By Kim Guttormson, Calgary Herald
CALGARY – Concerned that proposed rules would unduly restrict access to the areas surrounding City Hall, a civic committee Wednesday sent them back to be reworked.
"I have a lot of problems with this," Ald. Jim Stevenson said. "What are we after here?"
He and other aldermen on the community and protective services committee were apprehensive that the new guidelines, which require a free permit to hold an event on the plaza and insurance for some gatherings, would be prohibitive.
"I’m left very cold by this," Ald. Ric McIver said. "What happens when someone shows up and demonstrates without an appointment and insurance and says uncomfortable things?"
The draft bylaw would have applied to the plaza in front of the municipal building, as well as its sidewalks and the Plus-15 system through to the Calgary Public Building.
It updates an 18-year-old bylaw, which the city’s chief security officer, Owen Key, said doesn’t allow demonstrations at all.
The new version, committee was told, permits them on a designated space along Macleod Trail as long as they’re peaceful.
But Stevenson was concerned about the lag time between applying for a permit and an event, while McIver worried that some groups would be prevented from protesting simply because they couldn’t afford the insurance.
Key said the need for insurance is discretionary and would be guided by security concerns.
Art Pawlowski, who holds protests in front of City Hall every week while feeding the homeless, believes the bylaw is aimed at him.
"This is directly against our fundamental rights to peaceful assembly," the Street Church minister said. "It’s against street church, feeding the poor, our rights to feed the poor.
"I don’t need your permission to exercise free speech."
Ald. Andre Chabot pointed out the bylaw has a wider purpose than Pawlowski’s weekly gathering.
"This isn’t at all about you," he said.
Pawlowski, who has had a long-running battle with the city over his desire to use amplified sound for his preaching, said he was happy to hear the city was considering a speaker’s corner until he discovered that didn’t mean the use of public address speakers.
Ald. Bob Hawkesworth asked whether Pawlowski protested anywhere else–such as the provincial government’s southern headquarters, since it’s responsible for homeless issues.
"I have no problem with the federal/ provincial government. It’s you people that hunt us," he said.
While city staff said Pawlowski could apply for a permit, it wasn’t clear whether he’d be allowed to hold a weekly event, or gather more than once a week.
Staff said they wanted to make sure the plaza is available for many groups to use.