Blainville won’t back down from Jehovah’s Witness battle

CBC (Canada), June 17, 2003
http://montreal.cbc.ca/

MONTREAL – The highest court in Quebec is being asked to weigh the balance between religious freedoms and the right to a citizen’s peace and quiet.

The city of Blainville, Que. is appealing a ruling that struck down a bylaw that restricted door-to-door solicitation by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Quebec Superior Court ruled the bylaw violated their basic religious freedoms, but the city isn’t giving up. It says municipalities have a right to limit religious freedoms.

Blainville’s rules

Blainville enacted the bylaw in 1996 after some residents complained they were being woken up by Jehovah’s Witnesses on the weekends.

It forbids all door-to-door solicitation on weekends and after 7:30 p.m. And those who want to canvass at all can only do so for two months of the year, with a permit.

‘Everyone is equal’

A lower court judge struck down the bylaw.

However, Blainville city lawyer Pierre Paquin believes he can convince the three-judge panel at the Quebec Court of Appeal that the law doesn’t discriminate.

Paquin says the Jehovah’s Witnesses could have obtained the $100 permits which would have granted them a two-month period each year in which to proselytize, but not on weekends.

But the witnesses refused to obtain the permits.

Their lawyers told the court the by-law specifically targeted them.

Boy scouts and police officers could still do fund raising without the permits.

“Everyone is equal under this bylaw,” Paquin explains. “It applies to commercial solicitation to religious groups. Everyone.”

Paquin says Blainville is just trying to protect its citizens’ right to privacy.

Precedence

Glen How, the first Jehovah’s Witness to become a lawyer in Canada, argued a similar case more than 50 years ago when Quebec City tried to penalize Jehovah’s Witnesses for handing out literature on the streets.

How won then, and he expects to win again. He says a city cannot licence freedom of expression.

“It’s an effort to stop citizens from being able to communicate with one another. You say, well we’ll get a permit from the chief of police before we can talk to anybody,” How says.

“It would be the same as asking you to get a permit from the chief of police before you went to church next Sunday.”

Mayor should pay damages: lawyer

How says door-to-door solicitation is an important part of the Jehovah’s Witness faith.

He’s asking the court of appeal to send a clear message to public officials so that he doesn’t have to plead his case again.

The witnesses say not only should the bylaw be struck down as unconstitutional, but the mayor should also be ordered to pay damages for intentionally violating their constitutional rights.

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