F-bomb button wearer booted off SkyTrain

Profane pin prompts complaints over free expression on transit

Transit Police check for fare evaders and criminals on SkyTrain but also enforce compliance with TransLink rules on offensive language.

Critics say Transit Police should patrol the transit system for crime not fashion after a woman says she was barred from SkyTrain for wearing a button that bore the “F” word.

Jean Wharf was ordered off the system Jan. 24 at Nanaimo station after refusing to remove the pin that read “F— YOGA.”

She was first ticketed by Transit Police for trying to board without paying.

Wharf said she then paid the fare and tried again to board, only to be told she’d have to first remove the small button.

She refused and was physically pulled from the train and ordered to leave.

“You can’t treat people like crap,” said Wharf, who lives in Vancouver’s West End but is moving to Surrey this month.

“My fashion sense and what I wear is none of their business,” she said. “I’m a big girl – I’m 21 years old – and I can dress however the hell I want.”

Wharf complained to the Office of the Police Complaint Commission (OPCC), which cleared the officer of wrongdoing.

It ruled the officer had the power both to ban Wharf for 24 hours for fare evasion and to demand removal of the pin to comply with posted TransLink rules prohibiting “foul, insulting, abusive or inappropriate language.”

Now the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is lodging its own complaint against what it calls heavy-handed police censorship on the transit system.

BCCLA president Robert Holmes wants Transit Police to clarify how their enforcement of TransLink policy meshes with rights to free expression.

“Both the OPCC and TransLink ignored that the ‘language’ here was not shouted out, caused no disturbance and was merely on a button,” Holmes said.

TransLink says a transit vehicle is a captive space that sets it apart from an open public area like a street or square.

“It is reasonable to expect a higher level of respect and decorum, which is why there are rules against obnoxious or offensive behaviour and language,” spokesman Ken Hardie said.

“We recognize that ‘obnoxious and offensive’ are subjective and that values shift over time,” he said. “But the intent of the rules is to meet the expectations of reasonable people who just want the freedom to go about their daily activities without offending or being offended.”

TransLink has used the same argument to reject all controversial advertising that might offend some riders and provoke confrontations aboard transit.

But court rulings upholding free expression forced it to accept political ads, although it can still exclude other offensive advertising deemed out of step with community standards of taste.

Transit Police spokesman Const. Jim Biring said fare-paying passengers don’t attract officers’ attention unless they’re causing a disturbance, breaking the law or their attire somehow impedes the flow of other riders.

“We’re totally supportive and respectful of people’s rights to express themselves in whatever manner they wish to,” Biring said.