The Ontario Court of Appeal. (Richie Diesterheft/Flickr)

Pro-Trump protest sign with F-word is OK, court rules

Judges say Ontario man can protest publicly, even using vulgar language

A Donald Trump supporter had every right to brandish a profane protest sign in a busy public park on a summer’s day at Niagara Falls, Ontario’s top court ruled on Monday.

In quashing a trespass notice issued to Fredrick Bracken, the Court of Appeal said the ability to protest publicly — even using vulgar language — is an essential part of the democratic process.

“In a free society, individuals are permitted to use open public spaces to address the people assembled there, to challenge each other, and to call government to account,” the Appeal Court said. “The idea that the parks are somehow different — that they are categorically a ‘safe space’ where people are to be protected from exposure to political messages — is antithetical to a free and democratic society and would set a dangerous precedent.”

At the same time, the court upheld the constitutionality of a rule barring park users from abusive behaviour that could interfere with the enjoyment of other users. The provision, the court found, was a reasonable restriction on free speech.

The case arose in August 2016 in the run-up to the presidential election in the United States. Bracken, of Fort Erie, Ont., was in a park near the falls holding up a sign reading: “Trump is right. F—k China. F—k Mexico.”

Niagara Parks police decided the sign was offensive and disturbing visitors. Officers told Bracken he could not display the sign and told him to leave.

A couple of days later, Bracken went to the Parks police headquarters, where he was told that if he returned to the park with the sign, he would be removed under trespassing laws.

He turned to the courts, seeking a declaration that parks rules prohibiting “abusive or insulting language” that interferes with other park users was unconstitutional, and that the oral trespass notice police gave him had violated his free speech rights.

In September 2016, Superior Court Justice James Ramsay ruled that constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression does not apply to shouting insulting or abusive language in parks. However, Ramsay declined to rule on the validity of the oral trespass notice because he was not satisfied police had actually issued such a notice.

Bracken turned to the Court of Appeal, which decided Ramsay was mistaken to conclude that park rules did not infringe on free speech. The judge was also wrong in deciding police had not issued a trespass notice so there was nothing to quash, the Appeal Court found.

For their part, Niagara Parks police and Niagara Parks Commission tried to argue that the parks are intended to be a place of refuge where users can experience natural beauty without the distraction of potentially divisive expression. However, the higher court found the plaza where Bracken was protesting was a busy, partly commercial area where neither quiet nor an absence of distraction was possible.

At the same time, the court upheld the law itself on the grounds that it aims to prevent individuals and groups from using public spaces in a way that makes them unfit for others to use. When the line is crossed must be decided on a case-by-case basis and, the Appeal Court said, Bracken in no way went too far.

“The public is not required to endure personalized invective, but nothing in the sign’s message could be characterized in this way,” the Appeal Court said. “The display of the sign, despite its profanity, did not constitute the use of insulting or abusive language.”

In November 2016, Niagara police arrested Bracken, then 39, during a similar protest at Brock University, according to the student paper Brock News. He was charged with assaulting a student and making offensive racial comments.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Kimberley Transfer Station remains closed, plans for partial re-opening in the works

The RDEK hopes to re-open the recycling areas, place some temporary bins for disposal of garbage.

Focus Meat Draw donates $500 to Spark Youth Society

Joan Jobe (right) is pictured pictured donating $500 to Chelsie Tierney (left)… Continue reading

Fuels Management project underway in Forest Crowne

For resident and contractor safety, trail access will be limited at times.

Kimberley Transfer Station to remain closed until further notice

The Transfer Station was extensively damaged in an overnight fire on Friday.

Kimberley Fire Department has lowest operating cost per capita compared to similar communities

FCABC 2016 Comparative Analysis shows annual savings of $335 per person.

Watch: Spartan Race at Kimberley Alpine Resort

This weekend the Spartan Race took place at Kimberley Alpine Resort. Participants… Continue reading

Leads sought in whereabouts of Serval cat

It’s been four days since the disappearance of a Fernie resident’s beloved… Continue reading

Trudeau’s youth council divided over Trans Mountain pipeline purchase

A letter signed by 16 past and present members was made public today, asking the federal government to reverse course

Hulk Hogan reinstated into wrestling Hall of Fame

Hogan had used racial slurs caught on video when talking about his daughter sleeping with a black man

‘Lava bomb’ through roof of tour boat injures 22 in Hawaii

“An explosion occurred near the shoreline hurling hot lava rocks towards the boat and injuring several passengers”

B.C. teen meets Nicolas Cage

Filming mob movie in downtown Vernon, B.C.

Critics claim Trump “defended a tyrant”

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

B.C. MLAs choose new children’s watchdog

Jennifer Charlesworth has worked in government, social services

B.C. reporter calls out immigration photo on social media as fake news

A Vancouver reporter is calling out a British politician for spreading fake news

Most Read