Court injunction could mean jail time for Occupy Vancouver protesters
Lawyers have criticized city hall’s legal strategy in dealing with Occupy Vancouver protesters.
“It’s a completely backwards legal practice,” University of Ottawa associate law professor Amir Attaran told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
The UBC–trained Attaran was commenting on the city’s application for a court injunction to clear the grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is public land. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the right to free expression on public property.
Attaran explained that although the charter’s protection of this right isn’t absolute, the principal issue involved is the city’s attempt to evade its own responsibility for enforcing laws by running to the court.
“If there’s a crime being committed on public land, then why do you need an injunction?” Attaran said. “Wouldn’t it be easier just to enforce the law and arrest the persons for breaking the law?”
The city has named Sean O’Flynn-Magee and other respondents in its application for an injunction. It argued that the encampment by the Occupy protesters violates city bylaws.
Lawyer Doug King of the Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society is concerned that the city chose a heavy-handed approach that leads to stiffer penalties.
King explained that the city could simply issue tickets for bylaw infractions, and that would mean fines. However, defying a court-issued injunction makes people liable for contempt of court and they can be punished with jail time.
“The whole thing is supposed to be about free speech and the last thing you want to do is come in so heavy-handed with this and really give them the legitimate argument that their rights to free speech have been violated,” King told the Straight by phone.
Civil-rights lawyer Cameron Ward noted that the recourse to court injunctions is a common practice in B.C. when an issue has political overtones.
“I’m philosophically opposed to this kind of approach where the city rushes off to court to have the court issue an order followed by some kind of directive to the police to arrest people and bring them to court if they disobeyed the order,” Ward told the Straight in a phone interview. “The city has adequate bylaws and laws, and enforcement capabilities. But because of the political sensitivity, the city government seems to want to offload the problem onto the courts.”
David Eby is the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. He noted that injunctions are “not the preferred route”.
However, Eby also said that he understands where the city is coming from. “They’re facing legal liability on the site if they can’t get things in control there,” he said. “In addition, I do think they need to make the site safe for users, not just for Occupy Vancouver. And so they do have an obligation to do that.”
Robert Diab, a member of the faculty of the Capilano University’s department of legal studies, said that although the city doesn’t really need an injunction to enforce bylaws, it apparently wanted to be cautious.
“They’re simply asking the court to state what is already the case,” Diab told the Straight.