More changes could be coming to the city of Nelson’s banner policy.
That’s according to city manager Kevin Cormack, after council sought a municipal lawyer’s formal opinion on the subject last month.
The legal opinion will determine whether a Nelson Right to Life banner that has hung over Baker Street contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Last week Cormack confirmed to the Star that the opinion has been received, and will be presented to council during the in-camera portion of an upcoming meeting.
He said council will look at this policy in the next month or two.
“The first step was to look at our current policies, and if there were any holes in it, and also to address concerns that have been raised with the right-to-life banner,” said Cormack. “Now we’ll look at what the options are based on the legal opinion, and once we get those, council will give us direction on changing it.”
In an emailed statement to the Star in response to a March 21 article stating the city would be reaching out to a municipal lawyer, Nelson Right to Life wrote that removing information from the public domain that might make a woman reconsider her decision to have an abortion is demeaning and patronizing.
“Why should women ever be denied the right to be exposed to information — a choice — that might make them reconsider, that might prevent life-long regret and suffering? Censoring the facts about human life is demeaning and patronizing to women’s decision-making abilities … This view of women is unworthy of feminism.”
In a follow up interview, a spokesperson for Nelson Right to Life said that what their group has experienced amounts to an attack on freedom of expression. They say they are being harassed.
“We went to the December 2017 council meeting, and they suggested to us that we use the wording, and we used the wording that they suggested, and then they refused to put up our banner until we covered up the image of conception and the baby in the mother’s womb, and the Nelson Star refused to put up an ad to promote our community event — what is that?”
Nelson Right to Life say they have about 30 members.
The subject, which has provoked debate and discussion over a number of years, was raised during a March 4 council discussion on whether to discontinue hanging banners in a second location near the Civic Theatre. That resolution was passed easily.
The conversation was started in council chambers by councillor Brittny Anderson, who told the Star the city’s banner policy should ensure local residents feel Nelson is a safe space.
“When a group, regardless of what their banner says, wants to take away the rights and freedoms — as identified in the charter — from a portion of our residents or our citizens, then we need to ensure that messaging is not subsidized by the City of Nelson.”
The legal opinion solicited by the city was free and, according to Cormack, covered by the city’s liability insurance.
A number of different groups pay the city to hang their banner in the city for a week.
A policy change in 2017 saw criteria added that the service is only available to non-profit groups advertising events, as opposed to making statements.
The new policy was in response to a social media uproar regarding the right-to-life banner.
The city reserves the right to decline an application to hang a banner, or to refer it to council for discussion.