By Dean Skoreyko
As the municipalities of Vancouver, Richmond, and Whistler prepare for the upcoming excitement of hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, there are many volunteers and workers who are putting the finishing touches on the global event. We know that there are many people who are proud that this province and this country will be hosting these Games, and many of us count down the days with eager anticipation.
There are, however, some people in this country who are not looking forward to the Olympic Games, many of whom have announced their intention to protest and demonstrate against them when the time arrives. Because we have invested so much time, money, and effort into making these Olympics a shining example of the best of what we have to offer in our country, there are those who would stifle the opinions of these demonstrators and protesters.
But in Canada we live in a constitutional monarchy governed by a parliamentary democracy elected by the people, and, as such, freedom of speech and expression is considered a fundamental right. Section 2 of our charter of rights describes our freedom of speech and assembly in unequivocal terms. Although many of us in the province of British Columbia look forward to hosting the Olympic Games, we must in a free society acknowledge and make provisions for dissenting opinions and actions. To that end, the B.C. Liberal government’s Bill 13, which includes amendments to the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act, runs counter to these basic principles. A government press release about the bill states:
Amendments will provide the municipalities of Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler with temporary enforcement powers to enable them to swiftly remove illegal signs and graffiti during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The legislation does not change the existing scope of authority to regulate signs and graffiti. Rather, it provides, on a temporary basis, a faster way of removing signs and graffiti that violate municipal bylaws during the short period the Games are underway.
The idea of creating a law which would encourage the removal of politically dissenting signs, even temporarily, is an affront to our basic liberties. There are no provisions for a “temporary” suspension of inherent rights in our Constitution, and I suspect that the Liberal government must have known this when they chose to submit this bill. The only reasonable conclusion that one can derive from this move, then, is to find that this government believes in two kinds of rights: those which further the interests of the political party in power, and those which do not.
The prime minister visited our province recently, and said in an interview that he “would not support any actions in the name of security that stifle political free expression”. It’s important to note that the federal government has contributed a lot of money toward the Olympic Games for the very purposes of security, and yet Prime Minister Stephen Harper recognizes the importance that civil and human rights play in our society, even when the expression of those rights are based on views unpopular with the government or even mainstream opinion.
Not only does the amendment effectively call for the banning of dissenting opinion, it would allow municipal officers to enter private property to remove illegal signs with only 24 hours notice.
The B.C. Conservative Party believes that our fundamental rights and freedoms are inalienable, and beyond the purview of government—any government—to manipulate, trade away, or infringe upon for political purposes. I encourage the mayors and the councils of Vancouver, Richmond, and Whistler to reject the infringement of private property rights and the curtailment of free speech, free assembly, and basic civil liberties for political expedience.
Canada is founded on the constitutional right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association. We violate those principles at our own peril.
Dean Skoreyko is a director of the B.C. Conservative Party.