On a Friday evening in July, 2015, Warren, age 53, was peacefully expressing his views on an Edmonton street corner when a police officer stopped him and issued him a ticket for “disturb[ing] the peace of another individual.”
A woman had filed a complaint against the expression, claiming it was loud and specifically complaining about its religious contents. She stated that other people had complained to her that the expression was “hate speech.” In the police report, the officer claims that police had been previously warned Warren that his speech was “offending” others.
Warren refused to plead guilty and pay a fine for peacefully sharing his religious beliefs in public, and faced a trial set for February 26, 2016.
In January 2016, the Justice Centre was made aware of the charge against Warren and immediately set about to defend him and the right of all Canadians to freely and publicly express their beliefs and opinions, even when those beliefs and opinions offend others.
By initiating disclosure requests, the Justice Centre confirmed that the charge had been made against Warren on the basis that others had found the speech “offensive”. The state owes a duty to protect offensive and unpopular speech, not to sanction it.
Following the disclosure of the additional information, on February 12, 2016, the City of Edmonton agreed to withdraw the charge against Warren.
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.
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.