The RCMP–led Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit and the Vancouver Police Department aren’t reading from the same page on the issue of protest zones during the Olympics.
Speaking by phone on behalf of VISU, Staff Sgt. Mike Cote told the Straight, “We know that there are going to be areas designated as safe assembly areas for people who want to use them”¦for demonstrations or gatherings, to do so legally and do so safely.”
Cote also said, “Location and who will actually be responsible for the monitoring of those—when I say monitoring, I mean if there’s an issue—the RCMP will not respond. It’s the Vancouver Police Department that will be responding.”
The RCMP officer added that the VPD is working with Vanoc on a list of these sites.
But when asked about these areas, VPD spokesperson Const. Lindsey Houghton’s short answer was “There are none.”
“I’m saying that there’s no such thing as a protest zone,” Houghton told the Straight in a phone interview. “Every public space, people will be free to protest, as much as they want as long as the protest is legal. If you want a number, there are tens of thousands of protest zones.”
Can protesters hold demonstrations near Olympic venues? “They can go as close to an Olympic venue as the fence will let them,” Houghton said. He added that these fences and the size of the security zone around venues are the responsibility of VISU.
John Richardson, executive director of Pivot Legal Society, told the Straight that as recently as December, he was communicating with RCMP Cpl. Howard Adams, who he understood to be in charge of protest zones.
Over the phone, Richardson read a portion of Adams’s e-mail to him, which states that he will contact Richardson once information is available. As of January 18, Richardson hadn’t heard back from the RCMP officer.
In July 2009, VISU head Bud Mercer told Vancouver city council that the establishment of free-speech zones was part of the security arrangements for the Games.
“I wonder if they don’t want people to be using the safe-assembly areas,” Richardson said. “One would think that they would have figured all this out by this point.”
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, hasn’t had much luck finding out about protest zones.
“We’ve been asking for them [details] for months, and they [VISU] refused to release them to us,” Eby told the Straight.
Eby added, “I think that they recognize that the appearance of these things, whether or not it was their intention, was quite draconian and that they are backing off of the initial proposal that they have to establish them, and that they’re trying to de-emphasize them.”