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

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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.


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