Arrests at Vancouver casseroles: We need to stand up against criminalization of dissent

| June 28, 2012
Arrests at Vancouver casseroles: We need to stand up against criminalization of dissent

Last night in Vancouver seven participants in a casserole solidarity demonstration were detained and/or arrested by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

They were taken down violently, roughed up, cuffed, searched and detained for hours. They were not informed as to why they were being arrested, or what if any laws they may have broken. They were, in short, denied most of their Charter rights.

Two were taken into custody at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) as the march was about to begin. The other five were detained a few hours later during a jail solidarity vigil outside the police station at 222 Main Street, where the first two were being held.

They were on the sidewalk or crosswalk. They were being peaceful and non-violent, and breaking no apparent laws. Their arrests were targeted (individuals were singled out and taken down by groups of police officers), but seemingly random. And they were decidedly unprovoked.

The detainees report minor injuries (bruising, swelling of joints). All were treated roughly, even though none were resisting arrest. One arrestee, who repeatedly asked why she was being arrested (while several large officers pinned her face down on the concrete), was told to stop resisting. She pointed out that she was not resisting. The officer then replied, "then shut up."

All this yesterday comes after five people were arrested Friday at the June 22 Vancouver casserole, with similar reports of rough treatment. It also comes on the heels of reports that a VPD crowd control specialist had recently returned from tactical training in Quebec on dealing with student protests.

I don't want to blow this out of proportion. Don't want to start talking Gandhi and MLK and all that. But something is wrong, deeply wrong, when the police not only work to suppress dissent (we're used to that, sadly enough), but work to provoke, intimidate and goad activists. And then arbitrarily attack, arrest and beat up peaceful protesters standing in public space.

We have moved deep, deep into the process of the criminalization of dissent.

Now, in Vancouver, in a country that used to pride itself on its democratic freedoms and its standing as an international peacekeeper, the right to assemble and the right to freedom of expression are being more than criminalized.

Those who would dare exercise these rights are being targeted, intimidated, rounded up and arrested, roughed-up and then released without charge. This is the definition of terrorism: to systematically instill fear in a group of people for the purposes of coercion.

The question is, how are we going to respond? That is always the question in a democracy: when something undemocratic happens, when our rights and freedoms come under attack, how do we respond?

Stand up fight back, Canada.

We need more demonstrators than cops when we gather next Wednesday at the VAG. We need to overwhelm them with democracy - with our bodies, our voices and our pots and pans.

We need to resist, now, even more than ever.


Video of some of yesterday's arrests by police is available here

Stephen Collis is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which, On the Material (Talon Books 2010), won the 2011 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. A collection of essays on the Occupy movement, Dispatches from the Occupation (Talon Books 2012), will be available in September. He teaches poetry at Simon Fraser University.




Interesting that police forces across the country are 'greening' their forces. Greening is a military term; it refers to troops who have been in battle.

I totally agree with everything said in this article.

And I confirm that the same thing is happening in Québec.

We need to protect our rights and our people being intimidated. This situation is very scary.

Dear Stephen Collis,


There is ONE efficient way of dealing with police abuse: after they release people with no accusation, you SUE them PERSONALLY (take note of which police officers arrested you) and also THEIR EMPLOYER for THOUSANDS of dollars, for false arrest, abuse of police power, discrimination, and (most importantly) violation of your constitutional rights.


If everyone does that, the police are gonna think twice beofre arresting people illegally again.

Oh by the way, suing a police officer and his employer is VERY easy if you go to small claims court. You don't even need a lawyer (where I live, lawyers are forbidden in small claims court, everyone must represent themselves).

This report by Stephen Collis is disingenuous and one-sided. Please read the following comment left on an Occupy Vancouver Facebook page that tells a fuller and more accurate picture - and a more insightful one. Eric NoEnbridge Lescarbeau wrote: "The arrests at this week's casserole were a continuation of what started last Friday, the 22nd at the 4:00pm casserole. The folks there tried to block a major bridge in the middle of rush hour traffic to cause maximum disruption.

Some of them defied the police when they were asked not to walk into oncoming traffic and, surprise surprise, were arrested. Others there got pissed off and from there on in there's been a string of arrests, confrontations, jail solidarity, discussions etc all focused on the VPD. (Sasha, unfortunately, you got caught in the crossfire and for that I'm truly sorry).

But let's get down to the real question here: What does any of this have to do with showing solidarity with the Maple Spring in Quebec? As much as I dislike and distrust the VPD they didn't pass Bill 78, nor are they trying to enforce it. They may be an arm of the state but they are not the ruling class themselves.

In fact, the VPD seem to have been going out of their way to accommodate the casseroles up until the 22nd action. The fact that last Friday's 15-person casserole at 4:00 pm was allowed to march in the street and block traffic at all is testament to that fact. I can't remember ever having that level of cooperation from the police for such a small protest. They would usually tell us to stay on the sidewalks.

They let us block the Cambie street bridge in both directions the previous week with less than 100 people! My sense is that they were wary of doing anything that would appear to be suppressing the democratic right to protest and end up provoking wider sympathy for the casserole.


I'm sure the local ruling class in BC do not want the Quebec spirit to spread here. We probably could have gone right on having effective Casseroles and they would have gone right on accommodating them at least until they got too big to accommodate and the local higher ups started to get nervous.

So, as much as I detest the way police treat people, I think it was a tactical mistake to get pushy and confrontational with the police on the 22nd and then to orient on protesting the police since then. If you make the police the enemy before they've actually tried to suppress the movement you're just handing them a golden opportunity to shut things down.

While there is a broad level of support for solidarity with Quebec, the level of support for protesting the police is much much smaller as should be evident from the very small level of support that has been seen since the 22nd.

If you focus on the police it's going to alienate a lot of people. And that is exactly what has happened. Of course at some point all movements will likely have to deal with police repression, but the smart ones do their best to avoid that until they have a fairly broad basis of support. That is the strategy that all of the speakers from Quebec last week outlined.

If people decide they're ready to reorient on building solidarity with Quebec and drop the focus on the VPD I'm all for getting together and having productive organizing sessions to develop materials and methods for informing and winning over wider sections of the 99% to supporting and/or participating in that struggle. As long as the focus remains on the VPD I won't be there and neither will a lot of other people."




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