Professor Chris Shaw offers safety tips for Olympic protesters

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      Olympic critic Chris Shaw has seen firsthand what police are capable of doing to break up rallies.

      In April 2001, the UBC neuroscientist was right on the scene in Quebec City when riot cops let loose on antiglobalization protesters demonstrating during the third Summit of the Americas. As a volunteer medic then, he administered first aid to several people who got pepper-sprayed, doused with tear gas, and shot with plastic bullets.

      With demonstrations planned this month against the 2010 Olympics, Shaw is putting together a team of medics to attend to people who may get hurt if violent confrontations with the police happen on the streets of Vancouver.

      “The danger for protesters always comes from the police,” Shaw told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      He expects to have a temporary clinic up and fully operational at the First United Church on East Hastings Street on February 11.

      On February 12, protesters belonging to various groups will assemble on the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery and later march to B.C. Place, where the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics will be held. Other protest actions in following days are being lined up.

      With the risk of police deploying tear gas and pepper spray, Shaw offered a few tips to those joining anti-Olympic protests.

      A bandanna soaked in apple cider, for example, may prove handy. Wrapped around an individual’s nose and mouth, it can diminish the impact of tear-gas fumes. Goggles that seal tightly around the eyes can keep out gas and pepper spray.

      Carrying a water bottle is useful to keep hydrated at outdoor events. Water can also be used to wash eyes after tear-gas and pepper-spray strikes. Wearing contact lenses is not advisable.

      An article in the June 26, 2001, issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted that chemical agents commonly used in tear gas are o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), chloroacetophenone (CN), and dibenzoxazepine (CR).

      According to “The Health Impact of Crowd-Control Agents”, “CS, CN, and CR gases irritate the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract. They have been described as chemical barbs that cling to moist mucous membranes.”

      People with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma or bronchitis may find it difficult to breathe if they are exposed to tear gas, according to the article.

      The active ingredient in pepper spray is capsicum oleoresin, an oily extract of hot peppers that targets pain receptors, according to a CMAJ article that appeared in the publication’s July 10, 2001, issue.

      The piece, entitled “On Pepper Spray and Civil Disobedience”, noted that pepper sprays cause inflammation of nerves, pain, redness of the skin, abnormal blinking of the eyelids, tears, and blurred vision.

      Shaw said that although many people are worried about tear gas and pepper spray, he’s more concerned about blunt trauma, whether it comes from riot batons or police horses.

      “They could generate the kind of injuries that I can’t deal with on the spot,” he said. “And then I have to evacuate somebody. While that’s going to be doable, it’s going to be more complicated.”

      A guide released in November last year by the Vancouver law firm McGrady & Company has some suggestions on what protesters can bring. For example, having photo and video cameras may keep police in line, as they generally don’t like to be recorded hurting people. Those taking prescription drugs are advised to bring their medication just in case they get detained.

      Clothes should be comfortable for running, according to the guide. “Further, you do not want to be easily grabbed by your clothes or your hair by someone attempting to restrain you,” it also states.

      Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Lindsey Houghton told the Straight that the force doesn’t discuss “operational deployment or strategies or equipment”.

      Like other police agencies, Houghton added, the VPD has tear gas. Asked about rubber bullets, he said: “We have a number of less lethal options available.”



      ryan s

      Feb 4, 2010 at 4:56pm

      why don't these people just get lives and let the City of Vancouver and the hard working people who put this all together and work 40+ hours a week who want to enjoy the games...enjoy them. You make yourself look like idiots protesting something you can't change...


      Feb 4, 2010 at 6:57pm

      @ ryan s. Its called "Free Speech", something you were just allowed to do online!

      I am going to attend the Feb. 12th protest and I admit I am fearful of being attacked by the police. But a peaceful protest is not going to hurt anyone, nor disrupt the games. But it may bring enough international attention to the fact that the Olympics are an unnecessary and unwanted burden to the average tax payer, that other cities will think twice before they decide to have a party at someone else's expense.


      Feb 4, 2010 at 8:44pm

      I work 30-35 hrs a week and will be attending the protest, Ryan. I think the right to express our different views and assemble peacefully should be encouraged...if ur reading this man can I ask you have you ever been to a protest? I invite you to attend one as there will be many before and during the games and see what exactly our objectives are.


