October 12, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – An important victory for freedom of political expression—especially for Christians—was won on October 4 when a panel of three superior court judges ruled in favor of the Christian Heritage Party (CHP) of Canada in their lawsuit against the City of Hamilton. The judges stated that the Christian Heritage Party has the right to express political speech regardless of whether some Canadians find that speech offensive, and struck down the decision of the City of Hamilton to remove ads that the CHP had previously placed in bus shelters.
The CHP’s lawyer Albertos Polizogopoulos noted that the case “involved bus shelter ads by the CHP addressing a local policy the City of Hamilton was developing which allows people to use the washroom, change room, or shower that corresponds with their gender identity and not their genetic gender. The CHP placed three identical ads addressing this live political issue.” These policies have been extremely controversial right across North America for the past several years.
The ads—which were accompanied by a literature drop of over 3,600 fliers addressing the same issue—showed a male entering a door marked with the label “Ladies Showers” with a simple slogan: “Competing human rights. Where is the justice?” These ads had been pre-vetted by the company utilized by the City of Hamilton to sell ad-space on City property. “The ads were up for at least one week until they were taken down without notice and without any formal process being followed,” Polizogopoulos told me by email.
“A member of the public had seen the ads, called the CBC, which then contacted the City for comment,” he noted. “In response to the CBC inquiry, the City engaged in a rushed and organized process to take down the ads without notifying the CHP or giving them an opportunity to respond. It was clear in the evidence that the City was only concerned with how the ads might affect its image.”
After pulling the billboards, the City of Hamilton apologized for the “offensive” nature of the ads, noting that they wished to fix their relationship with the transgender community and even formally flying a transgender flag. In response, the Christian Heritage Party sued the City of Hamilton, with Polizogopoulos observing that “if this type of political censorship was upheld, it could have been used as an authority to allow a sitting government to shut down any kind of comment or criticism of its policy decisions.”
The judges strongly concurred with that view, stating in their October 4 decision that the City of Hamilton had violated the Charter rights of the Christian Heritage Party. “A political party’s ability to advertise on bus shelters is an important phenomenon for the political process and for society as a whole,” they wrote. They added a much-needed and firm rebuke to the current progressive trend of equating words with physical violence by stating firmly that “Speech is not ‘violence’ just because people may find it offensive.”
In the current political and legal climate, this victory is much-needed and far more significant than it would have been several years ago. The decision simply “reaffirms our longstanding tradition of honouring freedom of expression and freedom of political expression,” Polizogopoulos stated—but “it is a very important victory because over the past few years there have been multiple cases involving municipalities censoring speech they deemed too controversial and increasingly, there were cases that have upheld the censorship.”
The City of Hamilton is considering further legal action, with one councilor stating rather dramatically that the city has “a moral obligation” to appeal the decision, which urges the two sides to work out a settlement. In the meantime, this victory should be welcomed by Christians and advocates of freedom of speech right across Canada—and the political spectrum.