Calgary city council passes bylaw that puts distance between protestors, city facilities

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council votes in favour of safe and inclusive bylaw'
Calgary city council votes in favour of safe and inclusive bylaw
WATCH: After a contentious debate, Calgary city council has voted in favour of a bylaw that aims to put some distance between protestors and city facilities. Adam MacVicar reports. – Mar 14, 2023

After a lengthy debate on Tuesday, Calgary city council voted for a bylaw that seeks to put distance between protesters and city facilities.

The Safe and Inclusive Access Bylaw says protests that object to or disapprove of any race, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression, disability, age, place of origin, marital or family status, sexual orientation or income source cannot be within 100 metres of entrances to a public library or recreation centre. The bylaw also prohibits similar protests inside those facilities.

Protesters are also not allowed to impede someone from entering or exiting a recreation facility or library one hour before and one hour after an event, the bylaw reads.

The changes also included adding the word “intimidation” to the existing Public Behaviour Bylaw, which restricts harassment of another person in a public space.

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Offenders could face fines of up to $10,000 and/or a year in prison. Repeat offences would result in a doubling or tripling of minimum fines.

The bylaw does not ban protests, however.

“There’s no banning of protests,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said. “It is simply removed from the entrance so people can have safe experiences inside those buildings.

“I think the important thing is the debate council had and the remarks where each member spoke to their commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive city,” she said.

“There are reasons why people voted against it. There will always be reasons why people vote. Everyone can go back and check out what the debate was about. I’m incredibly encouraged that we moved forward with this in order to protect individuals wishing to access places that should be safe.”

An amendment on Tuesday morning also directed city administration to return to council in April with an update on the impacts of the new bylaw, which will help city staff determine whether amendments are required.

“We have assurances form our legal team that this work is solid, that’s why they brought this bylaw forward,” Gondek said.

“In order to give us peace of mind that it’s in fact working, they’re going to monitor the results of using it over the next month or so and then they’ll come back to us with a report.

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“For a council that’s really dedicated to evidence-based decision-making, it’s important to have that progress report.”

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, who voted for the motion, said protections are needed to prevent a “noisy minority” from intimidating people, especially those from equity-seeking communities (Black, Indigenous, people of colour, LGBTQ2 people, etc.).

“This (bylaw) isn’t something to be proud of, but something to be ashamed of,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“(These protests) are hurting us as an organization and as a city.”

Gondek agreed it’s a sad time.

“I think it is sad that we’re in a state in the world that all the things people marched for and fought for and died for over time, to make sure we were an inclusive and welcoming society, that’s all at risk,” she said.

“I hope everyone realizes that our democracy is incredibly fragile and our human rights are sitting in the hands of society that must stand up for people who right now are facing a lot of hate.”

Click to play video: 'Man charged following ‘hate-motivated incident’ at Calgary library'
Man charged following ‘hate-motivated incident’ at Calgary library

Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott said LGBTQ2 advocates and allies have been sounding the alarm on the protest for a long time.

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“Most of us have stayed silent for several months,” he said.

“I’ve heard the excuses that you stayed silent because you don’t want to amplify it.

“In chambers, silence is permission. Here, when you say nothing to what something is happening in front of you, it’s viewed as acceptance.”

Anna Murphy said the number of hate incidents occurring in Calgary and across Canada amounts to an escalating situation. Murphy is the gender, equity, diversity, inclusion sub-committee vice-chair for the City of Calgary.

“This (bylaw) is a decision that, quite frankly, in many cases, has the ability to be life-saving. We need to understand what the consequences of our inactions could potentially be for equity-deserving Calgarians,” she said.

The bylaw passed on a 10-5 vote with councillors Jennifer Wyness, Sonya Sharp, Dan McLean, Sean Chu and Andre Chabot voting against the motion, citing concerns about community engagement.

The move comes after 36-year-old Derek Scott Reimer was arrested and charged for disrupting a Reading with Royalty event at the Seton Library in the city’s southeast earlier in March.

Reimer is facing a total of eight charges in a hate-motivated crime, Calgary police said.

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Police also recently told Global News that the actions of anti-LGBTQ2S+ protestors in the city have increased.

Police confirmed to Global News last Friday they are investigating an alleged gun threat made toward the city’s LGBTQ2S+ community.

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Protests continue in Calgary over transgender change rooms and drag events

Wyness accused city administration of rushing the bylaw, claiming she had no opportunities to ask questions.

“When I had my meetings with administration, they couldn’t answer a single question. I’m trying to govern here. I should be able to get my questions answered before I’m passing it,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

“That is why I’m concerned that we are not following the process, that we’ve shortened something that has such importance… It’s very important that we do the process properly.”

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Sharp said while the city needs to protect minority communities, the bylaw is “flawed.”

“We keep bringing bylaws but do we have the enforcement power to enforce them?” Sharp said at Tuesday’s meeting.

“For this reason, I cannot support this bylaw today, but I do think we need to use the existing resources to protect the LGBTQ2S+ community.”

City officials said they brought the bylaw to council rapidly because of the heightening of the protests.

–With files from Adam Toy and Emily Mertz, Global News.

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