The City of Kamloops was right to stand firm in the face of complaints about a pro-life banner flying over downtown streets but one can’t help but wonder what fuelled its motivation for doing so.
Was it a fervent desire to protect free speech — a right enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Or did City bureaucrats fall in meekly behind legal analysis of policy and bylaw? We hope it is the former but fear it is more likely the latter.
The banner flap started when someone noticed a bright blue plastic sheet strung between the poles on Victoria Street recently. It’s the place commonly used to allow not-for-profit groups to promote their causes. It stated: “One Life Can Make A Difference. Protect Human Life Week.”
Then, a local group proclaiming themselves a centre for rational thought got wind of it and asked the City to remove it. It suggested the banner violated City policy prohibiting the display of religious or offensive messages.
The City refused, thankfully, to take the banner down. But instead of a strong defence of the virtues of free speech in a free and democratic country, however, Kamloops bureaucrats told The Daily News that its lawyers advised the City it had no authority to remove it.
“It’s not about whether we agree with the message, it’s what the law says we can or cannot do,” said Mayor Peter Milobar.
It’s a weak and ineffective response that suggests that had the City been able to, it would cut the banner’s cords following the first hint of complaint.
The City needs policy to ensure the public spaces above our streets are not abused. As well, we need means to decide who gets to display their message. There are only 52 weeks in a year. Policy, however, does not recognize the value of the practice.
The public display of banners in this fashion must be about the desire to promote free expression of messages some feel are important for others to see. At its core, the City’s banner bylaw supports the ideal that societal discourse is improved when we see and hear the viewpoints of others.
The City’s response robs that ideal of meaning.
And for the complainers who started this debate, consider this — there is nothing rational in suppressing the viewpoints of those you do not agree with. Instead, raise your own banner, speak your own message and let citizens decide for themselves to who they will listen to.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.