Free Speech Campaigns

FREE SPEECH CAMPAIGNS were protests by militant labour unionists against attempts by authorities to ban public speaking in the streets of VANCOUVER and VICTORIA. The first campaign occurred in Vancouver in Apr–May 1909 after city police tried to stop members of the INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW) and the SOCIALIST PARTY OF CANADA from addressing crowds. Fines and jail sentences were imposed; in response, outdoor protest rallies grew in intensity. Finally the authorities decided to back away from a confrontation and the situation cooled. Similar events took place in Victoria in July–Aug 1911 when city officials attempted to ban socialist speakers from downtown streets. In the face of angry protests, the city backed down. The action returned to Vancouver in early 1912. With unemployment running high, the city launched a crackdown on vagrancy and also banned all outdoor meetings. The IWW and others immediately breached the ban and police broke up protest gatherings with clubs and whips, arresting dozens of people. On one occasion a group of speakers rented a boat, took it just off STANLEY PARK and addressed a crowd using a megaphone. They were arrested when they landed. Eventually a compromise was worked out, speaking was permitted in certain locations and protests faded. The free speech campaigns are notable for being one of the IWW's most successful militant actions during its brief presence in BC. See also LABOUR MOVEMENT.