It’s an issue that’s sure to spark some heated conversation and, coincidentally, the issue itself pertains to heated conversation – or at least, amplified speaking.
City councillors in Edmonton are debating whether a permit should be required for “amplified noise” on city sidewalks.
“I just want to make sure that if someone is walking down the street they’re not forced to listen to a message they don’t want to hear,” Ward 5 Councillor Michael Oshry said. “Or if it’s music being played really loudly, they should have a right to say, ‘No, I don’t want to listen to that.’
“Specifically businesses that are nearby or people that work nearby, to have people playing music or proselytizing for hours on end, that’s just not reasonable.”
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An example brought forward was street preachers or so-called soapbox speeches, individuals who use megaphones or loudspeakers to amplify their message.
“I’ve heard from a restaurant that this is hurting their business,” Oshry said during the meeting.
“I had a commercial realtor email me last night who said they actually take people through the pedways because they don’t want to show prospective clients this kind of activity on the streets,” he added.
However, city administration said it doesn’t receive a lot of complaints about loudspeakers on public property.
Nehemiah Smeding, who came to City Hall for the meeting Monday, said he uses amplification “to preach of the gospel of the lord Jesus Christ on the sidewalks.”
He explained public preaching has a rich history and the reason he uses a loudspeaker is to be heard over Edmonton’s street noise.
“Amplification was used in City Hall here in the room where we met all for the purpose of clarity, for projection,” Smeding said. “That is really the only reason why I use amplification.”
He believes this issue is really a content complaint “wrapped in a noise complaint.”
“This is about noise,” councillor Dave Loken said. “I feel the bylaw is adequate.”
Edmonton’s current Community Standards Bylaw regulates excessive noise and establishes a number of offences based on the type of noise, activities that generate noise, and where and when those activities can legally occur. Section 14 of the bylaw states that a person shall not cause or permit any noise that disturbs the peace of another individual. Bylaw officers “apply objective standards to determine if any offence has occurred,” a report to council reads.
However, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression, “however unpopular a person’s view or expression may be,” the report explains, adding, “street preaching or street performing on public spaces would fall under this protection.”
City administration suggested council could look at changing the bylaw to restrict or partially restrict “amplified noise on city streets or on city parkland.” For example, the city could prohibit speakers from certain distances to building entrances.
Councillors passed a motion to have city administration look at what other municipalities have in place to regulate amplified noise in public spaces. They also asked administration to suggest legislative options that would address excessive amplified noise issues.
A report is due back to council in April.