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Proposed Calgary bylaw would put distance between protesters and city facilities

Protests must happen beyond 100 metres of a City of Calgary recreation facility or library.

A proposed Calgary bylaw could levy penalties of up to $10,000 and a year in prison for anyone conducting a hate-related protest inside or outside a city library or recreation centre.

The City’s proposed Safe and Inclusive Access to Recreation Facilities and Libraries Bylaw will be before council at the March 14 regular meeting of council.

In recent weeks, a handful of events have had to be cancelled because of protests against drag shows in the city. Most recently there was an incident at the Seton Library that resulted in charges against protester Derek Reimer

As a result of ongoing safety concerns, a similar event planned for the Southwood library last weekend was postponed by the Calgary Public Library.  A planned drag show event earlier this year at the Chinook Blast winter festival also had to be cancelled for safety reasons.

The bylaw prohibits a specified protest within 100 metres of the entrance to a recreation facility or library. They cannot hold a specified protest inside either location nor can they physically impede the passage or entry into the facilities.

It applies one hour before and after operational hours, unless there is an event planned outside those hours. If the library or rec centre is inside another building, it applies to the entrance of that building.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said this bylaw strikes a balance between the right for people to protest and ensure safe and inclusive access.

“This does not disallow protests within the City of Calgary,” Penner said.

“This provides safe and inclusive access again to uphold human rights legislation.”

Enforcement of the bylaw would be up to City bylaw officers or the Calgary police service, Penner said. Whether it was complaint driven or proactively enforced would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Coun. Wong: Is it complete enough?

The City admin report on the bylaw said that the current Public Behaviour Bylaw does address harassment, but nothing to limit the time, manner and location of protests that prevent safe access to city facilities.  (Note, there is also a proposed amendment to add “intimidation” to the aforementioned bylaw.)

Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said the bylaw is a good start in helping protect members of Calgary’s LGBTQ community.

“The question I have is whether it’s complete enough,” he said.

Wong said there are several different entry points for Calgarians into city facilities. He wonders whether there should be more facilities included.

The Ward 7 councillor also said that as an Asian Calgarian, he said they’ve felt different types of verbal abuse in recent years, and there’s a real need to protect Calgarians from these attacks. That said, it’s troubling they have to take these measures, Wong said. He said there’s an expectation from the government to be inclusive, and also for the public.

“From my perspective, this is an unfortunate need to put in place paper to take care of what society should be doing in general,” he said.

Coun. Penner recognizes that pursuing this bylaw may inflame those already protesting, with those groups potentially saying it’s a further infringement on Charter rights.

“I think that is the unfortunate consequence that may happen and that deeply saddens me and frustrates me that we have individuals who may believe something different but act upon those beliefs in a way that is hurtful and harmful to others,” she said.

She said the city has a duty to care for citizens.

“It’s important because the psychological and physical safety of Calgarians is at risk,” she said.

The $10,000 penalty is in line with other jurisdictions in Canada with similar bylaws on the books. A bylaw in London, Ontario carries a maximum $25,000 penalty.