Lighting bridge in colors for anti-abortion group ‘polarizing’, Edmonton attorneys say

Lighting bridge in colours for anti-abortion group ‘polarizing’, Edmonton lawyers say

Documents filed in court indicate that Jerry Pasternak, vice chairman of the association, asked to light the bridge to recognize the association’s annual March for Life, which the group has been coordinating in Edmonton since 2008.

The city approved the motion in March but later canceled it in April, a month before the planned march, citing the “polarizing nature of the issue”.

James Kitchen, an attorney for the Judicial Center for Constitutional Freedoms, told the court that Edmonton is a diverse population with a variety of views, values, and beliefs, including people with real-life views.

“The expression of pro-life opinions is part of the expression of a free society and is protected by the charter,” said Kitchen. He referred to Section 2 (b) of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives Canadians basic freedom of expression.

Kitchen also argued that in the past the city lit the bridge for purposes that promoted sexual and gender diversity, LGBT pride, and various Islamic holidays and celebrations.

He noted that the city was also illuminating the bridge in the context of International Pregnancy and Child Loss Awareness Day and disability awareness campaigns.

Kitchen said the Edmonton decision last year wrongly violated the association’s freedom of expression and the policies that the city uses to manage the bridge’s lighting is in violation of freedom of expression.

Attorneys representing the city countered that the city allowed the group to rally for their annual march, including blocking roads. You said that shows that freedom of expression has not been suppressed.

They argued that the lights on the bridge – which are owned by the city and run with taxpayers’ money – made some citizens interpret the lights as a message from the city of Edmonton.

“Various posts (against the lighting of the bridge) on Twitter represent a microcosm of the community as a whole,” said Shayne Abrams, an attorney who represents the city.

She pointed to a frenzy that erupted on social media when the city announced it would light the bridge for the anti-abortion group.

“These (messages) show that the March For Life message is polarizing the community and that some citizens are taking the light out of the city as a message,” Abrams said.

She agreed that many issues that preoccupy public discourse can be polarizing, but argued that some do so in extreme ways.

“The one we’re talking about (abortion) is one of them. What the city is doing by using the word “risk” is trying to set a minimum level, “Abrams said.

Abrams said there was an advantage in refusing to light the bridge for any reason as it could limit the harmful effects of polarization.

The court adjourned Friday night without a word about when a decision would be made.

This Canadian press report was first published on November 13, 2020.


This story was produced with financial support from Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship

Fakiha Baig, the Canadian press