When it comes to the Olympics, has COPE lost its voice?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in


Harry Rankin, photo by Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
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.


The way I understand it, the change in bylaw helps the city deal with the possibility of Corporation X offering Resident/Business Y (located directly across from an Olympic venue) from plastering signage all over their property in direct competition with Olympic Sponsors who have paid stupid money to have exclusive right to plaster their name everywhere.

Anyone recall the fuss over Fuji and Kodak in Sydney? Official film of the Olympics and the Official film of Summer? That was the beginning of the end of playing nice for the IOC and host cities when it came to signage.

The way I have heard it, the change in the bylaw allows a more rapid response to the infraction. Under the existing rules, by the time all the notices have been served and waiting periods have been observed the Olympics would be long over and damage would have been done.

I am not an Olympic fan and I really do not like how the IOC generally takes over a city but I can appreciate their need to ensure that sponsors get what they pay for - exclusivity. Otherwise those bills we are all screaming about will be even higher.

It would also have been nice in hindsight to have known the full implications of hosting the games in terms of general infringement on our day to day living during the months leading up to the Olympics. We are giving up a lot for Olympic bragging rights and we may have decided it was simply not worth turning ourselves into a civic whore for the priviledge.

Hopefully it pays off.

The fact that Eby's gone from a contender for a nomination as a Vision city council candidate, to being an early critic of Council's action shows an admirable level of objectivity and responsibility in keeping with his new position. An analogy would be if, say, one of you guys criticized the NPA.


COPE? Who are they? You mean that there are some COPE Council members on the current council? You'd never think so!! They're hiding in the shadow of Vision..clearly!! Shameful!

This new bylaw will give City Hall the authority to come onto private property without notice or court order in order to remove not just advertising signage but ANY sign other than 'for sale' signs or election signs. Even a sign simply stating the homeowner's opposition to this bylaw will be illegal and subject to seizure. Indeed Harry Rankin would be pointing this out in no uncertain terms and giving this issue the profile it needs!

Tim Louis
Former COPE City Councillor

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