British Columbia

After altercation involving anti-gay preachers, lawyer urges better enforcement of noise rules

Lawyer Dan Snyder said, as a gay man, he takes personal offence to the preachers' "unsettling" message. He is calling for stricter enforcement of noise bylaws to stop the disturbances before they escalate.

Police say there have been multiple incidents with the preachers in Vancouver's West End

A massive pride flag carried during Vancouver's 2014 Pride Parade. Preachers using amplifiers to spread anti-gay messages have been causing disturbances in the West End neighbourhood in recent months, according to a number of complaints from the community. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

After an incident involving anti-gay street preachers turned violent in Vancouver's West End Saturday, a lawyer in the community is calling for stricter enforcement of noise bylaws to stop disturbances before they escalate.

Police have recommended charges of aggravated assault and mischief against two men accused of preaching anti-gay messages, after a man who asked them to stop was assaulted.

Dan Snyder, a lawyer who lives in the neighbourhood, says the preachers are sending an "unsettling" message in the neighbourhood known for a thriving LGBTQ community and because the volume is so loud, thanks to their use of amplifiers, the message is unavoidable.

"People I know, blocks away, could hear this for hours. And this happens regularly on weekends," Snyder said.

"People in their houses can hear these street preachers go on for hours and that is what's disrupting the community."

Dan Snyder is a lawyer and member of the LGBTQ community in Vancouver's West End. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

Snyder's legal background means he knows about charter rights and the preachers' rights to expression and religious belief.

He argues there is a solution, however: if authorities enforce noise bylaws in these cases, the preachers can express their beliefs — even if they are "inflammatory" and "unsettling," as Snyder said — without making their messages inescapably loud throughout the neighbourhood.

Sgt. Aaron Roed, a spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Department, said public use of an amplifier in Vancouver requires a permit, but officers have discretion.

"Even if we disagree with what is being preached or their demonstration, they do have a level of freedom of speech, and we try and allow people to have their voices heard," Roed said. 

"Even if we disagree with what is being said, and in this case, it is disgusting and intolerable."

He said since June, Saturday's was the fifth incident police have attended involving the preachers, but the first where charges have been recommended. 

Roed said the men did not have a permit for their amplifier and a possible noise infraction could be part of the investigation.

Dorre Love, in a YouTube video, said he was one of the preachers involved in Saturday's confrontation.

"I was assaulted," Love said in the video. "A gentleman took my mic out of my hands and tried to get away with it."

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert said he has fielded numerous complaints about the preachers. He said he plans to speak to Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer about the situation.

"I don't know why they weren't stopped earlier. They should have been," Chandra-Herbert told On The Coast guest host Margaret Gallagher.

"They were breaking noise bylaws. They were spreading hatred of people vulnerable to attack. You can hear it for blocks and blocks."

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the community has the right to be "outraged" after the incident Saturday.

"It's just disgusting, the whole thing," he said. "Hate has no place in our city at all."

Stewart suggests residents call 311 to report noise complaints to the city or 911 to report a crime taking place.

Calls to 311 are addressed in order of call volume, he said, so if numerous calls come in about one issue, that's where bylaw officers will be prioritized. 

Snyder said the message being spread by the preachers, with or without amplifiers, is a hurtful one.

He said he saw a young man in tears listening to their words. The man said he came to the West End to escape intolerance, Snyder recounted.

And as a gay man, Snyder said, he took personal offence to the preachers' saying the love LGBTQ people feel is not real.

"It's frustrating," Snyder said. "To shout it through a loudspeaker, declaring my relationship is not love, is just so disheartening. And it's not OK."

With files from Eva Uguen-Csenge and CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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