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Calgary city council formally denounces weekend acts, symbols of ‘hatred’

Calgary city councillors unanimously endorsed a renouncing acts of hatred and racism stemming from a weekend rally in downtown Calgary.

The motion was raised by Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart after a protest at Calgary city hall on Feb. 27 included the use of tiki torches. It’s been a growing movement seeming to hijack the ongoing anti-mask / personal freedom marches in the city.

The above motion was unanimously approved at Monday’s combined meeting of council.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the nature of the “pretend” anti-lockdown marches over the past several months have become clear. The mayor said there are no lockdowns because shops, schools and businesses are still operating.  He said people can go out and do many of the things they normally would.

“(They) have increasingly become forums for hatred for white nationalist groups and for others to attach themselves to this conversation such that the original discussion is completely lost,” he said.

“Certainly, many of us have been raising the alarm on this for some time.”

He said these groups aren’t fooling anyone with their torches.

“It’s not about heat; it’s not about light. Don’t be ridiculous. When we see people advertising these marches using pictures from Charlottesville, we know what that means, we know who that’s meant to intimidate,” he said.

“I will tell you right now as a person of color in the city I will never be intimidated by that.”

Why can’t we crack down, ask councillors?

Coun. Jyoti Gondek asked about the clear lines of enforcement in these situations. She asked if there is a process of charging and prosecuting a hate crime and if they could make that clear with the public.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra asked when the enforcement of these offense will happen. These kinds of hate protests have been going on for years, he said.

“Where is the ability to sort of crack down on hatred and really draw a clear distinction between the rights of people to protest for civil rights that are theirs, that are not being delivered, versus the use of a pandemic to a push forward a white nationalist and racist agenda,” he said.

Calgary Community Standards Director Richard Hinse said he would put together a briefing note on the enforcement options. It’s a difficult part of the law, he said.

“I certainly hear the councillors on this. It’s really the difficult thing between balancing the charter rights, freedom of expression and the Criminal Code that covers the hate aspects about this,” Hinse said.

“This is probably one of the most difficult areas of law and that’s why it calls for the consultation of the Crown in regards to laying of charges.”

Personal for some councillors

Coun. George Chahal, who represents Ward 5, said that as one of the racialized members of Calgary city council, this issue is a personal one.

“It’s personal because it’s personal for me as an individual and personal for the people I represent,” Coun. Chahal told councillors.

He said for the majority of Calgarians, hate isn’t tolerated.

“You hear that this is a part of our freedom of speech, freedom of speech is a hallmark of our democracy. But freedom to hate is not,” he said.

“I think that’s an important distinction that we cannot allow this behaviour to continue.”