City of Calgary officials have withdrawn charges against two men who allegedly made an unknown passenger 'uncomfortable' with their conversation.
While en route to the "1 Million March 4 Children" in September, the two men allegedly contravened a Calgary Transit bylaw prohibiting activity that would "interfere with the comfort, convenience or quiet use and enjoyment of the transit system of any reasonable person."
They had a "private conversation on the C-train with a like-minded passenger" while travelling to the march in a nearly empty train car, according to The Democracy Fund (TDF).
In a news release, TDF cited the significance of the 1 Million March 4 Children that took place October 21 to justify the conversation. They said each side took a strong stance — people supporting the march described it as a protest of the "indoctrination" and "sexualization" of children in schools, while "detractors" called it "hateful."
Ultimately, an unknown passenger overheard the two men conversing and reported it to local law enforcement. When they departed the train car, Calgary police detained them, handcuffing one of the men while they confirmed his identity.
Both received a ticket and a court summons scheduled for next month but did not learn the nature of their supposed contravention at the time.
TDF lawyer Alan Honner, who represented both men, said he received an email from the city last week confirming they had withdrawn the charges and would no longer pursue the matter in court.
Although TDF welcomed the decision for their clients — reiterating they would "defend the rights of transit users against [the] anti-free speech transit bylaw" — they have yet to receive disclosure from the city on why their clients had been charged.
Given the email, Calgary officials are under no obligation to provide disclosure as there is no case to answer or defend.
According to Honner, he intends to meet with his clients to discuss whether they should pursue information about their withdrawn charges through another legal avenue.
In the meantime, the nonprofit continues to take exception with similar bylaws that punish controversial private communications not deemed criminal, including the City of London’s Graphic Image Delivery By-law and Calgary’s Safe & Inclusive Access By-law.
"TDF is concerned about the emergence of bylaws that punish private communications that are controversial but not criminal," it said, citing the Graphic Image Delivery By-law, which relies on the "health, safety and well-being of persons" to regulate the delivery of "graphic images" to residential properties in the city. It defines "graphic image" as "an image or photograph showing or purporting to show a fetus or any part of a fetus."
Honner considered the "narrow definition" of "graphic image" problematic, which "begs the question of whether council is trying to restrict pro-life expression."
"Why else would only images of fetuses, no matter how benign, be restricted?" he said.
TDF cited other Canadian municipalities with "restrictive speech by-laws," including Edmonton and Waterloo. "Both cities recently passed almost identical by-laws regulating private communications on certain municipal property," they said.
"While these by-laws purport to protect people against human rights discrimination, they go further than that."