For almost two spirited hours today (February 13) under a grey morning sky, there was little doubt about who owned the downtown streets of Vancouver.
“Our streets!”, “Our streets!”, “Our streets!” anti-Olympic protesters defiantly chanted as they stepped off the sidewalk off Thornton Park at about 9:05 a.m. and occupied the northbound lane of Main Street, starting what turned out to be close to a full-blown riot.
Their ground zero: the intersection of Denman and Georgia streets where they hoped to block traffic going in and out of the Lions Gate Bridge, an artery leading to the skier paradise of Whistler.
It’s day two of the 2010 Olympic Games, an event that for years has stirred conflicting passions among many Vancouverites.
About 500 mostly black-clad and masked demonstrators showed up at the park for the event billed as "2010 Heart Attack". By the time they hit the streets, they were pumped up by what a leader promised on the bullhorn as “fuck day full of action”.
It didn’t take long before the action started, and right before the eyes of bicycle-riding police in yellow jackets.
At the intersection of Main and Wilson Streets, plastic road markers closing off the viaducts were toppled. At East Georgia Street, the first news box–Metro’s–came crashing down. This wasn’t the last of the several news and post office boxes to be trashed. Several moments ahead, a Georgia Straight box came down at the corner of Pender and Hamilton Streets.
This wasn’t the traditional placard-carrying protest that many are familiar with. It wasn’t a peaceful and pretty event.
As organizers have long advertised, it was one where a diversity of tactics were to be employed.
“This is what democracy looks like!” protesters shouted as a hint of marijuana smoke wafted into the morning air.
A van bearing the sign of a government ambulance supervisor rode ahead of the march until it reached the corner of Hastings Street.
A brief moment of tension ensued as the crowd surged near the front of the Vancouver Police Department station. Would they spray anything at the cop shop? Nothing like that happened and after a few seconds they retreated toward Hastings Street.
Moving westward along Hastings Street and occupying all lanes, the demonstrators unfurled a huge black banner with deep red letters proclaiming the participation of the Anti-Poverty Committee, a group that is known for unconventional ways of political expression.
As they made it past Carrall Street, about three bike-riding cops quickly surrounded an unoccupied police patrol car parked on the northern side of Hastings, fearing perhaps it would be targeted.
The protesters turned left on Cambie Street, and a couple grabbed two grey garbage boxes and spilled their contents onto the pavement.
The crowd turned right on Pender Street and more news boxes came down. They manoeuvred left on Richards Street, putting them just two blocks off West Georgia Street.
By 9:50 a.m., they were on West Georgia Street, and immediately one could sense that things are about to go up several notches in intensity. Police had their hands full redirecting traffic, and cars bearing the marks of Olympic organizer Vanoc were told to quickly get out of the scene.
The Bay store, with all of its Olympic paraphernalia, was hit. Windows were either spray-painted or smashed.
There was the constant sound of metal grating against cement, as news boxes were dragged onto the pavement.
At 10:05 a.m., as the demonstrators approached Burrard Street, the first antiriot police were seen. Before reaching Thurlow Street, squads of antiriot police began boxing in the marchers.
Here the first scuffle occurred as a couple of youthful demonstrators attempted to stop the antiriot police from shadowing the march. A man was pinned to a wall, and a police officer said: “You’re disturbing the entire city.”
It was clear at this time, around 10:10 a.m., that the police would make their move. Crowds following the marchers were told the stay back, but such orders weren’t followed.
At the wide intersection of West Georgia and Cardero Streets, just before Denman Street, a wall of police and cop cars came. The “2010 Heart Attack” wasn’t going to move any further.
By this time, the ranks of the demonstrators had thinned to about 200 or 300. They looked like they were outnumbered by the antiriot police.
Arrests quickly followed. A woman dressed entirely in black was grabbed and quickly surrounded by a squad of bicycle-riding police, who dragged her to a patrol wagon. Legal observers followed on the sidewalk, asking her for her name. She responded with a name that sounded something like “Dana Reily”.
Another man was held by both arms by two cops, and wasalso thrown into the wagon. A legal observer told the Straight at the scene that there may have been four or five people nabbed by police. But even arrests didn’t break the demonstrators' defiance. They kept banging the inside walls of the wagon until the vehicle took off.
At 10:35 a.m., the corner of West Georgia and Cardero Streets were occupied by rows of police officers. The streets belonged no more to the young men and women of 2010 Heart Attack.