Warren McArthur:

In July, the city of Hamilton refused to allow the Christian Heritage Party to display an advertisement for its party in a Hamilton bus shelter. The ad contained an image of a woman, and text which defined woman as an adult female (with information about CHP at the bottom of the ad). The ad defined woman in a way which opposes modern concepts of an ambiguous definition for the word: concepts promoted by transgender and progressive movements.

A letter sent to the CHP by the city explaining the reason for the rejection said: “In conclusion, while we steadfastly support the principle of free expression, we must also acknowledge the potential real-life impact of this proposed advertisement. Imagine a transgender woman preparing to board a bus, only to be confronted with a message that denies her identity and devalues her lived experience. As the foregoing evidence suggests, the psychological harm caused by such an explicit public rejection of her identity could be significant, potentially inciting feelings of exclusion, shame, or even fear for personal safety. Such a hostile environment could discourage her from using our transit system altogether, disrupting her daily life and access to our city’s services.”

The CHP maintains that it does not wish harm to anyone, and is also concerned about people’s mental health, but does not believe in redefining what a woman is. The boilerplate text on the ad explains the motivation for proposing the advertisement in the first place: “Bringing respect for life and truth to Canadian politics.” The emphasis on what it perceives to be the truth here outweighs commitment to not hurting the feelings of others.

The CHP has also expressed what it believes to be the dangers of redefining ‘woman.’ The issue of biological males being permitted in female washrooms, males in women’s sports, and the transgender issue in general, are all a part of this. Opposing the aforementioned social issues is a part of the importance that they place on the contents of this ad.

In the letter by the city explaining its rejection, it recognizes that the decision is contrary to unbridled free expression; it is not the first time the city has rejected a CHP ad.

In 2016 the city of Hamilton removed a CHP ad from their bus shelters. That ad contained an image of a door labeled “ladies showers” with a man beginning to push it open. The ad was intended to call out competing rights: the right for biological female exclusive spaces, and transgender access to facilities of their choosing. The ad was taken down under the rationale that it was transphobic and discriminatory. This action was challenged by the CHP in court under a judicial review process and it won with a unanimous decision from three judges.

In the 17-page ruling, the judges said that “the decision being made in this instance is not one that is trifling, ephemeral or marginal in importance. Instead, it is a decision of profound significance in so far as it balances rights of a registered political party to engage in political speech against the rights of a group of people to be free from purported discriminatory speech.”

The precedent prioritizing the protection of potentially offended parties over free speech rights of a registered political party puts the city of Hamilton on shaky ground in regard to their decision to again remove a CHP ad from bus shelters.

On July 14, Hamilton councilors voted to reject the ad, with seven councilors supporting the rights of CHP, and eight opposing the rights.