Vancouver City Council unanimously votes to ban targeted protests at private residences

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KGW) — The Vancouver City Council voted on Monday to adopt an ordinance banning “targeted picketing or protesting” outside private residences, which officials described as a response to recent complaints about harassment of city officials.

The ordinance, first reported by OPB, also expands the list of noises and noise sources that can be considered public disturbances, and empowers the city to take legal action on behalf of officials or public employees who are individually targeted by protests.

“It would allow the city to do things like seek a restraining order or an anti-harassment order against an alleged perpetrator,” chief assistant city attorney Nena Cook said during a public hearing at Monday’s council meeting.

She said the ordinance would not ban noisemakers like fireworks and airhorns in commercial, industrial or open spaces or at permitted events — only in residential neighborhoods.

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Cook cited the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case Frisby v. Schultz, which held that a town’s ordinance prohibiting picketing in residential neighborhoods was constitutional because it was limited in scope, content-neutral and served the government interest of protecting residential privacy.

Monday’s council hearing drew a large audience, and Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle spoke up multiple times during the discussion to tell members of the audience not to interrupt.

Public testimony was evenly split, with several attendees condemning the ordinance as a restriction on free speech and peaceful protest, and others supporting it as a way to prevent targeted harassment and bullying, particularly by far-right groups.

Councilors Kim Harless, Erik Paulsen and Ty Stober all voiced support for the ordinance during the hearing, and the council voted unanimously to adopt it.

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Paulsen said the issue of targeted speech was settled law, and that Vancouver’s own rules on the matter had been “behind the times” because the city had enjoyed a “degree of civility” in the past.

“And yet here we are in a new environment, lacking that kind of civility, where we are unfortunately having to take this additional step of protecting our citizens, our staff and our elected officials — one of whom on this dais has been targeted by this kind of speech — and former colleagues who are also affected by this kind of speech, and I’m altogether certain that part of their calculus in not seeking to continue service to the public had to do with their adverse experiences with that kind of targeted speech,” he said.

Vancouver has faced challenges with protests in recent years, including an incident last year in which an anti-mask protest put three Vancouver schools in lockdown, prompting a Clark County judge to grant an injunction prohibiting “disruptive protests” near campuses.

The Columbian reported on an incident in 2020 in which demonstrators protested outside the homes of two city attorneys after the city charged a business with violating Washington’s pandemic stay-at-home order.

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