Cancelling Anvil Centre booking for Christian youth conference about ‘sexuality and identity issues’ was an unreasonable infringement of Grace Chapel’s freedom of expression, according to BC Supreme Court ruling.

Church Case Brief | Church Case Decision | Case of Carolyn Burjoski

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled the City of New Westminster “unjustifiably infringed” on a local church’s freedom of expression when it cancelled an Anvil Centre booking for a youth conference centred around “Biblical views regarding sexuality and identity issues.”

“I am very aware that the city was attempting to protect LGBTQ rights when it made its decision to cancel the youth conference,” Justice Maria Morellato wrote in a decision Monday. “This is laudable, and such minority rights must be considered. Yet, an important step in the city’s decision-making process was missed. The city did not reach an informed conclusion; rather, it proceeded to make its decision on the basis of assumptions about the youth conference and what it would involve.” 

The case dates back to the summer of 2018, when the Redeemed Christian Church of God, also known as Grace Chapel, booked a ballroom at the city-owned Anvil Centre for a conference dubbed Let God Be True.

A poster advertising the event, which was scheduled for July 21, 2018, sparked a complaint from the public.

The letter said one of the facilitators listed on the poster, Kari 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 letter writer described the conference as an “anti-LGBTQ event” and urged the city to cancel the booking.

“They are spreading misinformation and lies, and by allowing this event to take place, you are effectively endorsing their stance,” stated the letter.

Staff at Anvil Centre looked into the poster and Simpson and recommended the booking be cancelled, according to the court ruling.

With approval from city manager Lisa Spitale, who noted in an email that the mayor should be briefed, Anvil Centre cancelled the rental on June 21, 2018, the ruling said.

“We became aware today, that one of your event speakers/facilitators, Kari Simpson, highlighted for your July 21st, 2018 event, vocally represents views and a perspective that run counter to City of New Westminster and Anvil Centre booking policy,” stated the letter cancelling the booking. “Specifically, Anvil Centre booking policy restricts or prohibits user groups if they promote racism, hate, violence, censorship, crime, or other unethical pursuits.  In accordance with our policy we are informing you that we are cancelling your booking.”

Grace Chapel administrator Ronald Brown said he was surprised by the sudden cancellation and urged the city to reconsider.

“It is unfortunate that the Anvil Centre has taken the decision to cancel the event without first discussing the matter with us,” Brown wrote in a letter to Anvil Centre sales and marketing director Heidi Hughes. “If there are queries or concerns from the centre, we believe that due process should prevail and the centre should give us an opportunity to explain what our intentions are.”

Hughes told Brown she would be willing to meet to further discuss the policy but stated: “Please understand that this does not change our decision and the event is cancelled.” 

The city then got a letter from the church’s lawyer urging it to reverse the decision.

“It is not against the public interest to hold and express diverse views regarding sexuality,” stated that letter. “Further, governments at all levels are precluded from favouring any one belief system over another, including beliefs regarding sexuality and gender, and from discriminating against minority beliefs.”

The city did not reverse its decision, and Grace Chapel took it to court seeking – among other things – a declaration that the city had unjustifiably infringed on its freedoms of religion, expression and association.

On Monday, Justice Morellato dismissed the church’s claim the city had unjustifiably infringed on its freedom of association since Grace Chapel meets every Sunday at a facility other than Anvil Centre.

“It is also free to meet at any other time, at any other location of its choosing, to associate with its members or whomever else it chooses. This does not rise to the level of a substantial interference,” Morellato wrote.

As for the church’s freedom of religion, she said it would take a civil claim or action to determine if there had been an unjustifiable infringement there.

But the city had unjustifiably infringed on Grace Chapel’s freedom of expression, Morellato said.

“In this particular case, the city failed to proportionately balance competing Charter rights,” she wrote. “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.  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.” 

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor

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Case Brief: The Redeemed Christian Church of God v. New Westminster (City) 2021 BCSC 1401

Court’s Decision:
The City did not dispute that the event was a form of expression protected under s.2(b) of the Charter, or that canceling the event infringed the society’s freedom of expression. The court’s decision centered on whether the infringement was reasonably justified pursuant to s.1 of the Charter. In determining this issue, the court considered whether the City’s decision was proportionately balanced having regard to the society’s rights and the City’s objectives, and was minimally impairing of the society’s rights – in the result, the court found in favour of the society.

