Toronto reconsiders decision to ban Christian group

Following presentations by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and Voices of the Nations (VOTN), the Board of Management for Yonge-Dundas Square has directed YDS staff to meet with VOTN and work toward a cooperative arrangement to permit VOTN’s Christian festival to proceed on July 30, 2016.

votnadIn October, the City of Toronto denied VOTN its right to continue using Yonge-Dundas Square for its annual musical festival. In a legal warning letter, the Justice Centre had warned the City that its decision, based on a policy against “proselytizing”, violates freedom of religion and freedom of expression as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Board of Management agreed to consider the Justice Centre’s submissions as it commences a review of its policies, including its policy against “proselytizing”, in January 2016.  The Board of Management deferred its final decision on VOTN’s appeal until its meeting on February 3, 2016.

VOTN describes its mission as “to provide a venue and unite the various denominations, cultures and the outstanding talents within the Christian community” and “to embrace and celebrate the wonderful diversity in the city.”  Held the first weekend in August, this annual festival showcases the talents of numerous performing groups and artists from a broad cross-section of the Christian community.

On October 22, 2015, Natalie Belman, the Manager of Events for Yonge-Dundas Square told VOTN that their festival had violated the City policy against “proselytizing”:

Well it doesn’t matter if it’s speaking or singing.  Either way, if you’re praising Jesus or “praise the Lord” and “there’s no God like Jehovah,” that type of thing, that’s proselytizing.

The City of Toronto has had no qualms about the interactive chanting of Hare Krishna mantras at Yonge-Dundas Square (June 7, 2015); a candlelight vigil against Islamophobia (February 13, 2015); a rally in support of legalizing marijuana including Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (April 20, 2015); numerous Pride events, and annual Christmas caroling.

On November 9, 2015, petitions with over 40,000 signatures in support of religious freedom were delivered to the office of Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has stated publicly that he supports VOTN being able to continue using Yonge-Dundas Square.