New bylaw regulating protest structures passed by Vancouver city council

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      Vancouver city council passed a new bylaw regulating protest structures as a court-imposed deadline loomed Tuesday night.

      The legislation will require protestors to apply for a permit to erect a structure on city streets, and to take the object down overnight. The law also includes a restriction on the size of the structure, and a minimum $1,000 fine for those found in violation of the new rules.

      City councillors made some minor amendments to the bylaw as the discussion went late into the night Tuesday, including increasing the maximum dimensions of the protest structure to 1.6 metres high, and allowing all tables without permits.

      But during debate, some councillors questioned why the city seemed to be rushing to approve a bylaw that is still being criticized by some groups as overly restrictive.

      COPE councillor David Cadman predicted the bylaw will result in “more money down the drain” in fighting further legal challenges.

      “It simply is not going to stand the test in court,” he said.

      “By saying that a table does not require a permit but this structure does, you’ve blown a hole in your own bylaw because you’ve set up different conditions for one form of protest than another,” he added.

      NPA councillor Suzanne Anton criticized the process and argued that “nothing terrible is going to happen at midnight,” referring to the arrival of the deadline imposed by the B.C. Court of Appeal.

      “I don’t think I’ve ever sat here and listened to so many amendments upon amendments, crafted on the fly,” she said. “Let’s actually do something that is logical, reasonable, has gone out for a good public consultation and is brought back as a fully formed product that we can move ahead on.”

      The bylaw is a result of a B.C. Court of Appeal decision that ruled an injunction obtained by the City of Vancouver to remove a Falun Gong hut in front of the Chinese consulate on Granville Street was unconstitutional. The city was given six months to develop new legislation.

      COPE councillor Ellen Woodsworth also proposed an amendment, based on recommendations provided to council by Pivot Legal, calling for the bylaw to clearly state that it will not apply to homeless people erecting tents on city streets.

      Pivot lawyer Scott Bernstein said the $1,000 to $5,000 fines outlined in the bylaw apply to a general definition of all structures erected on city streets, which could include tents.

      Woodsworth argued the bylaw should be more specific to ensure it doesn’t penalize homeless people in the future.

      “We're developing a bylaw that’s going to stand on the books for quite some time and there’s an election coming in seven months,” she said. “There may be another government in seven months – I would like this bylaw to apply no matter who’s in government and what staff is applying those bylaws.”

      The motion was rejected and councillors agreed to incorporate the recommendation into the city’s upcoming review of housing and homelessness.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson called the bylaw a “balanced approach”.

      “It’s impossible to assume that we have nailed it on the first go here,” said Robertson. “I think it’s to be expected that we will need to refine this in the time ahead.”

      According to city staff, the bylaw legally facilitates protest structures, such as the huts used by the Falun Gong in front of the Chinese consulate, where previous legislation did not.

      But Sue Zhang, spokesperson for the Falun Gong, said the group plans to pursue another legal challenge.

      “I guess they gave us no choice but to go back to the court,” she said following the council vote.

      The bylaw was opposed by four councillors, including Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie, who argued no protest structures should be allowed outside consulates.

      An amendment introduced by Vision Vancouver councillor George Chow recommends city staff monitor the implementation of the new bylaw and review it in a year.




      Apr 20, 2011 at 11:03am

      I say protesters should protest this ban by putting up bigger structures.


      Apr 20, 2011 at 7:01pm

      Yep, I'm sure that would make the Chinese Consulate very happy, although well deserved, especially after advising the mayor what to do with the bylaw to fit their demands. Silencing the Falun Gong is not something that City council should advocate.