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Calgary council passes bylaw to crack down on anti-drag protests

Calgary city council has passed a bylaw meant to curb protests near or inside recreation facilities and libraries following hours of debate on Tuesday with a vote of 10 to 5.

Councillors Jennifer Wyness, Sonya Sharp, Sean Chu, Dan McLean and Andre Chabot all voted against Calgary's Safe and Inclusive Access Bylaw.

The changes, which were on the agenda at Tuesday's council meeting, also included adding the word "intimidation" to the existing public behaviour bylaw.

A second bylaw, which would be called the safe and inclusive access bylaw, was presented to councillors, though Ward 2's Wyness is frustrated with city staff.

"When I had my meeting with administration, they couldn't answer a single question," Wyness told reporters.

"I'm trying to govern here. I should be able to get my questions answered before I'm passing a first-of-its-kind-in-Canada law."

City staff say no other municipality has a bylaw similar to it, but provincial legislation in other jurisdictions is somewhat similar.

Wyness, along with several other councillors, raised concerns at the speed of this bylaw being created and a lack of consultation with council during its development.

"I'm not satisfied on the council floor," Wyness said.

"I expect better. The fact that I asked a question and legal sat there in silence – that's not allowing me to be an effective governor."

Ward 13's McLean says the bylaw was rushed.

"The process, usually this goes to committee first to be debated fully. That hasn't happened, so I would have preferred that," McLean said.

"Because we could have had a fulsome debate. There are some legal questions whether this would stand up to Charter rights or any type of challenge legally."

McLean says he would have liked to see the bylaw include wording around safe and inclusive access for all Calgarians at city facilities, where there is crime and disorderly conduct.

Ward 10's Chabot says the bylaw was baked in very short order and he'd like to see one more week for engagement with council and the community.

Chabot says language around the types of facilities is a grey area, thinking transit facilities should be included.

"What about Bob Bahan pool in Forest Lawn? The Forest Lawn outdoor pool is identified, but not the indoor pool," Chabot said.

"Some of the facilities that have been put on the list, I don't know who actually put them on the list."

The bylaw prohibits protests within 100 metres of an entrance to a recreation facility or library and anywhere inside those facilities.

The move comes as 36-year-old Derek Reimer faces criminal and bylaw charges related to a disruption during a Reading with Royalty event at a public library in February.

Reimer, along with nearly 20 others, protested outside city hall on Tuesday morning in opposition to the bylaw.

"I'm under (bail) conditions right now because I'm criminally charged, and can't be 200 metres within an event that I want to protest," Reimer said.

"But now, she (Mayor Jyoti Gondek) wants to put everybody under those same conditions that they can't be within 100 metres."

The city says Reimer was then handed a trespass notice by security Tuesday afternoon for 30 days, after entering the building and engaging in a prayer circle.

The mayor believes the bylaw should be supported.

"They (city administration and legal) have clearly thought about the ramifications of bringing something like this forward," Gondek said.

"It is our job to take their best advice and to ask them the questions. We need to have that satisfaction that they are bringing their best work forward. And they have done that."

Reimer says the mayor is limiting freedom of expression with her support to this bylaw.

"It's just frustrating because this is people's right to do this and she's just deeming this to be hate. Who is she to decide that for herself?" he said.

"Any protest is just a disagreement and people can peacefully protest against that."

Protest organizer Jake Eskesen says the mayor is out of line.

"Whenever somebody disagrees with her, she lashes out," Eskesen said.

"Gondek is trying to go into a playground that's not her own. She's trying to enforce bylaws that are already covered by Criminal Code legislation, federal legislation, human rights legislation. There's absolutely no need for this bylaw."

The family-friendly story times at libraries are led by drag queens or kings, and children are invited to dress in their best outfit, cape or crown.

Charges under the city's public behaviour bylaw carry a maximum penalty of up to $10,000 or six months in jail.

The safe and inclusive access bylaw would carry the same penalty, if one is found convicted in court.

"Recent protests have targeted members of the (LGBTQ2+) community and impeded the City of Calgary's ability to provide safe and inclusive access to city services," documents on the new bylaw read.

"The public is entitled to access these services without being exposed to messaging or behaviour that is hateful, intimidates, harasses or discriminates."

It lists multiple events that have led to safety concerns including:

  • A Drag on Ice event that was postponed at the Chinook Blast festival Feb. 10;
  • Ongoing protests at Canyon Meadows aquatic and fitness centre, which is connected to Calgary Recreation's transgender and gender diverse facility; and
  • The children's reading programs at public libraries.

City staff say 21 protests against the LGBTQ2+ community have taken place in 2023, with 12 of them at libraries and recreation facilities.

The city's bylaw department says since the public behaviour bylaw was brought in last summer, 34 tickets have been issued – 27 from police and seven from bylaw.

Staff say many of the tickets from police have since been withdrawn, with no reason as to why.

One LGBTQ2+ advocate says she's upset a new bylaw is needed.

"It's sad to me sometimes that laws have to be created for things that just seem like a decent human being wouldn't do these things," said Pam Rocker.

"But unfortunately, this is what has to happen and it's so important that we do create safe spaces."

Administration now has to provide council with an update on April 25 on the effectiveness of the new law.

(With files from The Canadian Press) Top Stories

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