No corrals for Olympic protesters: police chief

Chief Jim Chu says Vancouver police won't be setting up Beijing-style protest corrals during the Olympics or barging into people's homes to rip down anti-Games signs.

Police Chief Jim Chu said Thursday his officers won't be setting up Beijing-style protest corrals during the Winter Olympics or barging into people's homes to rip down anti-Games signs.

"There are no protest-only zones, no demonstration pens and no corrals,"  Chu said.

"No extraordinary efforts will be made to restrict protests or contain them because of the Olympics. … Protesters are free to gather in any public space as long as their actions are legal."

But the chief's assurances police won't clamp down on anti-Olympic protests haven't comforted Games critics.

The City of Vancouver has passed a bylaw that some protesters say could give authorities the right to enter people's private property to remove anti-Olympic signs.

Chu said police would not be entering homes to enforce the bylaw aimed at curbing so-called guerrilla marketing campaigns, where advertisers mount displays near Olympic venues.

City bylaw officers will need warrants to remove unsanctioned ads, he said, but "they will not be focusing on signage that is a political or personal statement."

Not the 'sign police'

Police will be present only to keep the peace, he said.

"We are not the sign police."

Anti-Olympic activist Chris Shaw said it's good Chu is reaffirming support for the Charter of Rights, but a lawsuit will proceed against the contentious city bylaw critics believe will limit protests.

Parts of Chu's statement, which the department posted on its website, remain vague, just like the bylaw itself, Shaw said.

"It made it very uncertain what was going to be policed, what was not, what was marketing, what was protest," he said.

Chu said the Vancouver police policy also does not apply to the security zones being thrown up around Games venues, which are the responsibility of the RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit.

The unit wants to set up "safe assembly areas" for protesters but says on its website they are not intended to limit where people can demonstrate.

"Where possible, ISU security planners will identify visible areas where people may choose to lawfully express their views in safe locations close to Olympic venues," the policy says.

"Persons do not have to use these designated areas."

Memories of 1997

The policy says the idea springs partly from recommendations of a public inquiry into the chaotic 1997 Asia-Pacific leaders' summit in Vancouver, when police couldn't cope with massive demonstrations and ended up pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at the University of British Columbia.

Chu indicated he'd also like potential protest groups to suggest locations they'd like to use "that will keep them safe and ensure visibility."

Games critics suspect Vancouver's plans for 2010 parallel the Chinese government's largely successful clampdown on protests at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The government there set up protest zones that required demonstrators to get a permit. The zones went largely unused throughout the Summer Games.

Police in Victoria have said they will use Games security protocols to set up protest areas for when the Olympic torch relay comes through the B.C. capital.

Shaw and other critics argue in their lawsuit that the city bylaw aimed at protecting Olympic sponsorship rights could be used to stop legitimate protest.

"The suit is going on until we get absolute clarity on what is and isn't covered by these bylaws," he said.

Deputy Chief Steve Sweeny said the Vancouver force is not daunted by the prospect of demonstrations during the Games.

"We have upwards of 150 a year that occur in Vancouver," he said.

"Some are a single individual with a placard and some of them are very large gatherings, but we have learned over the years how to manage these effectively."