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2010 Flashback: Housing activists drop banner, pitch tents during Games

‘Red tent’ campaign consulting cops
bridge banner
Activists unfurled a 45-foot wide banner from the Cambie Street Bridge Monday morning. Photo Jason Lang

With the 10th anniversary of Vancouver hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics upon us, we are looking back at some of the stories that were making the news in the Courier during those 17 days in February.

This story was originally published Feb. 17, 2010

They came, they protested — and they got approval from the police to do so.

A small group of activists advocating homes for the homeless unfurled a 45-foot wide banner over the side of the Cambie Street Bridge Monday morning.

The bright red banner read “homes for all” and featured the city’s skyline and an image of a woman crying.

Pivot Legal Society organized the banner drop as part of a national “red tent” campaign to draw attention to homelessness. The banner hung over the east side of the bridge in direct view of the Athletes’ Village in Southeast False Creek.

But in an agreement Pivot made with the 2010 Integrated Security Unit, the banner stayed in place for 20 minutes. “It’s 20 minutes longer than we would have had it up if we didn’t have permission,” said John Richardson, executive director of Pivot, after helping retrieve the banner onto the bridge’s sidewalk.

A few police on bicycles stood several metres away on the sidewalk but did not impede the demonstration.

Though the banner faced the Athletes’ Village, Richardson said it was not meant as a slight to the athletes.

“It’s really aimed at the Olympics and it’s using the Olympics as a platform to get the message out,” he said. “Having it face the Olympic Village seems kind of poetic justice.”

Down below, along the north seawall of Southeast False Creek, a woman on her way to work stopped to gaze up at the banner.

Renata, who declined to give her surname, said she had “no issue” with the protest as long as it was peaceful.

“I don’t agree with people smashing things,” she said, referring to a protest Saturday that included the breaking of a storefront window at the Bay downtown.

Richardson said Pivot doesn’t condone destruction of property and violence to bring attention to an issue such as homelessness.

“There’s many different types of protest as there are different types of people,” he said, when asked if Pivot’s campaign would falter because of the destruction caused by others. “Our aim is different, our methodology is different and the message is different.”

Pivot has 500 red tents, 200 tarps and 200 ponchos emblazoned with “housing is a right” and “end homelessness now” that it is distributing over the next two weeks. Some of those tents were pitched in a vacant lot near Main and Hastings streets Monday afternoon.

Pivot’s campaign is aimed at the federal government and the fact that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy. City politicians and social service providers estimate there are 1,600 homeless people in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Vancouver police arrested seven people at Saturday’s protest in which windows were broken, cars damaged and newspaper boxes dragged into the street.

The destruction and clashes with police occurred outside the Bay and into parts of the West End.

Police were kicked at, spat on and one suspect was arrested with a bicycle chain wrapped around his fist, according to the Vancouver Police Department.

In a news release, the VPD described the people involved in the destruction as “a loosely organized group of thugs from central Canada known to attach themselves to any cause, travel to any event that attracts media coverage and promote anarchy wherever they go.”

A 22-year-old Washington State man, Daniel Frederick Myers, was among those charged with weapons offences.

Various groups are planning more anti-Olympic protests over the next two weeks.

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