Ka-ching! Protestors could become a new revenue source for Vancouver
Just hours after Mayor Gregor stopped sending tweets out from the Vancouver 125th birthday bash concert on Wednesday night, controversy began brewing over a couple of his latest initiatives.
Vision wants to seriously ramp up security at City Hall during public hearings, while another report is proposing what some media refer to as a new $1,200 "protest tax." It struck many as an authoritarian double-whammy, not unlike Vision's previous "Olympic gag law" put in place to prevent non-sanctioned activity near Olympic venues.
At Thursday afternoon's Planning and Environment meeting of Vancouver city council, City Manager Penny Ballem told council that she consulted with just three parties to formulate the "Protest Tax" bylaw designed to hinder Falun Gong protests on Granville Street. Those three parties were the BC Civil Liberties Association, representatives of the Falun Gong, and representatives of the China consulate. Each party was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep the discussions secret.
The trouble it seems is the most important stakeholder of all – the citizens of Vancouver – were left out of the discussion until the 11th hour.
Staff explained that this bylaw must pass before April 19th or face a penalty from the court. Eighteen speakers quickly lined up to speak to the new "Protest Tax" bylaw, with many more speakers expected to sign up when the discussion continues at city council on the 19th.
The "Protest Tax" bylaw was quietly slipped into the council package less than forty-eight hours before council would discuss it.
While it might seem astonishing that a bylaw which could fundamentally change the way people can "express" themselves publicly (read: protest or celebrate) in Vancouver was snuck in at the last minute, it's par for the course for Canada's most secretive municipal government. Vancouver's governing Vision party rarely shows that they're truly interested in public input.
The innocuous sounding report – titled "Structure for Public Expression on City Streets" – includes a number of provisions which will force protestors and community groups to pay a new $1,000 deposit and $200 tax. If you want to set up a table on Commercial Drive and protest the lack of progress on homelessness, get ready to fork over some serious cash.
Even folks from the Pivot Legal Society and other left-leaning advocacy groups are crying foul. In this morning's Vancouver Sun a rep from the BC Civil Liberties Association told reporter Jeff Lee:
Not many people have $1,200 to throw at such a thing. It's like a Monty Python sketch; 'Please provide your $1,000 security deposit for your homelessness protest'
It was a bit painful to watch Gregor Robertson pitch two softball questions to staff – ones most likely written for him by staff – suggesting that the new bylaw would be good for us. It was too much for the lawyer representing the Falun Gong Clive Ansley, who openly criticized the "puffball" line of questioning by Mayor Gregor.
If the protest fee wasn't bad enough, the Georgia Straight broke a story earlier this week that the Mayor is also planning to ramp up security provisions for future public hearings held at City Hall. It would appear the Mayor is trying discourage all of those f***ing NPA hacks from coming to council and speaking their peace.
In a memo obtained by The Georgia Straight, a city staffer advises council they better get used to seeing a lot more security guards, crowd control barriers and a new sign in kiosk at 12th and Cambie. Want to speak to council? Better get ready to show some ID and sign in on the main floor prior to being escorted up to the 3rd floor!
Perhaps airport-like full body scans are in the cards? Take your shoes off?
So while the Mayor has been busy with numerous cake cutting and street hockey photo ops, a couple of controversies are clearly bubbling up for him at 12th & Cambie.
The following is an excerpt from Jeff Lee's Sun article where he provides more details regarding the proposed public expression by-law:
Jerry Dobrovolny, the city's assistant city engineer and director of transportation, said the new bylaw is a compromise that will allow temporary protest structures in certain locations without them being "turned into an encampment." But the bylaw comes with heavy restrictions. It doesn't apply to any residential zones, such as the Shaughnessy district where the Chinese consulate is located. Applicants also:
- Can apply only once every other month, for a maximum duration of 30 days.
- Must remove the structures daily between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Must be at the location at all times when the structure is present.
- Must pay $200 for each permit, and a refundable $1,000 damage deposit.
- Can't attach anything to sidewalks or walls.
- Are restricted to structures two metres wide by one metre deep by 2.1 metres high.
- Must submit drawings and plans to the city for approval.
- Can't use any electric lights, heat or gas cylinders.
As for the heightened security measures for future public hearings, here is what the Straight is reporting:
New security measures include:
- Fire officials will review occupancy loads in the upper and lower areas of the council chamber. These will be posted, and corporate security staff will enforce them.
- Overflow crowds will be directed to wait in the ground-floor media centre.
- Crowd-control barriers will be erected in the third-floor lobby area outside the council chamber to maintain clear access.
- The lower area of the chamber will be reserved for registered speakers and staff.
- Speakers will be required to sign in at the ground-floor information kiosk. They will receive a numbered label. Only the first 40 speakers will be permitted into the lower level of the council chamber.
- After speaking, they will be "encouraged to move out of this space to make way for those waiting to speak".
- Additional security will be deployed to prevent people other than council members and staff from moving beyond the speaker's podium.
- City clerk's staff will be able to press a "duress button" when necessary.
"While it is a public building, access to City Hall after regular business hours is controlled by Corporate Security," Bradshaw wrote.
In the final paragraph of his memo, Bradshaw stated: "These changes are being put in place to ensure the safety of the public, staff and Council members and that public meetings can proceed in an orderly manner."
The comments from our readers are not only coming in fast and furious, they're incredibly insightful, such as the remarks below by Tired and Cranky. Great work, folks! Keep 'em coming.
NPA councillor Suzanne Anton has been on a tear this week, and Vision Vancouver seem to be providing her with no shortage of issues to challenge them on. Anton introduced a motion regarding the date of the Pandora Street coroner's inquest, and the Mayor backed down on a previous request to postpone the Pandora Street inquest until after the November civic election. Council agreed that was a mistake and has asked the B.C. Coroner if they can move up the date.
Then on Wednesday night Anton fired off another news release in which she demanded Mayor Gregor hold off on pushing through his protest tax until the public have had a chance to weigh in and provide their feedback:
An extremely controversial report is being slipped in at the last minute without allowing for any meaningful public discussion. This has become a regular pattern with the Mayor and his caucus colleagues. Freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy. Any possible restriction on that freedom must be well-understood and properly debated. Two days notice is not enough.
Not surprisingly, Roberton and Vision turned down Anton's suggestion.
It appears that the clock ran out on preparing this bylaw, which was triggered by a court decision favouring the Falun Gong protesters last October. As we noted earlier, the City must respond to this by April 19th. If too many speakers line up to have their say on this "Protest Tax" bylaw, it's possible that the City's deadline for the courts will be passed.
- Post by Mike. Follow @MikeKlassen & @CityCaucus on Twitter.