Sarnia City Hall. September 5, 2018. (Photo by Colin Gowdy, BlackburnNews)

Call for bylaw stifling loud street preachers, soundly defeated

A Sarnia councillor’s call for a bylaw prohibiting sound amplification or loud noises that could distract drivers, was soundly defeated at city hall Monday.

Nathan Colquhoun’s motion to have staff investigate such a bylaw was dismissed by his council colleagues.

Colquhoun’s concerns stem from so-called street preachers who are often seen and heard at the corner of Murphy Road and London Road.

Preacher Georges Guerette told council he has a right to freedom of speech.

Anonymous letter and photos circulated to city officials and media in 2018 complaining about “street preachers” in Sarnia.¬†

“If we should decide tonight that we’re going to take away the microphone on the streets for the freedom of speech, it’s not going to stop there,” said Guerette. “It’s going to continue taking our freedom away.”

The majority of council including Bill Dennis voted against Colquhoun’s motion.

“We would have to come up with likely hundreds of exemptions to ensure that we don’t constrain so many other uses of amplification,” Dennis told council. “I do also feel that the heart of this is freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And even if you don’t agree with what’s being said, I believe we need to defend someone’s right to say it, and respect our basic freedoms.”

Councillor Terry Burrell questioned how such a bylaw could be enforced.

“There’s all kinds of loud noises even with car horns that are purposely designed to distract drivers from what they’re theoretically doing or not doing. So I don’t know how we would ever enforce this,” said¬†Burrell.

Colquhoun claimed the street preachers create a significant danger to drivers and pedestrians almost daily by talking and sometimes yelling at drivers through amplified speakers. He said many drivers have been startled by the noise and pedestrians have been ignored at crosswalks as a result.

-With files from Melanie Irwin