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The City of Edmonton Was Right... and It Was Wrong

The City Council of Edmonton may be about to learn how Nanaimo City Council felt when they were forced to back down on their infamous "ban the Christians" motion. Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative are suing the City over its decision to order ads removed from city buses.

The ads encouraged Muslim women and girls living in fundamentalist households to come forward if they were being threatened by their families. It featured the photos of North American honour killing victims. "Muslim girls honour killed by their families, is your family threatening you? Is there a fatwa on your head? We can help," the ad read.

Councillor Amarjeet Sohi objected, and demanded that the ads be removed. “They target one group, and in my mind they were very discriminatory and racist, and there’s no place for that kind of bigotry on city property,” Sohi complained. “Honour killing is a serious problem ... (but) this problem is present in every community, not just the Muslim community.”

Well, actually the serious problem of honour killing is not present in every community. The overwhelming majority of confirmed honour killings -- wherein females are killed for allegedly shaming their families -- happen in Muslim families.

That being said, Sohi is not wrong about everything. The ads very much were inflammatory. Perhaps Geller and the AFDI could have rethought their use of such a culturally-loaded term as "Fatwa."

And that's where Sohi stops being right.

Because for the City of Edmonton to force Pattison Advertising -- the firm that essentially sublets the ad space on buses and LRT trains for the City of Edmonton -- to remove the ads simply because a handful of people found them to be offensive. It's a violation of the Charter Right to freedom of expression. (Unlike Nanaimo City Council, at least Sohi was willing to settle for violating just one Charter right.)

This is precisely what John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms seized upon in the statement of claim filed on behalf of the AFDI.

Regardless of whether or not the ads were offensive to Amarjeet Sohi, Pamela Gellar and the American Freedom Defense Initiative had the right to place those ads, inflammatory or not.

The city should have backed down in October. Now it will cost money to make this go away, all because of the too-thin skin of one City Councillor.

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