Church rental cancelled for having views that “run counter to [the] City”: Grace Chapel v. New Westminster

Grace Chapel did not have a church building of its own, so it held events in rented spaces, such as the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, British Columbia. In May 2018, Grace Chapel signed a contract with the city to rent a portion of the Anvil Centre for an upcoming youth conference. On June 20, the Anvil Centre received a complaint from a member of the public who had seen a poster promoting the conference. Hours later, Grace Chapel received an email from the Anvil Centre Director of Sales and Marketing, which stated that the centre was cancelling the conference on the basis that “one of [Grace Chapel’s] event speakers/facilitators…vocally represents views and perspectives that run counter to [the] City of New Westminster and Anvil Centre booking policy.” The Director of Sales and Marketing did not identify which views or perspectives ran counter to the policy.

On behalf of Grace Church, 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, expression, and association. Grace Chapel’s vision includes the desire to build a multi-ethnic, diverse church. 

On July 19, 2021, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in favour of Grace Chapel. Justice Maria Morellato ruled that Grace Chapel was 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. While the city had argued that the kind of expression that would have occurred at the conference was of “low value”, Justice Morellato determined that, “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.” 

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

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