Grace Chapel v. New Westminster

The Justice Centre brought a legal action at the Supreme Court of British Columbia, on behalf of Grace Chapel, a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, located in downtown New Westminster, B.C., after the City of New Westminster cancelled the church’s booking to host a conference at the City-owned Anvil Centre. 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 is a parish of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, located in downtown New Westminster. Part of Grace Chapel’s vision is to “build a multi-ethnic, diverse church where people of every nation in our community will worship God…” Grace Chapel does not have a church building of its own. Church events are held in rented spaces, including the municipally-owned and managed Anvil Centre.

As explained in their filed affidavit, on May 25, the City of New Westminster signed a contract with Grace Chapel to rent a portion of the Anvil Centre. The rental was for a youth conference to be held on July 21, 2018.

On June 21, 2018, a media article was published which included a picture of a poster for the conference.

That same day, Grace Chapel received an email from Anvil Centre Director of Sales & Marketing, Heidi Hughes. Ms. Hughes stated that the Anvil Centre was reneging on the contract and cancelling the rental, 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 explain how or why any of the speakers at the conference caused Grace Chapel to “promote racism, hate, violence, censorship, crime or other unethical pursuits”, or how it is possible that this speaker’s “views” or “perspective” could contravene the Anvil Centre Booking Policy.

Grace Chapel’s court petition sought to quash the City’s decision, and asked for a Court declaration that the decision to cancel Grace Chapel’s contract was procedurally unfair, biased, unreasonable, and unjustifiably infringed the freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and association religion as protected by sections 2(a), 2(b), 2(d) and section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This court application further sought a Court order prohibiting the City from denying the use of its facilities to this church on the basis of the ideas, views, opinions, perspectives, values or beliefs of Grace Chapel or of speakers selected by the Grace Chapel.

By cancelling the conference, the Anvil Centre unjustifiably infringed the constitutional right of those intending to listen and consider diverse opinions on topics of interest to them, the Justice Centre argued.

This case was heard by the Court on December 2-3, 2020.

On Monday, July 19, 2021, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in favour of Grace Chapel. 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.”

 

On August 13, 2021, the City of New Westminster filed a Notice of Appeal challenging the decision of Justice Morelatto to the BC Court of Appeal.

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