Dana Larsen: Why do Canucks get free policing, but Pride Parade must pay?

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      There's something strange about how policing costs work for public events in Vancouver. Profitable corporate events get their costs covered, protests don't get a bill, but grassroots community events have to pay huge fees that often force them to shut down. It's time for a change.

      What do Vancouver's St Patrick's Day Parade, the Illuminares Lantern Festival, and New Year's at the Vancouver Art Gallery all have in common? They're all fun community events that were forced to shut down due to soaring police costs and big bills from the city.

      And what do Canucks games, rock concerts, and Granville street pubs all have in common? They don't pay for any of the extra policing costs the incur.

      The way Vancouver deals with policing costs for local events makes no sense. The city is driving grassroots community festivals into bankruptcy, while subsidizing the much higher policing costs of liquor merchants and for-profit corporate events.

      For example, the policing bill for the 2016 Pride Parade was more than double the expected amount, and could not be paid by the Pride Society. The Pride Parade was only saved because the city decided to pay off the $75,000 in extra policing costs on top of the $50,000 subsidy the Parade gets each year. Almost all of that subsidy money goes straight back into paying police.

      But why do any of these popular community events get stuck with paying any policing costs at all? They have absolutely no say in how their events are policed or what the costs are, they just get a bill when it's over and a demand to pay. As the Pride Parade learned, your policing bill can arbitrarily double one year with no warning at all.

      Meanwhile, public protests don't have to pay for policing, and how could they? If every protest had to cover a $100,000 or more policing bill, there would be no more protests, which amounts to censorship and restricting people's right to gather in pubic spaces.

      So when it comes to the policing cost for the Trump Tower protest, the 4/20 protest, the Missing and Murdered Women's March, the alt-right protest and counter-protest at City Hall, and every other one of our city's many, many public protests and marches, all those costs just come out of the general policing budget.

      The Illuminares Lantern Festival has been resurrected after being driven into the ground by high police costs.

      How does it make sense to force community events like the Illuminares Lantern Festival or St Patrick's Day parade to pay huge policing bills that result in events being cancelled because they get too popular?

      How does it make sense to make a big deal about giving the Pride Parade "civic status" and a special $50,000 subsidy, but then see its policing bill jump by more than the entire subsidy amount, forcing it to beg the city for a further $75,000 to avoid cancellation?

      How does it make sense to constantly complain about the policing costs of very popular and peaceful annual protest events like 4/20, when those policing costs are less than a few weekends of policing the violent drunks on Granville?

      How does it make sense to force popular nonprofit community events to get corporate sponsors to pay policing costs, while profitable corporate events like hockey games have all their policing costs completely covered by the general police budget?

      Wouldn't it be better to say that all people in Vancouver deserve equal police protection? When people gather together peacefully in the city for any reason, which is always their right in a free and democratic society, those policing costs should just be covered by the general police budget. And if we do start charging groups that use extra policing, the place to start would be profitable corporate events like hockey games and concerts, followed by the bars whose drunken patrons require so much police time.

      It seems to me that the Pride Parade, the St Patrick's Day Parade, the Sun Run, the Women's March protest, the anti-alt-right protest, the 4/20 protest, the fireworks, the Vaisakhi festival, the rock concerts, the hockey games, and all other civic events should be treated equally, and covered by the VPD's general budget. Policing is a basic civic service, let's treat it that way.

      Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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      Dana LarsenĀ is an organizer of the annual 4/20 protest and festival in Vancouver.

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