Nelson city council is asking for a legal opinion on whether hanging a banner on Baker Street with an implied anti-abortion message meets the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The perennial discussion about the local Right to Life group’s banner cropped up again tonight after city staff asked council to consider amending its banner policy to remove the Civic Centre as a location to hang community banners.
Councillor Brittny Anderson said she is concerned about the Right to Life group’s banner.
“I want to ensure the banner is welcoming for residents and visitors to our city and also want to ensure, more importantly, that it does not infringe upon the rights and Charter freedoms of Canadians and that it’s not discriminatory against any group specified within the Charter,” she said.
While the Right to Life group’s banner is the only one among 19 that raises eyebrows, Anderson says she is seeking legal advice on any banner “that opposes another group, just to ensure we are protecting our citizens and their rights and freedoms are not infringed upon.”
In 2017, council clarified its policy around hanging banners on Baker Street to say they are only allowed for non-profit organizations and only if they are promoting an event. They cannot be used to make statements.
As a result, a controversial banner that read “Respect human life from conception to natural death” would not be allowed. However, anti-abortion groups can still advertise events.
An online petition calling on the city to take the banner down gathered 1,400 signatures.
“People felt that calling for a woman’s right to have agency over her body to be taken away was infringing over her rights and freedoms, and the city was endorsing it by hanging a banner,” Anderson said.
Anderson agreed, however, that it is thorny to balance those issues with freedom of speech.