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UBC legal expert says Occupy protesters have right to stay

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - Lots of people are annoyed by the muddy camp set up by Occupy Vancouver, but a UBC expert on constitutional law says protesters have a right to stay as long as they like.

by Kate Webb Oct 222011 19:45:30 PM


http://www.news1130.com/news/local/article/291346--ubc-legal-expert-says...

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - Lots of people are annoyed by the muddy camp set up by Occupy Vancouver, but a UBC expert on constitutional law says protesters have a right to stay as long as they like.

Law professor Dr. Bill Black says the fact that the protesters are on public land in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery means the city would have to come up with a pretty strong argument about the public good in order to violate their right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The [Supreme] Court has tended to give higher protection to political expression than to some other types of expression," he tells News1130.

"This is, it seems to me, very clearly political expression, and therefore, based on precedent, the courts would be likely to put a pretty heavy onus on whatever level of government was trying to shut it down to show that that was a necessary step and that the limit on freedom of expression was justified."

He says the Supreme Court has a history of ruling against governments who try to dismantle protest camps like this one in places like Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton told the Vancouver Sun on Friday that Mayor Gregor Robertson has demonstrated a "failure of leadership" by giving the protesters "carte blanche to stay there as long as they want." Anton, who is a lawyer herself, is not advocating that the site be shut down now, but rather argues the protesters should not have been allowed to set up tents in the first place.

Black says Anton's argument contradicts case law, and that any action to prevent the tents from being set up in the first place would have been just as unconstitutional as trying to shut it down now.

"The charter applies whether you try to prevent an activity in advance, or whether you try to shut it down afterwards, and the court has been pretty clear that prior restrictions on expression can be violations of the charter," he says.

The land the protesters are camping on is owned by the province, which Black says makes it highly unlikely any level of government will be able to get rid of it.


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