Can Toronto city council put a stop to hate rallies?
Ward 10 councillor James Pasternak has submitted an administrative inquiry asking just that.
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Despite the protests of anti-racism advocates, the City of Peterborough, Ont. has given the go-ahead for a group of white nationalists to march in a rally "against illegal immigration" on Saturday.
This raises a question: Is there any way to stop something similar from happening in Toronto?
Ward 10 councillor James Pasternak has been wondering just that. He submitted an administrative inquiry asking, "Do the Toronto Police Service or City of Toronto have ability and what resources could they utilize to prohibit a rally that is inciting hatred and violence?"
City staff are slated to respond at a council meeting on Wednesday.
According to Bruce Ryder, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, their answer is likely to be no.
The right to gather and protest in public places is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression, Ryder said in an email to Metro.
"All views, no matter how offensive or discriminatory, are protected forms of expression," he said.
There are some limits: You can't libel or harass people, promote genocide or violence, and the venue has to be reasonable (i.e. no protesting in the library).
Police should keep an eye on potentially hateful events because there could be violations of Canada's hate propaganda laws, Ryder added. Charges under these laws have to get special approval from the provincial Attorney General before they're laid.
But prohibiting rallies on city, province or federal property before they even begin is considered "prior restraint" and it's unconstitutional, he said.
Even if protesters require a local licence or permit, "City officials or police cannot make decisions about whether a rally can take place or not based on its content alone," said Osgoode constitutional scholar Jamie Cameron. If an event is to be limited or called off because of safety concerns, she said, there must be "some grounding in facts or evidence" showing the risk is real.