In reaching this conclusion, the court criticized the City for making the decision to cancel the event based on
information from one side only. The court remarked that, while the City had researched the concerns raised about the
facilitator, it did not take similar steps to inform itself of the content of the event, and declined to consider submissions
from the society itself before making the decision. Further, the court noted that the City did not consider how any
infringement of the society’s rights of expression might be minimized. The court described the City’s decision as “quick
and precipitous”, and uninformed.

There are a number of other legal issues that were addressed in this case, including (with the court’s ruling in brackets): whether the society can use the judicial review procedure for a decision that is not a statutory decision (it cannot); whether the society has standing to assert the right to freedom of religion under the Charter (it does); whether the society’s freedom of association was infringed (it was not).

The primary importance of this decision to local governments stems from the court’s comments and review of the City’s decision, and decision-making process, to cancel an event and thereby infringe the organizer’s right to freedom of expression.

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“I am very aware that the city was attempting to protect LGBTQ rights when it made its decision to cancel the youth conference,” Justice Maria Morellato wrote in a decision Monday. “This is laudable, and such minority rights must be considered. Yet, an important step in the city’s decision-making process was missed. The city did not reach an informed conclusion; rather, it proceeded to make its decision on the basis of assumptions about the youth conference and what it would involve.” 

More stories about The Redeemed Christian Church of God V. New Westminster [city]

EDITORIAL: Hallelujah! A Victory For Common Sense: Carolyn Burjoski vs Waterloo Region District School Board

Ontario Superior Court Justice James Ramsay has given a knock to cancel culture and a victory for common sense. His recent ruling slams a school board for attempting to shut down a teacher’s concerns about books on transgenderism.

In January 2020, Carolyn Burjoski, a former ESL (English as a second language) teacher, attended a Waterloo Region District School Board meeting and raised issues about the age appropriateness of books on transgender issues available in elementary schools.

She was ejected from the meeting after suggesting the books made it sound “cool” for children to undergo hormone therapy to transition to another gender.

Burjoski was given what she calls a “stay-at-home” order and told not to communicate with colleagues or students. She retired soon after and was hospitalized for extreme anxiety. She launched a $1.75-million defamation suit, which the board sought to have thrown out. The judge ruled it can proceed.

At the meeting, Burjoski cited a book in which a transgender boy, who was born a girl, expresses excitement about starting testosterone. When the physician says it would mean he’d likely be unable to have children, he says, “It’s cool.”

Board chair Scott Piatkowski shut Burjoski down. She was accused of breaking the Human Rights Code by questioning the right of trans persons to exist and engaging in speech that included hate.

“She did not do any of those things,” Justice Ramsay said.

“What happened here should not happen in a democratic society.

“The Human Rights Code does not prohibit public discussion of issues related to transgenderism or minors and transgenderism. It does not prohibit public discussion of anything.”

Ramsay said Burjoski’s claims have “substantial merit” and “comments of the board’s agents were defamatory.”

He ordered the board to pay Burjoski’s costs.

The judge’s emphatic and sensible ruling is a warning to all those who would use human rights laws as a blunt instrument to shut down legitimate debate. They may position themselves as progressive and enlightened; in fact they are intolerant bullies.

It also raises serious issues about school board trustees and their shocking lack of even a rudimentary understanding about the fundamentals of democracy and free speech. Why do we allow such people to dictate how our children are educated?

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Shameless: Waterloo Region District School Board Escalates My Legal Battle for Free Speech

2 Jan 2024 Carolyn Burjoski responds to the Waterloo Region District School Board’s decision to appeal her recent court victory. In a decision that strongly affirmed free expression, Ontario Superior Court Justice J.A. Ramsay dismissed the Board’s attempt to have Carolyn’s lawsuit thrown out. Rather than accept a clear ruling that was also highly critical of their behavior, the Board has decided to appeal Justice Ramsay’s decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Carolyn details her legal costs to date, the projected costs to complete this legal battle and appeals to her supporters to financially contribute to her legal fund at


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