Vancouver city council has relaxed some of its controversial Olympic security bylaws following an outcry from civil liberties activists and the general public.
When council originally accepted the bylaw package in July, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) said it was “ripe for constitutional challenge for violation of freedom of expression, association, assembly, security of the person and the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure."
Yesterday’s changes to the bylaw do more to protect it from Charter challenges than to promote free expression, says BCCLA executive director David Eby.
"This is not about free speech. This is about running a large, expensive activation we are responsible for,” countered city manager Penny Ballem.
In an all-day session, council confirmed that the Georgia St lawn of The Vancouver Art Gallery will remain open for public gatherings and protests. Fears had been expressed that the lawn, the city’s traditional protest site, would be restricted for expressions of free speech.
"It will not be programmed or secured in any way,” Ballem promised.
The city has also changed a part of the bylaw dealing with disturbances in parks.
It 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.
Ballem noted that large bags will not be permitted at the sites.
Lesbian COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth asked if someone carrying a bag with inflammatory material found in it would be denied access.
Ballem asked if that meant things like butane.
A city report says the changes were made “to ensure that the by-law provisions will not interfere with freedom of political expression, including criticism of the Games."
The bylaw continues to provide for airport-style searches at designated Live Sites, including Yaletown’s David Lam Park, the southern approaches of Hornby and Howe Sts to the Vancouver Art Gallery and the parking lot at Georgia and Beatty Sts.
The city says the bylaw changes will limit commercial advertising during the Games without impacting freedom of political expression for residents and visitors, and allow police to enter private property and remove commercial signs.
Under the changes, police must have the consent of the owner/occupier of the property and a warrant.
There had been fears police would be able to enter homes and seize materials at will.
The city says much of the intent of the original bylaw was to restrict ambush marketing or marketing that violated the contracted rights of Olympic sponsors.
"The city has always recognized the importance of avoiding any unintentional interference with the right to express political dissent, including disapproval of the Games,” the report says. “The intent of the existing bylaw was to regulate commercial advertising without unduly interfering with political expression."
"I didn’t know freedom of speech issues could be curtailed by commercial activities,” Woodsworth says.
COPE councillor David Cadman expressed concern the bylaw could be used to target street vendors on East Hastings.
The report says unregulated commercial activity in public spaces could interfere with the safety and enjoyment of people at special events.
"We have no intention of using this as an opportunity to clean up the Downtown Eastside,” Ballem says.
Gay Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert had encouraged council to revisit the bylaw. He says he’s pleased with the results.
He says councillors had assured him the intent of the law was not to criminalize free speech.
"But that’s what the law did,” he says. “It looks very much like they’ve put their intent into the law."