President Hornick pens letter to Mayor Chow and Toronto Councillors opposing motion to suppress freedom of expression & association

JP Hornick with an OPSEU/SEFPO flag in the background

OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick sent the following letter to Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and City Councillors urging them to vote against a motion that calls for provincial legislation to restrict freedom of expression and association by restricting the right to “protest” in specified zones:

Dear Mayor Chow and Council Members,

On behalf of 180,000 OPSEU/SEFPO members, I write today to voice strong opposition to the motion that will come before you to ask the Ford Government to bring in legislation that will restrict Charter protected freedom of expression and association in the guise of protecting places of worship, cultural and community centres and other locations. Please do not fall for the rhetoric that motion MM18.16 is about protecting vulnerable communities. Canada already has legislation in place that addresses community safety, hate speech and violence; that is not what is being discussed here. What is at stake here is simply the right to voice dissenting opinions within reach of certain locations.

OPSEU/SEFPO members work at a number of such locations and our right to gather and express ourselves there – perhaps especially when as workers, we want our voices to be heard — is a fundamental right that we have been guaranteed through multiple legal challenges that have been heard at the Supreme Court of Canada. Calling it a “protest” does not change the essential nature of these activities. Recently, there have been two OPSEU/SEFPO strikes in the City of Toronto – one at the Art Gallery of Ontario and another at the Regent Park Community Health Centre – that arguably could have been affected by the kind of legislation that you are being asked to support. We ask you to think through implications like these before voting for Motion MM18.16.

Motions such as these seek to restrict broad rights based on narrow or temporary circumstances that some Councillors or their constituents do not like. But the reason these protections exist in a democracy in the first place is precisely so that speech or activities that are not popular do not get restricted.

As City Councillors, I ask you to remember that there are many residents in the City of Toronto who hold many and diverse views. Your primary task should be ensuring that you hear from as many voices as possible so that you have all the information you need to make the best decisions possible for all of the people who call Toronto home, not to try to restrict the voices you hear to those who agree with you.

So on behalf of OPSEU/SEFPO, I urge you all to vote against MM18.16 and put an end to the notion that “protest” can or should be restricted. In a free and democratic society, peaceful protest that respect human rights and differences actually make for stronger communities.

JP Hornick