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Olympic Protester's Guide to the Legal Implications of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia

If you're planning on exercising your right to disagree during the Vancouver 2010 Games,  you might want to refer to the law firm of McGrady and Company's  "Updated Olympic Edition Civil Disobedience Guide."

"Everyone must make their own individual choice about whether or not to engage in civil disobedience," the author, Leo McGrady, begins.  "It is our responsibility to become fully informed about what consequences may follow from engaging in any form of protest."

The authors go on to note that "Civil disobedience can be particularly effective in motivating social and political change when exercised as collective action.  The long history of civil disobedience, as practiced by different peoples around the world, is mirrored here in British Columbia."

The text continues, offering a history of BC civil disobedience ranging from conflicts between aboriginal peoples and the government to labour disobedeince to protests by The Doukhobors in the Kootenays to gay and lesbian activism to environmental protests.

"The law does  recognize your right to engage in civil disobedience," McGrady writes.  He then refers to Justice Stuart in R. V. Mayer (1994) who stated that:

"A healthy democracy demands an active, informed citizenry willing, nay eager to engage in constructive public debate. Our laws must sustain and promote free public discussion.  To interfere unduly with this freedom threatens the survival of our democratic existence.  Any laws limiting freedom of speech must be designed to protect other fundamental freedoms and be enforced with utmost sensitivity to avoid unnecessarily daunting the desire of any citizen to engage in public debate.  Our laws, institutions and society as a whole must develop and abide by a healthy tolerance for the commitment some exercise in pursuing their beliefs."

The guide "takes into account the post-9/11 legislation which impacts the civil liberties of Canadians.  Much of the post-9/11 legislation is intended for terrorists  and organized crime, but some of its provisions," the author warns, "can be used against protestors."

The report deals with what to wear, what to bring, and what to leave at home during an act of civil disobedience.

You can choose to wear a mask or headgear to protect your identity, but it might draw police attention to you.  Plus, police don masks when they go undercover the report alleges and these can be the most violent of the "protestors."

At a "Prosperity Partnership conference in Montebello, Quebec," the author writes, trade unions protested.  "Three masked demonstrators, later exposed to be members of Provincial Police Force, were caught on video holding rocks and doing what they could to incite violence.  The video was later posted on YouTube and showed three men with bandanas across their faces and large rocks in their hands taunting union members, attempting to  provoke violence within the demonstrating group."

The report also tells you what to do if you get pepper sprayed or tear-gassed.

Don't panic.  The effects will wear off in 10 to 15 minutes, he writes.  Panicking will only make it worse.

He covers stun guns, sonic guns (LRAD) and observes that the BCCLA's Legal observer program is excellent.  "These are volunteers who will focus on  police, military and private security to ensure accountability."

We live in dangerous times.  This week a terrorist unnerved North America, set the stock market tumbling and jammed up airports by attempting to set off an explosion on a Detroit-bound flight. 

In Canada, we live in an unusually free and tolerant society. Imperfect as it is, it remains far ahead of much of the world in terms of public safety, civil liberties, and human rights. We live in a country where police use Tasers instead of machine guns, although, sadly, they somehow manage to kill people even with those. Thank God, the idiots that make Tasers lethal aren't pointing heavy artillery our way. We live in an imperfect world of over-reaction and under-protection.

In this world, it's good to have a guide.

"The prelude to these Olympics," McGrady says, "bears some of the chilling qualities of the period leading up to the APEC Economic Leaders Conference in Vancouver on November 24 and 25, 1997. Quoting Wesley Pue's "Pepper in our Eyes: The APEC Affair" (UBC Press), McGrady ends on this note:

"Our main protection lies in our own vigilance. No single institution, person, association, or idea can long defend any democracy, however stable it seems, from power's corrupting effects.  A watchful citizenry, well informed about the basic principles of democratic government, is indispensible to liberal democracy.  The hallmarks of freedom and constitutional liberty need to be understood absorbed, internalized and discussed by all of us."



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