Legal Organization Announces It Will Sue Over Calgary Protest Bylaw
A new Calgary bylaw banning protests near public pools, recreation centres, and libraries will be challenged in court by the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), a national charity.
The CCF said it is “deeply troubled by the recent decision by Calgary City Council to pass a blatantly unconstitutional bylaw that restricts protests,” in a March 16 news release.
“The right to peaceful protest becomes essentially meaningless if local governments are permitted to target the ‘wrong’ kind of protest through new regulations like this,” said the charity, which specializes in constitutional law.
Calgary’s city council voted 10–5 in favour of passing the Safe and Inclusive Access Bylaw on March 14, using an expedited basis that did not include the usual committee meetings and public consultation process. The city also voted 11–4 to change a bylaw about street harassment to include “intimidation.”
The bylaw, which came into effect immediately, bans “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 queen story hour for children in public libraries.
The specific types of protests banned are those that express “objection or disapproval” toward ideas or actions 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.”
“This bylaw is not content neutral. It only prohibits specific types of protests that the government disapproves of. The courts have been very clear that the right to freedom of expression is content neutral,” said CCF litigation director Christine Van Geyn.
She said the “content of a protest’s expression, no matter how offensive, unpopular or disturbing, cannot deprive a protestor” of their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and association.
“It is not for the government to tell Canadians what they may or may not protest. This proposed bylaw and the $10,000 fine associated with it is unconstitutional and should never have been passed. We are preparing to bring a Charter challenge,” added Van Geyn.
Drag Queen Protests
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek posted on Twitter last month that she had pushed for a way to “address protests rooted in hatred.”
“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.
Van Geyn said the bylaw is “a clear example of a short-sighted council pushing through an unconstitutional bylaw because of a current cultural touchpoint.”
She said it was clear from the Council debate that the “rush to enact the protest ban is protests at Drag Queen Story Hour.”
Councillors Sean Chu, Dan McLean, Jennifer Wyness, Sonya Sharp, and Andre Chabot all voted against the bylaw.
The bylaws are to be reviewed in one month by city council.