bc-090129-falun-gong-ruling-FULL

The Falun Gong in Vancouver has not said whether it will rebuild its Granville Street protest hut, seen above before it was dismantled in early 2009. ((CBC))

The Chinese-based spiritual group Falun Gong has won a long legal battle with the City of Vancouver.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that the court order to remove the group's protest hut on the corner of Granville Street and 16th Avenue West four years ago was unconstitutional.

The Falun Gong had argued the hut, which stood on the sidewalk outside the Chinese Consulate for several years, was a form of political protest protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The city was granted an injunction in 2006 to have the hut removed, arguing it fell within the bylaw that prohibits structures to be built on city streets. Despite the injunction, the hut wasn't dismantled until February 2009.

The group's lawyer, Joseph Arvay, said there were too many exceptions to single out the Falun Gong's makeshift building.

Commercial expressions

"We have all sorts of structures around the city which might be described as artistic expression — the ubiquitous whales and eagles, or commercial expression with the ubiquitous sandwich boards," said Arvay.

Arvay said the city has a rule not to allow political expressions that involve structures.

"What kind of free and democratic society is Vancouver if it puts more value on commercial expression than it does on political expression," he said.

The Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, is a spiritual movement founded in China in 1992 by Li Hongzhi. It claims to have between 80 million and 100 million practitioners worldwide.

The group says its members are persecuted by the Chinese government, which has banned Falun Gong practices in China.