Anti-Olympic activists are accusing police of using agents provocateurs to incite protesters to commit illegal acts during last weekend’s rallies and marches.
Harsha Walia, a spokesperson for the Olympic Resistance Network, told the Georgia Straight that activists suspect several people who participated in the protests on February 12 and 13 were undercover police officers.
Although Walia said activists’ suspicions are mostly “unverifiable” and can only be confirmed by police, she’s “99.9 percent” certain that one man who attended the Take Back Our City protest outside B.C. Place during the Olympics opening ceremony was an agent provocateur.
“He was pushing forward and forcing people into the police basically,” Walia said on her cellphone from the Downtown Eastside. “From past experience, when someone falls into a police officer, they pick you up for assault.”
While the man appeared to be a photojournalist, he refused to identify his media affiliation when asked by protesters around him. He also remained silent as activists accused him of being a police officer. After the crowd chanted, “I smell bacon, I smell pork”, the man accepted an offer by officers to leave through the police line.
According to Const. Olivier Lapointe, a spokesperson for the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, if there were agents provocateurs at the Take Back Our City and 2010 Heart Attack protests, they wouldn’t have been from the Olympic security force.
The Montreal police officer told the Straight by phone that VISU, which is led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is responsible for securing Olympic venues while the Vancouver Police Department deals with “everything that happens in the streets”.
Previously, in a July 2009 interview with the Straight, another VISU spokesperson wouldn’t rule out the use of agents provocateurs during the Winter Olympics.
Activists accuse a man of being an agent provocateur during a protest outside the opening ceremony of the 2010 Olympics on February 12.
Const. Lindsey Houghton, a spokesperson for the Vancouver police, told the Straight that he didn’t have any knowledge of agents provocateurs being deployed during the Take Back Our City and 2010 Heart Attack protests.
“I am not aware of any of that going on,” Houghton said by phone. “The only people that I’m aware that were inciting were the people dressed in all black who were encouraging the vandalism.”
According to Houghton, a number of journalists and protesters sought safety by being pulled through the police line outside B.C. Place on February 12.
Regarding the man who activists allege was an undercover officer, Houghton said, “I don’t know of any agents provocateurs, to use that term. We run into the same issues on a daily basis, whether it’s someone with a camera or someone without refusing to identify themselves to us or trying to provoke police officers. So, I’m not sure if this was a case of someone who was doing it both ways or what this person’s thought process was.”
Walia noted that two plainclothes police officers were “outed” earlier this week at the Olympic Tent Village in the Downtown Eastside. According to her, the pair was escorted off the site and they ended up admitting they were police officers.
“They actually had their earpieces on,” Walia said.
Houghton confirmed that two plainclothes Vancouver police officers visited the tent village. He said the officers were there to escort Const. Jodyne Keller, the VPD’s homeless outreach coordinator, who was in uniform.
Police did not want to be “seen to be inflaming the situation” by sending three uniformed officers to the tent village, according to Houghton.
“You know, having one uniform instead of three is a lot less imposing to a lot of people, especially people who may not feel comfortable talking with police officers who they’re not familiar with,” Houghton said. “Jodyne’s worked very hard over the last year to build up those relationships, so they certainly did that out of respect and at the same time keeping her safety in mind in case something were to happen.”
Walia stressed that she is not suggesting that agents provocateurs were “solely responsible” for smashing store windows and wrecking newspaper boxes during the 2010 Heart Attack protest on February 13.
“I think that there might have been agents provocateurs who were present on Saturday,” Walia said. “But I also think that there were people there on Saturday who chose to engage in direct action and property destruction against corporate sponsors who have a violent record.”
She called the alleged use of agents provocateurs by police “condemnable”.
“I think people should really question agents provocateurs,” Walia said. “It’s symbolic of the amount of state repression—not just against direct action, black bloc, but against all kinds of dissent—and that they’re trying to divide our movement. And this is a time to unify.”
You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.
Video: Olympic Tent Village residents speak out on homelessness in Vancouver
Video: 2010 Heart Attack sees anti-Olympic protesters clash with riot police in Vancouver
Video: Take Back Our City protest welcomes 2010 Olympics in Vancouver