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Is Your Freedom a Security Risk?

The most significant threat to Vancouverites during the 2010 Games, reasons David Eby, is the criminalization of free speech. Personal expression is not a security risk nor an attack on the viability of the Olympics, he says, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association may be prepared to take the City of Vancouver to court to protect this right.

Temporary Olympic by-laws passed by Vancouver council in July present the most problematic issue for citizens because the laws set a precedent for any major event to come to the city and how we “tolerate protest, dissent or criticism as a society and the space we make for it.

“The Olympics have asked for special treatment when it comes to protection for sponsors and the IOC—it’s an important test of Vancouver’s commitment to free speech,” he told Linda Solomon.

LS: What concerns you most about these by-laws?

DE: The public suggestion that permitting citizens to express themselves on public space in Vancouver is a security threat to the Olympic Games or a threat to their viability.

LS: Council made its decision and there was a little public outcry from the usual corners and then life went on. Now what?

DE: We’re concerned about a number of aspects of the bylaws and the constitutionality of those bylaws. We’re talking with legal counsel about the possibility of challenging the constitutionality of the bylaws in court before the Olympics.

LS: What is the likelihood you’ll do that?

DE: Very high, for for a couple of reasons. The response from the City to our concerns is that our concerns are overstated and that we don’t understand that the City has obligations to protect Olympic sponsors. We’ve tried to make our concerns clear, but that message isn’t getting through. I don’t see the City changing tack on this. Beyond the City not understanding our concerns, Mayor Larry Campbell signed a contract in 2003 that promised no protests in view of the venues and if they feel like they have to abide by the terms of that contract, then they’re not going to change those laws.

LS: If they feel that way…

DE: It seems they do. They passed these bylaws, which would enable them to follow the terms of the contract.

LS: Didn’t we already see that VANOC is above the law? The B.C. Supreme Court ruling on the women ski jumpers found that the International Olympic Committed does indeed discriminate against women ski jumpers by not allowing them the same right afforded to male jumpers since 1924. But despite this moral victory, VANOC is governed by the IOC and is beyond the reach of the Canadian Charter. The ski jumpers are now appealing that decision—what could that accomplish?

DE: That appeal is interesting on a couple of levels. First, to see if VANOC is a government organization or not. Second, to see if a government organization like VANOC can avoid the Charter if a third party asks them to.

Keeping in mind that decision and those issues, we don’t think the city of Vancouver had the jurisdiction to sign a contract waiving Vancouverites’ free speech rights in the first place and we don’t believe that the city had the authority legally to pass the bylaws that they have, which we believe are contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And that has nothing to do with VANOC.

LS: Through the courts, does VANOC have the potential to erode the rights enshrined in the Canadian Charter?

DE: Depending on the outcome of the ski jumpers case and possibly any legal action taken by our organization, there could be precedents set that would be remarkable in their implications for the rights of Canadians under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

LS: What example will Vancouver set for future Olympic cities?

DE: It is safe to say there was concern that if Vancouver didn’t sign the contract that Canada would not be awarded the Games. If B.C. and Canada and Vancouver will not stand up to the IOC and insist on democratic rights—Olympics or no Olympics—then what countries and what cities will?

LS: Is there not some degree of injustice if VANOC signed the contract after the Olympics had been awarded?

DE: I guess it depends on the chronology of the contract signing. I don’t know whether that took place before or after the announcement was made that Vancouver was awarded the Games. If it was before the public announcement, there was a legitimate concern that Vancouver might not be awarded the Games. If it was after, I’m not sure Vancouver was careful enough in its bargaining with IOC regarding the Olympics.

In terms of the disagreements over democratic and equality rights in how the Olympics will be hosted, really the fight has just started because it is only becoming clear now what the actual plans are for the Olympics in terms of security and the implications of the signing of the 2003 contract.

LS: Would signing this contract have been a difficult decision for council?

DE: I don’t want to let the current city council off the hook because I do believe that these bylaws are not acceptable in their current form and they surely know it, but I also believe they are receiving legal advice inside City Hall that is causing them to make political decisions contrary to the political backgrounds of many involved.

LS: That must be a very hard part of being an elected official.

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