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Anti-Games activists drop bylaws suit

Critics who called Vancouver’s Olympic civic bylaws unconstitutional have dropped legal action in BC Supreme Court after city council rewrote the laws.

The suit, brought last year by anti-Games activists Chris Shaw and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), alleged the bylaws violated the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The bylaws designated protest areas supervised by police for the duration of the Olympics, igniting a war of words between lawmakers and civil rights activists on when, where and what kind of protests will be allowed during the Winter Games, which begin Feb 12. However, after a public outcry, the bylaws were taken back to council and the offending passages amended.

The city removed a prohibition on causing a nuisance or disturbance that interferes with enjoyment of entertainment and replaced it with a provision against unreasonably interfering with the enjoyment of entertainment. The amended bylaw still gives the city the power to deny people access to parks or to remove them if they are deemed to have violated the City Lands Regulation bylaw.

The complainants say they’re satisfied — for the most part.

BCCLA executive director David Eby says the purpose and effect of the unamended version of the bylaw was to limit citizens’ rights to express dissenting views and to hear dissenting views on public property.

The bylaws also establish bubble zones around Game venues to prevent marketing, which could violate Olympic sponsorship contracts.

Shaw says the new bylaw is not perfect, but is considerably better.

Now, says Westergard-Thorpe, Vancouverites need to be vigilant on freedom of expression issues during the Games themselves.