The major mobilization on Saturday, dubbed the “2010 Heart Attack” began in the early hours of the morning, with around 300 activists gathering at Thornton Park under a heavy police presence to march through the streets of Vancouver in an attempt to disrupt “business as usual” on the opening day of competition of the 2010 Games.
The march departed from Thornton Park just after 9:00 am, with the goal of reaching the intersection of Denman and Georgia, where buses destined for the Whistler venues have to pass. Police on bicycles ringed the march as it snaked its way through the streets towards the upscale downtown, turning up Hastings Street and moving into the heart of the city, nearly abandoned streets giving way to larger crowds as it progressed.
Early on an apparent agent provocateur moved into the crowd, pushing and taunting marchers before darting to the sidewalk, at times stopping to talk with police before running forward to taunt the crowd again. As the protest moved through the streets, some participants overturned mailboxes and newspaper boxes, pulling them into the street in an attempt to block traffic.
Minor property damage occurred along that march, and as demonstrators reached the shopping district of Georgia Street, a group of protesters broke one of the display windows of the Hudson’s Bay building, one of the national sponsors of the Games, and one which has come under criticism for both its long history of colonialism and its sourcing of Olympics sweaters from China rather than the Cowichan nation. A ball of red paint was also thrown at the window. Despite a heavy presence at the scene, no arrests were made.
As the march continued through the downtown, with chants of “No justice, no peace” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” echoing through the buildings, the police presence intensified. Vans full of police in full riot gear descended on the march, and the number of police on bicycles increased markedly. With those on bicycles forcing onlookers and some of the marchers to the sidewalk, the riot police moved in from behind the marchers, with numerous police cars and wagons following closely behind. There were scuffles as the police moved to isolate the main body of the march from legal observers and onlookers who were filming, and one woman was arrested after being wrestled to the ground by a number of officers.
The marchers were eventually surrounded by riot police, some of whom were armed with automatic weapons while others brandished plexiglass shields and batons. After police on bicycles stopped a group of onlookers from proceeding, separating them from the march by about half a block, police moved in and made a number of arrests. Some in the crowd fought back or attempted to “un-arrest” those targeted by the police. Both riot police and police on bicycles forced observers and legal teams to the sidewalks as they put those arrested into wagons. As the police moved in and divided the crowd by creating wedges between different groups of protesters, some smaller groups split from the main march, some of them pursued by groups of police.
Smaller groups spread throughout the downtown core were split off by police and surrounded by riot police at a number of locations. One group of about 30 people, which included a marching band and a number of dancers, were surrounded on all sides by riot police as supporters were kept at a distance by heavily armed police and police on bicycles. The crowd, which was forced to the sidewalk by police by threats of arrest chanted “Let them go!” as those surrounded by the police held their hands in peace signs and attempted to negotiate their way to the sidewalk. As the standoff between trumpets and truncheons continued, some in the crowd turned to chants of “This is weird. Let them go.” After being surrounded for over half an hour and prevented from leaving, the police eventually allowed the band and its supporters to disperse.
In all a total of 13 arrests were reported by the legal support team, and five are being held and may be charged. Protesters have begun jail support at the police station at 222 Main in support of those arrested.
By 4:00 pm, the most heavily damaged window at Hudson’s Bay Co. had been replaced.
Scott Harris is the Prairies Regional Organizer for the Council of Canadians