Racism: London council’s stand against racism ‘hard to enforce’

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Symbolic stance or political overreach?

Experts are puzzled by a London city council move meant 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 in an amendment 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 the motion and amendment at Tuesday’s council meeting.

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

At issue is the amendment, specifically the idea of contrary ideologies.

“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.

He zeroed in on the idea that the city would “prohibit” particular events. That implies action, and would be hard to enforce, he said.

But it’s natural that council would want to make a statement to residents in light of Saturday’s rally, 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 described Saturday’s rally as “full-out hate” and asked city staff if there was any way to restrict events on city property.

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

But cracking down on public events – like a rally on the street outside city hall – is outside the city’s jurisdiction, said a lawyer specializing in municipal law. Chris Williams of Toronto-based Aird & Berlis noted that people have a right to assemble and to peacefully protest, no matter what resolution council passes.

“If they’re there promoting hatred, that’s a criminal matter, and it’s really up to the police,” he said.

Williams said the wording of the amendment — a direction to staff — is too broad.

“Certainly, I wouldn’t expect to see anything like that make its way into a bylaw or a formal resolution,” he said.

City solicitor Barry Card said Tuesday night’s amendment is just a way to craft strong guidelines for city spaces.

Williams said the city will have to be careful not to single out any particular group as it crafts the policy.

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