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Mayor Gondek calls for stronger hate legislation in wake of Calgary protests

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she wants to see hate speech legislation strengthened so language just considered “offensive” is taken more seriously.

The mayor made her comments in a statement posted to X (formerly Twitter) over the weekend, citing the changing nature of protests.

When the mayor’s office was asked if there was a specific incident that sparked the post, they said it was due to the culmination of references in recent Calgary protests. They said violent references are being verbalized and depicted through signage.

The timing of the tweet was the result of an accumulation of what’s been happening, they said.

In her statement, the mayor said that legislation has not kept up with the changing nature of protest.

“Assemblies and protests that target specific groups with hateful language are quickly becoming the norm and are increasingly spreading offensive rhetoric,” the mayor said.

“Unfortunately, our existing legislation does not recognize or address the inherently violent nature of the offensive language and symbolism we are hearing and seeing on our city streets.”

Most recently there have been weekly protests drawing hundreds of people into the downtown.

On Sunday, two groups of protesters gathered at city hall, according to police, showing support for both Palestine and Israel. According to Calgary police, there was a crowd of more than 1,000 at the locations. 

One person was arrested at the event for causing a disturbance.

“We appeal to all protestors to act responsibly & protest within the laws. Anyone who jeopardizes public peace, endangers others, or participates in illegal activities will be held accountable for their actions,” the Calgary police said.

Hate crime and hate incident

Mayor Gondek said that police and bylaw officers are placed in “impossible” positions of having to control the crowds, while lacking the ability to remove those using harmful language due to the threshold for a hate crime not being met.

“This is an issue that is creating fractures within our civil society and it is putting many members of our community at risk,” the mayor wrote.

The City of Calgary was challenged with a similar issue during anti-drag protests last winter and into the spring.

At that time, LWC looked into the difference between hate incidents and hate crimes and how the law is applied. A hate incident is a non-criminal action against a person or property that includes intimidation, distribution of prejudicial material and racial comments.

The mayor is calling on legislators to make changes to strengthen these rules. She said legislators need to understand the context of the language that’s currently deemed only “offensive.”

“They need to fill the impact of anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic and racist language the same way it is experienced by members of targeted communities,” she wrote.

“It is the only way we can strengthen the parameters under which the right to protest does not become a right to spread hatred and create fear.”