Artist Kimberly Baker takes on Vancouver Charter amendments

A Langley artist whose work confronts Bill C-47, the federal Olympic and Paralympic Marks Act, says she plans to test proposed Vancouver Charter amendments approved by a city council vote on January 22. To become law, the amendments must be approved by the provincial government.

Kimberly Baker, whose work clearly refers to Olympic branding (one image includes a broken Olympic inukshuk, the Olympic rings, and the words Vancouver 2010), says she will distribute posters of her pieces to friends, asking to have them displayed on private property.

Baker said she was particularly incensed by amendments that would allow the city to remove graffiti and “illegal signs” from private property without notice, and fine repeat offenders up to $10,000 a day. “I’m definitely going to challenge that, because that just made me mad,” she said. “I think it’s a direct infringement of our freedom of speech.”

Amir Ali Alibhai, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, said he too has concerns about the proposed amendments. “I would like to see a more specific definition of what is meant by legal advertising and what is meant by graffiti, because I think that the way it stands it’s pretty broad and could be pretty broadly interpreted,” he said.

Under the new amendments, Alibhai wondered, “if a theatre company is doing a show that is, in spirit, anti-Olympics, and their advertising says so and it’s in the window of a private space, does the enforcement allow the city to come in and say that this is illegal and take that down?”

City councillor Heather Deal insisted that the charter amendments are not meant to stifle free expression. “The goal is to prevent things like a huge building wrap downtown, [like the one] that said ”˜Nike’ all over it, to advertise an event that they were having,” she said, noting that the recent vote was only to request permission from the B.C. legislature to change the charter. “We’ve given very specific direction to staff to ensure that”¦when they get to the bylaw-writing stage, should we get permission to rewrite the bylaws, that very specific language is in there to protect the rights of artists and protect the rights of free speech.”