British Columbia

Falun Gong vows to fight Vancouver protest bylaw in court

Falun Gong protesters are vowing to take the City of Vancouver back to court to tear down a controversial bylaw restricting their right to erect protest structures that was passed by councillors on Tuesday night.
The Falun Gong protest hut stood next to the sidewalk outside the Chinese Consulate on Granville Street in Vancouver until it was dismantled in 2009. (CBC)

Falun Gong protesters are vowing to take the City of Vancouver back to court to tear down a controversial bylaw restricting their right to erect protest structures that was passed by councillors on Tuesday night.

Falun Gong spokeswoman Sue Zhang says the new bylaw restricts the size of structures so not all the group's members can participate in their protests.

The law also goes against a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling that struck down a previous bylaw used to remove the  protesters' hut outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street, Zhang said.

Councillors stayed late on Tuesday night to pass the revised bylaw in order to meet a court ordered deadline to come up with a new bylaw, voting 6-4 in favour of the new regulation.

Coun. Tim Stevenson said the council had no choice but to listen to the advice of its lawyers, and pass the bylaw before the deadline expired..

"I feel that the staff has done the best they can and brought in a bylaw that is balanced -- as balanced as they can make it for now. Will it be changed in the future? Possibly," said Stevenson.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said Vancouver is the only municipality in Canada with a bylaw regulating protest structures.

Court challenge likely: councillors

An initial draft of the new bylaw was sharply criticized for imposing hefty fees and deposits, as well as banning protest structures in residential areas.

The revised bylaw drops the fines and ban on residential protests, but instead requires a permit and sets penalties of up to $5,000 for violators, while trimming the size of protest structures and the hours they can be in place.

But the four councillors voted against the new bylaw, including Vision Vancouver member Raymond Louie, who voted with COPE's David Cadman and Ellen Woodsworth, and the NPA's Susan Anton against the bylaw.

Anton said it was rushed through, leaving it full of loopholes and legal vulnerabilities.

"I simply do not buy the argument that something terrible is going to happen at midnight tonight. I think it's absolutely ridiculous that we are here at 10:30, piling amendments on top of each other so that everybody can get in their pet thing about what the best way of having a political protest is. It is a ridiculous way to form a good bylaw," said Anton.

Coun. David Cadman said he expects it will soon be challenged in the courts, at great expense to the taxpayer.

'It's more money down the drain as we try and fight a charter provision which is national and pervasive through a street bylaw. It simply is not going to stand the test in court," said Cadman.

Long legal fight

The legal fight over the Falun Gong protest hut on the corner of Granville Street and 16th Avenue West stretches back at least to 2006 when the city was granted an injunction to have the hut removed, arguing it fell within the bylaw that prohibits structures to be built on city streets.

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. Despite the injunction, the hut wasn't dismantled until February 2009.

But the Falun Gong appealed the 2006 ruling and in October of 2010 the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled that the court order to remove the protest hut was unconstitutional. The court gave city until April 19 to pass a new bylaw.

The protesters say the group's members in China are being oppressed and tortured by the Chinese government because of their beliefs.

With files from The Canadian Press