Mayor calls for calm as street preacher confrontations get physical

With confrontations between angry passersby and London street preachers now becoming physical, Mayor Matt Brown is calling for calm.

Don't engage, file a complaint with city bylaw department, mayor advises

Zane Welsh witnessed an angry man push two London street preachers to the pavement. He said the man became angry after his wife was insulted by the men. Welsh, who regularly sits at the corner of Dundas and Richmond, said it's the first time he's witnessed one of the street preachers involved in a physical confrontation. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

With confrontations between angry passersby and London street preachers now becoming physical, Mayor Matt Brown is calling for calm. 

As CBC reported, the city is becoming fed up with the actions of two men who call out women for what they're wearing while preaching through an amplifier on London's streets.

Women have complained to CBC and the city about the men — Steven Ravbar and Matthew Carapella — who frequently call women "whores" and "prostitutes" for wearing pants or having short hair. 

Yesterday tempers boiled over at the corner of Dundas and Richmond, where the men frequently preach using a loudspeaker. 

Zane Welsh told CBC News that on Monday, Carapella and Ravbar began insulting the wife of a man as the couple walked by. Welsh often sits asking for change close to where Ravbar and Carapella preach. 

"They called her a prostitute and a whore, and the husband came after them," said Welch. "He pushed one [of the preachers] onto the street and one onto the parking area." 

Welsh said minutes later, a woman came by and hurled eggs at Carapella and Ravbar. 

Neither man was hurt in the incident. 

The police arrived at the scene and interviewed the man. 

"He was mad, why wouldn't he be?" said Welsh. "I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner."

After this story was first posted on Tuesday morning, Ravbar contacted CBC News to say that Welsh's version of events is incorrect. 

While Ravbar confirms that he and Carapella were pushed to the ground, he denies the man who pushed them was accompanied by a woman. Or that the man's actions were a reaction to anything Carapella was saying into the loudspeaker. 

"We never did call her a whore or anyone else on the street yesterday and the physical assault is no justification for anything we've said," Ravbar said. 

Ravbar admits the preaching does include commentary about how women are dressed, but he said people who hear those comments are free to ignore them. 

"They don't have to stop and listen," he said. "We don't physically hold people to force them to listen they can keep walking there is freedom of speech and freedom of expression."

Welsh said he's seen the men shouted down many times, but this is the first time it's become physical. 

Matthew Carapella is one of two street preachers known for rebuking women for their appearances. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Mayor Brown is hoping the altercations don't get worse and told CBC News he's advising anyone confronted by the men to not engage them but instead file a complaint with the city's bylaw enforcement office. 

"There is an active file, [the bylaw department] is investigating this. I encourage any Londoner ... to report any incident," he said. "Londoners who experience this need to stay calm."

So what can the city really do?

Orest Katolyk, the city's head of bylaw enforcement, said the city's streets bylaw would probably best apply to the men's behaviour. 

Here's the applicable section: 

2.6 Public nuisance - upon street No person shall, (either by himself or by permitting others) without lawful authority, cause a public nuisance in or upon a street, by fire, water, vapour, noise or any means whatsoever. 

Another section that could apply is this one:

2.8 Public travel - use - interference No person shall, (either by himself or by permitting others) without lawful authority, conduct any activity which interferes with public travel or use of a street.

Katolyk said neither man has been issued a fine for their actions while shouting scripture on London's streets. 

Brown insists that information gathered from complaints is valuable. 

When asked what behaviour would trigger an offence, Katolyk wouldn't comment, saying the actions of the two men are part of an "active investigation," which means he can't comment on it. 

London Mayor Matt Brown says anyone confronted or insulted by the city's street preachers should file a complaint with the bylaw office. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"At some point, this may turn up in court so I can't speak about it to the media," said Katolyk. "I have to be cognisant of that. What we're doing day to day, I can't get into."

Another factor is that the men's actions have to be weighed against the freedoms of expression guaranteed in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Welsh worries that a possible fine of a few hundred dollars won't be enough to deter the men, and that the confrontations will become more physical. 

"It's gonna get worse if they keep up [the insults]," he said. 

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.