Cannabis Day at the Vancouver Art Gallery – for the past 19 years – has been a peaceful protest against marijuana prohibition and a real-life demonstration of a positive alternative to our destructive pot laws.
That peace was fractured yesterday when Vancouver police and city officials arrived in large numbers, acted aggressively to the small crowd and eventually waged a brutal takedown and arrest of several non-violent marijuana activists.
In the past, pot activists, police, and City of Vancouver officials worked together, meeting several times a year to discuss strategy and make the popular rally and cannabis farmers market a safe and enjoyable environment for all.
Activists see the cannabis farmers market as an important part of their demonstration, as an example of a safe and responsible legal marijuana marketplace and a peaceful act of civil disobedience.
This year, just weeks before our scheduled Cannabis Day rally, volunteer organizers learned through media reports that the city would be blocking the event by erecting construction fences around the North side of the Art Gallery, and that the City managers didn’t consider Cannabis Day a political protest.
Though organizers had co-ordinated the massive 4/20 rally with the city in great detail just a few months beforehand, no one at the city contacted us to give a heads up about the planned construction.
When organizers contacted the city for information, we were sent a letter telling us we must move the event to a new, more “appropriate location”, like a city-controlled lot near the Cambie Street bridge, and obtain a permit and insurance.
We explained to the city that with only three weeks to go, it would be impossible to organize and promote a successful move to a new location.
Instead, organizers agreed with city officials to move the rally to the South side of the Art Gallery. Organizers also agreed to refrain from constructing a stage and from helping organize vendor booths.
AN ARMY OF POLICE
Early yesterday when activists arrived at the Art Gallery, police and City of Vancouver officials were patrolling the grounds in unprecedented numbers. A group of police stood on each corner and groups of roving officers circled the grounds. It was intimidating to say the least, since we are used to very few officers on site.
Authorities told organizers they were onsite to “shut down any tables without permits.”
Other officers, including one holding a surveillance camera and broadcasting equipment, walked into the areas where activists and protesters gathered, pointing the camera directly at people in what seemed like a provocative gesture.
Police passed disturbingly close to protestors and stood directly next to gathering activists. We were unsettled and shocked to see this kind of behaviour from the same police force we worked with so closely in the past in a peaceful manner.
VIOLENT TAKEDOWN AND ARREST
Neil Magnuson – a cannabis activist and financial agent for the Marijuana Party of Canada – was approached by police and city officials and forbidden from setting-up a table or selling cannabis. Neil protested, explaining to authorities that he had a right to peaceful civil disobedience and freedom of assembly as granted by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Without warning, more than a dozen officers surrounded and attempted to grab Neil and other protestors. The activists locked arms with each other – what we call “Hug Power” – another non-violent technique used to exercise civil disobedience in opposing what we believe are unjust laws.
Police aggressively pulled apart protesters, shoved members of the crowd and arrested Neil and several other people. A man was taken to the pavement by two officers, arrested and then let go with a citation for jay-walking. Two women were detained and let go after a few minutes.
Neil was taken to the police station and held until later Wednesday night. Police reported he was arrested for selling marijuana to youth, though selling to youth was not mentioned before or during the arrest.
After his release, Neil said he did not sell to anyone he thought looked younger than 17.
Activists David Malmo-Levine, Cameron McDonald, and Bert Easterbrook were arrested, charged with obstructing justice and released later that evening.
After the arrests, police disappeared nearly completely and our Cannabis Day protest continued peacefully with activist speakers, DJ performances, and a marijuana smoke-in at 4:20.
Vendors on site continued to sell cannabis products to the crowd – and no one was harmed.
Many marijuana activists and members of our community were horrified by the actions of the police and want to know why the city would choose to act so combative toward non-violent protesters.
Police justified their behaviour by accusing Neil of selling marijuana to a young person. We have seen no evidence this is true. Whether it is or not, we do not believe it warrants such an heavy-handed reaction from police, especially since identical behaviour has been okayed by the city and police in the past at all of our recent rallies – and would theoretically be permitted at a new location.
We also wonder why so many police officers were sent to patrol and approach protesters in a disruptive fashion long before any sales of marijuana took place.
Cannabis Day and 4/20 Vancouver organizers are committed to working with the city and police in the future to relocate the rallies to another location they find more appropriate.
Whether officially-sanctioned or not, the Cannabis Day and 4/20 Vancouver protests will go on, and we will continue our quest for the rights and freedoms of cannabis consumers and all Canadian citizens.
Cannabis Day organizer