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City of Calgary to Debate Proposed Bylaw to Ban Protests Near Pools, Libraries After Drag Queen Story Hour Objections

Calgary’s City Council will debate on March 14 a proposed bylaw to ban “specified protests” inside and within 100 metres of city libraries and recreation centres, following a number of protests against transgender individuals in pool change rooms and drag show story hour for children in public libraries.

Legal experts who spoke to The Epoch Times say the proposed bylaw is unconstitutional and unnecessary, as laws already exist to deal with threats of violence and genuine hate speech.

The “Safe and Inclusive Access Bylaw” would ban “specified protests,” defined as “an expression of objection or disapproval towards an idea or action related to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation by any means, including graphic, verbal, or written.”

If the bylaw is passed, individuals could not protest inside or within 100 metres of any “publicly accessible property” listed in the bylaw as a library or recreation facility, on threat of a fine up to $10,000, one year of jail, or both, if convicted.

City spokesperson Kaila Lagran declined to answer questions about the bylaw, telling The Epoch Times the bylaw “is going to be discussed and decided at Council” on March 14. She said “questions will be answered then.”

‘This Is Hate,’ Mayor Says

In a tweet on Feb. 10, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she was saddened and frustrated that a planned show had to be cancelled due to “planned protests rooted in hate & fear mongering.”

“We have performers being targeted for weeks & now vitriol in front of children at the library. These are not peaceful protests. This is hate. The kind of hate we rallied against for so long,” said the mayor.

Gondek said she pushed for a “better way to address protests rooted in hatred,” and had received confirmation that the City of Calgary would “leverage our street harassment bylaw to fine those who openly communicate hateful messaging, to stop them in the act,” in addition to the new proposed bylaw.

On Feb. 10, Gondek posted a video clip of a Jan. 17 city council meeting on Twitter, where she said drag queens in Calgary have done “amazing work, promoting inclusion,” and that Calgary “cannot have this kind of intolerance and hatred in our city.”

“Unfortunately, some members of our population thought it would be a good idea to protest this event, which is, I’m just going to use my opinion, a horrible thing to do,” said the mayor.

The Calgary Public Library issued a statement on March 3, stating that it would postpone a drag queen story hour that was scheduled the next day until the event would be “safe” and “fun.”

The library said it remained “committed to our partnership with Calgary Pride,” and that while “the right to protest is fundamental to our democracy,” a recent incident “was not a protest. It was an organized, targeted, and intimidating disruption of a program in a space where small children were present.”

‘Ripe for Misuse,’ Says Lawyer

Natalie Johnson, a constitutional lawyer with Alberta law firm Grey Wowk Spencer, told The Epoch Times that the bylaw “has the potential to regulate activity that the Mayor or City Council do not agree with.”

After reviewing the proposed legislation, Johnson said the bylaw would infringe on the fundamental Charter rights and freedoms of expression, religion, and association.

“The wording is overly broad and ripe for misuse: it prohibits ‘objection or disapproval towards an idea or action,’” she said.

The City and Calgary Police Service have “many other tools available to them to stop the type of conduct this bylaw purports to prohibit: threats of violence and hateful speech. This bylaw has the potential to be used against any political protest that the Mayor or City Council disagree with,” said Johnson.

Alberta lawyer James Kitchen told The Epoch Times that when it comes to protesting in libraries, the charter always intended “maximum constitutional protection.”

“A library’s purpose is expression. This is an open public facility,” he said.

The bylaw, according to Kitchen, “is a codification of whoever has the power in government of the day to take away the rights of everybody else who disagrees.”

Kitchen said the provincial government could overrule the City of Calgary by passing provincial statutes that further protect and clarify “the right of people to peacefully protest, to peacefully express themselves on library property.”

“Alberta could do that,” he noted.

“People now say words are violence. You’re expressing a dissenting idea that’s disturbing or uncomfortable to somebody else, and so they feel mentally ‘unsafe.’ Even if there’s no actual violence or threat of violence. The purpose of this is to somehow criminalize actual peaceful behaviour, to give law enforcement or government the power to break up a protest or assembly the government doesn’t like,” Kitchen says.

“The city is trying to address a social problem, not a criminal problem. The social problem is that people disagree with drag queen exposure to children.”

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