Advocates call on City of Ottawa to protect protesters from noise fines

City officials began fining pro-Palestinian protesters on Dec. 23 for using megaphones and loudspeakers after months without problems, an advocate argues.

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A coalition of more than 50 community groups is backing a call for city council to protect protesters from being fined for noise violations for using megaphones and speakers. This comes after dozens of fines were issued at recent protests in Ottawa.

“Our right to protest in this city is fundamental and should not be left to the discretion of municipal officials or police,” Horizon Ottawa’s Sam Hersh said at a news conference outside city hall earlier this week.

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Since late December 2023, city officers have issued at least 48 noise violation tickets to protesters at various demonstrations, he said, worth $23,000.

Municipal officials began fining pro-Palestinian protesters on Dec. 23 for using megaphones and loudspeakers, something the group had been doing at its weekly rallies for months before without problems, said Sarah Abdul-Karim of the Palestinian Youth Movement.

READ MORE: Noise fines issued again during 12th weekend of pro-Palestinian protests in Ottawa

Abdul-Karim said the noise ordinance is “a threat to our rights as Canadians and a threat to Ottawa’s long history of social movements and protests.”

Protesters at rallies and demonstrations in solidarity with transgender youth, striking workers and climate protesters have also been fined, Hersh said.

“This is not just a question of one particular movement,” Hersh said. “We have tried to work with the city council to guarantee that changes will be made to the bylaws, but it is clear that more pressure is needed.”

Noise during protests became a contentious issue in Ottawa during the convoy demonstration, when truck horns blared through the city center for three weeks in 2022. In that case, a judge eventually issued an injunction that It prohibited honking and sounding the air horn with echo. in the center during that long protest.

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Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a $290 million class action lawsuit against convoy organizers on behalf of downtown Ottawa residents, workers and business owners, described excessive noise from vehicles honking their horns “during the most of the day, if not all day.” .”

Hersh says that any proposed amendment to the noise ordinance for one-day protests, however, should not “give the statute fewer tools to deal with some members of the convoy if they returned to the city.”

The difference, he says, is that “the convoy occupied the entire city of Ottawa for three weeks, and we are asking for a bylaw to make it okay for people to have megaphones at protests.”

Bylaw issued more than 3,000 parking tickets in the city center at the end of the convoy protest, as well as two tickets for noise violations and one for obstructing a road by a vehicle.

When convoy protesters returned in February of this year to mark the second anniversary of the original protest, Ottawa police ordered city officials not to fine participants in a “volatile” and illegal fireworks display, with the hope to alleviate the situation. .

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However, police did hand out tickets for driving under suspension, operating a vehicle without insurance, failure to provide a driver’s license, driving without a permit and driving the wrong way on a one-way street. There were also tickets for parking violations and excessive noise, while a vehicle without license plates was towed.

READ MORE: City clarifies response from police, municipal officials during convoy anniversary rally

Ottawa The noise statute states that “no person shall operate, use, or cause to be operated or used any sound reproducing device on any highway or other public place.” The city has previously defended its decision to fine protesters, saying that bylaw officials “follow a progressive implementation model and take every opportunity to educate people about Ottawa’s bylaws before the event and work toward a resolution during the event.”

Hersh said it would be acceptable for council to amend the noise bylaw, or special events bylaw, which covers demonstrations, marches and processions, and that “what matters is for council to affirm the principle that Ottawa residents have the right to protest, without intimidation by PAHO. and statute.”

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Sam Hersch
OTTAWA – March 26, 2024 – Sam Hersh of Horizon Ottawa speaks at a rally at Ottawa City Hall. Photo by Tony Caldwell /postmedia

Ariel Troster, councilor for Somerset Ward, which includes Centretown and surrounding major neighborhoods, said he receives no complaints about noise levels during regular protests.

“I’m obviously deeply concerned,” she said, “and I also represent Centretown, where the convoy took root, where we certainly had to deal with completely unacceptable amplified noise.”

He said councilors have been discussing the noise bylaw and reflecting on how best to approach changing it.

I have a lot of respect for the statutes,” Troster said. “We don’t want to antagonize them. We don’t want to take away a tool that they think they really need. But I’m still scratching my head about this.”

Annie Yeo, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said she was “dismayed” that the city is imposing fines on protests, saying it discourages community organizers from pushing for progressive change.

“What kind of city is this where we can’t express our discontent with public figures in our own public spaces?” she said. “Noise regulations should not be used as a weapon to suppress legitimate forms of picketing and protests. How can we, as workers, participate in a legal strike, when we have police officers breathing down our necks and taking advantage of the working class?

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Callie Metler, executive director of Capital Pride, one of Canada’s largest pride festivals, said the streets of Ottawa have always been a place of protest, but “aNow we are places of danger, places of counter-protest, places of direct conflict with those who hate us.

READ MORE: Protesters rally for trans youth during Alberta premier’s trip to capital

“If we must continue to react to this hate, we must do so loudly.”

Metler added that the megaphones also have a practical purpose and said they safely direct more than 10,000 participants from the beginning to the end of the gay pride parade. “I couldn’t do it without a megaphone strapped to my back.”

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