On February 24th, 2021, Vancouver City Hall will be considering amendments to the Noise Control By-law. We have looked at this from two angles. This post looks at some positive aspects, drawing largely on input from Elvira Lount (Utopia Pictures, YouTube), local film maker and also an advocate for the right to quiet. Among her many works is a video documentary, “The Covid Effect on Outdoor Noise” (https://youtu.be/0xUD5xx7e0M) relating to Kits Beach and Jericho unpermitted amplified music in the summer of 2020.
In our separate post today we look at concerns about civil liberties (link here): “Enhanced Enforcement of Amplification Devices: City Hall could silence public demonstrations with updated noise bylaw, $250 fines, seizure of sound amplifiers proposed.“
Below, in defense of the proposed bylaw amendments and the right to quiet, here are some points we received from Elvira.
- The staff report states: “Staff have reviewed regulation of sound amplification devices in other municipalities and determined that many municipalities either prohibit the use of amplified sound equipment without permission or prohibit amplification above certain sound level. These municipalities include Surrey, Richmond, Coquitlam, Victoria, White Rock, Toronto and Regina.”
- The staff report states: “The City recognizes the freedom of speech and the right to assembly for all groups, without prejudice. Religious groups that wish to pass on their message on City streets are provided a free permit. The permit gives groups a designated area and time to inform and interact with the public.”
- Most protestors usually request permits as they allow for a police presence and protection as well as clearing of streets for a march, notification to the public etc. Spontaneous protests are really quite rare and if legitimate wouldn’t be impacted by this bylaw change.
- As for the seizure of equipment, the staff report states: “Section 12 (1) of the City’s Impounding By-law authorizes the seizure of any items unlawfully placed or left on the street, sidewalk or other public spaces. Experience from City staff is that the need to impound items is rare, and is a last resort after other enforcement efforts have failed. Staff recommend this enforcement tool be enabled for amplification devices used in public spaces without permission.”
- Regarding concerns about the VPD or bylaw officers using these bylaw changes to shut down peaceful protests, it merits looking at how they have acted recently, allowing COVID-19 “anti-maskers” to protest the last few months, and how they didn’t proceed with charging the West End preacher with hate speech in 2020 (links at end of this post). Law enforcement is cautious when it comes to stopping protest. They are aware of the right to protest, and this noise bylaw change won’t impact that. Even though the background to the proposed bylaw change mentions the street preacher in particular, it’s mainly targeted at buskers who don’t follow the law and set up their mics and amplifiers anywhere they choose, but particularly in the West End and Kits Beach and Jericho, and elsewhere, as was seen in summer of 2020. It will also enable the police and bylaw officers to shut down people like the 2020 street preacher for noise violations. Even if the VPD doesn’t think what someone is saying amounts to hate speech, and if someone is definitely violating the current noise bylaws they are violating noise bylaws.
The existing noise bylaw already has clauses dealing with decibel level limits, amplified music or sound, and causing a disturbance. Enforcement has always been “at the discretion of a bylaw officer and the City,” https://bylaws.vancouver.ca/6555c.PDF. Excerpts –
3. No person shall make or cause, or permit to be made or caused, any noise or sound in a street, park or similar public place which disturbs or tends to disturb unreasonably the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of persons in the neighbourhood or vicinity.
4. Notwithstanding any other provision of this By-law the following are declared by Council to be noises or sounds which are, in its opinion, objectionable or liable to disturb the quiet, peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of individuals or the public and are hereby prohibited, and no person being the owner or occupant of any premises shall make, cause, allow, or permit:
(a) the noise resulting from a gathering of two or more persons at any time, where one or more human voice is raised beyond the level of ordinary conversation,
(b) the sound of a radio, television, player or other sound playback device, public address system, or any other music or voice amplification equipment, musical instrument, whether recorded or live, whether amplified or not, provided that the sound does not emanate from a commercial premises…
The proposed bylaw changes concerning amplified music and voice simply clarify this further and makes it easier to better enforce the existing noise bylaws with specific reference to not allowing amplified music and voice on our city streets without permission, $250 tickets and possible seizure of equipment for no-compliance.
Park Board bylaws already prohibit amplified music in our parks. The problem has been the lack of ticketing authority for the park rangers. Unless the City authorizes the park rangers to ticket for noise violations like they can for smoking, bringing the Park board bylaw in line with the proposed new City bylaw, they won’t be able to enforce it, unless the VPD are prepared to enforce the noise by-laws, which they rarely do anyway. The issue with the VPD and by-law officers is typically lack of enforcement rather than over-enforcement. Again, enforcement has always been “at the discretion of a bylaw officer and the City.” Excerpts (https://parkboardmeetings.vancouver.ca/files/BYLAW-ParksBylawsConsolidated-20200915.pdf)
8. (a) No person shall take part in any procession, drill, march, performance, ceremony, concert, gathering or meeting in or on any park or driveway unless with the written permission of the General Manager first had and obtained.
(b) No person shall make a public address or demonstration or do any other thing likely to cause a public gathering or attract public attention in any park without the written permission of the General Manager first had and obtained.
(c) No person shall operate any amplifying system or loud speaker in any park without the written permission of the General Manager first had and obtained.
Has anyone ever criticized the existing Park board by-law for shutting down peaceful protest? (Open question.)
Given the right to protest, that right doesn’t include the right to use amplified voice and music that disturbs the neighbourhood for prolonged periods, day in and out, as the street preacher was doing all summer in 2020. That’s certainly not “spontaneous” protest by any stretch of the imagination. Most people can tell the difference between legitimate protest and self-entitled obnoxious behaviour meant to either earn money through busking, or to deliberately cause a disturbance to promote views of hatred and bigotry for prolonged periods and on many occasions. This bylaw targets the latter, not the former.