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Defer vote on protest bylaw: critics

Revised proposal won't stand in the courts: Woodsworth

A revamped City of Vancouver proposal that would impose restrictions on public political expression is still getting the thumbs-down from critics who called for a longer period of consultation.

City council began hearing public submissions on the amendment to the street and traffic bylaw on April 7 but adjourned the proceedings to April 19 to accommodate the lengthy list of people who wanted to speak to the issue.

Upon the hearing’s resumption, the city’s general manager of engineering services presented several changes to the controversial proposal that seeks, among other measures, to limit the size of props used in political protests and to charge up to $1,200 in fees and deposits for their usage.

Peter Judd says those fees have been eliminated but fines have now been added to the mix, with a breach of the proposed bylaw subject to a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $5,000.

Permit applicants will also be required to indemnify the city.

An outright ban on protests with political structures in residential areas has been slightly rejigged to allow political structures outside consulates that do business in residential areas. Judd identified seven such consulates in the Vancouver area.

Protesters are no longer required to maintain continuous attendance at a structure. They must now maintain a presence for a minimum of six non-consecutive hours for the 12-hour period between 8am and 8pm.

The maximum size of political structures has also been reduced.

Successful applicants will still receive 30-day permits only, with limited options for renewal.

“We’ve been able to address some of the concerns, not all of them,” Judd told council. “Remember we’re trying to achieve a balance here between the need to have protest structures versus the other competing uses of the street.”

Both the bylaw introduced April 7 and the revised version of that bylaw presented April 19 have no precedent in Canada, a city report on the bylaw states.

The city’s dispute with the Falun Gong over its eight-year protest that included a hut outside the Chinese consulate on Granville St led to the proposed bylaw’s development. The city won a 2009 court injunction to shut the protest down, but the BC Court of Appeal subsequently ruled the city’s ban on protest structures is unconstitutional and ordered a rewrite of the street and traffic bylaw.

Some of the 22 people on the April 19 speakers’ list called on city councillors to ask the BC Court of Appeal to extend the deadline for coming up with a new bylaw to facilitate more public consultation.

Councillor Ellen Woodsworth says she supports a deferral of the amendment and won’t vote for it even in its more recently revised form. Woodworth says she doesn’t anticipate any problems with the BC Court of Appeal if council doesn’t pass the new bylaw by the court’s stipulated April 19 deadline.

“I don’t think anything will happen. Clearly we’ve not had this bylaw applied to anyone in a significant way, so if we don’t have this bylaw in place by midnight tonight, I don’t expect any huge structures will appear anywhere,” she says.

“We should take the time; it’s a significant bylaw,” Wordsworth adds. “If we don’t review it with our lawyers in terms of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then we’ll be back in the courts and we’ll be spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ money to refight a battle that we already lost,” she contends.

“We’ve had BC Civil Liberties Association, we’ve had Pivot Legal Society, we’ve had the Falun Gong lawyer, all of whom said this new revised bylaw would not stand in the courts.

“I don’t believe that we should proceed until we make sure we have a bylaw that’s useful and guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of political expression through structures.”

She says the public had barely two days to review the first amendment proposal, and less than three working days to review its latest incarnation.

Woodsworth says she’s surprised at the absence of the gay community from the ongoing debate, saying the matter has great significance for those who’ve experienced censorship and proscribed freedoms.

Debate over the bylaw will resume at 7:30 tonight (April 19) in city chambers.