Kari Simpson was slated to speak at a youth conference that was to take place at the Anvil Centre until New Westminster cancelled the booking. (Langley Advance Times files)

Kari Simpson was slated to speak at a youth conference that was to take place at the Anvil Centre until New Westminster cancelled the booking. (Langley Advance Times files)

New West wrong to cancel church event over controversial Langley activist: courts

The city didn’t balance free speech rights, a judge ruled

New Westminster was wrong to shut down a church event based on the participation of a controversial Langley activist, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Kari Simpson’s views and online activity were the primary reasons why the City of New Westminster cancelled a contract to host a Christian youth conference organized by the Grace Chapel in 2018.

But they weren’t sufficient reason for the cancellation, Justice Maria Morellato said, in a ruling delivered on July 19 in a New West courtroom.

“In a free and democratic society, the exchange and expression of diverse and often controversial or unpopular ideas may cause discomfort,” she wrote in her decision. “It is, in a sense, the price we pay for our freedom. Once governments begin to argue that the expression of some ideas are less valuable than others, we find ourselves on dangerous ground.”

The church, also known as the Redeemed Church of God, had arranged to rent a ballroom in the city’s Anvil Centre for the July 21, 2018 event. The event didn’t take place at a different venue.

Simpson, who has been a conservative activist for decades, was listed on the promotional materials and posters for the youth conference as a facilitator.

A month before the event was to be held, the Anvil Centre received a complaint that noted Simpson was a “very active anti-LGBTQ speaker and the face & voice behind Culture Guard, a well known anti-LGBTQ group in the Lower Mainland.”

The complaint urged the Anvil Centre to rethink allowing the event to take place.

City staff investigated Simpson’s online presence and decided that the event contravened the policies of the centre, which bans the promotion of racism, hate, violence, censorship, criminal or other unethical pursuits.

New West staff decided the event was in part a platform for Simpson to disseminate her views and was therefore unethical.

Morellato acknowledged that New Westminster was attempting to protect the rights of LGBTQ people when it cancelled the contract.

“This is laudable and such minority rights must be considered,” Morellato wrote.

But the city failed to balance competing Charter rights, she said.

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“The city took immediate steps to research and consider the concerns raised by the complaint it received that anti-LGBTQ views would be disseminated at the youth conference,” the judge wrote. “Yet, before cancelling the youth conference the very next day, the city took no similar steps to more fully inform itself about the anticipated content or focal points of the speakers at the youth conference. There was a clear imbalance in the city’s efforts to inform itself of the competing rights at stake, or to at least attempt to balance them. The failure to balance competing rights leads me to conclude that the city’s decision is an unreasonable and unjustified infringement.”

The judge ruled that Grace Chapel was entitled to a declaration that the New West unjustifiably infringed on its right to freedom of expression, and could pursue further legal action if it chooses.

In recent years, Kari Simpson has been best known for opposing SOGI educational materials in B.C. schools. She has also taken up the cause of churches that attempted to defy COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings. She attempted to block the flying of a rainbow flag during Pride Week at Langley City hall, describing the flag as one which “panders to sex activism, bully tactics, child abuse and special rights for certain groups.”

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