A Kelowna city councillor says he believes the municipality's intent behind its injunction application targeting regular anti-pandemic protests in Stuart Park is merely to manage the use of public space.
The City of Kelowna filed a petition on Jan. 16 against protest organizer David Lindsay, John and Jane Doe and persons unknown. The city’s lawsuit is seeking a court order declaring the protests are violating city bylaws by holding “events” in the park without the city’s permission.
The court action would have been approved by city council in a behind-closed-doors meeting, which is routine for legal matters. Most of the elected decision makers declined to comment on the situation, but Coun. Rick Webber told Castanet he feels the court application is simply trying "to get the organizers to follow the same rules for booking city facilities as anyone else."
"Protest participants had been regularly staging fairly large events, sometimes with sound systems, generators, signs, and even vendors. These un-permitted events were regularly taking place at one of our most central park locations, regardless of whether it had already been booked by other users who had followed the rules," said Webber.
The injunction, if granted by the courts, would give police the ability to arrest and remove those who violate the order.
Webber admitted this is unusual territory for the city.
"Since I know of no other groups who hold regular, non-permitted events in our parks. For instance, each year I emceed the Walk For Alzheimer’s in City Park, and the organizers take great pains to pre-book the area and follow all the city’s rules and regulations. On that particular weekend, several different groups hold events in the same area, so careful booking is important."
A local lawyer, however, says a city taking legal action against a party that openly violates bylaws is normal.
"Without seeing the affidavits and other materials it's hard to know for certain what the evidence is but the courts will have to decide on the people's right to peacefully protest versus the public's right to the safe enjoyment of public spaces," said Darren J. Kautz, partner at FH&P Lawyers LLP.
The city says it has received numerous complaints from the public regarding the rallies. “The city has issued warnings, bylaw offence notice fines and letters to respondent David Lindsay and CLEAR to discourage the unlawful events," the petition says.
The city says the protests’ erection of tents, use of amplified sound systems, the sale of merchandise and “standing and loitering” on public roadways are the primary bylaw violations that make the rallies unlawful.
While the rallies have were held on a weekly basis in the park for nearly three years, they have now been scaled back to once-per-month. In a message to followers this month before the city's legal action, David Lindsay said they will continue to also organize "special rallies and marches when necessary or beneficial to do so" in addition to the once-a-month events.
Kelowna city manager Doug Gilchrist said Monday he has no new information on when the case will actually be before a judge.
From a legal perspective, an injunction of this nature can be expedited if there is some urgency, otherwise the case will proceed in standard course through the Supreme Court of British Columbia.