Yesterday, one day before a scheduled trial, the district Crown withdrew spurious charges against COPE Executive Member Kim Hearty. The charges have been used for six months to prevent her from protesting against gentrification in the Downtown Eastside.

The protesting drew attention to actions by Vision Vancouver and their mayor, Gregor Robertson, who sits as the head of the Police Board.

In light of the withdrawal, COPE is questioning the legitimacy of the charges, and their use as a political tool to stop dissent against the ruling party. COPE believes that the use of no-go-orders and the police department is reprehensible when used to limit free speech, and circumvents the right of all Vancouver residents to express themselves politically.

Hearty’s charges meant a no-go-order for a large section of the Downtown Eastside, halting her ability to protest. They lasted for 6 months and impaired her ability to work in the area as well. The no-go-order meant that Hearty could no longer talk to people in the neighbourhood about the issues she and others had been advocating against, namely, the gentrification and loss of affordable housing and businesses.

Since the election of Vision Vancouver, freedom of expression, especially that which is political, has been under attack. In the leadup to the 2010 Olympic Games, city council passed a bylaw that would make signs that were not “celebratory” illegal. Eventually, due to the work of civil liberties groups, the bylaw was withdrawn.

In April of 2011, the City of Vancouver responded to the fact that another one of its bylaws was rejected as unconstitutional by the BC Court of Appeal. In light of this, it passed another, more restrictive bylaw, against the recommendations of the Vancouver Public Space Network and the BC Civil Liberties Association.

Now, the Vancouver Police Department has blocked the ability of an individual to protest by issuing a no-go-order against them, circumventing laws that enable free speech and free expression.

City Council needs to take the Charter of Rights and Freedoms seriously. Injustice needs to be protested, and it is everyone’s right to express themselves.

Statement on the withdrawal of spurious legal charges against COPE Executive Member Kim Hearty