Yesterday Vancouver’s Gastown Gazette published a story calling on Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to “Take Action Before Arson”. The article was in reference to the alleged violence and mayhem being caused by the city’s anti gentrification extremists. They’ve been harassing business owners (and their customers), vandalizing, and marching down the streets with lit torches- yet, the response from the city has been weak. It was only after an East Vancouver house got burned down that it seemed mayor Robertson was ready to take any real action.
On Friday, a group of protesters gathered in front of the Cuchillo restaurant, some were wearing masks. Protesters chanted about matches, torches and burning-down condos. The Gastown Gazette has called on the mayor to take action before this happens. It’s a noble thought, but it’s equally totally misguided- Gregor Robertson’s handling of the anarchists has been a massive fail.
Mayor Robertson’s first test at dealing with the anarchists came during the 2011 hockey riots. The day after they occurred he and police chief Jim Chu went public talking about anarchists and indicating the riots were purposefully orchestrated. There’s a great quote from Robertson in the Vancouver Sun:
“Definitely there are citizens responsible for inflaming the situation. But there were purposeful vandals who instigated this and very cleverly whipped many others into a frenzy by attacking cars and storefronts and moving throughout the downtown to create more hot spots.”
The anarchists immediately chimed-in through social media throwing ridicule and insults towards the mayor and police chief. Harsha Walia, the violent anarchist’s most visible role model, began doing interviews outwardly denying the radical’s involvement. Ultimately Robertson withdrew from making such statements- the official story now is that the riots were an organic occurrence. The mayor’s gaffe weakened the city’s future ability to deal with anarchist violence.
Robertson’s next big test with the anarchists came during Occupy Vancouver. At first, he was the only mayor in the world who stated that an Occupation should be allowed to run indefinitely. But as time wore on, and he was bitterly attacked by his support by Suzanne Anton (who he was running against at the time), he quickly lost his resolve.
The first real indication that Occupy Vancouver would be shut-down came after a man overdosed on heroin inside of the camp. Robertson sent the fire chief into the camp to make some changes- one of which was to remove the tarps that were placed over groups of tents. The fire chief was told this could result in a fatal overdose- the person who overdosed was sitting the tarps, if they weren’t there he’d probably have died alone in a tent.
At this point mayor Robertson was contacted and warned about the dangerous situation- but he ignored (or lost) messages sent my phone, email and Twitter. The Insite needle exchange program was contacted, they agreed to send someone to the camp to do outreach. They brought needles and paraphernalia, but no outreach. Later that evening a young girl died in her tent. It was only then that Robertson took action- the camp was quickly shut down.
It was right at the same time that the anti-gentrification ruckus began to heat up. Members of the DTES protest community organized a march and occupied a condo. The protest was billed as being about the Sequel 138 project but this was a diversion. Outsmarting the police, they marched towards a condo project next to Save-On-Meats and quickly occupying the building. Harsha Walia was the featured speaker- Herb Varley, who was not so well back then, was one of the occupiers inside of the building. The protest ended peacefully after the occupiers agreed to leave.
A few days later was the first big protest against Sequel 138. Speeches were given by Harsha Walia and superstar Naomi Klein. Herb Varley was also given the mike, a fresh new face whose now become a major player. The protest stayed peaceful and only blocked traffic for a short while. But, with heavy hitters like Klein and Wallia present- there was no mistaking this rally was a big shot over mayor Robertson’s bow.
Jump forward to the Pidgin restaurant protests this year where a group of thugs have decided that they’re going to shut down Brandon Grossutti’s new restaurant. Despite their stated intent to destroy Pidgin the city and police did virtually nothing to stop them.
Publications like the Gazette began pointing out that many of the people behind the protests were part of government (and NGO) funded organizations- the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) was the primary focus. Two CCAP executives resigned after complaints were sent to Vancity credit union (who provided funding to CCAP).
On May 1st a group of anarchists assembled for the city’s May Day march, handed out lit torches and marched towards the Pidgin restaurant. The police left the anarchists to march with their torches, the only action taken by the police was to block-off Pidgin’s entrance. No arrests were made or what was, unquestionably, an illegal and dangerous assembly.
Then, only two weeks later, someone burned down a house to protest gentrification.
Kim Hearty, an executive for COPE Vancouver (a completing political party) was arrested and charged with theft, assault and mischief after a heated protest at the Pidgin Restaurant. The protests seemed to be a magnet for COPE, Nicolas Ellan of their Communications Committee was also photographed in front of the restaurant.
This week Ellan took a shot over the bow of a new restaraunt named Cuchillo- writing a story in the Mainlander comparing its opening to white supremacy movements and Canada’s internment of the Japanese during WWII. Protesters came out to the Cuchillo on Friday night and began chanting an ominous rant:
“Get the torches! Get the matches! Burn the condos! Burn the condos! F…ing a,,,holes! Get the matches! Get the torches! Burn the condos! Get the matches! Get the torches!”
CCAP leaders Wendy Pedersen and Jean Swanson were at the protests, alondside a group of masked anarchists who did the chanting. According to the Gazette’s report Pedersen & Swanson explained that there’s no association between them and the masked protesters- while this is technically true, it’s not the whole story.
Back before the 2010 Olympics, people in the DTES activist community agreed to operate under a flawed doctrine called “Diversity of Tactics”. What this means is that protesters are forced to accept that others may use violence, and that it’s totally unacceptable to speak out against those who do. People who agree to the diversity of tactics approach may not be burning down buildings, but they’re certainly enabling those who do.
In the above picture was taken at the Chuchillo restaraunt on Friday. On the left, is Tami Starlight- a well known anarchist and a key organizer behind the Pidgin protests. The person on the right appears to be Harsha Walia, the number one advocate of diversity of tactics in the country. These two people are no strangers to Pedersen and Swanson- so why have they refused to speak out? The true test of their position is if they will.
Besides being fellow activists Tami Starlight, Wendy Pedersen, Herb Varley and Harsha Walia have one big thing in common. They’re all members of the Local Area Plan (LAP) committee- an group that officially represents the needs of the DTES community and makes recommendations on city planning. The LAP is funded and run by the City of Vancouver- Gregor Robertson’s government has handed this sensitive task to the very same people wearing masks and chanting about setting fires.
Knowing it’s come to this, and understanding Robertson’s previous mishandling of anarchist issues, it’s laughable to think that he has the skills and resolve to actually solve the problem. When it comes to dealing with radicals and anarchists, Robertson has obviously reached his Peter Principle. If the Gastown Gazette holds their breath waiting for Gregor Robertson to do something there’s a great danger they’ll die of asphyxiation…