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Beijing all over again

by admin October 13, 2009

Vancouver City Council has begun the process of implementing a bylaw that will restrict freedom of expression during the upcoming Olympic Games. The bylaw declares that for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic games, no person is allowed to “distribute any advertising material or install or carry any sign unless licensed to do so by the city.” In addition, there are bans on the use of megaphones or any objects deemed to make noise that “interferes with the enjoyment of entertainment on city land by other persons.” Individuals are allowed to carry what the city vaguely defines as “celebratory signs,” but even those have a strict size limitation. The bylaw will also raise fines for “illegal signs” from $50 to $10,000. A similar law, introduced in the British Columbia Legislature last week, will allow city officials to remove signs and graffiti from private property – including homes – with limited or no notice. These two laws will crack down on protests and public awareness campaigns.
Last week anti-Olympic activists Alissa Westgard-Thorpe and Chris Shaw along with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, launched a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver. They are asking the B.C. Supreme Court to strike down the City’s 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bylaw, on the grounds that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
City officials claim the bylaw is an attempt to stop corporate interests not officially involved with the Olympics from using the games as a platform for advertising, but the bylaw opens up a very slippery slope.
When the it was outlined in January, Shaw requested the city prove their claim by invoking a seventeenth clause into the bylaw to clearly state that “none of the above applies to protests, demonstrations, political picketing or political theatre.” In response, Paul Henderson, Director of Olympic and Paralympic operations for the city, said that all concerns would be taken into consideration before any bylaws were presented to council. Neither Shaw nor Westgard-Thorpe are taking any solace in the official wording of the bylaws.
While these limitations run directly counter to the freedoms of expression outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they are officially supported by the Olympic Charter. This document outlines the basic goals, laws and regulations by which the “Olympism” movement is ruled in pursuit of their ultimate goal to “build a better and peaceful world through sport.” Rule 51 of the charter states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Better and more peaceful should probably be amended to read quieter and more subdued.
Candidate cities are required to abide by the Olympic Charter prior to, during and after the Olympics, at risk of losing the games. Also, the International Olympic Committee makes host cities sign an agreement to ensure international media and attendees not be subject to political speech inside or outside Olympic venues, and establishes a “swat team” constantly on alert to seize literature and break up rallies on public property.
Cities around the globe spend millions of dollars vying for the privilege to bring the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic games to their streets. The eyes of the world turn to one place to cheer on their nation, but behind the scenes the rights of citizens are being sidelined. Vancouver officials seem all to willing to comply with this facade and turn their backs on the fundamental rights of their citizens. Canada should be holding itself to a higher standard and not, in the word’s of the Wire’s Cedric Daniel’s, “shining up shit and calling it gold.”

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