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Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Turn down for what? It would be a shame to silence Dale the Edmonton street preacher

I’m not one to chest thump about free speech. A-holes are to be treated as such.

My favourite Edmonton street corner doesn’t have a trendy café, fruit stand or hanging vines wrapped around ornamental streetlights.

My favourite corner is not an Impressionist painting. It’s an animated and occasionally maddening intersection, with perpetual construction crews, suits power-walking to glass towers, sketchy guys on tiny bikes, a guitar busker who only seems to know one song (“Pop Goes the Weasel”) and an actual street preacher on an actual soapbox.

He’s Dale, who’s become the unlikely villain — or hero, depending on your view — in a debate over noise pollution and freedom of speech. Council is considering a bylaw that would crack down on amplified proselytizers following scores of complaints.
“It’s not for electronic buskers,” says Coun. Michael Oshry of the possible law that would make it illegal for anyone to operate amplifiers in parks without permission, “but the few extreme examples where it interferes with people’s right to enjoy a place, or a business’ right to make a living.”

Oshry, who is leading the effort, insists this is a matter of noise pollution, not taste, though he admits Dale’s message is occasionally offensive.

I’ll go one step further and say he occasionally borders on hate speech. One woman on Facebook alleges he slut-shamed her because she wasn’t wearing enough (specifically: a wedding ring). Another person alleges witnessing Dale condemn gay teens to hell. Yet despite the possible effects of Dale’s vengeful views, I find myself taking his side, if only to protect downtown from being too sanitized. Like all noise bylaws, banning amplifiers would only be enforced if civilians complain, Oshry says.

He points to Calgary’s 2009 crackdown on a cantankerous preacher as a model. But that case was an embarrassment for Calgary. It passed through three courts, where 11 of the 12 charges were withdrawn. Laws were so broadly worded, a judge argued, they could lead to abuse of power. It’s become a case study for lawyers interested in free speech.

I’m not one to chest thump about free speech. A-holes are to be treated as such, through mockery and argument. It would be polite of Dale to turn down his amp, and he has on request (just ask). I’d hate to see him and others stripped of their microphones or pushed from downtown. I think their grit and nuisance help make a dynamic downtown.

It’s even more dynamic when fed-up passersby debate him. Then maybe the guitar guy drowns him out, as he’s been known to do. And then the road crew’s hammering and clanking mutes them all.

It’s better than picture perfect. It’s alive.

Omar Mouallem (omar_aok) edits the Yards magazine.

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