A Vancouver Police Department (VPD) media release and press conference of 1 March 2010 has been given wide uncritical replay. Are Vancouver media outlets hooked on regurgitation?
The controlling agenda lurks in the final paragraph of the release: The story wasn’t the police … it was the incredible demonstration of national pride. The Olympic brand demands positive associations on all possible fronts, including law enforcement.
These four numbers made up the core of the press release:
- 20,824 voluntary liquor pour-outs
- 1,230 violation tickets for Consuming Liquor in a Public Place
- 253 arrests for State of Intoxication in a Public Place
- 93 arrests for Breach of the Peace
The lack of detail is remarkable. A place to start would be the number and nature of charges laid, against how many individuals, and the names of the persons charged.
Three news reports mention physical injury suffered by two police officers:
There were also a handful of arrests for breach of the peace and for disorderly and violent behaviour, and two officers were injured when they attempted to break up a fight. (Armstrong)
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Two Vancouver police officers were injured at Seymour and Dunsmuir streets when they tried to break up a fight. One of them will need surgery on his hand. (Bermingham)
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Two Vancouver police officers who broke up a fight at Dunsmuir and Seymour, Sunday, suffered injuries when they fell through a plate-glass window while trying to subdue a male. One officer received cuts to his hand, which will require surgery. (Bellett / Pynn)
The anonymity allowed to the combatants who precipitated this incident, together with a failure to announce associated charges, contrasts strikingly with the previous treatment of protesters.
For a police officer to be put into a condition requiring surgery seems to far exceed the consequences of any of the alleged protester assaults.
24 Hours Vancouver and Bermingham include one interesting additional figure – that the Vancouver Police Department reckoned the number of protests at 36. This would amount to an average of more than two protests per day for the entire period of the Olympic Games. Where was the media coverage for all that?
One report states:
Managing drunken revellers was the primary challenge for both city and transit police. (Bellett / Pynn)
Meanwhile, multiple stories recite a VPD press release claim that February 12 protest at B.C. Place produced the “most tense moment.”
If two officers fell through a plate glass window, could it be conceivable that other officers stumbled into airborne saliva?
It’s hard not to slide off into sarcasm when violence that results in definite physical trauma to a human being gets treated much less seriously than a gob of spit or a broken window or a toppled newspaper box.
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(In chronological order)
“Statement of Deputy Chief Constable Doug LePard – March 1st, 2010,”
Media Release – Vancouver Police Department (1 Mar 2010)
Jane Armstrong. “Police department pleased with its operation at Games,” Globe & Mail (2 Mar 2010)
Gerry Bellett / Larry Pynn. “VPD deputy chief has sore hands from all the high fives,” Vancouver Sun (2 Mar 2010) A10
John Bermingham. “Orderly Games result of great policing: Cops,” Province
(2 Mar 2010)
Jeff Hodson. “Police report record liquor pour-outs,” Metro Vancouver (2 Mar 2010) 3
“Numbers game,” 24 Hours Vancouver 5:223 (2 Mar 2010) 5
“Police deserve a medal for their performance [editorial],” Vancouver Sun (4 Mar 2010) A14
Mike Howell. “12th and Cambie: Drunks and punks,” Vancouver Courier 101:19 (5 Mar 2010) EW07
In the December bylaw, the crucial phrase is defined in this way (bylaw p. 2 / pdf 22):
“Celebratory sign” means a sign that celebrates the 2010 Winter Games, and creates or enhances a festive environment and atmosphere for the 2010 Winter Games
On the morning of 3 December 2009, speaking to Vancouver City Council, Paul Henderson (Director, Olympic and Paralympic Operations) stated that a celebratory sign should be considered as equivalent to a non-commercial sign, and that the word ‘celebratory’ has no implication whatsoever for actual sign content. (In other words, The Olympics Suck should be considered celebratory because the message is non-commercial.) Henderson’s interpretative move appears to follow from this provision (p. 3 / pdf 3) in the bylaw’s overarching summary:
Limit commercial advertising during the Games without impacting freedom of political expression for residents and visitors
At this point, it helps to pause and recall the severe criticisms and legal challenge that the City of Vancouver brought on itself by its cavalier enactment of restrictions on rights and freedoms in the July bylaw. The replacement December bylaw maneuvers to satisfy conditions in the Host City Contract (2002) by turning to a nonintuitive understanding of the word celebratory – an understanding that in fact flies in the face of the document’s own definition. One thing appears on paper to satisfy the requirements of the International Olympic Committee (IOC); another will be understood in practice to avoid transgression against Charter rights and freedoms.
