Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Two central Alberta village councils hesitated to support a federal NDP backbencher’s efforts to ban what his letter referred to as “hate symbols,” although that hesitation seems to have been for different reasons.
Both the Village of Alix and Village of Clive councils read a letter from NDP New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian at their regular meeting Mar. 2 regarding his private member’s bill, C-229 An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (banning symbols of hate), who stated certain symbols shouldn’t be bought and sold because of there threatening nature and he was asking for council’s support for this legislation.
“Everyone deserves to live in safety and dignity,” stated Julian’s letter. “Everyone has the right to feel welcomed and respected in their community.
“Yet, during the pandemic, racist incidents reported to police have increased at an alarming rate.
“Tragically, we have seen an increase in Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and misogyny in our society.
“We see rising racism against indigenous people, Black, Asian and other racially marginalized communities, while symbols of hate continue to be displayed and sold across our country.
“Last week I re-tabled my private member’s Bill C-229 to prevent anyone from selling and displaying symbols that promote hatred and violence against identifiable groups. Allowing these symbols of hatred to be sold in stories or publicly displayed is threatening for people who have been, and continue to be, targets of violence and oppression.
“As we’ve seen the past two weeks, during protests around the Convoy for Freedom, Canadians witnessed vile and hateful genocidal displays of hate symbols such as Nazi swastikas and the flying of Confederate flags at the very center of Canadian democracy.”
Coun. Ed Cole was concerned about banning symbols, commenting that “…there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech.” Cole added the protection of free speech is very important and he wouldn’t be happy with any limits on free speech in Canada.
Cole explained to his peers that he trades in military memorabilia, including black and white photographs of warships from World War II, including warships belonging to Nazi Germany. Cole stated photographs of these ships usually have the Nazi flag visible, including the infamous swastika.
Cole noted he was very concerned that if this bill passes and he sold one of these photos, he could be in trouble. “If you sell that photo, did you just engage in hate speech?,” Cole asked council.
Cole noted he would have to read the specific wording of the bill before he could endorse it.
Cole, a retired RCMP officer, noted courts usually hesitate to place any restrictions on free speech.
Coun. Janice Besuijen stated she got the impression that the bill aims to stop promotion of hate and is not targeting historical discussion.
Coun. Tim Besuijen wondered why the freedom convoy was mentioned, adding that the way Julian described the convoy seemed exaggerated.
Mayor Rob Fehr stated he also hesitated to endorse the bill as banning hate speech is a very broad subject for an MP to address, suggesting instead it’s a subject the courts should decide. He also stated he’d like to read the entire bill before supporting anything.
Fehr added that the bill seems to be a knee jerk reaction to an event that’s very fresh in people’s memory. Councillors accepted the letter as information.
At their Feb. 28 regular meeting Clive village councillors also read Julian’s letter.
In a phone call to the ECA Review Mar. 4 Village Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Carla Kenney stated the councillors discussed the letter but decline to do more than accept it for information.
Kenney stated the village doesn’t have an endorsement policy, but rather decides requests for support on a case by case basis. Kenney stated she also provided councillors with a list of previous decisions they’ve made.
The CAO stated Clive council generally support efforts spearheaded by a local person or of local interest while keeping in mind the values of the community.