The City of Calgary will drop charges against two teens who participated in a counter-protest against a religious homophobic and transphobic group. However, LGBTQ2S+ advocates question why they were charged in the first place.
On Feb. 27, the City of Calgary confirmed that the teens, whose names aren’t being used due to privacy concerns, would not be charged due to their age. This came after a petition started by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network (CAHN) demanding that the City drop charges against the teens for protesting against anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate.
The teenagers and their mother were part of a counter-protest at the Canyon Meadows pool against a religious, anti-LGBTQ2S+ group upset about trans people using changing rooms that aligned with their gender identity. The anti-LGBTQ2S+ protestors allegedly yelled homophobic slurs at the teens. When leaving the protest, they were stopped and fined by officers under the excessive noise and anti-street harassment bylaws. A representative from the Calgary community standards division told Global News that officers can’t “pick sides,” and claimed that the teens were harassing the anti-LGBTQ2S+ protestors for their religious beliefs.
“We felt that this was pretty unjust, that these teenagers who were there to be allies to the queer community were catching charges,” Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a research group that monitors and counters hate groups, told Xtra. “The people charged should be the hate preachers who are there screaming homophobic slurs at children.”
When CAHN read about the incident on Global News, they reached out to Lou, the teens’ mother, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity. From there, they created the petition and planned to fundraise to cover the fines if the charges weren’t dropped. Balgord estimates that the petition received around 800 signatures in the first day, and many people offered to chip in to help with the fines. Although the city agreed to drop the charges, Balgord isn’t completely satisfied with the response.
“We’re hoping for an acknowledgment that these charges were wrong in the first place,” he says. “These kids should be celebrated for standing up and being brave.”
This incident raises concerns about the application of Calgary’s new anti-street harassment bylaw, which came into effect in June 2022 after the City Council passed it unanimously. Balgord says that from the start, there were concerns that the bylaw “was going to be used to target people protesting against hate instead of the harassers, because of the way that cops and bylaw officers have unlimited discretion.” He says that the incident with the teens proves these fears weren’t unfounded.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek has also expressed frustration at the bylaw’s limited effectiveness in shutting down hateful demonstrations, and believes that the city should be doing more to prevent these events from happening.
“I’ll be unpacking all the ‘reasons’ why enforcement teams & the Crown feel the street harassment bylaw & other existing bylaws/legislation are not strong enough to charge demonstrators who spread vile lies & hatred in public. And then I’ll be pushing for more. No more excuses,” she wrote on Twitter.
Balgord hopes that other councillors will make similar statements and encourage the community standards division to train their officers to implement the bylaw more equitably.
“Going to an event like this, there are not two equal sides,” he says. “The people who show up there to counter demonstrate are going to be very justifiably upset at what is happening, and those people should be getting a bit more of a pass than the people who showed up there to spread hate and yell homophobic slurs at teenagers.”
Balgord acknowledges that relying on bylaws and police to stop LGBTQ2S+ hate isn’t enough, especially given the fraught relationship that many queer and trans people have with law enforcement.
“Bylaws and cops aren’t what protects communities. It’s people,” he says. However, as long as the bylaw exists, he says that anti-hate organizations “have to be vigilant that it’s not misused.”
He encourages people to defend queer communities by monitoring their local far-right groups and attending counter-protests or ‘drag defence’ to protect their queer and trans neighbours.
“The consequences for not coming out and defending these events are super significant and scary. Conversely, coming out to these events is loving and joyful and fun. Because it’s wonderful to stand together with a community of people who want to stand up to hate like that and love and affirm each other,” Balgord says.