Many occupiers have wondered about the city’s Street & Traffic By-Law 71.1, posted on city signs throughout the Art Gallery grounds. The purpose of this article is to give information and analysis about the By-law and its impact on #occupyvancouver.
“NO CAMPING: No structures (tents or other shelters) permitted in this area or on any other city street, sidewalk or boulevard. Street & Traffic By-Law 2849 Sec. 71.1.” While these words read like eternal declarations, seemingly handed down to us from the founding laws of our colonial state, the reality is that they are recent history — very recent. This past April, Vancouver’s city council and Mayor Robertson passed amendments to Section 71 and other sections of the Street & Traffic By-Law that seriously restrict protest in public space.
The April meetings of city council were called for legal reasons. In October 2010 the By-Law had been ruled unconstitutional by the BC Courts, who gave the city six months to change it. On April 7th 2011, council presented its new edits to the public. According to the new version of the By-Law, political structures remained illegal except with a special permit, which could be purchased at a cost of $200 plus a refundable deposit of $1000. The Mainlander pointed out that under the new By-Law, “no structures would be allowed before 8am or after 8pm, eliminating the possibility for extended protests.” The amendments were unanimously rejected by the public, including the the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Public Space Network.
City council was forced to re-work its amendments, and returned on April 18th to present its revised version at a “no debate” meeting. Despite unanimous public opposition yet again, the Vision-led City Council passed the motion. The allowable structure size was reduced, with the addition of new penalties for non-compliance with the law: anyone who does not follow the new rules faces immediate removal and a minimum fine of $1000. The changes were passed and are now being fought again in the courts. The current version of the By-Law is worse than the edits of April 7. The law is less constitutional than before and today the BC Civil Liberties denounces its “bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression [that] violate free speech; full stop.”