The Justice Centre has secured a victory for individual freedoms in British Columbia, after challenging an Orwellian ticket issued by the City of Port Moody for a “gather[ing] without permission” in one of the City’s parks.
On June 11, 2018, the City of Port Moody issued a permit to Waldene Markling for her and an organization called Culture Guard to hold a rally in support of “quality education.” The rally was scheduled for July 14, 2018 at Rocky Point Park, a large 3.4 acre park with an outdoor stage that is commonly used by members of the public for peaceful assemblies.
Two days prior to the rally, the City emailed Ms. Markling to state that it was revoking the permit because “the City does not rent our spaces to groups supporting or opposing an issue.” This decision followed an email exchange between City officials who were concerned about the rally being “political in nature”. The City further stated that proceeding with the Rally, whether at Rocky Point Park or anywhere else in the city, would contravene unspecified provisions of the City’s Community Facilities Rules and Regulations By-law.
Aware of their Charter rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, Ms. Markling and Culture Guard proceeded to hold the event as planned on July 14.
A diverse group of more than two hundred concerned citizens of many faiths and ethnic backgrounds attended the rally. They listened to speakers, including prominent education advocate Kari Simpson. A small group of protesters also attended, one of whom went onto the stage and proceeded to yell and heckle as loud as she could, delaying the start of the rally. She refused to leave and had to be removed by the police.
The City subsequently issued a By-law ticket and charged Ms. Markling for “gather[ing] without permission”. Ms. Markling reached out to the Justice Centre to help challenge the ticket.
The City’s By-law unjustifiably limits freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly as protected by sections 2(b) and 2(c) of the Charter because it prohibits all public gatherings of more than 50 people without the consent of the Manager of Parks. The City acted unconstitutionally by issuing the ticket.
The law firm prosecuting the ticket on behalf of the City has withdrawn the ticket, implicitly recognizing that the Charter protects the right of individuals to engage in peaceful assembly and expression in City parks.