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Fear of Conflict Enabled Occupy Vancouver to be Established

City's initial plan to prevent tent camp altered after fear of street chaos

by Zig Zag Occupy

Vancouver police vehicles burn during Canucks Riot, June 15, 2011
Vancouver police vehicles burn during Canucks Riot, June 15, 2011

Also posted by Zig Zag:

With Occupy Vancouver facing a court injunction ordering their removal by Monday, November 21, at 2PM, it is worth reflecting on why OV was able to be established in the first place.

An article in the Vancouver Sun two weeks ago reported on the original plan by city officials to squash any effort to set up tents and other structures at the Art Gallery on October 15, when OV was set up during a rally of some 5,000 people:

“The City of Vancouver opted not to stop Occupy Vancouver from setting up a tent city downtown during the initial protest march on Oct. 15 because it feared that police action could spark a riot, Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday [Nov. 10].

A committee of senior city officials, including city manger Penny Ballem and police chief Jim Chu, concluded that intervention could backfire based on intelligence received in the lead-up to the protest attended by 4,000 people, added Robertson.

"They made the choice in that immediate 24-hour period before the protest that an intervention would be high-risk and could provoke a conflict as serious as a riot,” the mayor told The Vancouver Sun.

Robertson said he was not on the committee but was briefed on the assessment.

Earlier in the week before the Oct. 15 mass demonstration, the city had intended to dismantle an Occupy tent city as quickly as possible, the mayor added. Indeed, the city’s fledgling Large Events Oversight Committee (LEOC) was told by Deputy City Manager Sadhu Johnston on Oct. 11 that the city would not allow an encampment to be erected on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Galley — four days before the protest began.

But the management team was following the (Occupy Vancouver) organizing in the days leading up, basically hour by hour, and their assessment shifted through that week,” recalled Robertson.

In the few days before Oct. 15, the scale of (Occupy Vancouver) organizing was very significant and we realized that thousands of people would rally and that, as with other cities, it would be much more difficult to intervene than anticipated.”

(“Riot fears stopped city from squashing Occupy Vancouver, mayor says,” By Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun, November 11, 2011)

Two days earlier, during a mayoral debate, Robertson had also publicly stated why action was not taken against OV:

“Tents were erected in the midst of up to 5,000 people being at the Art Gallery Square, which made it very difficult for police or city engineering staff to intervene and try and stop tents from being erected. They did not try. Their best judgement was that would've caused real problems, potentially violence. Our bottom line all the way through this is to prevent violence and chaos.”

(“A Monday-morning matchup,” by Phylicia Torrevillas, Metro Vancouver, Nov. 8, 2011)

In fact, the last attempted tent city, back in February 2011 (the Olympic Athlete's Village tent city), was immediately squashed when a city official read out a proclamation ordering protesters off a public plaza inside the Athlete's Village complex. A large police force—including the public order unit in soft hats—was deployed and ready to enforce the order. The tent city packed up before it began and retreated to an empty lot across the street from the Village. The police contacted the property owner and within an hour or so were prepared to arrest those that remained on the lot. The tent city effort was over after just 3-4 hours.

Some of the OV participants have misinterpreted the city's inaction as a sign of its benevolent, loving nature, itself a manifestation of the transcendental global awakening that is now occurring. In another reality, it is the balance of forces and the potential for conflict that forced those in power to retreat from their original plans for repressing the movement.

Other statements from the mayor and city officials reaffirm this: they have observed and been in communication with officials in other cities facing Occupy movements. Robertson himself publicly stated he did not want to see what happened in Oakland (where rioting has occurred with property destruction and looting) happen in Vancouver.

Robertson's appearance as a benevolent ruler is undermined by the fact that, under his administration, Vancouver police have used violence, or the threat of violence, against literally thousands of citizens since he took power in the fall of 2008 (i.e., the 2010 anti-Olympic movement and numerous other protests over the previous three years). Thousands of citizens were subjected to large-scale police violence during the 2011 Canucks Riot. Clearly, Robertson's “bottom line” is not to prevent violence, but rather to use violence to protect the bottom line of the corporate elite (i.e., their profits, including protecting them from losses incurred by property destruction).

While this may come as cold water to the hippy pacifists in the ranks, ultimately it was a fear of rioting, of property destruction in particular, that enabled Occupy Vancouver to establish itself in the first place.

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Other possibilities?

Thanks for the article. I completely agree that the goal of the city is to "protect the bottom line of the corporate elite." That much is obvious, and becomes clearer with every action this and other cities take against the Occupy encampments and demonstrations. And maybe it was a "fear of rioting, of property destruction in particular, that enabled Occupy Vancouver to establish itself in the first place." That's one possibility, I guess. But if that is the case, couldn't it have been for political reasons, especially with an election coming up, rather than an actual fear of conflict itself?

Robertson and his donors would have had a much tougher time winning the election if their political opponents could have touted two "riots" happening under his watch rather than just the one that already had. It seems much more likely that that was the thinking that took place, not that the police or government had any fear of conflict per se. And why would they? They have all the weapons, armour, jail cells, courts, media support, etc. They have no reason to fear a "riot" from a physical perspective, really just as a political and perhaps legal headache more than anything else.  Isn't it far more likely that throwing the word "riot" around was actually a propaganda move, an attempt to rally opposition to Occupy Vancouver by playing on lingering disgust and fear of the hockey debacle, rather than an honest admission of what actually held the police and city in check?

That's not to say that a fear of potential conflict can't or doesn't prevent elites from using force, though--just that it's fear of a different kind of conflict than "property destruction" or "riots" that really gets to them. As both the articles you quoted mentioned, it seems the crucial factor here was the amount of support: between 4000-5000 people, including very public support from labour unions and other sectors. It seems far more likely that it was the amount and strength of public support that stayed the hands of the police rather than any fear of riots breaking out. It's pretty easy to stop or crush a tiny crowd of occupiers, like during the February attempt, but it's far harder to smash a crowd of four of five thousand.

If that's the case, that tells us something interesting: With even a relatively small and limited amount of public support, we get to set the agenda and take action, not them.

hello andre, i agree

hello andre, i agree authorities don't "fear" low-level conflict such as the Canucks riot, and it is more a fear of the political consequences from such disorders than actual material damages even.  But that's the entire nature of insurgency: it is not simply a 'military' question but a political-military one, in which the political context is paramount.

I think what Robertson's quotes show is that they feared street disturbances had they attempted to prevent a tent encampment and the political repurcussions it would have had on the upcoming elections of Nov 19.

Yes, it's far harder to smash a crowd of 4-5,000, but then we're just returning to the question of street disorders in the aftermath of a major riot and an upcoming election.


Many other occupations in Canada, and elsewhere, have been established for some time even without previous rioting (recently, anyway); and doesn't that go against your basic point here?  -- at least in regards to the movement more broadly, which the Vancouver occupation absolutely has been part of.


Is a previous hockey riot actually supposed to be relevant, in regards to the occupation?  That sounds ridiculous to me.


it was to city authorities

it was to city authorities and police, and yes they are quite ridiculous when it comes to defending the interests of the ruling class.

Toban, well my article is

Toban, well my article is about Occupy Vancouver, not the broader movement.  According to Robertson, the city's initial plan had been to prevent OV from even establishing itself and that is the entire point of the article.

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