Legendary City Councillor Harry Rankin circa 1987, photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
This week, Vancouver Council gave itself sweeping powers to limit the right of citizens to post signage in public spaces during the Olympic Games. In the 'old days', you would have expected Council's COPE opposition and their allies to be screaming at the top of their lungs about this being an affront to democracy. Given the muted reaction of COPE's elected officials on Council, I am left wondering what former Councillor Harry Rankin would be thinking if he were still alive?
For those unfamiliar with Rankin, he remains a political legend among many - on the left and right - in Vancouver's often polarized civic political scene. He was an outspoken critic of many civic administrations up until his untimely death in 2002. Today, only perhaps Tim Louis can hold a candle to his mentor Harry Rankin in terms of political sharpness. Love him or hate him, Rankin played a vital role on council. As they say, he kept them honest.
So what's happened to COPE? Why has their voice on the civic scene been all but neutralized? As a lawyer and human rights advocate, Rankin would have had a field day with an issue as potentially contentious as removing the right of citizens to display signs on private and public property.
I have no doubt that if this type of sign bylaw had been introduced by the previous civic administration, it would have been met with howls of protests, sit ins and likely legal action. Under this new Vision government, the reaction was something akin to what you might find at a Victorian tea party, restrained and oh too civilized.
In fairness, longtime community activist COPE Councillor Ellen Woodsworth did make a timid attempt to fight the bylaw by introducing a sunset clause. Way to go, Ellen, you know how it should be done.
None of her Vision or NPA council colleagues supported the amendment, so it died on the order paper. Incredibly, not even COPE Councillor David Cadman supported her efforts. Rather, he let her hang out in the wind like the proverbial lone wolf.
With Cadman now comfortably ensconced in the Mayor's favoured inner-circle, here's what he told the Georgia Straight regarding the sweeping powers Council had just granted itself:
He said he didn’t foresee sign confiscations being “as prevalent as people may think”.
“Yes it will happen—no two ways about it,” Cadman said. “I don’t see the bylaw enforcement officers and/or the police storming in there and saying, ‘You have used the Olympic symbols with an X through it. Take that down. You don’t have the right to use the Olympic symbol.’”
Former Vision Vancouver candidate David Eby, now executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and a member of Mayor Robertson's HEAT team, was one of the previous administration's harshest critics. So what was his reaction to Council's implementation of these new sweeping powers?
We didn't see anything topping the 6 o'clock news, so our crack research team dug into Google search to track something down. Here is an excerpt from a Canadian Press article:
"If you want to talk about a chilling effect on legitimate protest for example, one of those provisions in there deals with handing out flyers or carrying or installing a sign in a city park or on your own property."
There you have it. No protests. No sit-ins. No contrived news conferences demanding Mayor Robertson resign. The reaction to this civic administration's first piece of Olympic related legislation was, dare I say, civilized.
The neutering of COPE could very well mean there will be a lot less criticism of the Olympic Games and what they represent. You can just imagine Harry Rankin, from his great big May Day celebration up in heaven, is shaking his fist back at Vancouver.