Olympic city streets strangled by protests
Bob Mackin, QMI Agency
VANCOUVER: Rain postponed downhill skiing on Saturday, but not freestyle protesting.
A march on the eve of Valentine’s Day dubbed 2010 Heart Attack drew 200 people who, according to a poster, wanted to “block the arteries of capitalism.” Windows were broken at the Bay store which is the site of the Olympic Superstore and Canada Olympic House. More skirmishes happened a block away from the heavily secured Westin Bayshore where International Olympic Committee members are staying.
Traffic, including public transit buses and VANOC vehicles, was blocked and then rerouted. Protesters splintered into smaller groups. More than 50 people chanting “no Olympics on stolen native land” were surrounded by an estimated 100
Vancouver Police officers in riot gear on Robson Street near hotels hosting the Slovakian and Japanese Olympic committees. Local cops were joined by at least 80 RCMP members. Together they prevented the throng from advancing eastward toward Thurlow where the infamous June 14, 1994 Stanley Cup riot started after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the New York Rangers.
Robson Street traffic returned to normal near noon. Vancouver Police later reported seven arrests.
“We are totally in support of people having peaceful demonstrations,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “Violence we will not accept.”
Alissa Westergard-Thorpe of the Olympic Resistance Network claimed police agitated protesters and didn’t pay attention to the vandalism.
“The people that were arrested weren’t involved in the minor amounts of property damage,” Westergard-Thorpe said. “It serves their interest to imply that they’re powerless and to allow people to commit property damage.”
Among the protesters were Thomas Malenfant and David Cunningham of the radical Anti-Poverty Committee. Cunningham was arrested for jumping onstage at the unveiling of the Olympic countdown clock at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Feb. 12, 2007.
The protest came the morning after 2,000 people marched through downtown Vancouver and blocked a street outside the opening ceremony at B.C. Place Stadium. Two Vancouver Police officers were injured by flying objects. One man was arrested for assault.
Civil libertarian and University of B.C. Prof. Michael Byers said Vancouver Police “exercised commendable restraint” on Friday. “It was a good day for democracy,” he said.
A coalition of citizens’ groups opposes the Games because they say it has caused homelessness, poverty, environmental degradation and public debt. The annual march in memory of murdered and missing women is scheduled for Sunday afternoon in the Downtown Eastside.
News and views on Vancouver 2010 (and beyond) from Bob Mackin.