TORONTO & AYLMER: The Justice Centre has been retained by Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Randy Hillier to defend against a charge in connection with a Toronto lockdown protest. The Justice Centre also represents Aylmer Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, who was similarly fined for his attendance at an outdoor protest in London, Ontario.
Mr. Hillier, who sits as an independent MPP in the Ontario legislature, spoke at the “No More Lockdowns” rally at Toronto’s Queens Park on November 26, 2020. A large gathering of protestors attended, banging pots and pans and advocating for an end to harmful lockdowns, while the legislature was in session inside.
Following the rally, police approached Mr. Hillier and gave him a summons to appear in court in January 2021 to answer a charge under the Reopening Ontario Act for failing to comply with an Order. If found guilty, he could be fined up to $100,000 and spend a year in prison.
On the afternoon of November 22, 2020, Rev. Hildebrandt attended at London’s downtown Victoria Park, peacefully protesting against the Ontario government’s COVID-19 lockdown measures. He spoke to the approximately 200 protestors, reminding them of their fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Although no charges were laid against him at the event, police from London went on November 27 to Rev. Hildebrandt’s Aylmer, Ontario home, approximately 45 minutes away, to deliver a summons to attend in court in February 2021.
Rev. Hildebrandt’s son Herbert Hildebrandt recorded the interaction and asked whether everyone who attended would be given a summons. He advised that he was also present at the protest. The police refused to answer and immediately left the property. Media reports indicate that the three female organizers of the event have also been charged. Herbert Hildebrandt has been separately charged in connection with a different rally in Aylmer last month, at which he spoke to protestors. The Justice Centre will be defending him as well.
The Justice Centre has written to provincial prosecutors to request disclosure and will vigorously defend their clients against these charges.
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to “peaceful assembly” is guaranteed, subject only to such reasonable limits as may be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
“The freedom to protest the devastating consequences of a widespread, experimental government policy, particularly on the grounds of the provincial legislature, should be sacrosanct in a democracy,” states Lisa Bildy, staff lawyer for the Justice Centre. “The right to peacefully assemble and protest our government’s actions is one of the fundamental differences that separates us from brutal dictatorships found in other parts of the world. To charge an opposition member of the legislature, in particular, is something we would expect in the former Soviet Union, not Canada,” continues Ms. Bildy.
This same London park where Rev. Hildebrandt spoke was the site of a massive rally in June, also during lockdown restrictions, in support of Black Lives Matter. Approximately 10,000 people were reported to be in attendance at that protest, but there were no known tickets issued. The event was attended by the City’s own Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Chris Mackie, who tweeted his support and encouragement to attend.
“This sort of double standard regarding peaceful protests is troubling,” states Ms. Bildy.
Many citizens are alarmed by the government’s response to COVID-19 and the resulting erosion of democracy and blatant violation of constitutional rights. “Ongoing lockdowns are an unconstitutional exercise of the government’s emergency power, with numerous Charter rights being violated in a serious and unjustifiable manner,” concludes Bildy. “Citizens in a free country have the right to make their disagreement with the government known, and peaceful protesting is a highly protected method for doing so.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed this right recently, when speaking of protests in India. “Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world,” he said.
The Justice Centre has prepared a detailed analysis of lockdown harms and Charter violations in its paper “Flying Blind”, and has launched legal action against lockdown measures in Manitoba and Alberta. Further action is pending in an additional three provinces, including Ontario.