A court in Canada has ruled that the city of Hamilton, Ontario, does not have the right to censor a Christian group's bus advertisement that city officials have deemed to be offensive.
A judicial review panel for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice Divisional ruled this month that the city of Hamilton violated the rights of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada (a social conservative political party) and the CHP Hamilton-Mountain Electoral District Association when it took down the organization's bus shelter advertisements on Aug. 10, 2016.
As the CHP opposes the push to open up bathrooms and locker rooms on the basis of gender identity, the advertisements in question featured a picture of a male entering through a door labeled "ladies showers." The sign stated that there are "competing human rights" and asked "where is the justice?"
According to CHP, the advertisements were set to run for one month and were "posted as a challenge to the city's pending policy which would allow biological males to access female washrooms, change rooms and showers."
CBC reports that the ads were eventually removed after the city was pressured by the media, LGBT activists and supporters. The city also apologized for the advertising's "offensive nature" and city officials sent a warning to the third-party contracting organization that handles the bus shelter advertising placement to be more careful when it comes to the content of advertising it places.
CHP maintains that city officials did not consult the party about the intent or content of its ads before they were taken down. The goal of the advertising, the group said, was to show that the privacy rights of women and girls must be considered when talking about transgender rights issues.
Siding with the CHP, the three-judge panel ruled that CHP has a charter right to engage in political speech even though many may find such speech to be offensive. The panel also condemned the city's lack of a formal process for the removal of advertisements.
"A political party's ability to advertise on bus shelters is an important phenomenon for the political process and for society as a whole," the panel's decision reads, according to the CBC. "Speech is not 'violence' just because people may find it offensive."
CHP released a statement asserting that the panel's decision is a "victory not only for CHP Canada but for all political parties."
"By this ruling, the panel has showed their support for the 'competing human right' of freedom of speech in Canada," the CHP's statement reads. "The Christian Heritage Party would like to express our thankfulness on this Thanksgiving weekend for a just decision which has bolstered our confidence in the judicial process."
On Tuesday, the city announced that its legal services department will file an appeal of the panel's decision in order to "preserve the city's rights."
"Staff will take the necessary actions related to the carrying out of the appeal process in the interim until further direction from council is provided in December," a city press release reads.
The city's decision to remove the advertising in 2016 came months after Hamilton settled a human rights tribunal complaint based on a biologically male transgender woman being denied use of a women's restroom at a city bus terminal.
Under the settlement, the city was ordered to rewrite its discrimination policies so that they are in accordance with Ontario's Human Rights Code. Additionally, the city was ordered to post signs about its commitment to making bathrooms and changing areas accessible to transgender persons.