Anova survey seeks input about London's street preachers
A London group that helps people who've experienced sexual violence has launched an online survey to gather feedback about London's street preachers.
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Anova, which operates a women's shelter and sexual assault centre, started the Facebook survey last week.
It asks respondents if they've experienced harassment while walking past the men who frequently preach using a loudspeaker at the corner of Richmond and Dundas Streets.
The survey was posted on Feb. 5 and as of Tuesday, 450 people had responded.
AnnaLise Trudell is Anova's manager of education training and research.
She says the men's street preaching is causing harm to some of the women that Anova is working to help.
"This isn't about free speech or being offended by language," said Trudell. "This is causing people harm."
The city's bylaw office has an active file of complaints about the preachers, but their comments fall into a grey area between protected free speech and bylaws that prohibit a person's right to enjoy a public space.
In September CBC interviewed University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon whose work is focused on freedom of expression and religion. He said it's not clear whether the men's current behaviour runs afoul of any law.
To qualify as hate speech under the Criminal Code, the speech in question has to be sustained, willful promotion of hatred against a specific group.
Women have complained that London's street preachers have called them whores and abominations for wearing any attire they see as more befitting of a man. Women have been called out for wearing pants, having short hair and wearing makeup.
One woman wrote the following response to the survey: "They called me and my co-worker and the Grade 8 and Grade 9 students that I was with whores because we had short hair and were wearing pants they said that we would burn in hell."
Trudell says that's something no parent or child should have to deal with on a public street.
"It's really harmful for them to hear that and have to go home and have a conversation with their kids around why should these men have the right on the corner of Victoria Park to say this when people are just walking by."
Trudell hopes the responses gathered by the survey will make a case that police and city bylaw enforcement officials need to do more.
"People are being hurt by this and targeted because of their identities, which is a human rights issue," she said.
Anova's Facebook survey is available here.
Anyone who's experienced sexual violence can call Anova's help line at 519-642-3000.