Free speech lawsuit against Vancouver Olympic rules

Shawn sez, "The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is aiding two activists in suing the City of Vancouver over a 2010 Olympic bylaw which may encroach on free speech and violate Canada's Charter of Rights."

With David Eby of The B.C. Civil Liberties Association representing them, Chris Shaw, a UBC professor of ophthalmology, neuroscientist (and Vancouver Observer blogger), and The Olympic Resistance Network's Alissa Westergard-Thorp,announced this morning that they have filed a statement of claim against the City of Vancouver in the Supreme Court of BC. Their lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of an Olympic bylaw limiting free speech during the 2010 Winter Games that was passed by council in July, Eby told reporters this morning.

The BBCLA, with plaintiffs Shaw and Westergard-Thorp, claim their rights to free speech and freedom of movement will be denied once the Winter Games by-laws passed by city council take effect. They say the bylaws, commonly referred to as the omnibus bylaws, will infringe their Charter rights and are unconstitutional....

The bylaw includes a passage entitled "prohibitions regarding city land," which includes a clause that will almost surely trigger a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge. Clause 4B makes it illegal during the Winter Games without authorization to:

"(a) bring onto city land any
(i) weapon,
(ii) object, including any rock, stick, or glass or metal bottle useable as a weapon, except for crutches or a cane that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(iii) large object, including any bag, or luggage that exceeds 23 x 40 x 55 centimetres;
(iv) voice amplification equipment including any megaphone,
(v) motorized vehicle, except for a motorized wheel chair or scooter that a person who is elderly or disabled uses as a mobility aid,
(vi) anything that makes noise that interferes with the enjoyment of entertainment on city land by other persons,
(vii) distribute any advertising material or install or carry any sign unless licensed to do so by the city."

Protest signs usually are made using sticks, often are larger than subsection (iii) allows (as are puppets and other protest devices), demonstrations almost always employ megaphones or other voice amplification devices, and can well "interfere with the enjoyment" of the Olympic spectacle by who chose to be so offended. Protesters often pass out leaflets as well. Thus, any of the dozens of protests I've attended over the last few years would easily be in violation of five of seven subsections.

BCCLA Files Lawsuit Against City For Violation of Charter Rights, VO Blogger Chris Shaw Key Plaintiff (Thanks, Shawn!)

(Image: Support the 2010 Games, a Creative Commons Attribution image from Silly Gweilo's Flickr stream)



  1. I’m actually kind of glad the Olympics has never been held in my part of the world. The suits behind the whole thing are some of the most tyrannical Peter Principle bureaucrats I’ve ever seen, and seem to inflict an astonishingly disproportionate amount of damage (sometimes temporary, sometimes less so) wherever their events go.

    It’s a traveling circus of political and entrepreneurial thuggery.

  2. Never mind prostests – almost every provision here breaks normal life. City land includes parks, streets and sidewalks…

    i) cutlery, amonst other things.
    ii) damned near anything can be used as a weapon
    iii) bans the transport of furniture, and just about everything else larger than a breadbox
    iv) unlikely to be a problem for non-protesters, but does hit portable karaoke machines and some kids toys
    v) actually bans all vehicles from the streets of the city
    vi) there goes radios and many children
    vii) this one is unlikely to be a problem for non-protesters.

  3. I a have a good photo of some anti-Olympic graffiti that I found on the corner of Cordova and Main in the Downtown Eastside. I think it does a nice job of summing up the attitude towards the Olympics, especially from that communty.

    Vancouver is not really the paradise that people are trying to present it as to the world. There are many problems in this great city and unfortunately many (poor) people are going to screwed as a result of the Olympics.

  4. You know – as much as I hope they win this action, and the courts side with freedoms….

    As a Canadian, British Columbian, and guy who loves Vancouver – It would be nice if a bunch of whackjobs didn’t go around shouting, scribbiling crap graffiti and protesting through the whole olympics and just spoil the fun for everyone else.

  5. I hope these guys win their action … that said, I am a Vancouver resident and am glad that the Olympics are coming here.

    Vancouver is not perfect … but it is pretty damn nice here. FWIW , I live a 5 minute bike ride outside the much maligned Downtown East Side and consider my area of town to be beautifu and safe.

  6. I’m really torn how I feel about this.

    I’m all for protecting our rights and freedoms, but a lot of these Olympic portesters are professional protesters – I mean, it’s the same people showing up at any kind of protest in Vancouver. They make a lot of noise and disrupt everything for everyone.

    What about my rights to enjoy myself at the Olympics and not have to worry about screaming loonies.

    yeah… I’m torn on this one…

    1. Please explain “professional protester”. Surely you don’t mean to imply that they’re employed by someone to protest the Olympics.

      It seems like you call them “professional” because they’ve been involved in many protests before, as though devoting a significant amount of one’s life to social activism somehow discredits them.

      Your dismissal carries with it the assumption that the people who protest the Olympics are not motivated by actual grievances, and are actually just insane and/or belligerent misanthropes who seek to cause disruption for its own sake.

      That is, to the letter, the way social reformers have been greeted by the comfortable mainstream throughout history. From ghandi to suffrage to rock and roll, the mainstream always responds with a frustrated anger towards what they can only see as the fringe shaking things up and making trouble for the sole purpose of annoying them, the mainstream.

  7. It is sad indeed when the worlds finest athletes become nothing more than the platform for corporate greed. None of the talk you hear leading up to the Games focuses on the people who have worked for much of their lives honing skills and bodies for the sake of sport. Instead we talk about traffic, security (the Vancouver Police State), advertising, and the money that each and every one of us is shelling out to pay for trucking snow from Manning Park to Cypress to build a ski run. They’ve lifted a smoking ban to appease our guests and pleaded with our residents to stay out of their city. They’ve taken bikes of the Skytrain and wreaked havoc on small business. They’ve demanded that businesses using the word “Olympic” in their names re-name them. They want to re-write Canadian Copyright Law so we can’t even post a picture with their symbols or words on it, even though you can’t point a camera anywhere downtown without seeing them (from PUBLIC PROPERTY, I might add).

    Retail products proudly celebrating Vancouver 2010 are made in China – a visit to your local HBC or Zellers store and an inspection of the tags on the merchandise is in order. HBC is a proud sponsor – an American company flogging it’s previously Canadian history and reselling Chinese retail products to help fuel an ailing U.S. economy.

    The Olympics are no longer about sport, they are about profit. Those who buy into the theory that this games, like others, will turn a profit need to understand that the profits are not theirs, nor are they likely to see the benefits. Rather than insult the very premise that the Games were founded upon (SPORT), they should just change the name. Perhaps Corporate Games? Greed Games? or Afterthought Games?

  8. I must agree with AirPillo. I am glad that the city I live in is too small to ever get the olymipics, and there is no other city close by.

    They have become a real Frankenstein of this painted over facade of fake Walt Disney style world piece.

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