Police arrested seven more protesters last night at a Vancouver "Casseroles" demonstration in support of Quebec students -- only days after five arrests at a similar rally on Friday -- sending one person to hospital and allegations of police brutality.
The escalation in protest detentions coincides with the Vancouver Police Department's admission it recently sent Staff Sgt. Ken Athans -- in the crowd control unit -- to study tactics from Montreal police. Several of the arrested said they were thrown to the ground by police, one slammed into a stone garbage bin, another kneed repeatedly in the back while face-down on the ground. Another woman was taken to St. Paul's Hospital for treatment of an injured wrist and ribs.
“They were really aggressive dragging me away,” Sasha Wiley-Shaw said outside the police station upon her late-night release, saying she fell down as officers dragged her into the building. “(Police) kept trying to pull me up while my foot was caught in the door, while telling me I was resisting arrest.
“That was their excuse to put a couple of knees to my shoulders and ribs, and really yank my arm around really hard... It's swelling and turning purple. They kept not telling me why I'd been arrested.”
Wiley-Shaw, a 29-year-old teacher in adult education and president of her Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association sublocal, said the police force was disproportionate to the alleged crime -- spitting on a vehicle that she said had attempted to ram protesters on the street. She said the spitting was done by someone else and police dropped their threats of vandalism charges.
“The amount of force and intensity they found it necessary to use, given me being peaceful little me, was quite surprising to me,” she said. “There seemed to be some real anger behind it, because I took some real knee-shots that were totally unnecessary -- the cops were just pissed off.
“They gave me a ticket for loitering. So my bandaged, swelling wrist and the concrete scrape on my shoulder and bruises forming and scrapes on my knee are what you get for loitering. Be careful when you loiter.”
The first two arrests took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the weekly “Casseroles” marchers -- named for the clanging pots and pans that have marked country-wide demonstrations -- had not even left the grounds. Several sources -- and video footage -- corroborated that the group was sitting on the ground, discussing the demonstration's plan, when a “large number” of police surrounded them. When protestors asked for badge numbers and filmed the officers, two were detained before the group even had a chance to march.
The remaining protestors then walked to the police station to support arrestees and await their release -- five were arrested and charged with a variety of offences, including obstruction of police officers, loitering, mischief, and even obstruction of justice. The latter offence -- listed on arrestee Gregory Williams ticket -- is defined in the Criminal Code as “attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice in a judicial proceeding.”
Williams, released around midnight, said he believes police charged him with the wrong offence altogether.
“I think they confused my charges,” he said, chuckling, outside the police station. “Maybe because when the detective asked why I was here, I said, 'I believe I'm being charged with obstruction of injustice.'”
Those arrested also included Anushka Nagji -- a University of Victoria law student who was one of those jailed last Friday and released with a blanket ban on being anywhere in downtown and West End Vancouver. She successfully fought to have her conditions overturned in court on Tuesday, after civil liberties advocates raised questions about whether police were criminalizing dissent and dissuading freedom of assembly.
Another of the arrested, Langara College student Peter Haywood, said he was beaten by police inside the station.
“When they arrested me I was on the sidewalk ... I was just banging on my drum,” the 31-year old said. “Officers were assaulting protesters.
“They slammed the door on my leg because I was halfway in and halfway out. They slammed it on my leg. I wasn't resisting arrest at (any) point, but once they brought me inside, they pushed me down to the ground really hard. Then two officers took turns stepping on my back – with their knees on my back. I have a bruise on my leg. It was really uncalled for. I wasn't resisting or anything. I didn't need to be slammed to the ground at all.”
The Vancouver Police Department admitted this week that Staff Sgt. Ken Athans attended a Montreal police training on dealing with massive student protests there.
"Staff Sgt. Athans... went to Montreal to observe what tactics and strategies the Montreal Police are using during their protests," Cst. Lindsey Houghton, VPD's media relations officer, told the Tyee. "Training such as this is conducted on a regular basis by members of the Department and involves officers from all different sections visiting other police agencies to learn from them."
Wiley-Shaw said Sgt. Athans' training in Quebec prove that police are coordinating their response to protest nation-wide.
“It shows that this isn't something that's happening just in municipalities or in certain communities,” she said. “There's something concerted going on at a national level around training law enforcement to quash dissent.
“It means we have to look Ottawa-ward -- as we so often do when these things are being coordinated in this way. It's fucking disgusting. We know our cops here need mental health training, they need all kinds of training they're not getting. But instead they're getting training on how to violate protestors' rights. It's a very fucked up set of priorities. I know that, but it's a different feeling to experience that in the form of a cop kneeing you in the ribs for no fucking reason.”
The weekly "Casseroles" protests -- named for the clanging metal pots and pans which have marked Quebec rallies -- are in solidarity with tens of thousands of students protesting tuition hikes, austerity measures and government anti-protest laws. Thousands have been arrested there.
For demonstrators here, the issues of tuition hikes, austerity cutbacks and police repression resonate as much in B.C. as they do in Quebec.
“I feel like tuition is way too high, especially here in B.C.,” Haywood said. “I'm also concerned with cutbacks to education, also the cutbacks to adult education that I think are very important -- any cutbacks to adult education affect a lot of really vulnerable people -- immigrants and people with learning differences.
“They're acting the way they are because we're winning -- this is a sign of it. We are strong, and once you're strong, they're going to come down harder once they see that. Maybe their intent is hoping their actions are going to scare the movement. But we've got to make sure this only enhances the movement -- it makes it stronger -- because these are violations of our right to assemble, our right to peaceful protest, and our right for expression.”
Outside the jail late last night, remaining demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk with juice boxes and snacks, cheering as arrestees were, one-by-one, released. Some discussed launching police brutality lawsuits or complaints. Wiley-Shaw reported that male police officers patting her down “grabbed my ass” when she asked for a female officer.
Nagji and another detainee -- both of whom were arrested on Friday as well -- were held overnight, faced court this morning and were released at noon. On Tuesday, Nagji had successfully fought to have sweeping conditions banning her from the entirety of downtown overturned. But several of last night's arrestees reported signing undertakings banning them from the Vancouver Art Gallery grounds.
Asked about Friday's arrests, police said they saw four masked protesters “hijacking” the protest, identifying them as “Black Bloc” -- although other demonstrators said there were only two masked individuals, and the first arrestees were unconcealed. However, nobody wore masks at last night's protest, according to video footage.
But a police spokesperson said officers were simply present to "monitor and facilitate the protest" -- until they recognized Nagji, unaware her no-go conditions downtown had been lifted. The officers, Houghton said, were later provoked when protestors violently attempted to interfere with arrests in progress -- allegations the accused vociferously deny -- and that demonstrators were banging on and spitting on cars.
"As officers moved in to prevent any further damage or escalation of violence, and arrest a protester, another protester allegedly physically jumped onto an officer, assaulting him, and injuring him in the process," said Cst. Lindsey Houghton, VPD's media relations officer. "That protester was also arrested for assaulting a peace officer.
"Another protester then allegedly assaulted the same officer and that protester, a woman, was arrested for assaulting a peace officer... All of the above was videotaped by police and will be submitted as evidence to support the appropriate charges."
Houghton confirmed the charges from last night: one charged with a property mischief offence, one for obstructing a police officer, two bylaw tickets, and two charged with obstruction and assaulting a police officer.
This article also appears on the Vancouver Media Co-op.