BC Supreme Court upholds Charter right to free expression in an event booking

NEW WESTMINSTER, BC:  The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is pleased to announce that on Monday, July 19, 2021, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in favour of Grace Chapel, after the City of New Westminster cancelled the church’s Christian youth conference at the City-owned and managed Anvil Centre in 2018.

The Justice Centre brought a legal action on behalf of Grace Chapel, a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, located in downtown New Westminster, B.C. The Justice Centre argued that the City’s decision to cancel the Church’s conference violated the church’s freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief opinion, expression, and association. Grace Chapel’s vision includes the desire to build a multi-ethnic, diverse church.

Grace Chapel does not have a church building of its own, so it holds events in rented spaces including at the Anvil Centre. In May of 2018, Grace Chapel entered into a contract with the City to rent a portion of the Anvil Centre for a youth conference to be held later in July.

On June 20, 2018, the Anvil Centre received a single complaint from a member of the public who saw a poster promoting the conference. Only hours later, Grace Chapel received an email from Heidi Hughes, the Anvil Centre Director of Sales & Marketing, stating that the Centre was cancelling the conference on the basis that “one of [Grace Chapel’s] event speakers / facilitators …vocally represents views and a perspective that run counter to City of New Westminster and Anvil Centre booking policy.”

Ms. Hughes did not identify the “views” or “perspective” said to have led to the City’s cancellation of the conference, or explain how Grace Chapel had breached the Anvil Centre’s booking policy.

In a decision released on July 19, 2021, Justice Maria Morellato ruled that Grace Chapel is entitled to a declaration that the City’s cancellation of the conference unjustifiably infringed its right to freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In response to the City’s argument that Grace Chapel’s alleged expression at the conference was of “low value”, Justice Morellato stated the following:

“In a free and democratic society, the exchange and expression of diverse and often controversial or unpopular ideas may cause discomfort. It is, in a sense, the price we pay for our freedom. Once governments begin to argue that the expression of some ideas are less valuable than others, we find ourselves on dangerous ground.”

“We are pleased that the Court has vindicated our client’s freedom of expression and affirmed that government must respect the Charter in providing access to publicly-owned facilities,” states Justice Centre Staff Lawyer, Marty Moore.

“The City’s knee-jerk reaction to cancel the booking of a religious community made up primarily of new Canadians based on unfounded accusations was reprehensible,” continues Mr. Moore.