That City of Vancouver staff consulted with the Chinese regime over a proposed bylaw has stunned not only some city councillors but also Vancouver’s Falun Gong community.
In seeking input on a new bylaw that would prevent Vancouver Falun Gong practitioners from erecting signs or a kiosk outside the Chinese consulate, city engineer Peter Judd said he “advised” the regime as the owner of the property on Granville St.
At a city council meeting on Thursday, Judd referred to the Chinese consulate as stakeholders and said the city had held “confidential” meetings “to get some degree of feedback” from the consulate.
Councillor David Cadman was astonished.
“Is there any other bylaw that you can think of that we brought in that we would have consulted with a foreign government—a government that imprisons a Nobel laureate, that imprisons an artist that exhibits at the Tate? Why would we consult with them about our bylaw?” he said.
Judd said he also met with Falun Gong practitioners and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association regarding the proposed bylaw, which has caused an uproar due to its restrictive nature—particularly because it would ban protest structures in residential areas.
Clive Ansley, a lawyer representing Falun Gong, said the fact that city engineers consulted the Chinese consulate is “disgraceful” and “indefensible.”
— Lawyer Scott Bernstein
He also said that after reviewing the proposed bylaw restrictions it was clear that the consulate “pretty much got their entire wish-list.”
“We didn’t fight this battle over five years, and the Court of Appeal didn’t make this decision striking down the bylaw, in order for the city to enact a new bylaw which results in the identical prohibition of free expression,” he said at the council meeting.
“Passage of the present form of this by-law will guarantee another lawsuit on behalf of my client,” he added.
Falun Gong spokesperson Sue Zhang said she finds it shocking that the city would consult with the consulate about the very same protest that highlighted the Chinese regime’s injustices.
“The city consulted the Chinese consulate on this issue, which is very very wrong because the issue is to protest, to raise awareness of this genocide, of these crimes against humanity. And the result of this bylaw prohibits the Falun Gong practitioners from exercising their basic Canadian charter rights.”
Falun Gong practitioners first erected the protest site, complete with a small hut on the boulevard and billboard signs on the consulate fence, in 2001. Over the years, they maintained a 24- hour vigil to raise awareness of the Chinese Communist Party’s persecution of Falun Gong in China.
The protest remained intact until 2009 when the city sought an injunction after then-mayor Sam Sullivan caved to pressure from the consulate and ordered the site be dismantled. The Supreme Court overruled the city, saying the protest and its structures were integral to Falun Gong’s free expression should be protected under the Charter.
Zhang said she is “very disappointed” with the city’s proposed bylaw, and the group has little choice but to appeal if it is passed.
— Councillor Ellen Woodsworth
She noted that the city has long been pressured by consulate officials to have the protest site dismantled, and it appears they have got their way.
“To remove this vigil was always the Chinese consulate’s demand. And as a result of the pressure from the Chinese consulate to different levels of the city or government, they used the bylaw to remove the vigil.”
Aside from banning protests in residential areas, the bylaw comes with other heavy restrictions. Protest permits would only be valid for a maximum of 30 days and would need to be applied for every other month. Each permit costs $200 plus a mandatory $1,000 damage deposit, and any structures must be removed between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Applicants must be at the location at all times when the structure is present, and can’t attach anything to sidewalks or walls. The size of structures cannot exceed two metres wide by one metre deep by 2.1 metres high, and drawings and detailed plans for protests must be provided to the city before approval. No electric lights, heat, or gas cylinders can be used.
Scott Bernstein, a staff lawyer with PIVOT legal society, said that due to the specific nature of the restrictions, the bylaw is clearly an attempt to discourage the Falun Gong, whose unique structures and signs were integral to the success of their 24-hour vigil.
“It’s pretty clear that this amendment is focusing on the Falun Gong vigil—it’s targeted at the Falun Gong,” he told The Epoch Times.
Bernstein added that the new bylaw could have far-reaching implications for other human rights issues such as freedom of speech and the rights of the homeless to build protective shelters.
“PIVOT is opposing these bylaws,” he said. “The prohibition that covers any structure, object, substance or thing on city property is offensive to charter rights.”
Councillor Ellen Woodsworth has also spoken out against the bylaw, saying the restrictions on the type, length, and location of protests was a threat to freedom of speech.
“Much like the bylaws that were first introduced for the Olympics, this bylaw clearly goes too far and must be reworked,” she said in a statement.
“Some of the most important examples of protest in our city’s history that have sparked public debate and political change would be banned under this bylaw. … To now be considering something that is an affront to a strong history of peaceful social change is very disappointing.”
City councillor Suzanne Anton added her opposition to the motion and said the proposed bylaw should be delayed going to council until more public input is heard. The bylaw was put forward to city council on Thursday, after only being posted less than 48 hours earlier on the city's website.
“An extremely controversial report is being slipped in at the last minute without allowing for any meaningful public discussion,” she said in a statement.
The city was ordered to have a new bylaw passed by April 19 in order to comply with the B.C. Court of Appeal.
Approximately 18 people signed up to address council on the bylaw on April 5, although not all of them were able to speak. More submissions will be heard on April 19. It is not known whether the April 19 deadline will be delayed.