of public spaces private profits and charter challenges

Is the Elijah Smith Building public, or not? If it is, then gaining access to the building should be simple - the rules clear and readily available, contact people easily reachable, fees and paperwork kept to an absolute minimum, and bathrooms open.

Is the Elijah Smith Building public, or not?

If it is, then gaining access to the building should be simple – the rules clear and readily available, contact people easily reachable, fees and paperwork kept to an absolute minimum, and bathrooms open.

The building’s foyer, bought and paid for by citizens of Canada, should be available to all, anytime.

That’s not the case today.

Under the management of Quebec-based SNC Lavelin, the building is far less friendly than it was a few years ago.

The bathrooms are locked, and you can only gain entrance after being vetted by a commissionaire, whom you have to flag down.

And, as Blood Ties Four Directions executive director Patricia Bacon discovered on May 19th, staging public information campaigns in the space has become nearly impossible.

And there’s a possibility your stuff will be manhandled if you set it up outside.

Initially, the nonprofit wanted to exhibit a hepatitis C display in the building’s foyer.

Bacon was presented with a bunch of documents to fill out and the bureaucrat she was supposed to deal with was not available.

Instead, she opted to display her poster boards outside on the cobblestones and hand out flyers.

Apparently, that’s not allowed these days.

The commissionaires tore down the displays and ordered her off the property, threatening to call the RCMP.

Today, groups have to cover the cost of insurance if they are to use the space in the federal building.

In addition they have to pay a $50 fee.

Not long ago, that would have been seen as double-dipping. After all, the public built the structure and paid for its maintenance.

But now the government has subcontracted the operation and maintenance to a for-profit corporation.

So where does that leave the public?

Well, it changes our relationship to the building. Our access to the place is far murkier.

And costly.

The bathrooms in this place are locked until a commissionaire gives you a once over and deems you worthy of entry.

As well, we now have to apply to officials for permission to hand out information, or to demonstrate. We have to do so far enough in advance to allow permission to be granted.

And we have to pay a fee. We must also cover the cost of insurance by cutting a cheque to a private corporation for the privilege.

So what are the implications for society’s freedom? What if you want to stage a demonstration over a federal law or policy? Do you think you’ll get permission?

And how does this mesh with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees a citizen’s right to peaceful assembly and association?

The people of Canada built the Elijah Smith Building.

But who owns it now? And who gets to use it?

Is the Elijah Smith Building public?

That’s a good question.

Another is, where can people gather downtown if it’s not? (Richard Mostyn)

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