David Eby: Vancouver park board oversteps its authority by restricting free speech

By David Eby

While some days it may seem debatable, we’re not yet in a position where government gets to decide which political messages are acceptable in public space and which aren’t.

Well, unless that space is governed by the Vancouver park board.

According to an article written by Straight editor Charlie Smith, Vancouver park board commissioner Constance Barnes says that while she and her fellow commissioners will permit anti-HST petitions in the lobby of community centres, “she doesn’t want to allow anyone with any type of petition into community centres.”

NPA commissioner Ian Robertson appears to be onside with his Vision counterpart, but might lean more towards a total prohibition on petition signature gathering in community centre lobbies. “I think there are a lot of residents out there that, despite their feelings either way on the issue, like to see their park-board facilities be a haven where they can come and relax without having to get engaged in issues of this nature,” Robertson told the Straight last month.

Whether you’re asking a fellow community centre user to borrow a quarter for the phone, complimenting a baby’s general cuteness, inviting someone to sign a petition, or simply voicing your opinion on the park board’s treatment of free speech, it doesn’t seem right that a 4-3 vote could make what you had to say to your neighbour illegal.

It doesn’t seem right either that a government official could require you to rent a back room if your conversation concerns the upcoming election, but not if your sentiments concern the weather. “Hey, that’s political talk, take it to the political room and give us $100 if you want to have that kind of conversation! It’s the law!”

While most Canadians are of the opinion that in public space we should be able to both hear and offer the opinions that we wish without government oversight, this sentiment is especially important for political speech.

For the park board to enforce a ban on political speech in commonly trafficked areas of parks, while simultaneously allowing niceties of no significant import to our democratic self-determination (although perhaps important in their own way, for example, “How about those Canucks?”) is itself an extremely political decision.

Such a remarkable anti-free speech policy marginalizes democratic citizen participation and deliberately treats the most valuable form of individual expression as inappropriate, invasive, threatening, and bad, when in fact it is the prohibition on political speech that should draw those pejoratives.

One may even see it as more problematic for the park board to implement a selective ban, where only political speech this arm of government doesn’t like is banned. When a public platform is available for speech, it must be made equally available to differing viewpoints, independent of content.

The park board simply doesn’t get to say “anti-HST petition OK, petition to impeach the Park Board, not OK.”

Canada doesn’t work like that.

The park board will be voting on June 7 about whether or not you get to say what’s on your mind in community centre lobbies, or whether they’re going to make sure you only say the things they think you should say, or only the things they agree with politically.

Here’s hoping they make the only decision the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows.

David Eby is executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association

Comments

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6 Comments

glen p robbins

Jun 1, 2010 at 8:21am

Repeat:

This story and the delays I spoke of get better. Isn't Campbell talking about the law? -- a referendum if the Fight HST Initiative wins?

Well, as at today the Fight HST has 620,000 + signatures. 788,315 valid signatures would reflect 51% of British Columbians -- legally and politically Campbell would be cornered like a rat/the campaign would have satisfied the numbers from the Initiative and the number expected by most British Columbians (50% plus one) -- with 788,315 valid signatures.

Campbell et al have long since quit thinking about the success of the necessary 10% in each riding -- they are looking at the signature total -- if it hits the magic number of 788,315 valid signatures --51% of the total number of votes cast in the last provincial general election in 2009-- the People of British Columbia win -- lock, stock and barrel--Campbell and BC Liberals lose -- Zero Sum with no place to go.

Makes the 30,000 to 50,000 signatures that Vancouver Parks Board delays cost the Fight HST (bringing 600,000 closer to 700,000 with over one month to go) in Vancouver (where Campbell has plied most of his political trade) Suspicious --- political interference.
Agree Disagree.

13 8Rating: +5

JamieLee

Jun 1, 2010 at 8:55am

Thank You David for clearly articulating that your political colleagues made a disastrous decision which would effectively ban free speech from Park board grounds. The fact that this Vision Park Board coalition was going to limit and may still in fact limit our free speech is sending chills throughout our communities.

Vision since coming to power at Park Board has made a number of significantly awful decisions and they continually demonstrate that they are not capable of appropriate decision making on behalf of the people for the greater public good.

13 7Rating: +6

beelzebub

Jun 1, 2010 at 1:01pm

Now you can turn your myopic attention to the tidal line smokers who walk the beach at 11pm disregarding the law?

8 11Rating: -3

Clive

Jun 1, 2010 at 5:50pm

Vancouver Parks Board can shove it then; the HST petition will have to work around them. These Park Board Commissioners are way too arrogant and out of touch with the average working person in Vancouver. Its sad how politicians all become the same once they grab onto power. I hope they all get the heave ho come the next civic election; it is not a lifetime appointment but they conduct themselves like it was.

11 7Rating: +4

Pat

Jun 1, 2010 at 7:35pm

This is a bad set of Parks Board Commissioners, and particularly the four who also voted to get rid of the Bloedel Conservatory. That would be Jasper, Hundal, Barnes, and Blythe. Remember them next year when they ask for your vote again.

12 7Rating: +5

Susan

Jun 1, 2010 at 10:27pm

@Pat & Jamie Lee - The Vision Commissioners are the only ones who seem willing to letting the HST campaign get access to the community centres. If you don't like the policy, fair enough...it was written under the NPA's watch. It's interesting that you don't seem to have any criticisms for Mackinnon, Robertson or Woodcock on this issue. As far as Bloedel, from what I hear, Vision has been able to get 4 proposals to keep it going....more than the NPA's ever done for that attraction. The NPA sat back and did nothing while attendance dropped and the roof needed to be replaced.

11 7Rating: +4