Anti-drag protests: Calgary’s noise bylaw criticized for targeting counter protesters

Click to play video: 'Calgary sees more protests against LGBTQ2+ community'
Calgary sees more protests against LGBTQ2+ community
WATCH: A Calgary family is relieved after finding out they will not be getting fined following a heated protest targeting the LGBTQ2+ community. But as Global’s Craig Momney reports, the two opposing sides continue to clash with tensions flaring up again over the weekend. – Feb 27, 2023

Advocates are calling for a reform of Calgary’s excessive noise and anti-street harassment bylaws after two teens were penalized for protesting homophobia and transphobia.

On Feb. 12, it was reported that bylaw and police officers ticketed two teenagers for excessive noise after an interaction between members and allies of the LGBTQ2S+ community and a religious group got heated, according to attendees.

There were a lot of neighbourhood complaints according to police crews, but many attendees said they were targeted by hate-fueled speech.

Read more: Calgarians frustrated after Chinook Blast events postponed over safety concerns

The protests are the latest in a series of anti-drag protests in Calgary in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Chinook Blast organizers had to postpone two performances due to anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests.

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A viral video on Twitter showed a man being thrown out of a drag queen storytime event hosted by the Calgary Public Library (CPL) on Saturday. In the video, he can be seen yelling homophobic and transphobic statements at drag queen storytime participants and CPL staff.

Click to play video: 'Calgary teens may face street harassment fines for counter-protesting anti-LGBTQ group'
Calgary teens may face street harassment fines for counter-protesting anti-LGBTQ group

“I support the intention behind that bylaw. Calgary did something unqiue by trying to have this anti-street harassment bylaw to protect members of equity-deserving groups or minority groups,” said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

“I think it’s a good time for the mayor and the councillors to stand up on behalf of the queer community and these kids to pursue charges against the preachers because that’s what the bylaw is for.”

Bylaw officers told Global News Monday they are not proceeding with the tickets. Instead, officers said the incident was an opportunity to “educate” young people on the bylaw requirements.

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Mayor Jyoti Gondek said in a tweet on Sunday the city needs to stop pretending it can’t take action against anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests.

“Consider those who marched in real protests & died in the mission for real freedom – freedom for people to be who they are… Action must be taken,” the tweet read.

This comes as hate crimes against the LGBTQ2+ community have been on the rise. Between 2019 and 2021, there was a 64 per cent uptick in hate crimes targeting sexual orientation, according to Statistics Canada.

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According to Balgord, while the protests are targeting drag events the rhetoric is generally homophobic and transphobic.

“They’re against queer and trans people generally,” Balgord said. “We’re seeing more and more of this… The far-right movement has particular issues they get attached to and now it’s significantly focusing on the queer community.”

Read more: As anti-LGBTQ2 hate grows in Canada, advocates say it’s ‘never been as scary’

But the protests also highlight a rift between LGBTQ2S+ community members and city officials.

Rebecca Sullivan, a professor for the University of Calgary’s faculty of arts, said many LGBTQ2S+ people in the city do not trust the police to keep them safe.

LGBTQ2S+ community members and allies are fed up with inaction from the City of Calgary and the CPS, she said.

Click to play video: 'Online hate speech continues against 2SLGBTQIA+'
Online hate speech continues against 2SLGBTQIA+

“In the last 20 years, we have really done a lot of reflection and soul-searching and worked really hard on being a much more inclusive and embracing city to LGBTQ2S+ cultures and communities,” Sullivan said.

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“Social media is a dangerous and virulent beast… The dissemination of misinformation, conspiracy theories and a desire to get clicks and likes has fed this monster of abuse and hatred.

“I think what happened is a real line in the sand from our community to our community leaders, civic leaders, businesses and politicians. We will not tolerate intolerance and we will not stand by through abuse and hate-mongering.”

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Fae Johnstone, co-owner and executive director of Ottawa-based consulting firm Wisdom2Action, said she was shocked that the teens were ticketed for protesting.

Punishing people for speaking up against homophobia and transphobia will have a chilling effect on future counter-protests, Johnstone said.

It also bolsters anti-LGBTQ2S+ protestors.

Click to play video: 'Drag brunch sees protesters, LGBTQ2S+ activists clash outside Calgary venue'
Drag brunch sees protesters, LGBTQ2S+ activists clash outside Calgary venue

“It sends the worst message that if you go somewhere to fight bigots you might be charged by cops. That’s a horrible message to send,” Johnstone told QR Calgary.

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“As someone who’s attended many a protest in downtown Ottawa, the police are spending more time policing us than the bigots and the hate-motivated groups that are making cities and communities unsafe.”

Johnstone said the street harassment and excessive noise bylaws often necessitate more police involvement, who are ill-equipped to support queer and trans communities.

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Government officials need to be speaking up and condemning the people behind the protests. They also need to support community organizations that are often on the frontlines of counter-protests.

“This is also a crisis that is created by government failure over the past decade,” Johnstone said.

“Municipal, provincial and federal governments could be stepping up to the plate and equipping our communities with the resources, tools and strategies to do what we’ve been historically doing which is fighting the hate.”

In a statement to QR Calgary, the Calgary Police Service said it is investigating the incident at the CPL with its hate Crimes and extremism team.

It acknowledged that the recent surge in anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests at drag events have caused harm to the queer and trans community.

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“We work closely with the event organizers through our diversity resource team to determine the support they require for their event and the diversity resource officer then liaises with the Calgary Police Service to ensure the safety of participants,” a CPS spokesperson said.

“We know there is mistrust between some community members and the Calgary Police Service, and we are committed to rebuilding and working on the relationship between us and the larger LGBTQ2S+ community in Calgary.”

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