The City of Vancouver can lead the world in showing respect for freedom of expression and assembly by how it treats the “Occupy” global protest movement, says the BC Civil Liberties Association. The BCCLA is calling on the City and the VPD to show leadership in facilitating free speech on public property in relation to this demonstration and that of others.
“We have an opportunity to set an example for the 1100 cities where similar demonstrations are taking place,” said Robert Holmes, Q.C., President of the BCCLA. “Vancouver is at the forefront of vigorous debate and demonstrations. That must be preserved. And where different users want to use the same public property, constructive discussion and respectful dialogue are critical.”
The BCCLA argues that, so long as public safety is not compromised and the rights of others to a fair share of use of public property is respected, the City should permit the “Occupy” demonstrations as a living symbol of democracy. “In an election year, politicians may feel pressure to try to sound decisive in a sound bite”, said Holmes. “But eroding the rights of people to protest would not be responsible or right. Real leadership is better shown by supporting free speech not just for politicians at election time, but for everyone all the time. Passive forms of free speech such as putting up a billboard or lawn sign may appeal to some, but active forms involving marches, assemblies and the like have a rightful time and place, even when they are on the art gallery lawn.
Some argue that court decisions (e.g. Adams v. Victoria) dealing with homeless people taking refuge in public parks provide a precedent for the “Occupy” demonstration’s camp. But the Adams decision was based on a claim by homeless people to their right to life and security of the person in the context of having nowhere else to sleep. It was not a decision about free expression. A closer parallel is the court’s Falun Gong decision which upheld the right to free expression on public property and discusses structures put in place as part of demonstrations.
Part of the debate over the “Occupy” demonstration involves questions about use of the same space by others. The art gallery lawn is an established venue for demonstrations. The BCCLA encourages the City and the “Occupy” demonstrators to have a respectful dialogue that preserves the rights of others eventually to have their fair share of use of that public space. “Free speech, cooperation and understanding are the hallmarks of democracy. Dialogue in the public square and about its fair use by different groups is key,” added Holmes.
Robert Holmes, Q.C., President, (604) 838-6856
Micheal Vonn, BCCLA Policy Director, (604) 630-9753