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Kelowna drag queen praises Ontario court ruling over ‘groomer’ 2SLGBTQIA slur

A recent decision states that calling drag performers a ‘groomer’ is not protected as free speech
Freida Whales reading at Drag Story Time on Jan. 28, 2023. (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

After years of experiencing hate for expressing themselves through the art of drag, the Okanagan’s ‘storytime Queen’ has seen a glimmer of hope coming from the Superior Courts of Ontario.

On Dec. 14, Justice Tracey Nieckarz made a decision to move forward with the defamation suit of Rainbow Alliance Dryden et al. v. Webster, where a man was accused of calling an Ontario-based drag performer a “groomer.”

In the decision, Nieckarz dismissed the defendant’s claims that he was exercising freedom of expression and ruled that the term “groomer” is an anti-2SLGBTQIA+ slur.

Kelowna’s Tyson Cook, a 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate who is also known as drag performer Freida Whales, said he was happy to hear that the slur does not fall under Canada’s protected speech laws.

Cook explained he has been called several anti-2SLGBTQIA+ slurs, including the term “groomer,” in relation to his work at drag story times, which he explained are fun and age-appropriate events to promote a love of reading in a safe, inclusive and welcoming space for all people.

“As the story time queen of the Okanagan, I’ve definitely had some slurs and lies spouted about me. These are not only hurtful and derogatory but they are also outright lies,” Cook said.

While dressed up in exaggerated, colourful clothing and makeup as their drag persona Whales, Cook regularly performs in both bars with adult-centered content and libraries full of families.

Over the past few years, Cook and many other drag performers, have unduly become the target of derogatory comments and slurs both online and from protests held outside of venues where drag events are taking place.

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In the Ontario case, the defendant, Brian Webster, is facing a lawsuit for defamation after allegedly calling an Ontario-based drag performer named Caitlin Hartlen a “groomer” in a Facebook post.

Webster applied to have the lawsuit dismissed, alleging that the suit violates his rights to ‘strategic litigation against public participation’ (SLAPP).

In Canada, the purpose of anti-SLAPP legislation is to encourage people to freely express themselves on matters of public interest.

However, on Dec. 14, Nieckarz ruled that while freedom of expression is a fundamental right and value it is “not a ‘carte blanche’ to defame.”

READ MORE: Anti-SOGI protests sharing misinformation, inciting hate: B.C. educators

Nieckarz said having freedom of expression does not mean that a person has a licence to ruin reputations or make unjustified assaults on a person’s character.

She said that “there appears to be no factual basis for the allegation that Hartlen and the other performers are ‘groomers’.”

Nieckarz said the term reinforces stigma and misinformation, is not a “fair comment” and is not related to a matter of public interest, and therefore, is not protected under anti-SLAPP legislation.

The defamation lawsuit will proceed in the Ontario Superior Courts over the coming months.

In light of the Ontario decision, Cook is looking forward to continuing to spread a love of reading throughout the Okanagan as Freida Whales, with upcoming drag story times in Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

He said that he is hopeful and excited to see how the court’s decision will impact the hateful comments that he and other performers receive in the future.

Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

I'm a reporter in the beginning stages of my career. I joined the team at Capital News in November 2021...
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