TORONTO: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has issued a legal warning letter to the City of Toronto, calling on the City to reverse its decision to deny the Christian group “Voices of the Nations” its right to continue using Yonge-Dundas Square for its annual music festival.
Voices of the Nations describes its mission as “to provide a venue and unite the various denominations, cultures and the outstanding talents within the Christian community” and “to embrace and celebrate the wonderful diversity in the city.” Held the first weekend in August, this annual event showcases the talents of numerous performing groups and artists from a broad cross-section of the Christian community. In 2015 the event did not include preaching, consisting solely of performances by artists celebrating their faith.
The City of Toronto states that Voices of the Nations (VOTN) is not allowed to continue its annual event in the public square in 2016 because songs at the 2015 VOTN event were “praising Jesus” which violates a City policy against “proselytizing.” On October 22, 2015, Natalie Belman, the Manager of Events for Yonge-Dundas Square told VOTN:
Well it doesn’t matter if it’s speaking or singing. Either way if you’re praising Jesus or praise the Lord, and there’s no God like Jehovah, that type of thing? That’s proselytizing.
The JCCF’s letter to the City of Toronto states:
This Decision constitutes a direct violation of the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion which are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We request that you immediately reverse this Decision and approve VOTN’s application. Failure to do so will necessitate a court action against the City of Toronto and the Yonge-Dundas Square Board of Management (“YDS”) for its censorship of expression and its violation of religious freedom.
The YDS Performance and Display Policy states:
Performances / Displays must not advocate a specific political or religious point of view for the purpose of proselytizing. Any religious or political reference should be in the context of a larger cultural event.
The City has had no qualms about the interactive chanting of Hare Krishna mantras at Yonge-Dundas Square (June 7, 2015); a candlelight vigil against Islamophobia (February 13, 2015); a rally in support of legalizing marijuana (August 14, 2014); and numerous Pride events.
“The public square belongs to the public, including all people of all religious, ethnic, cultural and political persuasions,” stated lawyer John Carpay, President of the JCCF.
“The City’s decision is illegal content-based censorship, and a blatant assault on the Charter freedoms of religion and expression,” continued Carpay.