Recently Britain-based artrepreneur Martin Creed [1] brought his band into town to kick off a May-to-October exhibition [2] under the auspices of condo king Bob Rennie. This essay focuses on the Creed-and-Rennie performance at the 17 May 2011 Emily Carr and Rennie Collection Speaker Series [3].

Martin Creed started off his solo evening in the art school spotlight with tortured musings: “I just feel like a wanker, you know … It’s much more difficult to wank in public.” A little later: “You can’t talk … I’ll try and be fast … Ah, fuck!”

Further ramblings included: “I didn’t know what I was doing … It wasn’t making me feel good.” And: “I was trying not to decide what I was doing.” And: “If you walk away and have a reason you can take that with you.” This last, for me, was the most interesting thing I heard from Creed. But the kicker is, will Bob Rennie fork out art cash for that non-object?

Eventually Creed set his sights on dialogue and asked for questions or comments. After a few exchanges, he fell into a back-and-forth with a woman who pursued the nature of his relationship with another artist that he had collaborated with. Creed seemed to use the topic to veer off into repetitive put-on. If that is what he was trying to do, he lacked two of the requisites: stellar status and youth. Stellar is much more than a decade-old Turner Prize. Think Bob Dylan for contrast.

One theme that slipped in and out of Creed’s meanderings was making distinctions and separations amid the flux of experience. Creed did manage to describe the satisfaction of taking a shit and believing that the result was not himself.

The anti-protest bylaw passed by Mayor Robertson this week will hurt the homeless, Darcie Bennett of PIVOT Legal Society told The Mainlander. The bylaw states that any “structure, object, or substance” – including tents – placed on public space without permission of the City Engineer can receive a minimum $1,000 fine. “We are of the opinion that the bylaw should change, to bring it line with homeless peoples’ rights,” says Bennett.

Given that there are no specific provisions allowing the homeless to apply for permits to pitch tents or structures, and given that the $1,000-$5,000 fine is extreme, the bylaw is effectively a prohibition on people pitching tents in public spaces.

In October 2008, the City of Victoria’s bylaw banning tents on public lands was struck down by the BC Supreme Court’s Adams decision for infringing on peoples’ Charter right to shelter. At that time, says Bennett, PIVOT wrote a letter to Vancouver City Council asking that Vancouver’s bylaws be brought in line with the Adams decision, but the City offered no response.

Now, two years later, the City’s new anti-structure bylaw does nothing to protect the right to shelter of those with nowhere else to go. On the contrary, it introduces new exorbitant fines. Last week, PIVOT proposed a series of amendments to the bylaw, including making explicit exceptions for homeless people, but City Council approved the bylaw without incorporating any of these changes.

City lawyers have taken the position that “Adams doesn’t apply here in Vancouver,” and as of yet no one has challenged that position in court.

According to Bennett, the City told PIVOT that the right to shelter on public land does not exist in Vancouver because there is enough shelter space and housing to accommodate everyone. But Bennett points out that the City’s own numbers show there are far more homeless people in the City than shelter beds. On top of that, 5 additional shelters are slated to be shut down next week.

The City admits that the bylaw gives police the power to fine homeless people, but is asking critics to trust that this power won’t be used. The City Administrative report claims “compassionate” intentions toward homeless people, and a “holistic” approach toward homelessness, but offers no actual legal protection or exemption from the bylaw.

This attitude is reminiscent of the Province’s response to critics of the Olympic Kidnapping Act, which gives police the power to forcefully apprehend and detain homeless people against their will. Minister Coleman claimed that the power “probably wouldn’t be used,” but rammed the bill through the legislature nonetheless.

Bennett also criticized the anti-structure bylaw’s impact on political expression. “When you try to use zoning bylaws to regulate political expression, it’s not good governance,” she said.

Despite unanimous opposition, the Vision-led City Council voted last night in favour of limiting public expression in Vancouver. Today the BCCLA has stated that it will participate in a constitutional challenge of the bylaw, either as an intervenor or by representing a plaintiff. “We’re putting on running shoes because now there is a big race to the courts on this ludicrous measure,” said BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn in an interview with The Mainlander.

An original bylaw had been proposed by City Staff two weeks ago. The version set out to implement a rigid permit system for those using any “structure, object, substance or thing” to express themselves in public. Among other restrictions, those engaged in “public expression” would be required to apply for a permit through the City and pay a fee of $200, in addition to an upfront deposit of $1000. Despite the fact that only a two-day notice was given to the public, there was so much opposition that the Mayor had to send the law back to City Staff for a review. Among concerns raised was the fact that that Staff had entered into a “confidential agreement” with the Chinese government about the proposed bylaw, as well the fact that the staff report literally lied about having garnered “general support” for the bylaw from the BCCLA.

An amended bylaw was released by the City five days ago, on Thursday April 14th. The presentation made by Staff describing the changes is available here. In lieu of the protest fee and deposit, there is now a minimum fine of $1000 for those who break the new rules. The law now allows protests outside of consulates in residential areas, which had been a major concern of the Falun Gong, who took the original bylaw to the Supreme Court and won. However, in addition to the minimum $1000 fine for failure to comply, the structures allowed are even more constrained than originally proposed, there are time restrictions placed on protest, and there is an inability to renew permits, among other things. On April 18 the BCCLA released a strong statement in opposition to the measures: “[These] bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression violate free speech; full stop.”