A street ministry that tries to reach the homeless through outdoor services held over loudspeakers is taking the city to court over a ban on its public address system.
Street Church Ministries operates out of so-called Needle Park, across from the Calgary Drop-In Centre, four days a week. Using a speaker system, its members play music, offer testimonials from converts who used to work as prostitutes or use drugs, and preach.
"We can’t do the ministry without the speakers," Artur Pawlowski said, adding they need it loud to draw people in.
But neighbours — and those living further away, including across the river and in Eau Claire — feel the volume is too loud and have filed 100 complaints with the city.
Dennis LaFreniere, the city’s parks community liaison, said those concerns led to an alteration of the church’s 2007 permit to use the green space, prohibiting loudspeakers.
"It uses an amplification system not just to try to communicate with people in the small park, but trying to attract clients from the Drop-In Centre and from underneath the flyover," he said. "From the size of the park, you don’t really need amplification of sound to reach those in the park."
Lawyer Gerald Chipeur, whose firm is representing the church, said a challenge will be filed over that decision, as well a motion asking for an injunction. The ministry wants to continue using the speakers until the case is heard sometime next year.
"It goes to the very heart of their ability to communicate," Chipeur said, adding the city allowed the use of an amplification system over the past year.
"It isn’t a reasonable limit at all. We’ll ask they continue to have the same right. This is outrageous. It’s an abuse of power by the city."
Chipeur said they will be making a Charter argument that it goes against the church’s rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, to assemble and to communicate.
Chipeur and Pawlowski believe the majority of the complaints stem from one individual. The lawyer said the man "hates the program because he can see it from the other side of the river. It bothers him that homeless people are there, congregating together."
LaFreniere said the complaints have come from "a lot of different people."
Dermot Baldwin, who runs the Drop-In Centre, said the ministry has caused the homeless shelter a lot of grief.
"You can hear loud, boisterous, aggressive music and proselytizing," Baldwin said, adding it has made the windows on his sixth floor office shake and people on the other end of his phone conversations can hear it.
"If they want to go across the park and serve meals, offer advice and counsel. . . . but they’re just ramming it down everybody’s throats."
Clients lining up to be transferred to satellite shelters have complained as well, he said, because "they didn’t feel they should have to listen to the blaring."
Requests from Drop-In Centre staff to turn the volume down fell on deaf ears, Baldwin added.
He supports the city’s decision to stop the use of loudspeakers.
Chipeur’s firm filed its statement of claim Friday, and he said next week a judge will determine when the injunction motion will be heard.