Anarchists, activists, and cops all seem to have a thing for signs.
This has come to light with a demand for the return of a sign seized by police from people picketing PiDGiN, a restaurant that antipoverty activists see as part of the gentrification of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Juxtaposing this police confiscation with the swiping by still-unidentified people of a sidewalk sign owned by Save On Meats restaurant—as an act of “class warfare” against the gentrifying elements in the neighbourhood—may be a bit controversial. Nonetheless, activists want the Vancouver Police Department to give back their sign.
“The incident was partly just an attempted intimidation by the VPD against the PiDGiN picket,” Kim Hearty told the Straight by phone.
A member of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council and the corresponding secretary for the Coalition of Progressive Electors, Hearty was one of three people picketing outside PiDGiN when the seizure occurred at around 6 p.m. on March 9.
Hearty and the other two picketers, Joel Short and Nicholas Ellan, have written VPD chief Jim Chu and Mayor Gregor Robertson, asking not only for the return of the material but for an apology from the police as well.
VPD spokesperson Const. Brian Montague asserted that the material seized was a “structure”.
“It’s a stand-alone structure, and the bylaw says that you cannot construct or erect on a street, especially if it obstructs the sidewalk,” Montague told the Straight in a phone interview.
Hearty related that she had insisted that the confiscating officer, Sgt. Mark Steinkampf, issue her a ticket if there was a violation of a city bylaw but Steinkampf refused.
Montague explained that officers have the discretion to issue or not issue bylaw violation tickets.
The VPD spokesperson also touched on the complicated nature of policing in the Downtown Eastside. “There’s been other cases where people get upset with the police because they do issue a ticket,” Montague said. “So whether we [do] or whether we don’t…someone’s going to be upset.”
Montague said that based on the police report for the incident, the material was a “makeshift booth similar to what’s seen at a carnival made up of wood and slats and black cloth”. Hearty disagreed, saying it was just two pieces of wood with black cloth.
The confiscated sign articulates the scorn antipoverty activists feel toward the moneyed classes frequenting the trendy and upscale establishments in the neighbourhood. For five cents, it invites onlookers to, as at a circus, “Come see the rich.”