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Vancouver Activists Confront G8 University Summit

by David Mercian Canadian Foreign Policy, →2010 Olympics

photo courtesy of Isaac Oommen
photo courtesy of Isaac Oommen
photo courtesy of Isaac Oomen
photo courtesy of Isaac Oomen

Also posted by David:

Vancouver- A busload of University presidents from G8 nations gathering at the Fairmont Pacific Hotel in downtown Vancouver literally came face-to-face with resistance by social activists, accusing them of legitimizing a body that is responsible for the word's social and economic inequality. Injuries were sustained by activists after the forcefull intervention of the Vancouver Police Department which organizers and participants later complained was disproportionately violent. 

The protest, dubbed the “people's  street summit” was organized by the Vancouver Community Mobilization Network (VCMN) in response to the G8 university summit, a meeting of the heads of the world's largest universities, held in advance of  the June G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario. Beginning at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the people's summit drew  ninety people, including members of  groups such as No one is Illegal-Vancouver , the Anti-poverty Committee and Vancouver Status of Women.

The G8 represents the world's greatest economic and military powers,” VCMN organizer Sumayya Kassamali  said to the ninety people gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. “Those are the countries that are responsible for a decision making body that is responsible for the current economic crisis.”

According to the G8 University Summit website, the purpose of the meeting  is “to address the role universities should play in the development of knowledge to lead global social change in the 21st century.” Kassamali charged that “corporatized” universities have a role in creating the political elite.“They want those that pay into this system to take over a system that we know is corrupt, that's destructive, that does not exist for our communities.”

Sozan Savehilaghi, also from the VCMN said that it was important people looked at the people supporting the G8. Savehilaghi noted that the speaker on the summit's chosen topic of sustainability, Amory Lovin. Lovin, as a proponent of natural capitalism, believes that free market ideals are compatible with sustainable environmental practices.  Lovin, Savehilaghi points out, has worked for the US department of defense and energy, as well as Coca-Cola and WalMart.

“Is this the person we want to talk about sustainability and energy ?” Savehilaghi asked. “What they are there to do is to promote the acquisition of more profit.”


Fuck UBC”

Marching from the Vancouver Art Gallery to the entrance of the Fairmont Pacific Hotel, the protesters heard from the community choir Solidarity Notes and smashed a G8-shaped Pinata. The protesters were met by over a dozen Vancouver Police Officers who formed a line with bicycles to prevent entry into the hotel.

Speaking outside the Fairmont, Magín  Scudellari of No one is Illegal-Vancouver and former member of the UBC student union, criticized the “horrible” practices of the host university, the University of British Columbia, giving the crowd an account of UBC's darker history.

Beginning her speech Scudelleri recognized that the land UBC occupies is unceded territory belonging to the Musquem people. In 1879, the people of the land were forced from their land into reservations while their children were to be taken away to be put into the residential school system. Land disputes have continued into the 21st century as UBC has continued to develop on unceded territory.

Another highlight of UBC's history, according to Scudelleri, is the  provision of funds to Apartheid South Africa in the eighties despite the opposition of faculty.  UBC continues to be place for military and police recruiting.  On the corporate side, UBC formed exclusivity agreements with the Coca-Cola company which resulted in the university's water fountains being turned off so students would drink more soft drinks and UBC's research has supported the US department of defense.

Recalling issue she was personally involved in, Scudellari talked about  how UBC refused to deal with students on issues ranging from the displays of right-wing groups comparing abortion to the holocaust to the establishment of sexual assault support centre on campus.

“The majority of people that are sexually assaulted are between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five,” said Sculledari, “ That is the majority of the campus population at any college or university. But, UBC refused to have it because, of course, sexual assault doesn't happen at UBC.”

Despite students' support of the centre, UBC refused to participate and the students built it themselves.

“UBC hates women, UBC hates people of color, UBC hates indigenous people, UBC hates your health because they want you to drink Coca-Cola and they hate the environment because they like building really shitty buildings,” concluded Sculdellari to loud applause.  “So fuck UBC, fuck the G8, fuck the pigs!”


Protesters blockade University Delegates

After circling the Fairmont several times, protester members finally spotted a bus carrying G8 delegates. Around fifty protesters then converged on the intersection of Burrard and Canada Place, preventing the bus from moving further. 

In response, the VPD mobilized an extra fifty police officers, many of them plainclothes. After  converging at the rear of the bus the officers moved into the crowd, grabbing, pushing and dragging those who wouldn't move quickly enough. With space cleared, the police urged the bus driver to begin driving. As the bus made it's way past the protesters, police took advantage of the confusion and seized six protesters.

As the protesters reconverged it became apparent that some had sustained injuries. The group's street medic, Caitlin French, had had her arm injured by police.  French said she was standing in front of the bus when an officer, named Swan told her to move.

“He grabbed my arm very hard and with his other hand grabbed my back which hurts me a lot because I live with chronic pain. So I started screaming 'Don't touch me! Don't touch me!” and I think what happened is that he tripped my feet and he pushed me to the ground. I got up and he grabbed me and pushed me to the ground.”

A Vancouver resident, Yarsi complained of how an officer (numbered 1565) broke her bike.  When she went to complain to him he noticed her foreign accent and asked her where she was from.

“I told him I have been here close to thirty years and that bike was my mode of transportation and he told me 'If you don't like it here, you go back to your home.'”

The police officer, when approached would respond that he made those remarks and said “she should file a complaint.”

While some sustained injuries, six others had been arrested by the Vancouver Police department for "breaching the peace".  All were released at midnight. 

Scudellari  called the police response “brutal” and said that the amount of force the police display when dealing with protests have increased since the Olympics.

“It's really horrible seeing human beings acting violently for no reason at all,” said Scudellari. "If anything, its a reminder that we need to be doing this more."

VCMN has confirmed that three concussions were sustained by protesters that required medical attention, as well as torn ligaments. The VCMN and local activist groups are compiling information on those whose bikes were damaged and  those who were injured or harrased by police during the demonstration.

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