London street preachers charged under amended public nuisance bylaw

Two men notorious for preaching on London's streets have been charged under the city's recently amended public nuisance bylaw.

City has received more than 75 complaints in 2019 in regard to the men calling out pedestrians

Steven Ravbar, left, and Matthew Carapella have been charged with multiple violations of the city's recently amended public nuisance bylaw. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Two men notorious for preaching on London streets and calling out women for their appearance have been charged under the city's recently amended public nuisance bylaw. 

The city has received more than 75 complaints about street preachers Steven Ravbar and Matthew Carapella in 2019 alone. 

The men are known for calling out passersby — women in particular — for everything from their choice in clothes to their hairstyle. 

Last summer, London city council passed an amendment to the Public Nuisance By-law to address "unnecessary interference with the use and enjoyment of public space" as a result of abusive or insulting language.  

Orest Katolyk, who heads bylaw enforcement for the city, said the men were issued a notice of charges and a court summons just before noon Friday. 

"Individuals felt they were being abused on public property due to their gender, the clothing they're wearing or their employment status," said Katolyk

And while the city received 75 complaints, the charges stem from five occurrences, Katolyk said.  

Is this free speech or harassment? 1:28

Katolyk said recent amendments to the bylaw allowed it to apply in situations where being subjected to abusive and insulting language could interfere with a person's use and enjoyment of public space.

"If this behaviour continues, we will continue to receive complaints," said Katolyk. The maximum fine the men could face is $10,000. 

The matter will now move to provincial courts.

2 men are followers of dead U.S. preacher

The two men follow the teachings of William Branham, a U.S. evangelist preacher who died in 1965 but whose sermons continue to inspire a loose group of followers who access them online. Oppression of women was a theme of Branham sermons, he often compared women to animals. He also preached they should be kept inside, and not pursue careers or dress in any way like a man. 

Women in London have told CBC News the men have called them "whores" for wearing pants, or having short haircuts. The street preachers have been involved in confrontations, including at least one that became physical

Ravbar and Carapella were once regular fixtures at the corner of Dundas and Richmond Streets, where they preached using a portable loud-speaker. They also often wear sandwhich board style signs with messages inspired by the bible.

Lately, they've been seen without the loudspeaker preaching at locations across the city, including Victoria Park and outside the Western University gates. 

Former London Mayor Matt Brown called their preaching a form of "gender discrimination" in 2017 that "has no place in our community." 

At the time Brown encouraged anyone who felt they were being subjected to hateful speech while walking on the street to file complaints with the city's bylaw office. 

But stopping the preaching was difficult, because the mens' actions fell into a grey area between hate speech and free speech. 

Last summer, council voted to amend the public nuisance bylaw to curb "abusive or insulting" language. 

It was a close (9-6) vote, with some councillors concerned the new bylaw could put too great a restriction on free speech. Some worried the new bylaw, which was clearly directed at Carapella and Ravbar, wouldn't survive a court challenge. 

That challenge may happen now in light of Friday's charges.

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.


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