Cablegate: Slower, Lower, Weaker: Ngos Protest Free Speech

DE RUEHOT #0698/01 2521709
P 091709Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The British Columbia Civil Liberties
Association (BCCLA) is protesting new Vancouver city bylaws
that allow "draconian curtailment of free expression" during
the 2010 Winter Olympics. BCCLA argues the new laws are
"ripe for constitutional challenge." Local media has given
wide coverage to the new bylaws, and activists have joined
the BCCLA in condemning the restrictions the city will
enforce during the Games, including bans on leaflet
distribution and posters in Olympic venues and the creation
of "protest zones." The BCCLA has increased its legal staff
and legal actions in recent months, possibly in preparation
for high profile challenges to the bylaws. End summary.

2. (SBU) In an August 31 meeting, BCCLA Executive Director
David Eby and Policy Director Michael Vonn told poloff that
it was "unconscionable" that the Vancouver City Council had
"rushed through" new bylaws "dramatically" restricting free
speech during the February 2010 Winter Olympic Games in
Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia. BCCLA's greatest
concern is the expansion of the definition of Olympic venues
to include major access routes and lines of sight, and -- for
the first time -- the torch relay route. The new laws ban
non-sponsor advertising including sandwich boards, handbills,
printed matter, brochures, and leaflets in Olympic sites and
require that any other signs be "celebratory" in nature.

3. (SBU) Both IOC and city officials caution that the
regulations are temporary and required to protect sponsors of
the Games. While the IOC-Vancouver contract does not include
specific mention of "protest zones," the IOC Olympic Charter
prohibits any "demonstration or political, religious, or
racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues, or other
areas." The Vancouver Integrated Security Unit (VISU)
responsible for security during the Games has not released
information on the number or location of protest zones but
has promised publicly that they will be in "high profile"
areas. Eby questioned the legality of the VISU to create
"securitized zones" noting that the provincial legislature
has not granted the police specific authorization to create
protest areas or restrict access to public areas. He added
that such powers do not reside in the domain of the common
law. No Canadian federal or provincial legislature has ever
conferred such "public order" powers on the police force,
according to Eby.

4. (SBU) In addition to free speech issues, the BCCLA is
monitoring possible violations of the right to privacy from
the use of at least 900 surveillance cameras in public areas
during the Games. Vonn predicted city officials were "lying"
when they said the cameras would be removed after the Games.
She noted the city has leased the cameras and has the right
to buy them afterward for a nominal amount. She argued that
the city has invested in the construction of a central
monitoring office for closed circuit televisions and is
unlikely to abandon that investment after the Games. Vonn
estimated that at least 2,000 cameras would be in use during
the Games. The BCCLA is also protesting that the city
government is bound by contract to "discrimination against
women" in the Olympics with the lack of a women's ski jumping
event but has no plans to intervene at this time.

5. (SBU) Siding with the BCCLA, community Olympics watchdog
group the Impact on Community Coalition (IOCC) has filed a
complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council
alleging that the Games threaten free speech and could spur
Qalleging that the Games threaten free speech and could spur
mass evictions. The group has asked the UN to send a human
rights observer to Vancouver, but group organizers
acknowledge the UN will only hear their complaint next
spring, well after the conclusion of the Games. The IOCC has
said that it is concerned that landlords will evict tenants
to offer their properties to visitors. They also charge that
Vancouver police have increased the number of tickets for
minor infractions, such as jaywalking, as a precursor to
jailing those who do not pay their fines.

6. (SBU) In a separate meeting, Jessica Connell, Legal
Counsel for the BC Human Rights Tribunal told poloff that the
Tribunal had not received any human rights complaints related
to the Olympics or the new bylaws. Additionally, Connell
added that the Tribunal is not anticipating a major increase
in complaints following the Olympics although they are
prepared if necessary.

7. (SBU) The BCCLA has publicly stated that the Vancouver
bylaws violate the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, but
neither Eby nor Vonn divulged any current plans to challenge
the laws in court. The BCCLA is a non-profit, membership and

OTTAWA 00000698 002 OF 002

grant-supported private organization that relies on pro bono
legal services. Its lawsuits are not currently focused on
the Olympics, however, the BCCLA has significantly expanded
its litigation programs in 2008 and 2009 and increased its
legal staff.

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