A Canadian political party has introduced legislation that would create anti-free-speech zones around drag shows and punish anyone caught making remarks deemed "offensive" by LGBT activists while in the vicinity.
The Ontario New Democratic Party is a radical leftist party that serves as the official opposition in the conservative-run province of Ontario. One of its parliamentary members, Kristyn Wong-Tam, chair of the city of Toronto's 2SLGBTQ+ Community Advisory Committee, held a press conference Tuesday, urging the Ontario government to spare men masquerading as women from criticism and to clamp down on free speech.
"The topic that brings us here is deadly serious," said Wong-Tam, a woman who refers to herself with plural pronouns. "The rise of hate and violence facing the 2SLGBTQI-plus communities, including the drag artists, happening across Ontario and right [across] the nation has been alarming."
Canadian state media noted that hate crimes (e.g., verbal or written statements of a hateful nature) allegedly motivated by sexual orientation increased from 258 in 2020 to 423 in 2021. Statistics Canada previously indicated that 1 million of the nation's 39 million residents identify as members of the "LGBTQ" community.
Alluding to American protests targeting drag shows and recent efforts by Canadians to follow suit, Wong-Tam claimed, "Drag artists, their audiences, the businesses and the facilities that host those drag performances have been put at risk."
Jon Dobbie, whose drag name is "Crystal Quartz," appeared in a woman costume at the press conference beside Wong-Tam. He claimed that after doing drag performances for kids, he faced criticism online.
"They then started showing up to all of my events, screaming at parents and myself saying they were groomers, pedophiles and a bunch of other homophobic slurs to make everyone there feel unsafe to attend," said Dobbie. "These acts of intimidation now made our safe spaces feel unsafe."
"Unless we put forward a strategy to protect them, Ontario's social, economic and cultural richness is under attack," added Wong-Tam. "We have to protect that."
To this end, Wong-Tam seeks give the state the power to create 100-meter LGBT bubble zones wherever it deems fit, wherein "any homophobic, transphobic act of intimidation, threat, offensive threats, offensive remarks, protest, disturbance, and distribution of hate propaganda within the meaning of the criminal code."
The penalty for creating a disturbance or issuing what are perceived to be offensive remarks inside such a zone would be $25,000 CDN ($18,581.42 USD).
It is already a criminal offense in Canada to incite hatred against any identifiable group; however, the Criminal Code states, "No person shall be convicted of an offence ... if he establishes that the statements communicated were true; ... if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text; ... if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or ... if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada."
In the event this legislation is passed, it is unclear whether offensive remarks that would not constitute criminal offenses under federal law could nevertheless be punished.
The legislation notes that disturbances and so-called hate propaganda are to be understood "within the meaning of the Criminal Code"; however, offensive remarks "with respect to matters of social orientation or gender roles" are not so clearly defined.
Furthermore, it is unclear who will ultimately determine what would constitute an offensive remark or a disturbance and whether, as in the case of sexual assault accusations brought before the Ontario Human Rights Commission, an accuser will only have president evidence that the comments "more likely than not" took place — as opposed to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.
While Wong-Tam intimated that the legislation is intended to protect drag performances in particular, the bill itself makes no such specification. It appears as though Ontario's attorney general would be able to arbitrarily designate "2SLGBTQI+ community safety zones" for "a specified period of time."
The name and address of the "community safety zone" must be provided, but there is otherwise no specified limit to the size of these zones (but for the circumferential 100-meter bubble) and the duration of their recognition.
Despite prohibiting offensive remarks and oppositional language, the bill states, "For greater certainty, nothing in this Act prevents peaceful protests or demonstrations."
There is precedent for anti-free-speech zones in Ontario.
The former Liberal government, which lost official party status after a crushing defeat in the 2018 general election, had created bubble zones around abortion sites, reported Canadian state media.
In addition to creating the anti-free-speech zones, the legislation calls for the establishment of an Ontario "2SLGBTQI+ Safety Advisory Committee."
The vice chair for this committee must be "a member of the Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or other sexually or gender diverse community."
Among this proposed committee's duties will be ensuring that the education curriculum is to the liking of LGBT activists.
Terence Kernaghan, an LGBT activist also with the NDP, said in a statement, "The government must support this legislation and put a stop to the alarming rise in hateful action against drag artists and 2SLGBTQI+ community. This bill is especially important for drag performers in smaller communities like London and Sarnia, where artists have fewer places to perform and less protection."
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