Chris Shaw says Vancouver's Olympic bylaw violates his constitutional right to free speech. ((CBC))

Two anti-Olympic activists have launched a court challenge to Vancouver's Olympic bylaw to defend their right to distribute material critical of the Games during and around the events.

The lawsuit was filed by Chris Shaw, a UBC professor, and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, a student, with the support of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association on Wednesday morning at B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.

"I am participating in this lawsuit because I feel the bylaw as proposed by council infringes my charter rights. It is offensive to me and should be to all Canadians," said Shaw, who has been one of the most consistently outspoken critics of the Games.

"I want to be able to express my dissent," he said. "I do intend to hand out leaflets. I may stand there with a protest banner. I may want to engage tourists in conversations. I want to be able to do all those things that I am guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The Five Ring Circus

The city passed the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bylaw in June to restrict the distribution and exhibition of unapproved advertising material and signs in any Olympic area during the Games.

It includes an exception for celebratory signs, which are defined as those that celebrate the 2010 Winter Games and create or enhance a festive environment and atmosphere.

In the statement of claim, Shaw said he intends to distribute information about his book, The Five Ring Circus, which is critical of the Olympics, with the intention of promoting sales.

He also said he intends to sell T-shirts, buttons, badges, hats and other apparel emblazoned with Olympic Resistance Network marks and messages critical of the costs imposed by the Games.

The pair are asking the court to declare the bylaw's provisions unconstitutional and order the City of Vancouver not to enforce them, but Westergard-Thorpe said she finds the whole exercise unfortunate.

"Going to court on a clear-cut free expression issue is a waste of time and money," Westergard-Thorpe said.

"We've all got better things to do, but if the city insists on passing bad bylaws, people who value free speech have no choice but to stand up and challenge them," she said.

BCCLA provides legal support

BCCLA executive director David Eby said his organization is supporting the pair because it has concerns about restrictions in the bylaws on signs that aren't celebratory and its limits on free expression in public facilities and city parks.

"Its purpose and effect is to limit citizens' rights to express dissenting views and to hear dissenting views on public property," Eby said.

The statement of claim also argues the city's charter does not give it the right to enact the bylaw's restrictive provisions.

The protesters hope to have their case heard and a ruling issued before the Olympic Games open in Vancouver in February, they said.