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VIEW: ‘No medals for Vancouver council in the free-speech event’, says Eby

David Eby, the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, recently wrote in the Vancouver Sun that, “While the International Olympic Committee earns a gold medal in the race to protect its sponsors and the Olympic brand, the same cannot be said of its performance in the competition for free speech and democratic rights.”

“For example, Rule 51 of the IOC Olympic Charter prohibits any ‘demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’ Not exactly the stuff of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but then again, nobody elected the IOC to protect democracy.In countries such as Canada, protecting our sometimes messy but always cherished freedoms is the task, in large part, of our elected representatives.”

“Unfortunately for Vancouverites, our city council hasn’t turned in a medal performance in the free-speech competition either. They’ve just rushed through a package of bylaws that skate over the free-speech rights of, in no particular order: small and independent businesses, artists, rock bands, protesters and Vancouver residents as a whole.”

“Coun. Geoff Meggs defends the new bylaws, suggesting the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is ‘going too far’ in criticizing the initiatives. Apparently without appreciating the irony involved, he advises that council values free expression rights because, among other initiatives: ‘Security planners . . . are creating certain high-profile areas, close to the heart of the action, where protesters are sure to be heard and seen by IOC and world leaders.'”

“Beyond the alarming possibility that the majority of council believes that limiting free speech to particular areas, high profile or otherwise, somehow demonstrates a commitment to free speech, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association points out that council’s new bylaws and motions:

– Restrict access to more than 40 downtown residential and commercial blocks deemed Olympic ‘venues’ or ‘sites,’ including parks, community centres and the central library, to people who consent to ‘security screening’ and in which displaying ‘any [unlicensed] sign’ is prohibited unless the sign is ‘celebratory.’

– Allow the city manager to make any rules she sees fit restricting access to these city blocks and public facilities, without approval from council.

– Give special Olympic exemption permits across the city to signs that are ‘celebratory in nature’ and, by extension, refuse permits to signs that are critical or, presumably, melancholic in nature.

– Call on the province to authorize the city to prohibit leaflet distribution if the leaflet is offensive to authorities and might end up as litter, punishable by fines of up to $10,000 per day, ostensibly to reduce work for city trash collectors.

– Conscript taxpayer-funded city workers to enforce trademark rules on behalf of the IOC, which at least makes use of the extra staff time created by eliminating those hated discarded leaflet-pickup shifts.

– Eliminate the low-cost posters found on construction hoardings and utility poles that typically advertise concerts, protests, community meetings and art shows, because during the Olympics such affordable and accessible posters are a ‘nuisance and eyesore’ when compared to the simple beauty of an unmolested construction hoarding.”

“Council’s prize of a gold medal from the IOC for passing these bylaws may be judged differently by voters who know what a democracy truly values.”

David Eby’s op-ed can be read at http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=1841230&sponsor=.