      Feb 4, 2010 at 10:01pm

      Ryan ever heard of freedom of speech? The Olympic protesters are speaking for all the folks that have been laid off, lost their housing and had their jobs taken over by volunteers with no recompense.
      That the Olympics is a giant boondoggle for a thin layer of the society is a reality. I lost my home of 20 years due to the 'Olympic' greed of my landlord.] Please make yourself aware of the bigger picture and look outside of your narrow world. thank you.


      Feb 5, 2010 at 12:20am

      The Olympics are all about image. Even though this city is very dispirited now due to the VANcouver OCupation, we are actually a lot stronger and they a lot more vulnerable than we realise. A big part of the VANOCcupation propaganda is meant to demobilize people through fear and intimidation. Their greatest weapon is fear and deception. If we can see through that we can see an outrageously expensive media event that is completely reliant on that illusion of popular support that is the Olmypic myth. All we need to do is make clear that the Olympics is what it is, ie a corporate imposition that has so many destructive aspects (too many to list here). That part should be easy. The real "enemy" is the corporate media who are very good as spin and deception, much more than the police - who are supposed to be accountable to us and eventually will be (though they will break the law at protests to silence people)

      I was in Seattle 99 and FTAA 2001 protests and I've seen the spin. The image of violence, being outsiders, being irrellevent, being unreasonable... This is what the media will say. They love to focus on teargas - on page 6. The point is to not get sidtracked by that violence and lies because that is them winning. Us winning is exercising our "free speech" -- however that term itself is a pidgeonhole and so don't use it so much! What we are saying is right, it is not JUST because of free speech that it should be spoken. It is because the Olympics are a lie, a theft, a corporate takeover and exploitation of naive people who believe in something noble but unreal - the Olympic Myth. We need to advocate for local accountability and ending corporate welfare.

      We are strong in one another.


      Feb 6, 2010 at 4:26pm

      A Burden to the Taxpayers?
      The olympics cost 6 Billion every four years
      The illicit drug trade is estimated at 400 Billion anually
      The war in Iraq is estimated at 4 Trillion dollars.
      Maybe find a more noble reason to protest?
      The Olympics is an International sporting event which promotes world peace. It was only ever cancelled in 1916 and 1944. This is called WWI and WWII. They have a hard time co-existing.
      So get a life and free yourself from The Grinch Mentality.


      Feb 7, 2010 at 3:49pm

      It is best to wear a good bike helmet when attending protests, as the rioting police sometimes get out of control and start wielding their batons on peaceful protestors. Also wear clothing with alot of padding if possible, including strong boots or running shoes for a hasty escape. Also, take your video camera, a large bottle of water, some tight fitting goggles (for tear gas and pepper spray), and a gas mask if possible. If you don't have a pair of goggles, then protective eyewear is advisable. Several layers of clothing can help against rubber bullets. Padded gloves. Ear plugs are useful against sound cannons, especially when combined with industrial ear muffs. A sign with a strong pole can be useful. If being threatened, get down on the ground and plant the stake in the ground and use it as a protective battlement. If being assaulted or attacked, run like the dickens (running shoes are helpful). If this isn't possible, then drop to the ground and curl up, protecting your head and face with your arms. Broken bones heal, but facial contusions are nasty, and eyes and skull are vulnerable parts. Generally, avoid mean looking, baton wielding, facemask covered, body padded, testosterone pumped robocops, especially when they are emboldened by being in a group.

      olympics YES protesting NO

      Feb 8, 2010 at 9:36am

      i hope more than a few protesters get their bell rung during the olympic games, teach the rest of you try-hard, wanna-be, yuppie trash a lesson that you can't always get what you want. and sometimes it's just better to enjoy life and go with the flow, if you care about the homeless so much and are willing to get tear gassed, beaten and possibly imprisoned, why not just move out of your luxury apartment with a gym you never use and couch you sit in too often and give that to a homeless person. then watch them ruin your apartment, take drugs and basically evict themselves once again - the REASON they are homeless in the first place.

      Jim Van Rassel

      Feb 8, 2010 at 11:45am

      I have a bad feeling about what inevitably will happen to some of our Olympic protesters. Most, if not all our RCMP, Military and especially Private security are not trained to have someone in their face, yelling or telling them how small their 'Gun' is *wink wink nudge nudge*. With the history of Police abuse Vancouve...r has experienced, some gun-totin' yahoo IS going to snap, and when that happens the streets of Vancouver will look more like a cagematch than the wonderland we have come to love and cherish.
      Jim Van Rassel
      Coquitlam BC