“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images” – Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord

After the Stanley Cup riot of 1994, a Georgia Straight article, titled “Stupidville” pondered: “[Vancouverites] had better decide what we want this community to be about, besides pretty vistas when it doesn’t rain. What shared tasks can we undertake whose achievement will fill us with civic pride? What conditions are needed to come to unconditionally love this place, not for where it is, but for what it is?” But after 15 years of more pretty vistas and nature fetishism, we have failed to produce “something nobler than a mob heading to Stupidville,” as the Straight hoped.

Many of tonight’s rioters were toddlers during the previous riot, so they cannot possibly be blamed for both. Although each fanatic must face their own responsibility for being swept up in the tide of jingoism, the system that produces Canuck fanatics goes back decades. It is important to analyze this system of fanatic production, in order that “something nobler” emerge one day.

First it is impossible to have fanatics without spectacle. Tonight, we had two spectacles: the spectacle of the Canucks, then the spectacle of the Rioters. Disappointed fanatics, unable to control the outcome of the hockey game, created a spectacle of their own. Meanwhile, sitting at home, you could consume representations of both, without having power over either.

It is often claimed that fanatics turn to hooliganism to compensate feelings of powerless when their team loses, and express their powerlessness through violence. There is truth to this, but there is more: they overcome their powerlessness through spectacle.

It helps to recall that our late-capitalist society is a “society of the spectacle,” where social life is increasingly mediated through representations – corporate media and advertising. We acquire collective experience, and even collective purpose, by gazing at these representations. And in Vancouver, the gaze has been professionally focused on ‘our boys’ fighting the enemy – the Boston Bruins.

By deciding to arrest the group of eight, Mayor Robertson made a clear choice, sending a clear message. Robertson is no longer the “End Homelessness” Mayor. Robertson created almost no new social housing during his first term. His one and only significant initiative was opening these emergency shelters, which concluded in this “week of shame” of 200 evictions and eight arrests.

The Broadway and Fraser St shelter was the fourth shelter this week slated for closure by the City and Province. The shelter is the largest of the four, and is widely understood to be the safest for women. The City-owned space will now sit empty for at least the next six months.

A rally was held outside the shelter Friday morning, attended by over 50 shelter supporters. There were speeches by shelter residents and housing advocates. “Some of my friends here are probably going to die if we are forced back to Downtown Eastside SROs,” said one shelter resident.

The evictions were to be complete by 11am, but several dozen residents and advocates occupied the large building. Throughout the day, activists helped residents negotiate with BC housing for better “alternative arrangements.” Activists promised to leave the building only once each shelter resident had secured appropriate alternative arrangements.

Meanwhile a delegation went to Christy Clark’s campaign office, refusing to leave until they met with Premier Clark (see CBC article). Clark sent the Housing Minister Rich Coleman to meet with the delegation. The meeting was sometimes heated, but the feeling of the dozen attendees was that Coleman’s arguments in favour of shelter closures fell apart upon discussion, but he remained extremely stubborn and arrogant. Afterwards, Coleman made nonsensical and rambling comments to the press, as reported by CKNW:

Coleman says everyone has been offered housing, but not everyone has taken it,”Instead of working with us and understanding what the long term plan is, and just working with us on a long term plan, it’s just never enough…And so it’s never enough for them so they want to find something they can hang their hat on every once in awhile to be activists about, and I don’t know why.”

Activist Wendy Pedersen says low barrier shelters are critical to giving people a place to land if housing options don’t work out, “We have a goal and that’s to end homelessness. Until people are not homeless, we’re not going to be happy, and somebody has to keep up the pressure, and that’s our role.”

At 8pm, back at Fraser & Broadway, there remained several dozen people in the shelter, including residents who were committed to keeping the shelter open. The shelter remained filled with the belongings of evicted residents. Police, under orders from City Deputy General Manager Brenda Prosken, told everyone to leave under threat of arrest. The squatters decided that a core group of eight would take a stand to keep the shelter open for all who need it. The group of eight sat in a circle in the middle of the shelter, putting the decision clearly to the City General Manager and Mayor: if you want to shut down this homeless shelter, the fourth in one week, you will have to arrest eight peaceful demonstrators to do so.

The eight were arrested and held in jail overnight in holding cells Main and Cordova. Upon release at 1pm on Saturday, they were greeted by cheering supporters who had set up a jail-solidarity camp

By deciding to arrest the group of eight, Mayor Robertson made a clear choice, sending a clear message. Robertson is no longer the “End Homelessness” Mayor. Robertson created almost no new social housing during his first term. His one and only significant initiative was opening these emergency shelters, which concluded in this “week of shame” of 200 evictions and eight arrests.

And where was Robertson himself throughout the week? Announcing his New Deal with developers to drive through massive, but unspecified, re-development of the central business district. I don’t remember that being a key Vision priority. Maybe they can build a condo tower on the site of the Howe St shelter.

