The court's ruling, issued Tuesday, could open the door for the spiritual group, which is at odds with the Chinese government, to apply to rebuild the protest structure in six months.
The City of Vancouver was granted an injunction last year requiring the removal of the Falun Gong protest billboard and a small hut because the structures violated a bylaw prohibiting structures to be built on city streets.
But the group appealed, arguing the structure was a form of political expression protected by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A three-judge panel of the B.C. Court of Appeal, in a unanimous written ruling, sided with the Falun Gong, finding that the B.C. Supreme Court judge who granted the injunction had erred.
"Consequently, Section 71 [of the bylaw] is of no force and effect insofar as it is inconsistent with freedom of expression, although the effect of the declaration is suspended for six months to allow the city the opportunity to review its regulatory approach," Appeal Court Justice Carol Huddart wrote in the ruling.
"For greater certainty, the appellants remain free to apply under the current bylaw for permission or approval of a protest structure by the city council or city engineer, subject to the invalidation of Sec. 71 after six months, or until the bylaw or policies are amended by the city in the interim," she wrote.
"Until that time or such a change, the erection of such structures remains against the law."
Vancouver lawyer Joe Arvay, who acted for Falun Gong in the appeal, said the ruling means that after six months, if the city doesn't bring in a new bylaw, Falun Gong practitioners "are free to do whatever they want."
If a new bylaw is brought in, it may be subject to further legal challenges, he said.
"The city will have to be far more permissive," Arvay said.
Sue Zhang, a Falun Gong practitioner whose name was on the appeal, said she was pleased with the ruling.
Zhang said there are about 200 Falun Gong practitioners in Vancouver and about 100 million in China.
The Chinese Communist Party banned Falun Gong in 1999 and has called it an "evil cult."
Also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice from ancient China whose followers believe in the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance. It also involves five sets of exercises.
"It's good for the mind and physical health," Zhang said.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said: "Obviously we respect the ruling of the Court of Appeal and city staff will be looking at it carefully as to our next steps."
Coun. Raymond Louie added that "the court has said that we do have a right to control public space through our bylaws, but [is] asking us through their decision to accommodate political protests, and that is what we will have to do through an adjustment to our bylaws."
The city's legal staff will review the decision before the city decides whether to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Falun Gong first set up banners and a makeshift shelter in front of the Chinese consulate on Aug. 20, 2001.
The hut and a large billboard were covered with photos of human rights abuses, posters, and painted messages.
The chambers judge who heard the city's injunction application found that in modern China, persecution of Falun Gong practitioners is "widely documented" with reports of "police harassment, summary arrest and imprisonment without charge, physical violence, torture, and killing to harvest organs." More
The appeal decision is online