Sensible B.C. claims transit cops are pushing marijuana campaigners out of SkyTrain stations
Sensible B.C.’s top spokesperson has accused TransLink and Transit Police of “harassing” canvassers collecting signatures for a petition to decriminalize marijuana in British Columbia.
In an email to the Straight, Dana Larsen detailed three instances when Sensible B.C. canvassers were removed from TransLink property.
According to Larsen, on September 25, Bruce Meyers was canvassing at the Surrey Central SkyTrain station when Transit Police ordered him to leave the area. The same day, Transit Police told Corey Matsumoto he had to stop collecting signatures at a SkyTrain station in Richmond. And in Burnaby, Sam Belleau was asked by Transit Police to cease campaign activities at another SkyTrain and to leave that property.
In a telephone interview, Kirk Tousaw, legal counsel to Sensible B.C., told the Straight that this morning (September 27) he sent a letter to TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis requesting that all TransLink and Transit Police employees be instructed not to interfere with Sensible B.C. campaign activities.
“TransLink is bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Tousaw said. “That means that they’ve got to allow political speech, both around their property and on their property.”
In 2001, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that TransLink had infringed on the rights of Ron Churchill when two transit constables stopped him from distributing political pamphlets at a SkyTrain station. More recently, in 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that TransLink and B.C. Transit had to allow political ads of the Canadian Federation of Students and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
Tousaw said that political speech must be allowed to occur in public spaces, and that that includes transit stations.
“I think that you are allowed to approach people and engage in political speech," he continued, "and unless you are impeding the use of the facility for public transportation—which are people are certainly not doing—they should be allowed to do it."
On September 9, Sensible B.C. began a 90-day drive to collect the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in each of the province’s 85 constituencies. If it does that, a bill amending the police act to provide for the decriminalization of marijuana could go to an initiative vote.
Derek Zabel, a spokesperson for TransLink, quickly agreed that as long as campaigners are not blocking the movement of passengers or access to ticket machines, Sensible B.C. can collect petition signatures on TransLink properties.
“This is a nonprofit group so in this case…they are allowed to be on the system,” he said.
Zabel referred questions about the specific incidents described by Sensible B.C. to Transit Police spokesperson Anne Drennan.
In a telephone interview, Dennan denied that Transit Police had issued any directive to staff instructing them to remove Sensible B.C. campaigners from TransLink properties.
She conceded that there were at least two recent incidents in which Transit Police officers requested that Sensible B.C. campaigners leave TransLink property. But she emphasized that those situations only occurred because of a lack of communication regarding how staff should deal with structures used by Sensible B.C. such as tables.
“Our position is that we won’t block the Sensible B.C. people in any way from petitioning or obtaining signatures,” Dennan said.
Raji Mangat, legal counsel with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, pointed to cases such as the 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada as evidence of a pattern wherein TransLink has repeatedly acted against free speech.
“It does seem to be a persistent problem,” Mangat said. “But the Supreme Court has settled this question, and so we’re calling upon TransLink to allow this form of political expression to take place at the stations.”
Update (September 30, 2013): Sensible B.C. files complaint with Elections B.C. claiming continued TransLink interference.