Supreme Court of Canada decision ends lawsuit, affirms academic freedom at UBC

The University of British Columbia welcomes a Supreme Court of Canada decision issued today that ends a longstanding lawsuit against the University and affirms UBC’s role in fostering open discourse and academic freedom without threats of legal action.

The Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal in the matter of

Maughan v. UBC et al., a lawsuit initially filed against the University and four UBC professors on October 23, 2002.

The Supreme Court of Canada will not interfere with the British Columbia Supreme Court’s finding (confirmed by the Court of Appeal) that there was no evidence to substantiate any of Cynthia Maughan’s causes of action against any of the defendants.

Maughan, a former graduate student and an Anglican Christian, claimed that the defendants had promoted hatred or contempt of her and/or had promoted her inferiority as a Christian contrary to the B.C. Civil Rights Protection Act (CRPA).

Maughan also claimed that they had acted in bad faith towards her because of her religion and she claimed $30 million in damages.

“This was an important case, not only for individuals at UBC who were cleared of any wrongdoing, but also for UBC as an institution,” says Hubert Lai, University Counsel.“It is the duty of a university to foster freedom of thought and speech in an open and tolerant atmosphere.”

The Supreme Court of Canada decision affirms that, absent bad faith, UBC is not subject to court action by students or others who are offended by controversial or unpopular speech. While there are limits inherent in freedom of speech and expression, the Court held that the communications and conduct complained of in this case came nowhere close to reaching those limits.

In January 2008, the B.C. Supreme Court dismissed all of Maughan’s claims in a decision which found that there was no evidence that anyone at the University acted either negligently, or contrary to the CRPA.

The B.C. Supreme Court also ordered that Maughan pay the legal costs of the University and the four faculty members. That decision was upheld in a unanimous decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal on October 20, 2009, which  stands as the final word on this case, given the Supreme Court of Canada’s refusal to hear Maughan’s appeal.


Hubert Lai
University Counsel
Tel: 6048220687