Art Pawlowski preaches and feeds homeless people in public places in downtown Calgary. (CBC)
A proposed bylaw that would have required protestors to have a permit to demonstrate outside Calgary city hall was rejected Wednesday by a city committee.
The community and protective services committee asked city hall staff to come back with a revised bylaw, which likely won’t be ready until the end of the year.
Street preacher Art Pawlowski, who has had a long-standing dispute with the city concerning his ministry practices, told the committee that he believed the bylaw was targeted directly at him "to shut me up and shut me down."
Pawloski, pastor of the Glory Christian Fellowship, gives out food and a sermon to homeless people outside the old city hall during the noon hour four days a week.
Over the years, Pawlowski has been written up by city bylaw officers for such activities as using loudspeakers to deliver his sermons, carrying signs, feeding homeless people in public spaces and attracting crowds. In all the cases, he didn’t have a city permit.
The proposed bylaw would have set aside a small part of the plaza in front of city hall for protests. Groups of more than five people would have had to apply for a permit, which could take five days to process.
The bylaw would also have imposed strict rules against littering and potential damage to the plaza.
It would not have allowed protestors to use any amplification during office hours and no one would have been allowed to move onto the surrounding sidewalks.
Protestors also would have had to get insurance and have their signs approved ahead of time.
Pawlowski and other speakers representing gay rights groups, business and unions told the committee Wednesday that the bylaw would be contrary to the right of freedom of speech as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Pawloski also said this is the sort of law that would be imposed in a dictatorship, not in a democracy.
"It is unconstitutional, undemocratic and simply wrong. There is no other thing that we would have to do, we would have to challenge it, " he told CBC News before the committee hearing.
"We have to stand up for democracy and our rights. I don’t see any other option."
Others told the committee that they were offended that they would have to ask for a permit in order to be able to protest outside city hall.
Craig Chandler, of the Progressive Group for Independent Business, told the committee he was concerned about limiting freedom of assembly, also protected under the charter.
"This is about freedom of assembly, and I am appalled at what I see and thank God it is an election year,” he said.
Nick Lepora, of the Calgary and District Labour Council, said requiring groups to get a permit to protest would be impractical.
"Those things are quite spontaneous. You don’t plan something three weeks ahead and hope city hall will say yes or no," he said.
Lepora said people should be able to voice their opinions freely.
"You should be able to come down and say so – right on the steps of city hall," he said.
Ward 12 Ald. Ric McIver, a member of the committee, agreed with them.
"This is a good day. People from a wide variety of perspectives all gave the same message today," McIver said.
"Today everybody said the rights and freedoms that we enjoy are more important than our petty differences."
Ward 2 Ald. Gord Lowe said the bylaw wasn’t meant to trample anyone’s rights, but was to protect the rights of citizens and employees to come and go safely at city hall.
Sharon Purvis, the city bureaucrat behind the proposed restrictions, said the bylaw was meant to address public safety and order.
"It’s just basically to ensure that we can continue to function. It is a block that is basically an office tower with the seat of government and a gathering place for the public," Purvis said. "So, we want to have a balance around that."
But Pawlowski, who has already beaten the city in court over his amplified preaching, didn’t buy that explanation.
"There is not one incident that they can bring forth saying the public was endangered," he said.