The anti-protest bylaw passed by Mayor Robertson this week will hurt the homeless, Darcie Bennett of PIVOT Legal Society told The Mainlander. The bylaw states that any “structure, object, or substance” – including tents – placed on public space without permission of the City Engineer can receive a minimum $1,000 fine. “We are of the opinion that the bylaw should change, to bring it line with homeless peoples’ rights,” says Bennett.

Given that there are no specific provisions allowing the homeless to apply for permits to pitch tents or structures, and given that the $1,000-$5,000 fine is extreme, the bylaw is effectively a prohibition on people pitching tents in public spaces.

In October 2008, the City of Victoria’s bylaw banning tents on public lands was struck down by the BC Supreme Court’s Adams decision for infringing on peoples’ Charter right to shelter. At that time, says Bennett, PIVOT wrote a letter to Vancouver City Council asking that Vancouver’s bylaws be brought in line with the Adams decision, but the City offered no response.

Now, two years later, the City’s new anti-structure bylaw does nothing to protect the right to shelter of those with nowhere else to go. On the contrary, it introduces new exorbitant fines. Last week, PIVOT proposed a series of amendments to the bylaw, including making explicit exceptions for homeless people, but City Council approved the bylaw without incorporating any of these changes.

City lawyers have taken the position that “Adams doesn’t apply here in Vancouver,” and as of yet no one has challenged that position in court.

According to Bennett, the City told PIVOT that the right to shelter on public land does not exist in Vancouver because there is enough shelter space and housing to accommodate everyone. But Bennett points out that the City’s own numbers show there are far more homeless people in the City than shelter beds. On top of that, 5 additional shelters are slated to be shut down next week.

The City admits that the bylaw gives police the power to fine homeless people, but is asking critics to trust that this power won’t be used. The City Administrative report claims “compassionate” intentions toward homeless people, and a “holistic” approach toward homelessness, but offers no actual legal protection or exemption from the bylaw.

This attitude is reminiscent of the Province’s response to critics of the Olympic Kidnapping Act, which gives police the power to forcefully apprehend and detain homeless people against their will. Minister Coleman claimed that the power “probably wouldn’t be used,” but rammed the bill through the legislature nonetheless.

Bennett also criticized the anti-structure bylaw’s impact on political expression. “When you try to use zoning bylaws to regulate political expression, it’s not good governance,” she said.

The City has announced modifications to a city bylaw that will make it much more difficult for people to exercise their democratic right to political protest. The proposed change would regulate the use of any “structure, object, substance or thing” for a political purpose on City-owned land. Those who wish to protest will need to apply to the City for permission, at a cost of $200, and put up a deposit of $1000. Most activists and citizens movements are not funded, and these monetary requirements would essentially prohibit protests or expression by groups who could not afford it. Also, no structures would be allowed before 8am or after 8pm, eliminating the possibility for extended protests.

The City claims that the change in bylaw is a response to the long-lasting Falung Gong protest that was erected outside the Chinese Embassy in 2001 and forcibly taken down by the city in 2006. The protest consisted of a small structure and several billboards with information on civil rights abuses and religious persecution taking place in China. Not only did the protest last for five years before the City ordered it taken down, there was someone at the site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

After the city’s injunction, one protester, Sue Zhang, began an uphill legal battle against the City, arguing that the removal of the structures, which had allowed the protest to proceed safely and continuously, went against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She eventually won the case in October of last year. The BC Court of Appeal argued that the city’s action was unconstitutional and its bylaw on political structures was too vague. The protest was not allowed to continue, but numerous other forms city street use were allowed for other commercial and non-commercial uses. The City’s proposed bylaw changes would mean that, despite the court ruling that it was unconstitutional to remove the original structures, no further protest would be allowed outside the Chinese Embassy. Public expression will only be allowed on commercial and industrial zoned City land. The Chinese Embassy is zoned as residential.

Over the past few years, there have been several other protests that have included the use of structures. As Vancouver becomes increasingly unaffordable, grassroots organizations have campaigned for controls on development and a stop to the gentrification of the city. Often these protests have taken the form of occupations of space. Notable examples include the 2005 squat of the Woodward’s buildings and the 2010 Olympic Tent City, both of which called for more social housing to be built in the Downtown Eastside, and involved people camping out to ensure their voices were heard. While some are saying that the policy will only be used to prevent the return of the structures outside the Chinese Embassy, many protests do use “structures, objects, substances and things.” The bylaw as proposed is so vague that should the police or future governments decide to limit citizen protests, they will have an easy bylaw to use. It’s difficult to imagine a protest or gathering of people that doesn’t include “things.”

108_2052

This past Saturday, Housing activists established a picket line in front of the Olympic Village condo sales centre, where the City is trying to sell off the housing units promised as social and affordable housing. Picketers engaged with prospective buyers and asked them to “respect the housing legacy picket line” and refrain from purchasing broken-promise housing units until Olympic housing promises are secured and until questions are answered about the Millennium bail-out.

Picketers attempted to enter the sales centre to purchase the remaining units with a larger-than-life $400M cheque from the Property Endowment Fund. The City responded by restricting access to the sales centre. Only those with pre-arranged meetings with realtors were allowed in.

