3 min

City hall stopped from banning Ottawa gay newspaper

City councillors get a lesson in Charter rights

We did it. You and us. Well, and the precedent of law, too, of course.

We at Capital Xtra were proud of our community, and a bit humbled, to be honest, when you rode to our rescue after city hall recently told staff to investigate barring our paper — your community paper — from city facilities.

Lots of knights atop horses rushing to our side. It could cause palpitations.

You wrote letters to council. To other papers. And to us. You called. You e-mailed. You talked to reporters. You talked to each other in cafés and bars and, dare I imagine, bathhouses. We know you got city hall’s attention. In a recent report to council on the matter, the heads of the legal and parks departments noted that people voiced support for us (and some also encouraged them to ban us from a community centre near you).

So, thanks.

And just as we predicted, just as our lawyer told them, the report told council that any attempt to ban or restrict our availability “the courts would likely view as unreasonable.” That’s as close as a city lawyer can come to saying that they would almost be guaranteed to lose.

The city report notes that the Supreme Court Of Canada “has stated that there is a greater right to freedom of expression in ‘public spaces,’ and that members of the public should have access to these public spaces in order to be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression.”

It also notes that obscenity has a specific legal definition, as established by the Supreme Court Of Canada, and that the material published in Capital Xtra, including our ads, “will not fall into the definition of obscene.”

It’s important to know that even explicit sex is not obscene in Canada unless it is violent, dehumanizing or degrading. And, of course, each of these words also has a meaning, and the material we publish in Capital Xtra does not meet those definitions.

If Capital Xtra is obscene, so are the lives of our readers. We reflect the news, views and cultural expressions of our community. Even though Canada is the most censorious of all Western nations at this point, even our Supreme Court has recognized that we have the right to publish these community reflections. And those who do not want to see these reflections have the right to choose not to open this particular paper.

City staff also note that they have corresponded with city solicitors in Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary and found that queer papers have not drawn complaints, nor have those city governments attempted to regulate those papers.

Employees will now be told that the city does not review the content of community papers and staff are to treat all community papers in the same manner. It suggests that if concerns are brought to their attention, staff should consult with their immediate supervisors before taking any action.

Any concerns will be discussed with city lawyers “and other resources.” There is a suggestion that complaints may be referred to the police under certain circumstances. And the report notes the possibility of placing a publication behind a counter or otherwise restricted. So, this may not be over quite yet.

Of course, our lawyers are sending a letter to city staff insisting that publishers be immediately informed of any instance of a paper being moved behind a counter, or of a referral to police.

Meanwhile, we’re making sure that our readers can access their community paper at all community centres, swimming pools, arenas, senior’s homes, community health centres, branch libraries and other city buildings. We’ll spend the money to ensure that queers throughout the National Capital Region can get the paper at a city facility near you.

For your bit, please ask for it at your nearest city facility. Please tell staff you expect to be able to get it there. And please let us know when you can’t find it or encounter resistance. You can reach us at 613.237.7133. Ask for Kevin. He’ll look after your reading needs.

And smile. You have rights.