Posted by: VPSN | April 14, 2011

Take 2: City revises approach for regulating “structures for political expression”

The City has just released a revised proposal on regulating the use of ‘structures’ for political expression. You can read the press release below, and view the full staff report (with the proposed revisions to the Street and Traffic Bylaw) here

A quick recap: on April 6 City staff released a report that suggested amendments to the Street and Traffic Bylaw that would allow for regulation of “any structure, object, substance or thing” used in “non-commercial public expression.”  We published our concerns about this report here, and then provided a detailed follow-up to the City outline the specific issues we had with the bylaw.

We are currently assessing the revisions and will report back shortly. 

On the encouraging side:

  • The proposed $1,000 deposit and $200 permit fee has been removed
  • The requirement for a transportation plan has been removed

At the same time there are a couple of definitional changes that have emerged, as well as a set of fines for non-compliance (min $1,000 – max $5,000).

On the wording side… First, the broad definition of “public expression” has been constrained, in this iteration, to “political expression.”  (Suffice it to say, this will likely create challenges of interpretation down the road). 

Second, the definition of ‘structure’ appears to be further refined – and we’ll be looking closely at the wording of the bylaw to see how this might affect public expression. Our initial read suggests that there are still difficulties in this report as it expressely states “a person must not build, construct, place, maintain, occupy, or cause to be built… any structure, object, or substance which is an obstruction to the free use of such street” without first applying to the City for a permit.  This suggests that a range of activities – small petition tables, demonstration props, etc. – will still require official sanction before they can appear on City streets. Our hope with this process, is that the City will better recognize a distinction between large and small structures so as to allow the sorts of things that do not provide undue interference with the free use of the street.  Undue, here is a key word.

There are a number of other items that we’ll be looking at on this one. Look for a longer post on the subject in the next 24 hours.

In the meanwhile, here’s the City press release:

Revised bylaw for structures for political expression on public streets

A proposed bylaw for permitting and regulating structures on city streets for political expression has been redrafted and will come before City Council on April 19. The bylaw includes a number of revisions to address concerns raised by the public and members of Council at its meeting April 7, 2011. The amended report and the accompanying proposed bylaw is designed to enable and facilitate the use of structures on city streets for the purpose of political expression, following direction as set out by the BC Court of Appeal.

Revisions in the proposed bylaw include:

  • Allowing for street structures for political expression to be permitted outside consulates which are conducting business in residential areas
  • The elimination of a $200 registration fee and $1000 refundable deposit
  • The removal of the requirement for a transportation plan
  • Modifying the need for a structure to have continuous attendance.

The provisions being proposed would legally enable opportunities to use structures on city streets for political expression. Staff have reviewed the relevant by-laws of many other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States including Victoria, Surrey, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Washington D. C.  None of their bylaws permit structures for the purpose of political expression on public streets. The proposed bylaw will be unprecedented in North America.

The report with the proposed bylaw can be viewed at:



  1. The revised proposed bylaws address most of my concerns. I say ‘most’ because I believe that the fault–the creation of the problem–lies in someone having decided, years ago, that it was a good idea/acceptable to have a foreign country’s representatives conduct business in a residential area. Did no one consider the possibility that Vancouver residents might want to show their opposition to the actions of that country– the US, France, China, or any other country? Clearly not thought through, but we’re stuck with it.

    However, the decision to have a confidential conversation between City employees and the Chinese government representatives on the matter of City bylaws leaves me seething. That this confidential conversation took place is reprehensible.

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