A North Vancouver jazz singer and street performer is challenging the City of North Vancouver's noise bylaw, saying it violates her charter-guaranteed right to free expression.
The showdown over Megan Regehr's busking is now headed before a judge, as Regehr - who goes by the stage name Babe Coal - filed documents in B.C. Supreme Court recently asking the court to find the noise bylaw unenforceable.
Regehr, who often performs on the sidewalk or in the civic plaza near Lonsdale Avenue and 14th Street, was handed at least six tickets this summer by the city's bylaw staff and RCMP officers for violating the city's noise bylaw. Each ticket means a fine of up to $200.
At issue was Regehr's use of an amp for the street performances and her refusal to unplug when asked to do so by city staff.
Regehr argues that as a "crooner" who whispers some of her lyrics, her songs wouldn't be audible without the amp. Regehr says she sets the amp at between two and four watts for her public busking sessions - arguing that's quieter than some performers without an amp.
In her court documents, Regehr writes that performing her soulful jazz is "how I communicate and express myself."
Being asked to unplug takes that away, she said, and denies her freedom of expression.
In the time she's been busking, Regehr has only had one person in North Vancouver voice disapproval, said her manager Mitch Barnes, while the vast majority of those who've heard her have been supportive.
In July, when Regehr first went public with her fight against the bylaw, managers and staff at neighbouring businesses including Money Mart, the Eighties restaurant, Ocean Wellness and Scotiabank all praised Regehr and her music.
But the city stands behind its position that not all listeners are fans - at least when they don't have a choice about hearing the music - and that they have the right to ban use of amplifiers in public spaces.
According to court documents filed by the city's bylaw manager, Brad McRae, between June 11 and Aug. 20 this year, the city received 22 complaints from 12 people about Regehr's busking, saying her music could be heard in nearby homes and businesses "morning, afternoon and evening."
In the court documents, McRae said Regehr received tickets after refusing to unplug the amplifier on several occasions.
At the end of August, the city also sent Regehr a letter, saying staff were continuing to receive multiple complaints.
McRae stated the issue wasn't Regehr's singing itself, but that "by amplifying her music, she was imposing her music on a wide and often involuntary audience. . . ."
City staff suggested Regehr apply for a special permit that would allow her to use the amp at specific times, but she refused.
"She doesn't recognize their authority," said Barnes this week.
In her lawsuit, Regehr said she feels harassed by the city staff and RCMP who have handed her tickets.
In two instances, officers who were simply driving or walking by and heard Regehr's singing decided to issue tickets. Another time, the police responded to a public complaint about the music.
Barnes said Regehr has travelled throughout North America, performing her music in public, and has found the response by the local municipality to have been the harshest.
Public performances in the United States have been the most trouble-free, said Barnes.
"Americans are willing to defend their freedoms," said Barnes. "In Canada, people just don't get it."