He narrowly missed a city-council nomination with Vision Vancouver last fall, but now lawyer David Eby claims he’s glad he’s “not sitting on council right now”. Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, told the Straight the ruling civic party’s support for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic bylaw, which restricts signs and advertising during the Games, would have left him in an impossible position.
“I would have been torn between caucus solidarity and my own personal beliefs around free speech,” Eby said by phone. “It would have been a very difficult position to be in, and I can’t imagine what it’s like for some of those people on council.”
Eby claimed that council packed the agenda in “the dead of summer” on July 23, and rushed the bylaw through with little public debate or attention. Eby has thrown his support behind Olympic critics Chris Shaw and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, who launched a court action against the City of Vancouver on October 7. They filed documents with the B.C. Supreme Court, challenging the bylaw on constitutional grounds.
Referring to Shaw and Westergard-Thorpe’s statement of claim, Eby cited the bylaw’s “city land” section 4B(d) as problematic. The section states that a person must not “install or carry any sign unless licensed to do so by the city”. Games provision 104(8), also singled out by Eby, states: “A person must not exhibit, place, display, install, or erect a sign on a street” in or above a venue corridor or an “Olympic lane”, except for existing signs and celebratory or wayfaring signs approved by Vanoc or the city.
“It boggles my mind that people with a history of environmental or labour activism are supporting this anti-free-speech bylaw,” Eby said of Vision councillors.
Vision councillor and onetime union official Raymond Louie did not return a message left by the Straight before press time. First-term Vision councillor Andrea Reimer said she and Eby have a “difference of opinion on what the bylaw entails”.
“I continue to be the head of an organization [Wilderness Committee] that organizes a lot of rallies and events out on the streets, and I do not see this bylaw in any way impacting on our ability to do that during the Olympics,” Reimer told the Straight by phone.
Regarding the court action, Reimer said, “You know, I work in advocacy. I know there are certain tactics you use to draw attention to issues, and court is certainly one of them.”
In a later phone conversation, Reimer gave the following assurance: “I will be interested to see how the court interprets it, because there was no intention to restrict the civil liberties of individuals and, in fact, quite a lot of discussion with legal [services] and on the floor of council with staff to ensure that wasn’t happening.”