The message from the PNE board of directors Monday night was clear — Hastings Park and the PNE are not on the table as a possible future location for the annual 4/20 pot protest.
The board passed a motion directing staff to write a letter to city council stating that “Hastings Park will not serve as a relocation site for the 4/20 protest activities” and further that the board “remains committed to only hosting controlled events that fulfill the strict PNE event criteria and the City of Vancouver bylaws.”
The motion that was presented to the board this week was a far cry from the original motion that was posted online last week as part of the public meeting agenda. That motion called for the board to direct PNE management to ensure that discussions around relocating the event to Hastings Park be “collaboratively undertaken while ensuring event organizers are willing to meet all required event criteria as outlined with payment of all associated event costs.”
Vancouver city Coun. Lisa Dominato, who is also chair of the PNE board of directors, told the Courier that the motion was changed after the board received considerable feedback from residents in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood.
“We started hearing from residents, we started hearing from local businesses and local not for profits and organizations in the community saying ‘We have deep concerns if you’re thinking of simply relocating this protest activity,’” she said.
Dominato went on to say: “We don’t want to be home to 4/20 protest activities and we have very strict event criteria… and any events that are held here have to meet those criteria. We felt that we needed to be really clear with the community about that, no, we are not wanting to be home to large protest activity.”
She added that there is a mutual respect between the PNE and residents in the surrounding neighbourhood, a sentiment that was echoed by some of the residents who spoke at the meeting.
“We take pride in that,” she said.
Half a dozen residents signed up to speak to the board of directors Monday night. And while all were in agreement with the new motion that was under consideration, they took the time to reiterate their concerns about the event moving to Hastings Park.
Steve Canofari said that 4/20 is no longer a protest and is a “commercial endeavour.”
“They want to use the goodwill of a protest movement for their own financial benefits… but most importantly they want none of the financial and social responsibility that comes with hosting an event,” he said.
“The PNE has spent a lot of time and effort… in really working well with this community and fostering strong relationships, supporting the arts, supporting youth sports, supporting a lot of people and an event like this, although it would not be their issue, could destroy a lot of the goodwill.”
Linda Shuto said residents in the neighbourhood don’t think of the PNE as a place, but as an event that happens at Hastings Park.
“I want you to think of this place through a park lens, not just a place that holds events,” she said. “Hastings Park is our local park… We’d like more opportunities to bring the public into Hastings Park for small scale events and we would like Hastings Park to be more welcoming and accessible as most parks are.”
The discussion around the PNE board table was prompted, Dominato said, by the park board’s motion last month asking Vancouver city council and 4/20 organizers to move the event away from Sunset Beach and to find a more appropriate location for it starting in 2020.
The annual event has been taking place in the city since 1995. It moved to Sunset Beach in 2016 and had previously been held at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Organizer Dana Larsen previously told the Courier that other locations have been considered but finding another suitable spot for an event of that size is difficult.
“We thought about a lot of different parks in the city, really, there was a few different spots that we looked at and thought about but mostly they were either too small or not particularly accessible or difficult for safety purposes,” he said.
Larsen has yet to respond to a request for comment on the PNE board’s decision.
Vancouver city council is set to debate and make a decision Tuesday on a motion proposed by Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung that would direct staff to consult with 4/20 organizers and the public to identify an appropriate non-residential neighbourhood site for the event.