Vancouver city engineers begin converting street cleaning equipment into new Olympic crowd control security vehicles
Mayor Robertson and his Vision crew have been taking a beating lately on a number of issues. Their latest efforts to prepare Vancouver for the Olympic Games (a Games most of them were never in support of to begin with) has also received a big thumbs down from a number of local advocacy groups. Many of whom would be considered their campaign supporters.
According to the critics, Vision's new omnibus Olympic by-law will unduly place restrictions on free speech and a citizen's right to protest.
The by-law passed in a vote of 9-2, with only COPE voting against it. However, COPE only voted nay because they claim they wanted more consultation, not because they were necessarily opposed to the content of the by-law.
The CBC reports the by-law:
...cracks down on graffiti and advertising, bans leaflets and posters near Olympic sites and calls for security screenings at some city-run events.
Groups like the BC Civil Liberties Association have denounced the by-law as 'heavy-handed" and an affront to democracy. Here is what BCCLA president Rob Holmes told the Vancouver Sun:
We have existing criminal and other laws that can deal with people causing a disturbance or engaging in public mischief. Those are satisfactory. We don't need a 'me-too' provision from the City of Vancouver, which doesn't have the constitutional authority to pass criminal laws in the first place.
A 2010 watchdog called the Impact on Communities Coalition, said that Council's decision to implement a new by-law is something they can't support. Spokesperson Am Johal stated:
It ascribes a greater value on protecting corporate sponsors of the Olympics over free speech of citizens
Downtown Eastside poverty groups have stormed council meetings demanding that the poor and marginalized not be swept up and moved along during the Games. Even some local media outlets are complaining that the elimination of their newspaper boxes in "secure zones" will put them at an unfair advantage compared to their competitors.
To a certain extent, I can sympathize with some of the concerns critics have expressed. However, the Mayor and his council colleagues are about to play host to the world in a mere six months from now. This is not business as usual folks. The quaint city on Canada's west coast known as Vancouver is about to go on the big stage - and this is serious business.
If opponents of the Olympic by-laws had their way, they would be allowed free reign in and around all Olympic venues to protest their issue of the day. They would drape multi-story protest signs alongside buildings adjacent to the International Broadcast Centre or General Motors Place to get their message out to the world.
Clearly Mayor Robertson can't allow this type of free-for-all when Vancouver has committed to producing the best Games ever. Remember, Robertson is also the guy who's going to be handed the Olympic flag by Jacques Rogge in front of billions of people watching around the world. There is no way he wants to jeopardize his moment in the sun (okay, he'll be under the lights of BC Place stadium) with a bunch of unruly protestors disrupting the Games.
Robertson has struck a good balance with his new Olympic by-law. For example, he's understood the importance of keeping commerce afloat by introducing measures that include providing flexibility for the delivery of goods in the downtown core.
Sure he's placed some minor restrictions on where people can protest, however, this only applies to areas adjacent to or in Olympic venues. Protestors will continue have the right to unrestricted protest anywhere else in Vancouver.
Here is what Mayor Meggs had to say on the issue:
The bylaw changes have nothing to do with preventing peaceful protest, which is obvious if you review them. They do improve the city’s ability to deal with graffiti, commercial advertising and the management of live sites, among other things.
If there is one area I think the Mayor got it wrong, it relates to the granting of super powers to his City Manager during the Olympic Games. Ballem will be temporarily allowed to make new by-laws without the prior consent of Council.
The argument that Council needed to grant the city manager these new powers because councillors will be too busy to meet during the Olympic Games simply doesn't compute. If there truly were a crisis that required council's attention, a meeting could be called within hours.
Yes, a few dignitaries may miss out on crumpets with the Mayor that day, but surely they'll understand that his role as a civic leader should come before all the pomp and circumstance of the Games. Robertson's decision to grant Ballem all those powers will likely prove to be a sore point with all the Olympic opponents. Especially when you consider that Ballem is also a key member of the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee (VANOC) Board of Directors, as well as city manager.
There are a lot of things the Mayor and his crew will do in the next six months that will likely annoy their far left-leaning pals. If he wants to be remembered as a great host and an effective Mayor during the Games, he'd best plug his nose, keep a stiff upper lip and forge ahead with what needs to be done.
After all, does anyone seriously think the people criticizing the Mayor for his "draconian" Olympic measures will do anything but vote for him in the next civic election. I for one think he already has their support locked up, regardless of what kind of Olympic by-laws he brings forward. What do you think?