London city hall: Wording of a council motion intended to denounce hateful events is ‘extremely dangerous,’ one observer says

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Symbolic stance or political overreach?

One expert is surprised by a London city council move intended to denounce an upcoming anti-Islam rally and keep events preaching hate out of city-owned spaces.

Politicians passed a motion to “stand against all forms of racism, bigotry and hatred.” But the wording they used is unclear and Andrew Sancton, the former head of Western University’s local government program, said council’s vagueness could have serious consequences.

Emotional councillors unanimously passed this motion and amendment at Tuesday’s council meeting:

“The Municipal Council and the City of London stand against all forms of racism, bigotry and hatred, including white supremacy/nationalist groups whose ideologies threaten the security of our community and undermines our commitment to foster a safe and inclusive environment for everyone, and the Civic Administration BE DIRECTED to prepare a council policy to confirm the prohibition of activities of organizations whose ideologies are contrary to the City of London in civic spaces and/or city-owned facilities and spaces.”

Sancton said he understands why the city wanted to respond, but said the direction they chose is puzzling.

“This is extremely dangerous because it looks like it’s almost limitless in its application, and it could cause all kinds of trouble,” Sancton said of the phrase “contrary ideologies.”

But it’s natural that council would want to make a statement to residents, Sancton said.

“It’s likely symbolic. It’s just showing that they are very upset and it probably doesn’t mean anything.”

Coun. Harold Usher expressed concern about the word “ideologies” in the amendment.

“In this case we are talking about something specific. But if something else comes up that has nothing to do with racism or bigotry, I wonder how that would play,” he said at council.

The amendment was proposed by Coun. Tanya Park. She asked city staff if there was any way to restrict events – she described Saturday’s rally as “full-out hate” – on city property.

“It’s simply an inhumane thing that some people want to portray our community as,” she said.

An existing bylaw already allows the city to restrict groups from renting space in city-owned buildings like arenas, gardens or golf courses.

And reiterating that rule is really the purpose of the amendment, according to city solicitor Barry Card.

“It was deciding what’s appropriate for the use of city facilities. They might decide, for example, that weddings are appropriate but rallies for certain groups are not,” he said. “I know what’s been requested. I’m not too hung up on the wording.”

Card suggested that “contrary to the city’s goals,” might be a more accurate phrase for the amendment – wording that can be adopted when staff return with a recommendation to council.

But as for public space, like street in front of city hall, it’s the criminal code, not city policy, that would apply to someone promoting hatred, Card said.

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