Pridgens receive freedom of expression award

By Leya Russell

University of Calgary alumni Keith and Steven Pridgen received the 2012 Freedom of Expression Award. This award is given during the Freedom to Read Week this February, established by the Book and Periodical Counsel of Canada.

“What we are doing now is recognizing the importance of everybody having the freedom to read and the freedom to express what they feel is important,” said Owl’s Nest bookstore manager Michael Hare.

The Freedom of Expression Award was born out of a 1994 incident when a member of the legislature demanded that Steinbeck’s classic Mice and Men be removed from schools.

“So a group of concerned citizens came together and said, ‘no you can’t do that.’ That group decided to honour one person who in their minds either stood out, for either an individual or accumulation of actions that really represented and embodied the whole standing up for your freedom of expression, or working towards raising the profile of intellectual freedom,” said Crowfoot and Bowness Public Library manager Alison Thomas.

The Pridgen brothers’ case has been closely followed by students at the University of Calgary.

In 2008, the Pridgen brothers made comments on a Facebook page regarding the quality of instruction they received from a first-time, sessional instructor. Ten months after the comments were made, the brothers, along with other classmates, faced charges of non-academic misconduct.

Claiming that their freedom of expression and speech had been infringed and refusing to write an apology letter, they began a court battle which has gone as high as the Court of Queen’s Bench. If the current appeal by the university is heard, it could go as high as the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Fortunately, we won at the Court of Queen’s Bench, unfortunately they decided to appeal. Or maybe fortunately, because it has spread the news further,” said Keith Pridgen. “It should be commonplace for students to stand up for themselves, and it has been over time.”

Thomas sympathizes with the Pridgen brothers’ long court battle.

“I think it was really important for them that they have drawn attention to students’ rights as well as individual citizens’ rights for expressing our own view point,” she said.


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