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Bill targets anti-Olympic signage

Flies in the face of free expression and unreasonable search and seizure: Eby

 Two days after activists launched a complaint against the City of Vancouver’s Olympic bylaw claiming it will infringe on freedom of expression, comes news that the provincial government is now preparing legislation of its own that will allow officials in Olympic cities to raid British Columbians’ homes to remove inappropriate signage during the Games.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) says the BC government’s Bill 13 proposals will allow Richmond, Whistler and Vancouver to enter residences and other private property with only 24 hours’ notice to remove or cover up signs.

The amendments to the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No. 3) are supposed to apply only to the three Olympic cities in February and March 2010.

BCCLA president Robert Holmes says the legislation means British Columbians will face official sanction if they put up anti-Olympic signage in their own homes.

“Telling people who exercise free speech that local authorities may barge in, rip down signs inside your property, fine you or throw you in jail will underscore the growing impression that our governments care more about their own camera appearances at Olympic events than about people’s rights,” Holmes says.

The bill will allow changes to the Vancouver Charter to permit fines for sign and bylaw violations of up to $10,000 per day and imprisonment for up to six months.

Previously, people had 14 days to comply with the Vancouver bylaw, and fines were $2,000 per day.

In a statement the government said the changes will “provide the municipalities of Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler with temporary enforcement powers to enable them to swiftly remove illegal signs and graffiti during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The legislation does not change the existing scope of authority to regulate signs and graffiti. Rather, it provides, on a temporary basis, a faster way of removing signs and graffiti that violate municipal bylaws during the short period the Games are underway.”

BCCLA executive director David Eby contends the bill flies in the face of Charter rights for free expression and against unreasonable search and seizure.

Gay Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert says the city needed the province to sign off on the local bylaw with enabling legislation.

“It’s kind of been driven out of VANOC to the city to the province,” Herbert claims.

Eby goes one step further.

“It really does speak to the remarkable power of the [International Olympic Committee] to limit powers,” he says.

A call to the BC premier’s press secretary was not returned prior to posting this article.

The provincial law is at first reading and has not yet passed. If the law passes, municipalities would need to enact their own bylaws to take advantage of the new powers granted.

Eby says he appreciates that the stated purpose of the Olympics is the promotion of sport. “It could do this without impacting freedom of speech and putting a country and a province into debt for years,” he says.

VANOC CEO John Furlong said Wednesday the lawsuit is a city issue and not a Games’ one.