refers to the district boycotting T-shirts displaying a play on the famous Shakespeare line “2(b) of not 2(b)?” on the front, while referencing text from Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including 2(b) freedom of expression on the back.

“In considering the Shakespearean questions posed on the front of the T-shirt, the school board has evidently decided that “not 2(b) is the answer. That answer is not only wrong, but is in violation of Canada’s constitution,” read the letter signed by Lyster.

Although the Prince Rupert board of education wasn’t allowed to discuss the actual T-shirt incident, as it is under grievance, they did talk about the letter at the Feb. 13 board meeting.

Trustee Barb Gruber called the letter “a piece of garbage”, saying a third party had no business writing the letter.

Tina Last, chair of the Prince Rupert board of education, said she didn’t like the tone of the letter.

“I agree with a Canadian’s rights, we live in Canada we know what they are. I also believe in respect. But just reading that letter, there’s so much disrespect,” Last said.

“I’m not offended by her wanting to discuss what she sees as a violation of [the constitution]… I’m offended with how she went about the letter,” she said, adding herself or the superintendent could’ve been contacted directly about the matter.

While the BCCLA letter warned the district to reverse the ban before it’s brought to court and to be mindful of the Charter in the future, the board of education chose not to respond to the letter.

“The letter was not communicated very nicely, I think it was probably written in a haste and in anger but by responding to it we’re just keeping this going. We don’t settle anything by responding,” said Trustee Janet Beil.

Five Prince Rupert teachers were told to remove or cover the T-shirts in question at the end of January, following the district receiving national attention for deeming a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle too political for classrooms in 2012.

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