Vancouver park board stifles HST initiative by barring canvassers from community centres
Four of the five biggest cities in Metro Vancouver have allowed anti-HST campaigners to collect signatures on petitions in community centres. However, the Vancouver park board has so far refused to permit opponents of the harmonized sales tax to canvass within any of its 24 community centres.
“We had inquiries from organizers to get involved in that,” Vision Vancouver park board chair Aaron Jasper told the Georgia Straight. “We do have policies, and so we have asked staff to come back to us and advise us of what our options would be.”
Jasper made the comment after the May 17 board meeting, at which acting general manager Peter Kuran told commissioners that it hasn’t been the “practice” to allow people to collect signatures on petitions in community-centre lobbies. Kuran described a lobby as a “neutral area where people come and go” without being “bombarded by signs”. He also mentioned that the board is prepared to rent space to anti-HST canvassers in community-centre rooms away from the lobbies.
Surrey, Burnaby, Richmond, and Coquitlam have all given registered canvassers a chance to gather signatures inside these public buildings without paying a fee. After the park board meeting, Green commissioner Stuart Mackinnon told the Straight that he didn’t see any need to change the policy to accommodate the anti-HST initiative. “If they wish to rent a room like any other group, we’re more than willing to rent it to them,” Mackinnon said.
NPA commissioner Ian Robertson concurred. “Certainly, there is going to be the impact of the HST on park-board services,” he told the Straight, “but 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.”
COPE commissioner Loretta Woodcock pointed out that political parties have been prevented from campaigning in park-board facilities. “From this basis, then historically, we haven’t engaged in any kind of political campaign,” she told the Straight. “HST is a political issue.”
The park-board policy troubles Ron Churchill, who filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court after TransLink police arrested him for distributing political pamphlets at the Edmonds SkyTrain station during the 2000 federal election campaign. Churchill, a retired businessperson and former Canadian Alliance campaign manager, called the park board’s policy “antidemocratic”. He questioned whether it would survive a court challenge.
“They held me and they were recommending charges,” he recalled. “I took it to the Supreme Court and won as a pro se litigant [representing himself].”
In Churchill’s case, Justice A.F. Wilson ruled that TransLink’s ban on electioneering, which was part of its safety rules, was unconstitutional. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association later granted Churchill the Reg Robson award after his successful court fight.
Joseph Lin, an anti-HST canvasser, told the Straight by phone that he has been barred from entering the Riley Park Community Centre to collect names on petitions, so he has been waiting outside the building.
Meanwhile, Chris Delaney, a spokesperson for Fight HST, told the Straight by phone that his group has already met the legal threshold of collecting the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in 72 of B.C.’s 85 constituencies. He acknowledged that the group has had less success in Vancouver than in other areas of B.C.
“Point Grey is probably our weakest riding provincewide,” he said. “In my honest assessment, it’s lack of organization on our part.”
When asked about the importance of being in Vancouver community centres, Delaney replied, “At this late stage, I don’t think they’re critical.” But he quickly added that community centres are central locations that help promote awareness of the anti-HST initiative.
What do you think about the park board restricting
“Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that [the] park board won’t stand up for anything. But from a community-centre-association perspective, it is something that some of us have talked about. We just may put petitions in.”
“I think most of the anger for the petition is surrounding the fact that the Liberal government so obviously lied to everyone. Regardless of what side anybody is on, people who want to get involved politically on a legitimate referendum issue should be allowed to use public property. Where else do you find the people?”
“It’s a blocking of community members to be able to freely express themselves, especially around an issue where people are very organized and very vocal.”¦I’m really surprised to hear that people are running into difficulty at community centres—places that are designed to be public arenas for public forums as well as other public events.”
“The HST is an important public social issue. The second thing is the petition is the first step to a referendum.”¦Elections [B.C.] thinks this issue should be solved by this kind of legal process, like an election. When we have an election, our government should try very hard to provide a convenient place for all citizens to express their views.”
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the board, but as a single commissioner I’m not as concerned about being a bit flexible with respect to this issue—one, because this is a registered campaign with Elections B.C., and that all those canvassers are registered canvassers. This isn’t a willy-nilly thing, so it’s all aboveboard.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.