Vancouver city council heard from a dozen speakers this morning as a revised bylaw regulating protest structures continued to draw criticism.
Most of those that addressed council were opposed to the amended legislation, which eliminates some of the regulations contained in the first draft, including a $1,200 permit application fee, and a ban on political structures in residential areas.
The planning and environment committee will reconvene at 7:30 p.m. this evening to finish hearing from speakers on the issue.
City council was given an April 19 deadline by the B.C. Court of Appeal to draft the new bylaw.
Falun Gong spokesperson Sue Zhang told council the group is “equally disappointed” with the revision to the bylaw, which she said still does not conform with the B.C. Court of Appeal ruling.
Zhang said taking down the protest structure every 12 hours and restricting the size of the hut so that elderly Falun Gong practitioners couldn’t sit or stand inside would “thoroughly disable our freedom of expression”.
Zhang told reporters the Falun Gong will proceed with legal action if the protest bylaw is passed.
“We were ruled to have this whole structure and the size integral of our expression, and that was the Court of Appeal’s ruling...we don’t think that’s confirmed...so we have to go back to the court,” she said.
“For seven years long there was no incident, no issue,” she added.
Heather Forbes of the Vancouver Public Space Network said while the revised protest bylaw contains good first steps, the permit process “limits opportunities for timely political expression”.
Forbes was also critical of what she said appeared to be the city’s intention to selectively enforce the bylaw.
“Why create a new bylaw and build into it that you’re not going to acknowledge it,” she asked. “Why not just build it appropriately the first time?
“I find that really disconcerting that when creating the bylaw you would acknowledge it’s not appropriate all the time,” she added.
Dan Fass told council that citizens were not given enough time to properly review the bylaw. The legislation was initially released on April 5, went to city council on April 7 and was re-released in an amended form on April 14.
Fass said the permitting process outlined in the bylaw “remains unduly onerous for many political activities on city streets” and that the $1,000 fines are “unduly broad and harsh”.
Former journalist and MP Simma Holt also criticized the bylaw and spoke in support of the Falun Gong.
“I have fought my whole life for justice, and I think it’s totally wrong that the court of appeal makes a decision and you are already re-writing so you can stop the Falun Gong from demonstrating,” he said.
Vancouver resident Nicole Charalambous told council the current bylaw proposal “offers a reasonable alternative” but she argued protests in front of consulates in residential areas should be limited to business hours.