Source: Facebook

An Ontario city is looking to clamp down on protests at the types of locations that have seen a surge in demonstrations amid Israel’s war with Hamas.

Vaughan mayor Steven Del Duca said he’s pushing for a bylaw that will prohibit protests within 100 metres of designated locations, which include religious institutions, schools, hospitals, and childcare centres.

At a press conference at city hall, Del Duca took aim at recent protests in Thornhill, a community in Markham bordering Vaughan.

“More recently, we have had large, ugly protests that have taken place at schools, synagogues, childcares in Thornhill that I know, and we know, were deeply concerning to our residents,” said Del Duca.

If the bylaw is violated, the offender would be hit with a fine of up to $100,000.

“What we have seen is not peaceful, it is not respectful, and it does not reflect our values.”

The proposal, which specifies protests “intended to intimidate, incite hatred, violence or discrimination,” was met with both praise and concern.

In a statement to True North, Richard Robertson, director of research and advocacy for B’nai Brith Canada, called for councillors to support the proposal.

“It is a shame that such a bylaw is even required, but we are grateful for the mayor’s strong response to the rising levels of incitement, and the antisemitic protests targeting synagogues, witnessed in Vaughan in recent weeks,” said Robertson.

“All members of the City Council should support the proposed resolution and stakeholders from all levels of government across the country must take the necessary actions to mitigate the rising levels of incitement Canadians are presently experiencing.”

The proposed ban has raised eyebrows from civil liberties advocates, however.

Christine Van Geyn of the Canadian Constitution Foundation told True North she shares Del Duca’s concerns about antisemitic rhetoric at protests targeting synagogues, but questions the constitutionality of the proposed bylaw.

“This behaviour is worthy of condemnation by our society. But this bylaw appears to be redundant and possibly contrary to the constitutional division of powers,” said Van Geyn.

She noted that the proposed bylaw would prohibit “unpeaceful” demonstrations, which are already outlawed in the Criminal Code and can be shut down using common police powers.

“For example, the Criminal Code already prohibits public incitement of hatred, wilful promotion of hatred, wilful promotion of antisemitism, and intimidation,” she said.

Furthermore, Van Geyn raises concerns that the proposed bylaw may infringe on the federal government’s jurisdiction over the Criminal Code, arguing Del Duca’s time may be better spent elsewhere.

“Municipalities are creatures of provincial jurisdiction and the criminal law is squarely federal jurisdiction.”

At his press conference, Del Duca claimed the proposed bylaw would respect Charter rights while ensuring that residents are kept safe. 

“The right to protest is fundamental to what it means to be a Canadian. But that right is not unlimited. When people are engaging in protest that crosses the line into inciting hate and intolerance, crosses the line when they’re intimidating others, well at that point something needs to be done.”

Robertson of B’nai Brith also argues that Charter rights are not absolute and that the resolution strikes a healthy balance.

“The proposed resolution is an important step towards protecting houses of worship and other vulnerable social infrastructure in the City. Charter Rights are not absolute. Mayor Del Duca’s resolution would aptly balance the right to protest with the need to protect vulnerable social infrastructure.”