Late Monday, Calgary city council passed a measure that would ban “advocacy messaging” signs near schools.
The newly amended bylaw limits those signs to less than nine centimetres by 13 cm when they’re within 150 metres of school property.
The bylaw also says the restrictions are in place between 7:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. on school days.
“This bylaw amendment was created to protect young Calgarians,” Stacey McManaman, City of Calgary business strategist, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Advocacy messaging displayed near schools creates a captive audience of psychologically unprepared, often young and unwilling viewers of the messaging because they cannot avoid being exposed to it while coming and going from regular school activities and buildings.”
Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell said the concerns brought to city council from parents and educators were clear.
“What we heard from principals and the school psychologists was that it can create a considerable amount of trauma if children are confronted with really graphic images,” Farrell told Global News. “And in schools, they have to go to school. There’s no way for them to avoid those images. And they don’t have the maturity to deal with those kinds of images.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the changes to the Temporary Signs on Highways Bylaw were carefully considered.
“Our law department’s been through this very carefully to think about what the city’s responsibilities are and what we can do,” Nenshi said Monday.
“Ultimately, we have to create a safe space for people to learn, for kids to go to school.”
A release from the city acknowledged that freedom of expression is a protected Charter right, noting “a government may impose reasonable restrictions where there is proper justification for doing so.”
Nenshi said this bylaw does not infringe on that freedom.
“Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences of responsibility,” Nenshi said. “No one is saying you can’t say these things. No one is saying you can’t hold these beliefs. No one is even saying you can’t try and convince others of these.
“But what we are saying is huge graphic posters confronting students as they go in and out of school and the excuse of, ‘Well, they can use another exit’ — that’s just not right.”
The changes stem from a 2019 incident when a special interest group protested in front of a Calgary high school with graphic anti-abortion messaging that directly impacted a nearby elementary school.