A proposed bill in Ontario, Canada, has at least one religious liberty advocate sounding the alarm over the potential detrimental impact the legislation could have on free speech and expression.
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“Liberty Coalition Canada is gravely disturbed about the rapid changes in our legal climate in Canada,” Michael Thiessen, president of Liberty Coalition Canada, a religious liberty watchdog, told Fox News.
Among other recent moves and developments, the “Protecting 2SLGBTQI+ Communities Act” has Thiessen and others speaking out.
The measure, proposed last week by Legislative Assembly of Ontario member Kristyn Wong-Tam, a member of Ontario’s Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), would create so-called “safety zones” around LGBTQ events, including controversial drag shows.
Under the measure, the attorney general of Ontario would purportedly be permitted to select a specific address to be a “2SLGBTQI+ Community Safety Zone” for a specified period.
These protective zones would be 100 meters (328 feet) around such events, with fines for violations of up to $25,000.
Canadian politician Kristyn Wong-Tam, who uses the pseudo-pronouns “they/them,” proposes legislation to criminalize “offensive remarks” within 100 meters of a Drag Queen Story Hour.— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) April 5, 2023
They want to eliminate free speech and turn normal people into criminals.pic.twitter.com/egqEnXmYe5
“During the time a safety zone is in effect, anti-2SLGBTQI+ harassment, intimidation, and hate speech within 100 meters of the designated address could receive a provincial fine of up to $25,000,” a press release announcing the effort reads.
Wong-Tam has also published a petition encouraging the passage of the “Protecting 2SLGBTQI+ Communities Act,” citing increased “hate crimes and harassment” and the purported targeting of “drag artists” by “anti-2SLGBTQI+ extremists” as the reasons for the legislation.
“Whereas drag performance is a liberating and empowering art form that allows diverse communities to see themselves represented and celebrated,” Wong-Tam’s petition reads, in part. “Whereas drag artists, small businesses, and 2SLGTBQI+ communities deserve to feel safe everywhere in Ontario.”
The petition affirms the call for “safety zones” to “deter bigoted harassment” as well as “an advisory committee … to protect 2SLGTBQI+ Communities from hate crimes.”
Thiessen is deeply concerned about the proposal, though, noting it would criminalize “offensive remarks” and critiques of events.
“[The bill] vilifies concerned citizens and purports to criminalize peaceful protesting by using dangerously vague and cynically one-sided language describing ‘any homophobic, transphobic, offensive remarks, protest disturbance, and distribution of hate propaganda,'” Thiessen told Fox News. “Any peaceful, public disagreement or moral criticism could easily be captured by such broad, subjective, politicized categories.”
He said the proposal is “about silencing all opposition” and censorship.
“Whether through a chilling effect or overzealous prosecution, the result of this bill — and we suggest the intent, as well — will be the censorship of all public criticism of things like drag queens reading to children,” Thiessen said.
Others have shared similar critiques and worries. Allison Kindle Pejovic, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, recently told Fox News the effort would “penalize free speech.”
“What is notable about this bill is that it is content-specific, targeting specific speech, while other speech and protests which may be offensive to different communities would be allowed,” she said. “It is deeply concerning that government could wield subjective terminology such as ‘transphobic, homophobic, or offensive’ to target people peacefully and publicly expressing their concerns about sexualization and indiscriminate nudity before children.”
This is the latest in moves targeting prayer and protest outside controversial venues. In the U.K., Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a pro-life volunteer and co-director of March for Life UK, was arrested twice for the “offense” of silently praying in her head within an abortion facility’s censorship zone.
Read more about the controversial laws and measures behind these restrictions here.
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