The City’s way out of the IOC propaganda dilemma is to draw a distinction between commercial advertising and everything else, and then to characterize everything else as celebratory and permitted.
After the February 2010 party, it seems unlikely that the IOC would pursue legal action against the City of Vancouver for having failed to suppress propaganda, because such an action would only serve to further damage the Olympic brand. The demand for control of propaganda in public space aims preemptively to insulate the Olympic brand. The goal in all cases is to prevent negative associations from attaching to the Olympic brand, whether through protest itself or through the fallout from protest.
Discussion of signage possibilities reached a pinnacle of absurdity in a little-attended consultation on 15 December 2009. David McLellan (General Manager, Community Services Group, City of Vancouver) engaged in an exchange with a questioner about City enforcement against protest signs. McLellan began by emphasizing that special Olympic enforcement provisions apply only to commercial signs. When the questioner proposed a hypothetical cloth banner, McLellan presumed that it would pose a safety hazard and thus not fall under the ordinary bylaw (with no action taken for 30 days). The questioner then pushed the point, specifying a banner on private property, well removed from public sidewalks or overhead space, that said Fuck You and Your Fucking Olympics. At that point, McLellan nervously brought the chain of hypothesizing to an end, muttering something about “probably.”
In the end, what signs will be allowed and where those signs will be allowed remains extremely confusing. For the celebratory sign, the omnibus December bylaw at 8.12(a) states:
A celebratory sign requires a permit under the Sign By-law unless it is at a venue or city site or at Robson Square (p. 34 / pdf 54)
This confusion seems most likely to work to the advantage of the minion City of Vancouver, and secondarily to that of its sometime master, the International Olympic Committee.
In a little over one week in November 2009, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) brought public attention to Vancouver Police Department (VPD) purchase of a sonic weapon, and then had the satisfaction of having the VPD “commit to disabling that [weapon] function” (News Release – BCCLA, 17 Nov).
The LRAD (long-range acoustical device) has a capability of emitting “powerful deterrent tones” that can permanently damage human hearing and induce visual disturbance. In October 2009 the VPD spent $17,000 to acquire a second-hand Model 500 LRAD (Pemberton, 11 Nov).
When the purchase became known to the public, VPD representative Lindsey Houghton responded to questioning about the weapon potential of the device:
We can’t rule out anything in the use of this device at any sound level. We carry firearms. We can’t rule out the use of those to stop a threat. We possess tear gas. We could use that in a situation where there is a riot. This is no different. (Grindlay)
At the same time, Houghton was claiming that a “public address system” was the intended use.
Two days later, BCCLA Executive Director David Eby questioned that claim by pointing out
- That an effective and comparable public address system could be bought for $5,000 to $10,000 less
- That the intensely focused beam of sound produced by the LRAD offered benefit as a weapon and dysfunction as a public address system
Eby also attacked the disingenuous claim that the equipment had not been purchased for the Olympics. Ironically, Eby became aware of the acquisition through informal conversation with a police officer who participated in legal observer training that was being offered by BCCLA (Solomon).
When the VPD announced that the weapon capability of the LRAD would be disabled, police representatives explicitly left the door open to exploiting “alternative uses” of the device in the future.
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(In chronological order)
“BCCLA demands policy for VPD Olympic sonic gun,” News release – BC Civil Liberties Association (9 Nov 2009)
Lora Grindlay. “Vancouver police to use noise device for crowd control,” Province (11 Nov 2009)
Mark Hume. “ ‘Sonic gun’ raises suspicions of civil libertarians,” Globe & Mail (11 Nov 2009)
Kim Pemberton. “New hailer is a loudspeaker, not a crowd-control device, police say,” Vancouver Sun (11 Nov 2009) A5
David Eby. “VPD should be more forthcoming on use of its noise device,” Vancouver Sun (13 Nov 2009) A14
Linda Solomon. “LRAD, police accountability, and the BCCLA: the David Eby story continues,” Vancouver Observer (16 Nov 2009)
“VPD disables sonic gun in response to BCCLA objections,” News release – BC Civil Liberties Association (17 Nov 2009)
Kim Pemberton. “Loudspeaker to have painful ‘tone’ disabled,” Vancouver Sun (18 Nov 2009) A3
Megan Stewart. “VPD will disable ‘sonic cannon’ Chu tells Police Board,” Vancouver Observer (18 Nov 2009)
“Vancouver police to disable new ‘sonic cannon’,” Globe & Mail (18 Nov 2009)
Jen Cutts. “Vancouver police buy ‘sonic gun’,” Macleans (26 Nov 2009)