The Justice Centre has secured a victory for the rights of an Edmonton man to express his opinions peacefully on a public sidewalk.
On the evening of May 20, 2016 Nehemia Smeding was peacefully expressing his opinions on a street corner in Edmonton, using a small amplifier, when he was ticketed by the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) for “causing noise that disturbs peace to another” in violation of a bylaw.
EPS officers explained to Nehemia that they were ticketing him because they received a complaint, not because the officers themselves thought Nehemia was too loud. When Nehemia asked the officers their thoughts on the loudness of his speaking, the officers stated that Nehemia’s volume was no greater than that of the vehicle traffic. The officers also stated that they did not hear Nehemia while in the store across the street. Yet these same EPS officers were responding to a complaint from an employee of a store across the street, who claimed that he could hear the “hollering speech [of Mr. Smeding] echoing throughout the store.” The complainant specifically requested the EPS to ticket Nehemia for “disturbing the peace of others.”
Nehemia had been expressing his opinions peacefully at the same street corner for several months prior. Across the street from Nehemia, a guitar player typically played his electric guitar with the use of an amplifier while Nehemia was speaking. Prior to receiving the ticket, Nehemia had been told by EPS officers that the guitar player was much louder than Nehemia’s speech. The guitar player had been playing his electric guitar at the time Nehemia was ticketed.
Edmonton police are obviously responding to complaints about the content of Nehemia’s speech, not its volume. The Justice Centre fully supports the existence of noise by-laws, and their enforcement by police. But using noise-bylaws to silence speech that is not loud but merely unpopular is an abuse of government power that must be challenged and checked.
The Justice Centre took on Nehemia’s case, fully prepared for a long court fight if necessary, to protect the free expression rights of all Canadians. A trial date was set for March 31, 2017. On January 9, 2017, the Crown agreed to drop its charges against Nehemia.
Following intervention from the Justice Centre, the Crown has now stayed three separate charges laid by EPS against citizens for peacefully expression their opinions in public. The Justice Centre has written a letter to the Chief of Edmonton’s Police Service about the issuance of these tickets, and the current practice of Edmonton police to silence Canadians who wish to express their views peacefully on a public sidewalk.
A response from EPS is pending.