Calgary city council has approved a safe zone outside city facilities, in an effort to prevent harassment of citizens participating in certain programs or events.
The Safe and Inclusive Access bylaw was approved 10-5 at Tuesday’s regular meeting of city council, with Couns. Sonya Sharp, Jennifer Wyness, Dan McLean, Sean Chu and Andre Chabot opposed.
The bylaw will create a 100-metre buffer outside of city recreation facilities and libraries, disallowing specified protests (hate-based) within that zone. It carries a penalty of up to $10,000 and potentially a year in jail.
“The recommendations we’re making today have been in response to a series of disruptive events that are preventing the city from being able to provide safe and inclusive access to city services,” said Community Services GM Katie Black.
“These protests have been escalating in intensity and have put public safety and welfare at risk. They’ve also been intended to incite hatred toward one group in our community, 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”
Black shared data that a recently commissioned survey on street harassment show 84 per cent of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community experienced harassment. That compares with 49 per cent of other survey respondents. According to Black, there have been 21 planned protests in Calgary, specifically targeting 2SLGBTQIA+ events and programs.
“In many instances, children and youth have been present at events where these threatening protests have occurred, exposing them to verbal and physical conflict, along with messages of hate,” Black said.
Black went on further to say that they respect the right to protest. They believed the proposed bylaw strikes a balance between that right and ensuring safe access to these locations.
A small group of protesters did gather outside the Calgary municipal building in the morning to protest their right to protest.
Questions of administration
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp asked city administration if they’re aware of anyone that hasn’t been able to access a facility due to protests.
GM Black didn’t respond with a specific number. She said they don’t have a way of inventorying those people that choose not to come to an event because they were afraid to attend.
“We also know that there have been events that were canceled because people didn’t feel that it would be safe to proceed,” GM Black said.
Coun. Sharp also asked about the public consultation, particularly around the buffer zones and where it might put protesters.
“I would be very upset if I lived next to the Bowness library and the 100-meter buffer was my backyard,” Sharp said.
Both Couns. Jennifer Wyness and Gian-Carlo Carra raised the concern over a recently published CBC article that quoted a lawyer that said the bylaw would be problematic.
City admin said that Calgary’s bylaw is written differently, not to supersede human rights and criminal code legislation. They said this bylaw is about creating inclusive access to facilities.
Coun. Wyness also asked why this was brought forward so quickly. She said councillors – and citizens – haven’t had the time to digest the bylaw. Admin did recommend that there be another amendment for a report to come back after one month to discuss the implementation of the bylaw.
“We acted swiftly because we are dealing with the increasing intensity and urgency of a situation,” said GM Black. She added that having gone through the traditional route, this bylaw would not have come to council until late April.
Debate on the bylaw
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said in her opening that they’ve all seen emails from members of the community that describe feelings of being unsafe.
She said they shouldn’t be proud of the fact they’re the first in Canada to undertake this kind of protection for the community.
“This isn’t something to be proud of,” Penner said.
“This is something to be ashamed of.”
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian reiterated once again, that protesting was not prohibited. She said this was about asking protesters to take a step back to allow people that want to participate to do so without fear.
"I think it's really sad that we're here; the vast majority of Calgarians are accepting," Mian said.
"They recognize you can disagree with something without disrupting events, and that you can protest peacefully. But we're here because of the behaviour of a small group of people who have taken it too far."
Coun. Sharp was very pointed in her remarks to those protesting these activities. She said they have the choice not to participate.
“You don’t have the right to harass people you don’t agree with,” she said.
Still, she believed the item was rushed. During debate, other councillors agreed. Sharp said that members of council only had a couple of days to review the document prepared by administration. They should take steps towards protection, she said, but something of this degree of importance needs to take time.
Her words sounded like she conceded it would go through Tuesday.
“I need to see evidence a month from now that this is working,” Sharp said.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek said that when she was at SXSW last week, a hot topic of conversation was the polarization of groups. She said the problem wasn't limited to Calgary. It's a global issue.
"For us to take a leadership step here is quite important. Especially when we are out there talking a good game about this is a city that you want to move to this is a city that you want to bring your business to," the mayor said.
"If you don't like the human rights argument, you should at least like the economic argument of trying to have business come to our city, showing that we're a thriving economy. You can't be a thriving economy if you're not inclusive."
An amendment to the City's Street Harassment bylaw, including the word "intimidation," was also approved.