PBI-Canada reminds the City of Ottawa of its human rights obligations as #CeasefireNow protest is ticketed

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Update: While three tickets totalling almost $1500 were issued by Ottawa By-law officers at the #CeasefireNow march on Saturday December 23, another nine tickets were reportedly issued on Saturday December 30. We continue to be concerned by this.

Tweet from Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ.

Original post

Ottawa Citizen photo: “An Ottawa bylaw officer informs pro-Palestinian protest organizer Sarah Abdul-Karim that the group was being ticketed under the city noise bylaws. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia”

Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Canada acceded to the Covenant on May 19, 1976.

General comment No. 37 and megaphones, sound systems

On June 29-July 24, 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted General comment No. 37 (2020) on the right of peaceful assembly (article 21).

Point 58 of that General comment states:

As far as restrictions on the manner of peaceful assemblies are concerned, participants should be left to determine whether they want to use equipment such as posters, megaphones, musical instruments or other technical means, such as projection equipment, to convey their message. Assemblies may entail the temporary erection of structures, including sound systems, to reach their audience or otherwise achieve their purpose.

International Covenants and local governments

The discussion paper Human rights cities: The power and potential of local government to advance economic and social rights (Maytree Canada) notes:

Crucially, cities and municipalities are not only well positioned to protect and fulfill human rights, they also have an obligation to do so. While the federal government has constitutional authority to ratify international human rights treaties, it can only ensure good faith compliance with its obligations if all orders of government commit to implementing these obligations. The provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Canada in 1976, “extend to all parts of federal States without exception or limitations.” This, of course, includes local governments.

Tweet from Leilani Farha, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing.

City of Ottawa By-law issues tickets

On December 24, the Ottawa Citizen reported:

An organizer of recent protests in support of Palestinians in the ongoing Gaza conflict says she’s shocked and disappointed by the city’s decision to hand out bylaw noise infractions at the event, noting that the event has gone on for over 10 weeks with no issues.

Sarah Abdul-Karim, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, confirmed Sunday that three tickets, at $490 each, were handed out during Saturday afternoon’s event.

Calling for “no Christmas as usual,” the rally kicked off at about 3 p.m., with protesters gathering by the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument on Elgin Street. The group marched from the monument down Rideau Street, before making their way through the ByWard Market and back.

Ahead of the march, Abdul-Karim said officials had warned that tickets would be given out at $490 per microphone. She said protesters were told they could have 20 minutes with the speaker system at the monument but the group could not march with the speakers.

The tickets that were handed out were under noise bylaw No. 2017-255 [that can be read in full here], which includes a subsection that “no person shall operate or use or cause to be operated or used any sound reproduction device on any highway or other public place.”

This newspaper has reached out to the City of Ottawa and police for comment.

Ottawa Citizen photo: Sarah Abdul-Karim speaks at Saturday’s rally. PHOTO BY ASHLEY FRASER /Postmedia.

The Palestinian Youth Movement and Labour for Palestine have commented via Instagram:

City Bylaw Officers and the Ottawa Police enforced an obscure bylaw in an attempt to silence and intimidate us into inaction. Despite 10 weeks of protests using the same sound systems, Ottawa Bylaw officers issued fines against organizers and community members using any sound system or megaphone moments into our No Christmas as Usual Protest on Dec. 23.

Despite this, we continued to chant and march, refusing to be silenced. We, along with several organizations and allies, will be pushing back against this repression.

We continue to follow this with concern.

Photo: The webpage for the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression features this image of a woman with a megaphone.

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