Olympic Protesters’ Legal Guide

olympic_muralLawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), an organization that assists lawyers around the world who themselves defend human rights, has published a “Protesters’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia – Olympic Edition” [PDF].

The forty-three-page guide is anything but a sketchy pamphlet for marchers on the front line; it’s a serious, accessible, and well-written handbook. Produced by Leo McGrady originally in 1970 in connection with protests against the Vietnam war, according to a story in the Globe and Mail, and updated a number of times since then, it aims to

. . . inform you of your rights when dealing with the police at public demonstrations. It is designed to help you exercise your right to engage in non- violent civil disobedience, and avoid committing any criminal offence. It is also designed to assist you in the event you are arrested.

What I find refreshing about the guide is its return to a focus on more or less classical civil disobedience, which is to say making a political point by doing what the powers-that-be don’t want you to do without necessarily breaking the criminal law — and being willing to accept the consequences of that behaviour as part of the protest.

The guide begins with a short essay on Canadian civil disobedience in recent times. It then becomes intensely practical. For example, there’s counsel about whether it’s wise to wear a mask at demonstrations, what it’s useful to bring along to a demonstration, what to do if pepper spray is used against you, and even a small section on the new “sonic guns” Vancouver police are equipped with.

A long section gives sensible advice about dealing with the police, offering information about fundamental rights and at the same time down-to-earth examples of how they might apply in various situations. There’s even a section at the end on demonstrating in the United States that provides some fairly stern warnings about how different things might be there. (And I have to say that if there’s any truth to the Boing Boing report about the treatment of Peter Watt at the US border this week, I’d build up a large defence fund and get some extra medical insurance before venturing south for anything other than the sun.)

We’ve posted on Slaw before about the Olympic Committee’s efforts to dampen and contain protests. (Just yesterday there was a report that Vancouver had ordered the removal of an anti-Olympic mural, the doctored image of which accompanies this post, under the bylaw against “graffiti.”)

There is also a recent Slaw entry on Lawyers Rights Watch Canada.


  1. That Watts item has gone viral, though it hasn’t been picked up, yet, as best as I can tell, by any of the official newswires. I “like” the current Slashdot summary:

    “On December 8th, Canadian sci-fi author Peter Watts, author of the Rifters trilogy and Blindsight, was crossing the US/Canadian border at Port Huron, Michigan when he was involved in an altercation with US Border Patrol agents. According to Watts, he was beaten, left half-naked in a cold cell, and finally dumped on the Canadian side of the border with no coat. A legal consultant from the Electronic Frontier Foundation was successful in helping a civil rights lawyer in Michigan free Watts. Watts faces US charges of assaulting a federal officer. Based on the accounts, one can assume Watts did so by hitting the officer’s hand with his face. If convicted, Watts faces two years in a US Federal prison.”

    reCaptha’s test works are remarkably apt: badlands Dangerfield’s

  2. It’s rather distressing that the people who have worked hard to attract the Olympic Games to Vancouver and who have worked hard to make them happen – and seem to be on the verge of being successful – have so little confidence in the public benefit of the Games that they go to such extremes to suppress all possible criticism of them. And it’s unfortunate that border guards appear to be collaborating in the suppression.

    The abuse of laws designed for other purposes (such as trade mark law and anti-graffiti law) to suppress criticism also does not make me happy.

    I hope I would feel the same way if the criticism was aimed at something I cared about.

  3. Simon,

    I remember the Toronto protest against the Viet Nam war, in front of the US consulate, in the latter part of the 1960s. They were peaceful for the most part. I remember one in which something went wrong. I was not at the fron line to know what went wrong, and who started what, nor why the mounted police rode into the crowd on horses, but I was at the front line of those, at the rear, running away very quickly. (I’m very allergic to horses, in the medical sense, too.) As I recall it, there was a picture in one of the local papers that probably captured me amidst the runners, if one looked closely enough.