A controversial pro-life banner that the City has allowed to be hung over Tranquille Road and Victoria Street generated some strong debate in council chambers Tuesday.
The discussion was sparked by a letter from social worker Allysa Gredling, who included another letter from West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) about a Kelowna pro-life group requesting a Protect Human Life Week proclamation from that city’s council.
Kelowna subsequently denied the proclamation request.
Coun. Nelly Dever said she had difficulty with the banner last year and still does again this year.
The banner reads One Life Can Make a Difference. Protect Human Life Week and it includes a pro-life organization logo.
Dever said while the City has had its lawyers look over the banner policy, which states that all banners must conform to the principles underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she wanted some more explanation.
“I know we've gone through the legalities of it (the policy). But reading it, . . . it's in direct conflict of women's rights to security of person,” she said.
"I don't know how we can allow this banner to be up. It goes against the rights of women."
City administrator David Trawin said the lawyers reviewed the policy and said they believe the banner doesn’t contradict the Charter or the policy.
Coun. Donovan Cavers said he spoke to Gredling and wanted the City’s lawyers to review the banner policy again this fall, in the context of the information from the West Coast LEAF.
“There's a letter in here that differs with their legal opinion. I'd like to see if they agree with the letter that was included,” he said.
Mayor Peter Milobar said the City lawyers did review the policy last year and they’ve looked at it again this year.
Cavers persisted, saying he wanted to see a formal written decision from legal counsel.
Coun. Tina Lange said the bottom line is that legally, council’s hands are tied.
"We do not have the legal right not to fly that banner. We have the right not to fly no banners at all. But if we weigh the good done by the banners flying over Victoria and Tranquille, promoting community activities, it would be a shame to deny all that good with the possibility of one banner."
Coun. Pat Wallace said the pro-life banner didn’t bother her.
“I see nothing offensive in telling people to protect human life. We've had information and advice from our lawyers. I'm not prepared to waste more staff time in reproducing it. We've spent enough time. We've had banners over the years that I didn't agree with, but I didn't get up and protest them.”
Coun. Nancy Bepple said West Coast LEAF is a respected group and as long as the City is willing to fly banners, it needs to address the letters it gets about them.
Milobar said the letter was about the City of Kelowna and a proclamation. He didn’t know what that city’s policies are, but West Coast LEAF hasn’t addressed Kamloops.
Cavers said everyone knows what the pro-life group’s goals are, and that the banner really reads “do not have an abortion week.”
Coun. Arjun Singh said groups have a right to access the banners, and no one was calling for discrimination against a particular group. He, too, was concerned that taking down the pro-life banner could lead to getting rid of all of them.
Coun. Ken Christian voted against Cavers’s motion for a written legal opinion.
“We had the same banner last year and got an opinion, now we're asking for the same. These lawyers don't come cheap. How many times are we going to do this?”
Milobar offered to email Cavers and the rest of council the lawyers’ week-old opinion.
“I suggest if I'm telling you the lawyers have reconfirmed this, I don't want us to get sued, they're doing what they said they have done.”
But Cavers said maintaining the status quo wouldn’t necessarily avoid a legal challenge.
“I believe if we don't act on this we're setting ourselves up for a legal challenge,” he said.
“There's at least one person in the community who has taken great offence to this banner.”
Cavers’s motion for a written opinion was defeated. He, Lange and Bepple voted in favour; the rest of council was opposed.
Council did agree to write a letter to Gredling that the issue was discussed and that lawyers were consulted. They also agreed to send her the lawyers’ opinion.