Twin brothers, both students at the University of Calgary, were in court Friday asking a Court of Queen’s Bench judge to affirm their right to publicly criticize a professor. Keith and Steven Pridgen were reprimanded in 2008 under the University of Calgary’s student code of conduct for creating a Facebook group that the university says was defamatory towards Aruna Mitra, a former law instructor in the interdisciplinary department of communication and culture.
The group titled “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra,” contained comments from at least 10 other students, one of whom compared Mitra to a shoe. Another comment said that Mitra “got lazy and gave everybody a 65.” Yet another alleged the instructor said that the Magna Carta was signed in 1700 when it was signed in 1215.
After Mitra, who had discovered the Facebook page, informed the dean, the brothers were placed on six-months probation. The university lifted the requirement that the students write an apology letter after they refused to do so.
The brothers are viewing the case as a fight for their constitutional right to free expression. “I’m happy to fight for what I believe in is right,” Pridgen (Keith) was quoted as saying by the CBC. In asking the court to review their case, Pridgen said he wants to ensure no other students find themselves in a similar situation. “The injustice that was done to us, first in having to bear with this specific professor in the class . . . all the way through to having to bear with the different issues all the way along, the appeals process, the denials, the delays . . . for that to not be forced onto another student, that’s what I think would be right is the solution.”
The Pridgen’s lawyer argued on Friday that while the university believes the Facebook group was defamatory the Pridgen’s should have been given the opportunity to demonstrate that the comments on the site were justifiable under the truth and fair-comment defenses permitted in defamation cases. However, because the students were only reprimanded with probation, the university said that there was no obligation that an appeal be heard.