Calgary city council has approved two administrative recommendations to limit drag queen story hours protests, citing an increase in “transphobia and homophobia.”
City administration’s urgent recommendations were discussed at a lengthy city council meeting on Tuesday — days after a Calgary pastor was arrested and charged for protesting a drag queen story hour at a public library and following another protest held after a trans woman allegedly exposed male genitals to a teenage girl at a public pool.
Calgary City Manager David Duckworth said “the conduct of a few” are creating an environment where access to publicly available services is compromised due to safety concerns. He said the bylaw is not intending to prohibit protests.
“The proposed bylaws are simply to create safe access to public facilities,” Duckworth said.
The first proposal creates a “safe and inclusive bylaw” to establish access zones which would limit the time, manner, and location of protests within the vicinity of recreation facilities and libraries.
“Specifically, the bylaw would prohibit specified protests from taking place within 100 metres of an entrance to a city operated or other designated recreation facility or library during operational hours and an hour before and after,” Katie Black, general manager of community services, told council.
The second recommendation amends Calgary’s existing public behaviour bylaw, the street harassment bylaw, to include intimidation.
Black said there have been 21 planned protests specifically targeting LGBTQ+ events, programs and or policies since the start of 2023. Not all protests moved forward, she said, adding that some were cancelled out of “fear.”
“I want to note that the subject matter of discussion today includes disturbing content about lived experiences of hate transphobia and homophobia that may be triggering or traumatic for some,” she said.
“I also want to acknowledge what has been taking place in recent weeks of harm that is caused from members of the two LGBTQIA+ community and their families.”
Council voted 10-5 to pass the safe and inclusive bylaw, which would become effective immediately. Councillors Andre Chabot, Dan McLean, Jennifer Wyness, Sonya Sharp, and Sean Chu voted against the bylaw.
In an 11-4 vote, council also passed amendments to the city’s harassment bylaw.
Administration recommended the bylaws become law effective Tuesday.
Those found guilty of breaching the bylaw could be subject to a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in prison.
“The city respects the right to protest,” Black said. “And so the proposed bylaw strikes a balance between that right and ensuring that all people can access public spaces without being exposed to messages or behaviour that is hateful, intimidating, harassing or discriminating.”
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the city has a record of supporting human rights in the city.
During question period, Councillor Sharp wondered how many times people weren’t able to attend an event due to a protest.
“What I will say in answer to that question is that we don’t have a way of inventorying who doesn’t come to a facility,” city staff replied. “What we do know is what we’ve heard from people about their decision to stay away.”
Sharp also wondered how much of a risk there is of the bylaw receiving a constitutional challenge.
City solicitor and general counsel said the city can never predict whether a challenge will be brought.
“What I can tell you is that what is before counsel has found defensible arguments. It has been carefully thought through so anyone can bring a challenge for any reason, but it just doesn’t mean it will be successful.”
Councillor Jennifer Wyness said councillors have not had adequate time to get their questions answered.
“We acted swiftly because we are dealing with increasing intensity and urgency of a situation,” Black said.