RELEASE: New Westminster civic centre urged to reverse banning of Christian conference on sexuality and gender identity

The Justice Centre has sent a warning letter to the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, BC, requesting that it reverse the cancellation of a conference that the City of New Westminster had agreed to allow Grace Chapel to host at the Centre on July 21, 2018.

Grace Chapel, a parish of The Redeemed Christian Church of God BC, is located in downtown New Westminster. Part of Grace Chapel’s vision is to “build a multi-ethnic, diverse church were 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 throughout New Westminster, including the municipally-owned and managed Anvil Centre.

On May 25, Grace Chapel signed a contract with the  City of New Westminster to rent a portion of the Anvil Centre. The rental was for a religious youth conference which was to be held on July 21, 2018. The theme for the conference was “LGBT: Let God Be True”. The focus of the conference, to be attended by youth and young adults aged 13-25 was on Biblical teachings regarding sexuality and identity issues.

On June 21, 2018, 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. The email stated:

We became aware today, that one of your event speakers / facilitators, Kari Simpson, highlighted for your July 21st, 2018 event, vocally represents views and a perspective that run counter to City of New Westminster and Anvil Centre booking policy.

Specifically [sic] Anvil Centre booking policy restricts or prohibits user groups if they promote racism, hate, violence, censorship, crime or other unethical pursuits. In accordance with our policy we are informing you that we are cancelling your booking and will immediately process a refund for the entirety of your booking fee.

Ms. Hughes did not state how the inclusion of a particular speaker 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.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, conscience, religion and peaceful assembly. As a government-operated facility that is regularly used by diverse parties for expressive and associative activities, the Anvil Centre cannot deny use of its facilities in a manner that unjustifiably infringes the freedoms protected by section 2 of the Charter.

The Anvil Centre is a multi-purpose civic facility operated by the City of New Westminster. As a public entity, the Centre is legally obligated to uphold, as part of the freedom of expression, the right of citizens to hear, listen and consider all views and perspectives. Section 2(b) of the Charter protects the right to receive expressive material as much as it does the right to speak.

In a July 6, 2018 letter to the City of New Westminster, the Justice Centre wrote: “Section 2(b) of the Charter protects the right to receive expressive material as much as it does the right to speak. By cancelling the rental, the Anvil Centre unjustifiably infringed the constitutional right of those intending to attend the conference to receive information, and to listen and consider diverse opinions on topics of interest to them.”

“Canada is a diverse, pluralistic, free and democratic society, not a police state where the “wrong” opinions are suppressed by government,” stated lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.