Vancouver’s Olympic bylaw is unconstitutional and should be struck down, says a statement of claim filed in BC Supreme Court by two anti-Games activists and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).
“The bylaw is an affront to free speech. Its purpose and effect is to limit citizens’ rights to express dissenting views and to hear dissenting views on public property,” says BCCLA executive director David Eby.
It’s a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he adds.
Particularly offensive, Eby says, are bylaw sections restricting signs that aren’t “celebratory” and listing city sites and a city park as places where free expression is limited.
Among the city sites listed are the Central Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and David Lam Park on Pacific Blvd.
“The historical and actual functions of these sites include serving as sites for public assembly, political protest and critical expression,” the statement of claim says.
The plaintiffs say they intend to protest the Games at those sites and say the bylaw will subject them to sanctions under the law for expressing their opinions.
They say the city has no authority to make such laws.
But councillor Geoff Meggs says the city is sure it can survive a challenge to the bylaw.
“We’ve always maintained that our staff are very cognizant of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he says.
Lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth was a vocal opponent of the civic bylaw package. She agrees people must stand up for their Charter rights.
It’s hypocritical for Canadians to criticize China’s managing of protests at last year’s Summer games and then try to implement free speech zones for the Vancouver games, Woodsworth says.
Little Sister’s manager Janine Fuller says people should always be wary when officials provide safe protest areas.
Fuller says people should be free to either enjoy the Olympics or not in places such as Yaletown’s David Lam Park.
Violations of the bylaw carry on conviction fines of $2,000 and a further $5 for each day the offence continues.
The lawsuit was filed by University of BC professor Chris Shaw and student Alissa Westergard-Thorpe. Both are active members of the Olympic Resistance Network and 2010 Watch.
“Vancouver’s Olympic bylaw is an infringement on my Charter rights and those of all people who wish to express themselves and to listen,” says Shaw.
“If the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is to be a guarantee of anything, if it is to be more than words on paper, this bylaw cannot be allowed to stand,” Shaw continues.
They want the bylaw declared unconstitutional and the City of Vancouver prevented from enforcing it.
In a conference call from Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, Vancouver organizing committee CEO John Furlong said the suit is aimed at the city and not a Games issue.
Organizers said last month police-secured safe assembly areas will be available for protesters in sight of venues and the media. But, they stressed, demonstrators are not required to use them.
The bylaw also provides for the removal of newspaper boxes – such as those of Xtra West – from bubble zones around venue sites.
Olympic organizers said last month that a balance has been struck between Canadian freedom of expression rights and the protection of Olympic trademarks and costly sponsors’ privileges.
The bylaw will be enforced by Games volunteers, private security and city police.
Eby says civil rights groups will be training people to shadow those volunteers and security to ensure Canadian laws are not violated.