TransLink curbs free speech

Recent police interference with distribution of the Fire This Time activist newspaper at SkyTrain stations adds a new blot to TransLink’s spotty record with regard to charter rights.

Poll

Should public transit be a free speech zone?

Yes 73%
157 votes
No 24%
52 votes
Unsure 3%
7 votes

Freedom of “thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press” is enshrined in Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2011, transit police ejected SkyTrain passenger Jean Wharf for refusing to remove a button on her jacket that read Fuck Yoga.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2009 that TransLink and B.C. Transit had violated the right to freedom of expression of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the Canadian Federation of Students by refusing to place their ads on transit vehicles.

In 2001, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that TransLink had infringed on Ron Churchill’s rights when transit police arrested him for distributing political pamphlets at a SkyTrain station during the 2000 federal election campaign.

The case involving Churchill, a former Canadian Alliance campaign manager, prompted TransLink to change its policy to permit election campaigning and other forms of noncommercial expression on its property, provided they don’t happen in fare-paid zones or interfere with the use of the transit system.

It’s this same set of rules that members of the Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice have cited after being told by police on a number of occasions this summer to stop distributing their newspaper.

Things came to a head on August 31 when activists Thomas Davies, Shakeel Lochan, and Mike Larson were arrested by TransLink police and RCMP officers at the Metrotown SkyTrain station in Burnaby. They were released without charges.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has taken a strong interest in the case.

“It’s a classic civil-liberties, free-speech issue,” BCCLA executive director David Eby told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “We think that people should be allowed to share free information as long as it’s not going to be done in a way that interferes with the use of the transit station.”

The police harassment of Fire This Time has generated outrage among activists of various inclinations. At a well-attended and animated meeting at Joe’s Café on Commercial Drive on September 11, they formed a provisional group to protect one of Canada’s fundamental freedoms. It’s called the Vancouver Committee to Defend Freedom of Expression.

Payvand Pejvack was one of the first to arrive for the evening meeting. In June, she was confronted by transit police at the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station and told she couldn’t hand out the Fire This Time paper. She successfully argued that she was following TransLink rules on the distribution of noncommercial printed material.

According to Pejvack, it was the third time she had been accosted by police while doing her distribution rounds.

“It’s clear that it’s targeting of information that we’re distributing to the people,” Pejvack told the Straight.

Alison Bodine was with the three Fire This Time activists when their group was approached by police at Metrotown Station on August 31.

In an interview before the September 11 meeting started, Bodine told the Straight: “It’s an attack on freedom of expression. It’s an attack on the basic civil and democratic right to have an opinion that’s different from the government, and to disagree with current policies of wars abroad and here against people at home, which is what the Fire This Time newspaper is all about.”

TransLink spokesperson Drew Snider doesn’t anticipate any further incidents involving Fire This Time members.

“If they’re following the rules, everything’s fine,” he told the Straight by phone.

The BCCLA’s Eby noted that Fire This Time has a range of legal options, including suing the police for wrongful arrest.

In the two videos below, a Fire This Time activist defends her right to distribute the free newspaper at Broadway-Commercial SkyTrain station.

Comments (33) Add New Comment
2nd Nation
why not follow the proper procedure to distribute material? you know, like everyone else does. Ohhhh, I get it - you wanted to manufacture an injustice! Ever think of contributing to society instead of making problems?
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Birdman
Civil liberties are important and must be vigorously defended. Well done, ladies.
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Commuter
It's also my right to use transit without being bothered by people stuffing fliers in my face and blocking access to busy stations. I'm sure the majority of transit users feel the same way. At least the metro and 24 hours newspaper huckers pay to be there - funding transit. If they want to be in stations maybe they should pay, or stay outside of them.
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Freedom Of the Press
If you have the money.
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Lydia
Hey 2nd Nation, why not read the story so you can see that they WERE FOLLOWING THE RULES and argued successfully that they were doing so, yet we're harassed nonetheless.
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Dan Clay
ok why don't the transit (well paid) police, ENFORCE the NO SMOKING rule on Translink property?. If smokers, smoking under clearly marked" no smoking" signs cant be considered blatant advertising for the corporate tobacco industry,( not to mention a health hazard for riders who walk through clouds of 2nd hand smoke daily at Metrotown, Burrard, Surrey Central),despite city councils everywhere putting up anti smoking bylaws, why are the trasit police selecting which rules to enforce, and which to ignore? I am also alarmed that Translink disregards OUR Canadian Charter of rights. Why are they, and certain elected officials,indifferent to our charter?
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dave19
The terrorists have won, we are no longer free.
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ursa minor
What "proper" procedure to distribute material?

The way Metro/24hrs hawkers park themselves in front of escalators and stairways at SkyTrain stations?

Or do you mean only distributing information and opionions that the state and its corporate masters agree with?
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Jiff
I thought the whole country was a "Free Speech Zone." The fact that this phrase has taken hold is worrying.
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Strategis
The right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech are the cornerstones of democracy and an open society. If we don't vigorously defend them against inevitable authoritarian encroachment, then we will find ourselves living in a fascist society very quickly.
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BikerCK
The distribution of free newspapers that inevitably end up thrown away, or at best become another piece of paper to be recycled, not only flies in the face of important principles of sustainability and conservation one would think a transit company should be embracing, it's just another form of commercial pollution. Translink should exhibit a greater respect for its customers. There are newspaper boxes nearby for those who need to know which starlet didn't wear her panties while partying or whatever else those sad excuses for media regurgitate from the news wires.
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Some Guy Named Bob
@2nd Nation.

Did you not watch the video? They WERE following the proper procedures. Perhaps its you that need to consider how to contribute to society rather than running down those that are looking to improve it.
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b76
Hmmm...i wonder why Translink has not noticed how aggressive the folks handing out 24 and metro papers are? They totally are in the way at the entrance to ever station... You are forced to side step around them for fear you knock the buggers over. They literally step into you trying to hand out these rags!

Why doesn't something get done here?
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Tony K
Obviously from this video the officers had different information than what was printed on the translink board, and just wanted to sort things out. This woman not providing her info (name, etc.) lost me a lot of respect for her. He was not out to "get you" he wanted to solve the problem. She was unnecessarily defensive the whole time.
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Casper
I think people fail to realize that it's public transit, and the transit police will ask you to turn down your music if it's too loud. Deal with it. What if you have an anti-Semitic slogan on your shirt, or walk on with something bigoted directed at a specific culture? The world is changing, but the rights to offend is getting slowly turned down to prevent a social backlash.
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Kelly White
IS this a police state? Does wearing a badge authorize RCMP, Transit Police, City Police to harass, intimidate, BULLY the public? ????Hello....Free education material like
Fire This Time is NOT A CRIME, neither is giving it away....highest honours, respects to those whom stand for their rights to life....respects....
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Kelly White
Free education is not a crime.....harassing the public IS...even when in rcmp, transit uniform.......just saying...respects..
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Chris A
The way I figure it, the translink police officers couldn't make it as mall security guards.Even Paul Blart would do a better job.
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jbean
isn't fire this time some mawo initiative? as important as the fact translink is violating free speech is, people should really check this organization out before they offer their sympathy
ps, is anyone really surprised a corporation with its own police force are ejecting activists for distributing radical newsletters? i hope not
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LisaG
In this case, the police are ridiculous. Or bribed.

But I can't join the chorus of "free speech" when I applaud bus drivers who insist anyone spouting racist remarks directed at other passengers to get off the bus.

So about No Hate Speech? I doubt this newspaper violates that...
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