The City of Calgary is hoping a new bylaw can provide some protection for city staff and groups who have been targeted by hateful protests.
Dubbed the “Safe and Inclusive Access Bylaw,” any protest that objects to or disapproves of any race, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression, disability, age, place of origin, marital or family status, sexual orientation or income source within 100 metres of entrances to a public library or recreation centre would break that bylaw. The bylaw also prohibits similar protests within those facilities.
Repeat offences would result in a doubling or tripling of minimum fines. Offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 and/or a year in prison.
But the proposed bylaw does not ban protests.
“This is really about striking that balance for that right to protest, but also providing what is – and it’s very much in the title of the bylaw – safe and inclusive access,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said. “It is providing that zone where people can enter and exit a facility free of intimidation or harassment, be that verbal or non-verbal.
“What this bylaw is actually upholding is Alberta human rights legislation.”
Part of the proposed changes coming to city council on March 14 include the addition of the word “intimidation” to the interpretation of the word “harass” in the city’s Public Behaviour Bylaw.
“The psychological and physical safety of Calgarians is at risk,” Penner said. “And I can say personally, I have had friends reach out to me, I have had members of the community reach out to me who are very concerned for their safety.
“I think this is a responsible step for us to take to provide a duty of care to citizens and a duty of care to providing safe access to services that they are entitled to.”
Behaviour of anti-LGBTQ2 protesters in the city has increased in severity in recent weeks, police recently told Global News.
The Calgary Police Service is currently investigating a threat made on social media to the LGBTQ2 community that allegedly included the phrase “there will be blood.”
“The organizers of these referenced protests have indicated an intention to continue protesting all-age drag events until they are shut down or, in the case of Canyon Meadows Aquatic and Fitness Centre, city policies are changed. These protests have been threatening, invoking fear, and inciting hatred, while putting the safety of the public and staff at risk,” a city report reads.
On Tuesday, Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott issued a letter of his support for the LGBTQ2 community.
“These are not isolated incidents. They are a part of an increase in hate globally that has led to immense violence toward vulnerable and marginalized groups, and right now, it is the Trans community that is bearing the brunt of it,” Walcott wrote, pledging an effort to protect the community against hate and intolerance.
“I am keenly aware that this must be done with care and consideration for the rights and freedoms we enjoy. Inaction and silence, however, is not an option.”
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong said Calgarians of all identities and backgrounds should be able to feel safe and free from harassment while walking through city streets.
“As an Asian and member of the visible minority community, we have felt a lot of the different stresses and concerns within our community as well,” Wong told reporters. “We want to know that we can walk any street in Calgary without feeling that someone’s going to harass us or throw any threats or verbal attacks on us.
“This is an unfortunate need to put in place paper to take care of what society should be doing in general.”
‘Governments and police need to adapt’
Kristopher Wells, Canada Research Chair for the public understanding of sexual and gender minority youth and associate professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, called the proposed bylaw an “important step forward.”
“This is all about community safety and protecting those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities from hate, harassment and intimidation,” Wells said. “I think that this is really important that the City of Calgary has listened to community concerns and has promptly responded.
“I think it sends a very important message about the values of the City of Calgary and the kind of behaviours that are going to be tolerated and accepted.”
He called the bylaw another tool in the toolbox, in the face of escalating hate-motivated behaviours in Canada and around the world, online and in real life.
“We haven’t seen this kind of direct rhetoric in probably 20 or 30 years. And so it’s come back full circle and it’s come back more aggressive and more violent than ever,” the MacEwan professor said. “This is not just about trying to silence individuals, but many feel it’s about trying to eradicate entire communities.”
Wells would like to see laws and law enforcement adapt to a modern landscape that addresses what academics call stochastic terrorism – the use of mass communication like social media against a particular individual or group that perpetuates fear or inspires actions against its target.
“Just as hate continues to adapt, we need the responses of our governments and of our police services to continue to adapt.”