Proposed Olympic Sign Legislation in B.C.

As reported by the CBC, the British Columbia government has introduced legislation that would empower Richmond, Vancouver and Whistler, for the months of February and March in 2010, to act swiftly to remove graffiti or signs that contravene their bylaws. Critics are worried that the law would catch anti-Olympics protesters and infringe their right to free speech.

The provisions causing concern are part of Bill 13 — 2009: Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2009. S.77 of the bill would amend the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act (No. 3), S.B.C. 2001, c. 44, by adding four sections that would let municipal employees enter property without the permission of the owner or occupier at a “reasonable time” and in a “reasonable manner” after “reasonable” steps to advise the owner or occupier. If the property is not a private dwelling, no warrant or further restrictions apply. If the property is a private dwelling, the authorities may enter only with a warrant or 24 hours after giving notice with reasons.

If you would like to examine the legislation, I’ve created a PDF of the relevant portion of the bill; and I’ve done up what I think is a fairly accurate flow chart of requirements for entry without consent. (Please do let me know if you think I’ve got it wrong somehow.) I’ve ignored the references in the legislation to health and safety of persons and property; it may be that the Olympic Committee will see that some signs could threaten the “safety” of their intellectual “property,” of course.

The act hinges in part on what the municipalities by-laws respecting graffiti and signs are. If you are interested in pursuing the issue, you can find Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Games By-law (No. 9908) online. Section 8 contains the sign by-law, which for the mostpart modifies the basic Sign By-law (No. 6510).

The by-law as amended is currently the subject of a court challenge by anti-Olympics protesters, supported by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

VANOC has published a statement — A balance of interests: freedom of expression in public spaces, athletes competing at their best and spectator enjoyment at the 2010 Games — that to my ear at least contains some language reminiscent of that in Orwell’s 1984, e.g.

Safe assembly areas for [demonstrations] are being proposed by Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit (VISU) and they will be facilitated by the police of jurisdiction outside a ticketed Games venue.


  1. Just to clarify on one point:
    “The by-law as amended is currently the subject of a court challenge by anti-Olympics protesters, supported by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.”

    The City Council has already approved the free expression restrictions on public space in the 90-page Olympic bylaws package in July. These would prohibit leaflets, signs, speakers, noise-makers, etc. on public property sites and broad sections of major Vancouver streets (including Broadway, Burrard, Cambie, Georgia, Dunsmuir, Hastings, Howe, Main, Pender, Seymour, Beatty, Davie, Granville, Hamilton and Robson Streets) designated Olympic corridors. These restrictions would be in place from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2010. They also include unspecified discretionary powers regarding noise, zoning, and traffic regulations for the Mayor and City staff. It is the bylaws restricting free expression on public space that are currently being challenged with the support of the BCCLA.

    The motion before the BC Legislature is to grant Vancouver, Richmond, and Whistler expanded powers to enact further bylaw changes regarding (among other things) signage on private property and the capacity of the police or city agents to enter and remove signs with limited notice and increase fines and jail time for signage offenses. The BC Legislature is expected to approve this request and the City Council is expected to formally enact them this fall. If approved, the City’s expanded powers would be permanent since they could be applied whenever the City designates something as a ‘special event.’ These potential powers have not yet been challenged.