February 13, 2010
It has been a full and varied couple of days of protests as the 2010 Olympics opened in Vancouver, with thousands of activists taking to the streets to highlight a range of concerns related to the Olypmics, from cuts to social spending arising from spending on the Games to the increasing corporatization of the Games to the negative environmental impacts of both the Games and a number of the its primary corporate sponsors. Here is a quick rundown of some of the events that have happened over the last two days, which come on the heels of two full days of workshops and training held by the Olympics Resistance Network.
As happened across the country since the torch relay was first launched in Victoria, anti-Olympic protesters met and attempted to disrupt the Olympic torch as it made its way through Vancouver en route to the opening ceremonies.
The torch was successfully disrupted by civil disobedience in three locations, forcing both the torch and the massive Coke and RBC vehicles, which precede the torch as part of their corporate sponsorship of the Games, off the planned route. The torch was forced to divert around a large crowd at Victory Square Park on Hastings Street (you can watch a bird’s eyeview here) and was also completely kept off busy Commercial Street by a large group of protesters.
Take Back Our City! Festival and Parade
With Prime Minister Stephen Harper greeting foreign heads of state under tight security at the adjacent Hotel Vancouver, some 2500 anti-Olympics demonstrators gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to hear speeches from the organizers of the 2010 Welcoming Committee, including Council of Canadians board member and activist Bob Ages and BC/Yukon Organizer Harjap Grewal.
Other speakers included First Nations speakers speaking eloquently about the impacts on their communities of the rampant development in the tar sands of northern Alberta. The tar sands have been a major focus of Olympic protests as a number of the Games’ sponsors, such as PetroCanada/Suncor, TransCanada Pipelines and RBC are also some of the key corporations in the tar sands and the related infrastructure of pipelines and upgraders. Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, spoke on the rare cancers and polluted waters the people of Fort Chipewyan are experiencing in the small downstream communities. Warner Naziel, from the Wet’suwet’en Nation near Smithers, BC spoke of his community’s resistance to the planned Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which will cut through his nation’s land to move tar sands bitumen from northern Alberta to the port at Kitimat, BC, destined for oil tankers and markets in Asia. Also present were representatives of the Circassians, the displaced indigenous people of Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, who are in Vancouver to stand in solidarity with indigenous activists here.
After the speeches, the march proceeded toward BC Place, the site of the Games’ opening ceremonies. Under heavy police escort, and led by First Nations elders, thousands of lively protesters moved through the streets of Vancouver, chanting slogans including “No Olympics on stolen Native land,” “I say Olympics, you say shut down! I say tar sands, you say shut down!” “2010 homes not 2010 Games.” The sidewalks were packed with cameras as international media, Vancouverites and visitors in town for the Games clamoured for a look.
The march made its way down Robson Street to the outskirts of the restricted area to the north of BC Place. The corner of Robson and Beatty, where the protest stopped, is the site of Alberta House, the government of Alberta’s Olympic pavilion, and chants of “Shame!” and “Shut down the tar sands!” drowned out the launch of the Alberta pavilion.
Dozens of police, including many on horseback formed a line and some scuffles broke out at the front lines as police at times pushed the crowd back. Speeches, music and singing lasted more than an hour despite the rain before organizers of the march called the march to an end and the crowd dispersed to prepare for the next day’s events.
2010 Heart Attack
The major mobilization on Saturday, dubbed the “2010 Heart Attack” began in the early hours of the morning, with around 300 activists gathering at Thornton Park under a heavy police presence to march through the streets of Vancouver in an attempt to disrupt “business as usual” on the opening day of competition of the 2010 Games.
The march departed from Thornton Park just after 9:00 am, with the goal of reaching the intersection of Denman and Georgia, where buses destined for the Whistler venues have to pass. Police on bicycles ringed the march as it snaked its way through the streets towards the upscale downtown, turning up Hastings Street and moving into the heart of the city, nearly abandoned streets giving way to larger crowds as it progressed.
Early on an apparent agent provocateur moved into the crowd, pushing and taunting marchers before darting to the sidewalk, at times stopping to talk with police before running forward to taunt the crowd again. As the protest moved through the streets, some participants overturned mailboxes and newspaper boxes, pulling them into the street in an attempt to block traffic.
Minor property damage occurred along that march, and as demonstrators reached the shopping district of Georgia Street, a group of protesters broke one of the display windows of the Hudson’s Bay building, one of the national sponsors of the Games, and one which has come under criticism for both its long history of colonialism and its sourcing of Olympics sweaters from China rather than the Cowichan nation. A ball of red paint was also thrown at the window. Despite a heavy presence at the scene, no arrests were made.
As the march continued through the downtown, with chants of “No justice, no peace” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoing through the buildings, the police presence intensified. Vans full of police in full riot gear descended on the march, and the number of police on bicycles increased markedly. With those on bicycles forcing onlookers and some of the marchers to the sidewalk, the riot police moved in from behind the marchers, with numerous police cars and wagons following closely behind. There were scuffles as the police moved to isolate the main body of the march from legal observers and onlookers who were filming, and one woman was arrested after being wrestled to the ground by a number of officers.
The marchers were eventually surrounded by riot police, some of whom were armed with automatic weapons while others brandished plexiglass shields and batons. After police on bicycles stopped a group of onlookers from proceeding, separating them from the march by about half a block, police moved in and made a number of arrests. Some in the crowd fought back or attempted to “un-arrest” those targeted by the police. Both riot police and police on bicycles forced observers and legal teams to the sidewalks as they put those arrested into wagons. As the police moved in and divided the crowd by creating wedges between different groups of protesters, some smaller groups split from the main march, some of them pursued by groups of police.
Smaller groups spread throughout the downtown core were split off by police and surrounded by riot police at a number of locations. One group of about 30 people, which included a marching band and a number of dancers, were surrounded on all sides by riot police as supporters were kept at a distance by heavily armed police and police on bicycles. The crowd, which was forced to the sidewalk by police by threats of arrest chanted “Let them go!” as those surrounded by the police held their hands in peace signs and attempted to negotiate their way to the sidewalk. As the standoff between trumpets and truncheons continued, some in the crowd turned to chants of “This is weird. Let them go.” After being surrounded for over half an hour and prevented from leaving, the police eventually allowed the band and its supporters to disperse.
In all a total of 13 arrests were reported by the legal support team, and five are being held and may be charged. Protesters have begun jail support at the police station at 222 Main in support of those arrested.
By 4:00 pm, the most heavily damaged window at Hudson’s Bay Co. had been replaced.