Calgary mayor threatens to fine protesters after drag event cancelled

Calgary’s mayor says “hate-fueled” demonstrations cannot be allowed after a drag event was postponed due to safety concerns stemming from a planned protest — adding the city will be using a bylaw to fine people who openly communicate hateful messages.

City will leverage street harassment bylaw for ‘hate-motivated’ protests

Skaters enjoy an outdoor ice rink under the lights at night surrounded by downtown towers.
Skaters take a spin around the illuminated Olympic Plaza rink during the Chinook Blast festival in downtown Calgary. A drag event at the plaza was cancelled due to anticipated protests this weekend. (Colleen De Neve for CBC)

Calgary's mayor says "hate-fuelled" demonstrations cannot go on after a scheduled drag event was postponed for safety concerns due to a planned protest — adding the city will use a bylaw to fine people communicating hateful messages.

Franca Gualtieri, executive director of Chinook Blast, said the organization is aware of protests that were planned for the festival's Drag on Ice with DJ Gaysnakes at Olympic Plaza on Saturday and Sunday.

"We made the decision to postpone the programming to a later date when we can better ensure the safety of everyone," Gualtieri wrote in an emailed statement. 

That decision was made after discussions with performers, Gualtieri said. 

a woman with short hair stands near a microphone. she is wearing a blazer with tigers all over it
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Friday the city will be ticketing people to address certain types of protests. (Jo Horwood/CBC)

Recently, drag story times and all-ages drag events in Calgary and across the country have been targeted by opponents  — the most vocal of whom are largely members of alt-right groups.

Counter-protesters have shown up at many of those events to voice their support for drag performers. 

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the city will be ticketing people to address certain types of protests. 

On Friday, she said the City of Calgary will leverage its existing street harassment bylaw to fine those who openly communicate hateful messaging in a public place. 

"As a result of the actions of a very small group of people who wanted to have a hate-fuelled and hate-motivated protest, we have had to cancel a pretty significant event in our city that many Calgarians were looking forward to attending. That is not a victory," she said. 

She said the $500 fine applies to comments, conduct or action that refers to a person's race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, disability, age, marital status, source of income, family status, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

The fines can be issued by police and bylaw officers, Gondek said. 

"Things have turned terribly wrong, and they've turned terribly sideways. These are not peaceful assemblies. These are designed to do something very, very different," Gondek said. 

A woman with red hair and bangs stands outside. She is wearing a black puffer jacket
Drag performer Karla Marx is a Drag on Ice co-producer. The event was scheduled for two days during Chinook Blast in Calgary. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Drag performer Karla Marx, a Drag on Ice co-producer, said queer venues and events in the city have been under protest for the past few months.  

"We've been able to make those events happen because they're indoors, because we're able to close the door. Protesters and counter-protesters can voice their concerns outside and we can run the event," Marx said.  

"At Canada Olympic Plaza, though, there is no door to close, and we were informed that there was no way to separate out protesters from the crowd." 

Marx said the scheduled performers will still be paid, and the event will take place at a later date. 

a man with grey hair in a black coat stands outside
Mark Garner is the executive director at the Calgary Downtown Association. He said the postponement is disappointing. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"The event is going to go on. They're never going to be able to stop us from celebrating who we are. We just needed to do it in a way that is going to make it more safe for both performers and the audience," Marx said. 

Calgary Downtown Association executive director Mark Garner said the planned protest and resulting postponement is disappointing. 

"This just can't be possible in this day and age for Calgary. It's sad," Garner said. 

He also pointed to the economic loss and urged Calgarians to head downtown this weekend and support local restaurants and businesses. 

Chinook Blast executive Gualtieri said the cancellation was made after conversations with its partners, performers, city administration and the Calgary Police Service. 

Other scheduled Chinook Blast events will proceed this weekend. 


Jade Markus

Digital journalist

Jade Markus is a digital journalist at CBC Calgary.

With files from Terri Trembath, Jo Horwood