By David Eby
It’s a Friday night in February 2010, and you’re biking to a friend’s place in Yaletown from East Van. Light snow is filling you with Olympic spirit. You hum the national anthem to yourself as you ride.
Pedaling west on the Adanac bike route, you realize the route passes too close to the Britannia Bell Canada practice venue. The RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit has, yet again, expanded the venue perimeter, which now includes a good chunk of the Drive. For our own protection, you remind yourself. The threat level must be up.
You take your chances on 1st Avenue down to the sea wall. Rolling past the Main Street SkyTrain station, you see transit police officers and private security, escorted by police dogs, guarding the entrance to the station. Prospective passengers pause to be sniffed. Those who pass are allowed in. You watch those who don’t pass line up at the search station.
Near Science World, a cluster of security cameras pans the park from a tall pole. You notice one camera tracking you as you cycle past. Avoiding sudden movements, you smile and look straight ahead to show the anonymous eyes you’re not a threat.
Biking along the sea wall, you slow down on seeing a police officer standing in the bike path. A short distance behind him is a fence you haven’t seen before. You stop. He walks up and asks for your knapsack. You hand it over; there’s not much inside—just a bottle of wine and an old T-shirt. The cop takes the bottle of wine, passing it to another police officer who adds it to a pile of seized property on a table beside him. “We can’t allow any public drinking in the Celebration Zone.” You nod, but wish you hadn’t.
He pulls the T-shirt out of your bag, and it flaps in the winter wind. It’s a Students for a Free Tibet T-shirt. He frowns at it and turns to you. “You can’t wear this at any venues or on Robson, you know that, right?” You reassure him that you’re not going to any Olympic events or to Robson Street.
“What’s your name and date of birth,” he asks, repeating your answer into a walkie-talkie on his shoulder. He pauses, listening to the reply, before he grudgingly hands your shirt back to you. A line-up begins to form behind you.
“Do you have a resident, hotel, or employee permit or a ticket?” he asks. No, you reply. “Access to the Celebration Zone is now restricted to those who need to be here.” You apologize. You didn’t know that.
You call your friend, who says she’ll come out to escort you in. For our own protection, you remind yourself again, annoyed that you’re annoyed with the people who are protecting you.
As you’re waiting, you hear chanting behind you. A small group of protesters waving a “Free Speech” banner is headed toward you and the fence. Why don’t they just stay in the protest zone, you wonder. You bike away from the confrontation.
Behind the fence, you see riot police lining up to form a human wall. A large armoured vehicle drives up to the fence as well, flashing a prominent Vancouver Police Department logo. A gate opens, and the police file out in formation. The protesters stop and sit on the snowy path. One by one, they are put in plastic handcuffs, dragged behind the fence, and loaded onto a bus. They’re chanting “Free speech” over and over. I get it, you think to yourself, rolling your eyes.
Your friend shows up after the scene is cleared. “It’s been happening all week,” she says. “They must have hundreds of people in jail by now.” You agree, and say that you heard something about the cops using the armoury as a site for the arrestees but that it was full now.
You explain that the police took your bottle of wine, and she laughs at your story. She tells you her neighbour has been bootlegging; he works for a private security company contracted by Vanoc. You smile, the minor annoyances of your trip over quickly forgotten, as you pass through the gate with glowing hearts.
David Eby is the acting executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.