It was shortly after twelve and a brisk summer’s day when I arrived at the Pan Pacific Hotel where Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was scheduled to speak in a couple of hours. Already there were about a dozen people with signs and placards among the small crowd of mostly tourists that filled the circular, tree shaded benches along the road and a few people sat down in the area just in front of the doors to the Vancouver Convention Centre, the complex that housed the Pan Pacific.
Some video cameras on tripods were also apparent as other news organizations prepared to cover the event. At either side of the main doors were a pair of uniformed Vancouver Police officers in relflective vests. One of these pairs began to openly and actively photograph and videotape people as the crowd began to grow.
I approached and asked the officer with the still camera why she was taking her photographs. At first she replied that this was a public space and they had every right to photograph. When I reminded her that that had not been my question, she answered that she was there for public safety in case something were to happen. I thanked her and walked off to take more of my own pictures, not failing to notice the lens of her bulky police camera pointed right at me as soon as I stopped.
By one o’clock a group of hundred or more activists had gathered together, brandishing placards, banners and hand held signs of protest against the policies of the Harper Government. The largest single group there appeared to be the Public Service Alliance of Canada with over half a dozen representatives holding PSAC flags. Other organizations like Greenpeace appeared in groups of two or three, but most of the attendents seemed to be concerned individuals from all walks of life.
The protestors’ issues were primarily environmental. Several signs decrying Harper’s lack of respect for climate science, protesting the proposed oil tanker routes and Enbridge pipeline were on display, but issues such as the election robo-call scandal, his love of military spending and private, for-profit prisons, and his attacks on medical marijuana were not forgotten.
When two o’clock arrived, the doors to the convention centre were guarded by a dozen police officers. People trying to enter were forced to go around the line of cops blocking the entrance. I was accosted by a female officer who demanded to know what I was doing when I attempted to put an empty juice tin into the recycling bin next to the line. “What does it look like?” I replied savagely, depositing the tin and walking away. Later I noticed that the bin had been opened… she had gone into the recycling box and was unable to close it properly. Our hard earned tax dollars at work… sigh.
While some of the organizers from a group that emerged from the Occupy Vancouver movement spoke, I ate some vegan food lovingly provided free of charge by Food Not Bombs. I heard some attendees wondering if Harper even knew that we were here. After having counted nineteen individual uniformed police officers who were still on duty when I left the diminishing numbers of peaceful protesters at four o’clock, I had the feeling that he knew full well that we’d been there, and that behind his overblown security forces he was nothing but terrified of us.