Beyond the highly publicized and debated issues that pertain to Vancouver’s visual and physical space, mainly focused on the much publicized Downtown Eastside, there is a competition for sonic space that has gone largely unnoticed. Noise Pollution caused by the rapid development of condominiums dominates Vancouver’s soundscape, while the relatively minor sound intrusions of live music — in the streets, in public venues, or private spaces — is regularly restricted by city officials. This discrepancy exists largely as a result of Vancouver’s Noise Control by-law, which has a strong bias towards developer-friendly regulations, and shrouds musical/cultural sound policy in a cloud of ambiguity, hyper-regulation and selective enforcement.

In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver’s engineering department passed a revealing by-law. It stated that no longer could bagpipes or percussion instruments be played in the streets of the city. The engineering department claimed to have based their decision on “noise concerns”, but whether or not they were conscious of it, their disruption of legitimate street music was actually ideologically motivated. There is a trend in Vancouver toward anti-cultural and pro-developer policies concerning noise.

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On Monday hundreds of people, including many Turkish Vancouverites, gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in solidarity with the ongoing protests in Turkey. Addressing the broad anti-government protests in Istanbul and throughout Turkey, speakers at the VAG condemned the Turkish government’s undemocratic tactics, police brutality against the protests, media blackouts, and religious fundamentalism.

Some organizers drew attention to the original event that sparked the movement. “What started everything was a public space, Gezi park in the city centre…The government decided to turn that into a shopping mall and that wasn’t even a lawful decision. There’s a court decision against it,” said Ozgur Sapmaz, a volunteer organizer of the rally at the VAG.

“People occupied the park to prevent construction machinery from getting in there, which was about to start chopping down the trees. There were about 100 protesters there, who started sitting in, setting up tents. Cops came and tried to kick them out, and they used really brutal force…It started getting attention from the artist community. It became this massive resistance against the construction effort.”

Despite the distance between Vancouver and Turkey, the events in Gezi park bring to mind local history. There was the fight to save the entrance of Stanley Park in 1971, the Crab Park occupation in 1984, the successful UBC student campaigns from 2007 – 2009 to stop the privatization of the centre of campus and the UBC Farm, the Olympic Tent Village, Occupy Vancouver, and many other squats and tent cities. If the destruction of Gezi Park — a seemingly innocuous and unexceptional event — can spark such an uprising in Istanbul, could the same not happen here?

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On Monday, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson confirmed his support of the criminalization of dissent. Following the Vancouver Police Department’s recent threat of arrests against peaceful protesters, Robertson stated: “I support the Vancouver Police Department’s prudent steps to ensure that the right to protest is balanced against the right of all residents and businesses to peaceful enjoyment of public and private spaces.”

The Police Department’s “prudent steps” include the publication of a blanket letter warning the public that they may be arrested on criminal charges for “shouting, screaming, or swearing”; VPD Spokesperson Brian Montague’s April 17th announcement that the VPD were “anticipating an arrest” of an unnamed individual on unspecified charges “related to the PiDGiN protest”; armed officers’ surveillance of the PiDGiN pickets, five nights a week; visits to protesters’ homes and workplaces; and the constant monitoring of “all the protests that go on in the City of Vancouver.”

This article was originally posted at timlouis.ca

Much of the past century saw a winning-streak by the right wing NPA, Vancouver’s historic party of wealth and privilege. Pundits talk about Vision Vancouver’s interruption of that NPA legacy, and there has even been talk of the disintegration of the NPA “brand.” By winning two consecutive terms in municipal office, Vision is said to be taking Vancouver in a new, progressive direction.

Both the voting record and the policy agenda of the last four years under Vision reveal that the perceived interruption of NPA rule is a patent illusion. The reality is that Vision’s core policy agenda has been a carry-over from previous NPA initiatives. Eco-density, the Tax Shift, the Chinatown Height Review, increased police budgets and heightened ticketing – for anyone who digs into recent history, these seemingly contemporary initiatives are relics of Sam Sullivan’s 2005-2008 term.

