(Enzo Zanatta/CBC news - image credit)
Vancouver city councillors will discuss upgrading municipal noise bylaws in response to two men preaching anti-gay messages with a microphone and amplifier in the West End last summer.
But some anti-hate advocates worry the bylaw doesn't address the real issue at hand and could be used to shut down democratic protests as well as those promoting hate.
The proposed changes would make unauthorized use of a sound amplification device on a street a ticketable offence with a fine of $250 and the potential confiscation of the devices.
According to a staff report, the proposed changes are being offered in response to "numerous complaints about an individual on the streets of downtown Vancouver using a microphone and amplifier to speak to the public."
"Both the volume and duration of his speech were reported to be a public disturbance," the report says.
Assault victim still off work
Late last summer, David Lynn and Dorre Love were repeatedly spotted blasting anti-gay rhetoric in Davie Street village, the historical enclave of Vancouver's gay community.
Nearby resident Justin Morissette, who ended up with a broken leg during a confrontation with one of the two preachers, says he's glad to see the city is trying to do more to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
"I am pleased with it. It looks like it's giving them some extra ability to deal with these situations before they get out of control," Morissette said.
Justin Morissette and his roommate J.D. Burke share a moment after the 33-year-old underwent treatment for a 'snapped' leg. Morissette was injured on Aug. 22 in Vancouver's West End after confronting men amplifying anti-gay speech.
Six months after the incident, Morissette says he hasn't returned to his job as a sports broadcaster because he still has trouble walking.
Love allegedly broke Morissette's leg when the latter attempted to snatch the mic out of the preacher's hand. In October, Love was charged with aggravated assault and is expected in court on March 10.
Theory vs practice
Morissette says he's hesitant to rejoice too much, however.
For him and others, part of the issue with the incidents last summer was that police didn't try to do enough with existing laws and bylaws to stop the men from preaching hate.
"We'll see how [the change] works out in practice," he said.
Vancouver activists say they're worried a proposed amendment to the city's noise bylaws that prohibits the unauthorized use of sound amplification devices could also be used to target lawful protesters.
The report says a staff review found the city didn't have any specific regulations in its noise control bylaw against amplification of sound or voices or musical instruments in public spaces. The report makes no mention of hate speech.
Imtiaz Popat, with the Pacific chapter of the Coalition Against Bigotry, disagrees with the report's assessment.
"There's clear laws and bylaws for breaching the peace," Popat said.
According to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, police can arrest people for breaching the peace if they are causing "a disturbance that involves some potential for violence." The arrest wouldn't lead to any charges, but it would remove the people causing the disturbance.
Popat also worries that the bylaw could just as easily be used against protesters who use devices like megaphones at rallies.
"I don't think the issue is with the amplification — the issue is promotion of hate," he said.
Imtiaz Popat addresses a crowd of protesters last year, alleging Vancouver Police had failed to protect Vancouver's gay community from hate speech.
Popat points out that Premier John Horgan recently called for action on hate crimes in wake of a Vancouver police report about a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Horgan said there are difficulties in prosecuting hate crimes, as opposed to violent crimes, but it is important to do so. He said the government is working on anti-racism legislation and that Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has contacted police forces to emphasize the need to prosecute hate crimes.
But Popat thinks the province should consider broader issues when formulating any potential laws.
"I think the government should be looking at this issue not as much as an anti-racism issue, but much more as a bigotry issue," he said.