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Remember Vancouver’s Olympic free-speech zones?

New policy regulating expression all too familiar, Woodsworth says

A City of Vancouver proposal to impose restrictions on public political expression has met with widespread opposition from critics, who call the move undemocratic.

The proposed amendment to the street and traffic bylaw would restrict the size of props used in political protests and require demonstrators of any kind to obtain permits, and pay fees of up to $1,200, for their usage. The new rules would also restrict where props can be used and require their daily dismantlement.

If council passes the bylaw amendment, demonstrators will be eligible only for 30-day permits at a time for any block or location, with limited options for renewal. The amendment would also regulate demonstrators’ expressions, prohibiting anything obscene or defamatory and anything that promotes hatred or violence or contains commercial content.

The city also says it will provide a number of “designated structures at strategic locations” to facilitate political expression in what it calls “areas with excellent public exposure.”

The amendment would not affect political protests that do not require props, the city notes in its report.

The city says the proposal is meant to encourage political expression by “providing a range of opportunities for individuals or groups with differing means and needs to express their opinions in a public area,” while ensuring public access to sidewalks, streets and private property so they are “not inconvenienced or obstructed.”

Councillor Ellen Woodsworth says the proposal has shades of the much-maligned 2010 Winter Olympic free-speech zones. “Some of the most important examples of protest in our city’s history that have sparked public debate and political change would be banned under this bylaw,” Woodsworth says. “For a city that just yesterday celebrated our 125th birthday to now be considering something that is an affront to a strong history of peaceful social change is very disappointing.”

Woodsworth is also concerned about the “couple days notice” city councillors received about “such a far-reaching and potentially stifling bylaw” with no public consultation.

On April 7, city council began hearing public submissions on the amendment, which was posted on the city’s website only on April 5. With several speakers signed up and yet to be heard, the debate was adjourned and will reconvene in council chambers on April 19 at 9:30am.