Despite appearances, NPA’s platform is today found front and center, fashioned with a different, greener logo – and with the exception of those bike lanes. On all issues since 2008, Vision and the NPA have voted as a unified block minus the bike lanes.

Eco-density in particular (an NPA initiative under Sullivan) has been slammed down the throats of neighborhoods since Vision’s election in 2008. Rather than forcing monopoly developers to use their empty parcels of land, Vision has used the key tools of NPA ‘revitalization’ policy – area rezoning, tax breaks and fee exemptions – to facilitate the gentrification of existing affordable neighborhoods. Poverty and homelessness are worse then ever, matched in their scale only by the profits of the developers and land owners.


This past Monday, April 23rd, all three voting members of the Vancouver Development Permit Board (DPB) voted in favor of the ‘Sequel 138’ condo project on Hastings, next to the Carnegie Centre and across from Insite.

The decision to push through the gentrification project was made beforehand by senior city staff at the direction of the Mayor’s Office. Nevertheless, the city went through the motions of holding a DPB meeting to listen to community concerns. The meeting lasted 7 hours, from 3pm to 10pm, with about 50 community members giving speeches. Almost all delegations passionately opposed the project.

After seven hours of delegations, not one member of the DP Board or its Advisory Panel engaged in discussion or posed any further questions of staff for clarification. The Board moved immediately into a vote. First, the nine members of the Advisory Panel gave their advice. The only member of the nine-member Advisory Panel not personally associated with the development industry, Duncan Wlodarczak of SFU’s Sustainability Centre, spoke for deferring the decision until “rate of change” mechanisms are in place to address the balance between market and non-market development in the DTES, as outlined in the DTES Housing Plan. One other member Advisory Panel member, Jasminka Miletic-Prelovac, spoke in favor of deferral until the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan (LAP) is in place next year.


Many occupiers have wondered about the city’s Street & Traffic By-Law 71.1, posted on city signs throughout the Art Gallery grounds. The purpose of this article is to give information and analysis about the By-law and its impact on #occupyvancouver.

“NO CAMPING: No structures (tents or other shelters) permitted in this area or on any other city street, sidewalk or boulevard. Street & Traffic By-Law 2849 Sec. 71.1.” While these words read like eternal declarations, seemingly handed down to us from the founding laws of our colonial state, the reality is that they are recent history — very recent. This past April, Vancouver’s city council and Mayor Robertson passed amendments to Section 71 and other sections of the Street & Traffic By-Law that seriously restrict protest in public space.

The April meetings of city council were called for legal reasons. In October 2010 the By-Law had been ruled unconstitutional by the BC Courts, who gave the city six months to change it. On April 7th 2011, council presented its new edits to the public. According to the new version of the By-Law, political structures remained illegal except with a special permit, which could be purchased at a cost of $200 plus a refundable deposit of $1000. The Mainlander pointed out that under the new By-Law, “no structures would be allowed before 8am or after 8pm, eliminating the possibility for extended protests.” The amendments were unanimously rejected by the public, including the the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society and the Vancouver Public Space Network.

City council was forced to re-work its amendments, and returned on April 18th to present its revised version at a “no debate” meeting. Despite unanimous public opposition yet again, the Vision-led City Council passed the motion. The allowable structure size was reduced, with the addition of new penalties for non-compliance with the law: anyone who does not follow the new rules faces immediate removal and a minimum fine of $1000. The changes were passed and are now being fought again in the courts. The current version of the By-Law is worse than the edits of April 7. The law is less constitutional than before and today the BC Civil Liberties denounces its “bizarre, unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on political expression [that] violate free speech; full stop.”



As protests in solidarity with #OccupyWallStreet spread across the continent, the “99%’ers” here are beginning to think about what #OccupyVancouver might look like. This is a good thing. Left-wing movements have always known that since capitalism itself is global, resistance to it ought to be global.

