The City of Calgary has recently dropped all charges against two men previously accused under a controversial transit bylaw. 

This development, involving The Democracy Fund (TDF), a civil liberties organization, has sparked discussions regarding free speech and municipal governance.

The bylaw the men allegedly violated prohibits anyone from engaging in activities on transit property that might “interfere with the comfort, convenience, or quiet use and enjoyment of the transit system of any reasonable person.”

The charges were rescinded following communication from the city to Alan Honner, TDF’s Litigation Director, who had not received prior disclosure despite requests.

Shortly after the arrest, TDF, advocating for the accused, highlighted the conflict with free speech.

“TDF defends the rights of transit users against [the] anti-free speech transit bylaw,” said the organization in a press release. 

The case involved two men who were en route to the 1 Million March 4 Children in Calgary. The accused reportedly engaged in a private conversation with a like-minded passenger in an almost empty train carriage. 

Upon exiting the train, the two men were apprehended by enforcement officers. One of the men was handcuffed while police confirmed his identity, and they were both issued tickets and summoned for a court appearance scheduled for late November 2023.

The police did not inform either of the two men about what  specific actions violated the bylaw.

The charges were subsequently dropped without disclosure, prompting questions about the handling of the case.

Honner plans to meet with his clients to decide whether they intend to pursue information regarding their dropped charges with an alternative legal avenue.

TDF’s Litigation Director also commented on similar bylaws in other cities, focusing on their potential to limit free speech. 

“TDF is concerned about the emergence of bylaws that punish private communications that are controversial but not criminal,” said the organization. 

TDF raised concerns around London’s Graphic Image Delivery Bylaw.

The organization adds that other municipalities with restrictive speech bylaws include Edmonton and the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. 

The bylaw in Waterloo was modelled after the City of Edmonton Public Places Bylaw 11-614. 

Honner said this bylaw is “deeply flawed”, and while Waterloo claims to be fighting discrimination, Honner wonders whether they are taking this problem seriously.

“While the purported objective of the bylaw is to prevent discriminatory communications on human rights grounds, Honner explained to Council that the bylaw goes further than required to achieve that objective because it prohibits communications unrelated to human rights,” said the TDF.