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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vancouver undergoing adolescent identity crisis; Falun Gong bylaw, etc


Okay, so Vancouver’s not Las Vegas. Maybe it’s Beijing or more likely some minor provincial capital.

How else to explain our civic leaders’ enthusiasm for curbing the Falun Gong’s passive protest outside the Chinese consul-general’s home?

The B.C. Supreme Court recently struck down its first bylaw attempt, ruling it unconstitutional because it improperly limited the constitutionally guaranteed rights to peacefully assemble and freely express opinions.

But that didn’t stop our civic leaders from trying again on the same night that they quashed the casino.

After consulting the Chinese consul-general, whose government is the object of worldwide protests by the Falun Gong and other human rights activists, the majority agreed to conditions aimed at making it more difficult to protest here.

Our civic leaders maintain they are protecting the integrity of residential areas.

But, the fact is that the silent, round-the-clock protest is not at the front door of the consul-general’s house, which fronts on The Crescent, one of the city’s grandest and most elegant streets.

The protesters meditate at the back of the house, invisible to the Chinese representative and guests unless they exit from the garage. And the back of the house is on Granville Street, which despite its leafy prettiness is not a quiet residential street. It’s a part of Highway 99, the main entrance to Vancouver’s downtown for visitors.

A mature and tolerant city might relish that public protest as a symbol of what Canadians believe in.

But apparently, that’s not the Vancouver our leaders envision.

Vansterdam seems more likely.

Days after they rejected Las Vegas and embraced their inner Sinophile, clouds of smoke enveloped the Art Gallery.

The surrounding streets — bike lanes included — were gridlocked at rush hour as an estimated 6,000 people smoked pot under the benign gaze of the police.

Spokesman Const. Lindsey Houghton realistically observed, “I think everyone recognizes that it’s not in anyone’s interest — or safe — to arrest 6,000 people.”

Still, it is curious.

Smoke a cigarette in any public place including beaches, parks, restaurants, bars, offices or within six metres of a building entry and under the city’s bylaws you can be charged and fined up to $2,500.

But smoke dope with 5,999 of your closest friends in a public place even though it’s a criminal offence to possess the stuff? Somehow, that’s okay, progressive and (as way too many described it) “awesome.”

At this year’s 4/20 event, free joints were tossed by the handfuls into the crowd. Doobies were advertised at $5 each. Even a few streets away from the festival that masquerades as a protest, people openly shared joints and giggled as they lined up for snacks to stave off the inevitable munchies.

Such an event is improbable if not impossible in most cities; as would be the once-a-month Friday gridlock caused by Critical Mass, which also began as a protest yet continues unabated even after civic leaders have acceded to the demand for dedicated bike lanes.

Now excuse me, I’ve got to run out, buy my Canucks jersey and jump on the bandwagon.

Because we are all Canucks. Even if all of the players aren’t.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

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