Toronto resident censored for speaking on sidewalk

A win in Edmonton, but another challenge in Toronto.

Despite a successful end to censorship against Nehemia Smeding in Edmonton, the Justice Centre must continue to defend free speech rights on public sidewalks in another city.  Erik Fountas was peacefully expressing his religious beliefs on a public sidewalk when Toronto Police charged him with obstructing a street.

Around noon on February 2, 2016, Erik Fountas and a colleague began preaching near the corner of Yonge Street and Gould Street. Erik was preaching on a wide sidewalk area, near a large concrete staircase that leads up to a Ryerson University building. Erik was preaching at the street edge of the sidewalk, facing toward the staircase, when a small crowd formed in front of him.

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) received a complaint about a comment Erik allegedly made while he was speaking to the small group of listeners. Two TPS officers requested that Erik leave. When he refused, they issued him a ticket for “encumbering a street” and therefore violating 313-2A of the Toronto Municipal Code. The By-law in question states:

“No person shall obstruct, encumber, injure or foul or cause or permit the obstructing, encumbering, injuring or fouling of any street.”

The TPS officers claimed that the crowd listening to Erik was so large that it blocked entirely the passage of pedestrians on the Gould Street sidewalk.

The Justice Centre is representing Erik as he challenges the ticket and defends his freedom of expression.  In February 2017, a trial date will be set.

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