For New Yorkers, the most obvious and logical target is Wall Street. Staging a protest camp adjacent Wall Street in downtown New York city is no small feat. New York police are highly militaristic in quashing protests. One can only imagine the intensity of police desire, under pressure from New York power-brokers, to disperse the camp. The bravery of the activists is one of the things from which to draw inspiration.

What does it mean, then, to hold a protest in solidarity with that in New York? In part, it means to be inspired by their courage. That means to take spaces that challenge the real seats of power in our local situation. That may mean taking the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, but probably not: the reason protests are often held there is that the space is relatively easy to book. An #OccupyVancouver truly inspired by the original would take a space that is non-bookable, that directly challenges power-brokers.

Throughout Canada, there are many appropriate targets: Bay Street in Toronto, the headquarters of tar sands-related energy corporations in Calgary, and so on. In Vancouver, Coast Salish territories, there are many things to consider. Most importantly, the violence of colonization is felt acutely here, where European settlement began more recently than most other regions of the continent. (Indeed, the word “occupy” is often associated with European colonization of the land; it’s possible that the term, with its multiple meanings, may confuse or distract some from the spirit of #OccupyWallStreet: to stage a collective protest that challenges the 1% who run the capitalist economy).

Arguably the dominant function of Vancouver’s economy is that its housing market acts as a ‘sink’ for global capital accumulation. Investors, most of whom are locally-based, store their extracted wealth in Vancouver’s inflated real-estate market. The inflation of housing prices is managed by a realty oligopoly. This has created an affordability crisis for the working-class. While property-owners rely on the development monopoly to keep their home prices inflated, renters, who constitute the majority, are exploited. The city which most resembles Vancouver in these respects is Hong Kong. Vancouver and Hong Kong rank together as the most unaffordable cities in the world, with the median house price costing more than three times the median household income. As a result, residents are being driven out of their homes, onto the streets, out of the city. In Hong Kong, they have clearly identified the seat of power, and began their own #Occupy-like movement earlier this year. The story may serve as yet more inspiration for those thinking about our own solidarity movement.

Toppling property hegemony: “Down, down with the property tycoons!”

Just this past March 26 2011, Hong Kong activists staged a protest in one of [developer] Li Ka-Shing’s supermarkets “because property developers, not the government, were the ‘real enemies of society'” [1]. As an act of creative civil disobedience, protesters filled shopping carts with items, then stood in line without buying anything, to “paralyse property hegemony for an hour.” One protester said: “We chose ParknShop because it is owned by Mr. Li Ka-shing and we all know Mr. Li is the real boss of Hong Kong…We are not expecting this to change the world, or beat down Mr. Li or the property-developer hegemony. But we want to make it a start of a new satyagraha campaign. We used to protest against the government. But it is no use. We target developers because they are the boss of the government and the real enemy of the society.” Another protester, a recent university graduate, said: “Even if we want to rent a flat, the rents are beyond our reach. It is because the influence of developers is too big.” [1]

Readers may know that Li Ka-Shing’s Concord Pacific bought Vancouver’s massive Expo Lands in 1988, developed Yaletown, and still has long-term plans for 10,000 to 20,000 more high-end condos on North False Creek. Concord Pacific, now run by Terry Hui, remains a major player in Vancouver’s developer oligopoly, with most new housing inventory planned beyond 2013 in Vancouver under its control. Concord’s ‘land bank’ comprises a large portion of Vancouver’s undeveloped lands, including much of False Creek, as well as 58 West Hastings – the site of 2010’s Olympic Tent Village. Concord exerts its power over Vancouver housing prices by developing its ‘land bank’ very slowly as high-end condos. These and similar undeveloped properties and empty condos controlled by Vancouver’s monopolist developers (such as the Aquilini Group, Wall Financial Corp., Concert Properties, Holborn Properties, and marketing ‘coordinator’ Bob Rennie) are reasonable targets for #Occupy. So too is the mostly empty Olympic Village.