If there's one aspect of the law that Attorney General David Eby knows very well, it's section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is the section that enshrines Canadians' constitutional rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
And why, you ask, would Eby be particularly conversant in this aspect of the law? It's because when he was executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the organization's then president, Robert Holmes, challenged the Vancouver park board's efforts to prevent residents from collecting signatures on public property. These people were doing this to fight the harmonized sales tax.
Once the Vancouver park board was made aware of the law, it stopped the harassment of citizens exercising their constitutional rights on public property.
In an interview with the Straight at the time, Eby cited a 1991 ruling in the Supreme Court of Canada, Committee for the Commonwealth of Canada v. Canada, upholding two men's constitutional right to distribute pamphlets in Dorval Airport.
Other court rulings have also upheld the public's constitutional right to free expression on public property.
One of those cases involved a Burnaby man named Ron Churchill, who wanted to distribute pamphlets during a federal election on TransLink property. Another involved a successful fight by the Canadian Federation of Students and B.C. Teachers' Federation against TransLink.
However in Surrey, bylaw officers recently ticketed a canvasser in Dogwood Park who was collecting signatures as part of an initiative campaign to keep the RCMP in Surrey. Dogwood Park is public property.
It came a week after Mayor Doug McCallum allegedly berated people who were collecting signatures on private land.
“While this is a clear and blatant ongoing attempt to silence the people of Surrey and impede a democratic process, it is also entirely consistent with the mayor’s ongoing heavy-handed and unilateral approach since he first raised a potential police transition,” the proponent of Surrey Police Vote, Darlene Bennett, said in a news release.
Someone needs to educate McCallum, Surrey city manager Vincent Lalonde, and others at Surrey City Hall that it's almost certainly unconstitutional for municipal staff to ticket canvassers who are acting reasonably on public property. That's because bylaw officers' actions appear to contradict the findings of the courts in the Commonwealth of Canada ruling.
And by ticketing canvassers participating in the Surrey Police Vote initiative, the mayor and city manager could easily find themselves in court.
Who should be that someone to educate McCallum and Lalonde? None other than Attorney General, David Eby. The harassment of canvassers needs to stop and it needs to stop immediately.
Citizens shouldn't have to spend a pile of money going to court to obtain an judicial order when the attorney general is already exceedingly aware of the law in this area.
Pick up the phone Mr. Eby and call the mayor's office. Tell him to back off immediately and let democracy run its course.