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Recovering from the Heart Attack

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Issue: 69 Section: Features Geography: West Vancouver Topics: Justice, 2010 Olympics, law, security

June 10, 2010

Recovering from the Heart Attack

Arrestees fighting off Olympic side-effects in court

by Isaac Oommen

The Olympic Cleanup Crew marches in the February 13 "Heart Attack." Photo: Chris Bevacqua

VANCOUVER—Although the Olympics' closing ceremonies were three months ago, for those who opposed the two-week spectacle, the Vancouver 2010 Games have not yet left town.

Guillaume Pascal was arrested and accused of involvement in the February 13 Heart Attack Demonstration. "Two cops say that I instructed people to smash the windows of the RBC [Royal Bank of Canada]," he said. "VPD [Vancouver Police Department] said that they caught the ringleader of the action when they arrested me."

The Heart Attack was a demonstration meant to clog the roads leading through Vancouver to Whistler where many of the sports events were taking place. 300 masked people walked through downtown Vancouver, vandalizing symbols of the Olympics and capitalism. Olympic sponsors' advertisements on city buses were spray-painted; newspaper boxes of the Province and Canwest newspapers were overturned and the windows of the Hudson's Bay Company were smashed. The group was dispersed finally by riot police in the West End.

Pascal was arrested two days after the Heart Attack demonstration, after his residence and vehicle were constantly monitored by the police.

"VISU [Vancouver Integrated Security Unit] really dropped the ball on keeping the peace," said Pascal, who believes he was arrested because security agencies needed to save face after property was damaged during the Heart Attack. "They spent eight times the amount [on security] as the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, and needed a scapegoat for their incompetence in letting the Heart Attack take place."

Cop shop on Main and Hastings Streets in Vancouver. Twenty-seven protesters were arrested during the Olympics (and held here); 10 were charged; two are still fighting their charges in court. Photo: Isaac Oommen

"The Heart Attack ended the violent protests, and that had a lot to do with the response of the police," said Deputy Chief Constable Steve Sweeney at a March 17 Olympic security debriefing. "The public came over to our favour," he said about support for police conduct during the Heart Attack.

But few saw footage of police conduct during the February 13 demo. Police were brutal in arresting protesters, and even detained people peacefully walking to a prison vigil later that day.

"There were no charges made against me," said Sozan Savehilaghi, who marched with a pink-wigged, coverall-wearing group calling itself the Olympic Cleanup Crew. She was detained for video-taping arrests during the Heart Attack. "I was never read my rights or told why I was being detained. There were just lots of empty threats."

Savehilaghi was one of 27 protesters arrested during the Olympics, according to Solidarity with Anti-Olympic Convergence Arrestees (SACA)—a group formed to bring together arrestees and supporters to raise funds for the formers' defence. Ten of the arrestees were charged, of whom two are still fighting charges in court.

SACA member Ed Durgan was arrested February 13 near Pigeon Park, fifteen blocks away from where the Heart Attack demo ended. He was arrested for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk after questioning a group of police, whom he believed were harassing someone sleeping on a bench near the park.

"I was nearly deported. We had to fight for me to stay since they were going to revoke my student visa," said Durgan. "They put effort into intimidating me because I was a high-profile activist. But [the detainees] realized we'd all been arrested for political purposes, and wanted to stick together and fight these charges." Durgan said SACA goes beyond fundraising, and is considering legal action against the police for harassment.

Fundraising for SACA is tricky in Vancouver, where recently a benefit rock gig at the Pitt Pub at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was cancelled by the Alma Mater Society (AMS).

"AMS is claiming that the policy is that only student groups can book events on-campus," said SACA organizer Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, "which makes no sense because off-campus groups"—such as the Red Cross and Vancouver General Hospital—"work with student groups to book space at UBC all the time."

Despite UBC AMS' actions, there is support for SACA. The launch of the Dominion's G20 special issue on May 14 at the Vancouver Media Co-op included a solidarity statement with SACA. A dance party at the Secret Location on the same night included a silent auction for SACA.

Pascal's case is still going through court. "And there are other things like finding a job, that is hard after this," he said. "Marginalizing someone into being a 'terrorist' stops him from ever being able to live normally."

Isaac K. Oommen is a freelance journalist and communications graduate student researching media representation of marginalized people. He is a collective member of the Vancouver Media Co-op.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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