Here are three interactions that stand out:

1 | One woman, who came to the centre to get out of a contract she had signed 7-days previous (it was therefore her last day to do so), was at first barred from entry. Only after 30 minutes of protest did security allow her inside to get out of the condo contract.

2 | A prospective buyer was barred entry because of the clothes that he was wearing (on cell phone pictured above left). Security was given discretion to allow entry based on apparent class.

3 | A family that had planned on buying a broken-promise unit changed their mind after hearing from the picketers. The family emerged from the sales centre and declared that it was immoral for them or anyone else to buy housing that had been promised to those who need it most (video below).

BCCLA REPORT ON RCMP |

A report from the BC Civil Liberties Association has revealed what life can be like for the poor throughout rural BC. The report, entitled “Small Town Justice,” documents severe police misconduct, especially in B.C.’s North. The report also highlights racism against Aboriginal people and the use of some small towns as “training centres” for new officers with little experience. The homeless are often simply told to permanently leave town. RCMP attitudes towards the poor in rural areas is one of the factors pushing poor people to cities, where affordable housing is increasingly impossible to come by.

Confidence in the RCMP has been deteriorating for some time. Documents unveiled in June of last year revealed the Robert Dziekanski incident at the Vancouver Airport led to a “public relations crisis.” There have been several other cases of police brutality over the past year.

The RCMP’s initial response to the BCCLA report was that the community members who spoke against the police are not representative of the broader community sentiments. But the RCMP Assistance Commissioner has since accepted the report and said that the force was going to look into the problems raised by the report.

PERFORMANCE VENUES |

Vancouver City Council has made some changes to regulations that will make it easier for artists to use “non-traditional” spaces for live performances. A “centralized process” is being set up for artists to use to get liquor and events licenses, and it should become easier for artists to work their way through the City Hall bureaucracy.

The regulation changes were inspired by the argument of some that Vancouver is a “No Fun City.” A local film was released under that title last year which documents City Hall’s “war on fun” and the rise of illegal venues to save the arts. On top of the province’s severe arts cuts over the past few years, the city’s own policies have also been very prohibitive. Four venues were closed last year alone.

The major problem for Vancouver venues over the past few years has been noise complaints and gentrification. In the past, there has been a push by the City towards reinforcing Granville Street as the city’s entertainment district. This has been met with resistance by both artists and restaurant owners. A housing development is also set to open up across the street from the Biltmore Cabaret, which is one of the only larger scale venues that isn’t downtown. Richards on Richards was one of the most popular Vancouver venues for acts that don’t have enough draw to fill a stadium, but was demolished last year to make room for condos being built by real-estate developers Aquilini Investments.

VANCOUVER VIEWS |

Later today at City Hall there will be a discussion and vote on “Vancouver Views,” a policy that would see increased heights Downtown, especially in the West End.

The Vancouver Views policy has attracted quite a bit of controversy. The policy will mean serious changes to the urban environment downtown, and some have begun directly criticizing planning staff and making accusations of misleading the public with their reports. They argue that not only have the public not had enough consultation or time to absorb what the changes will mean, but also that Council could not have had enough time to “do their homework” around the policy.

The Vancouver Views policy is only one part of a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy surrounding planning within the city. This past month has seen several attempts at blanket rezonings of areas dominated by renters. There has been a serious community based, grassroots resistance to wide-sweeping changes that would increase opportunities for real-estate developers. Community organizations argue that the social effects of these policies require more discussion and consideration. Council passed an emergency motion to hold off public consultations on a similar policy, the Historical Area Height Review, last week. Dozens of speakers had signed up to speak not only against the policy but also against City Council itself.

CAPITAL BUDGET |

Also at Council will be the discussion and vote on its capital budget. The capital budget includes the construction of infrastructure, City-owned building renovations and public works projects. The staff administrative report is 117 pages, and includes everything from summaries of revenue from Developmental Cost Levies to the wide variety of proposed projects for 2011.

In spite of the huge support shown throughout the city for affordable housing, the city plans to spend only $22 million of the $337 million budget on new land, construction and renovations for affordable housing. This is not enough. Instead, the report shows a continuance of Vision’s pro-police policies. On top of an unnecessary increase in the police budget of $5.7 million approved in last month’s operating budget, the Vancouver Police Department will receive an additional $11 million to relocate to a new central station. A significant amount is also being spent on Vision’s “Greenest City” initiative. Particular spending for greener public works is difficult to decode; there are no cost comparisons provided but in general this will mean retrofitting existing city infrastructure to pass higher environmental standards. The city plans to spend another $16 million on information technology projects for city hall.

If City Council truly wants to act on the wishes of its citizens, more must be spent on ensuring all classes of people can afford to live in Vancouver. The police and upgrades to city hall should not be prioritized over housing affordability.

VISION NOMINATIONS |

Vision Vancouver has announced it will hold open nominations for all its elected positions, except the mayor. Members of council and the park and school boards will be up for grabs in the next few months.

Vision party members will decided whether or not Gregor Robertson stays as mayoral candidate in the 2011 election by referendum. The party is calling the vote a “leadership review.” Vision members will decide a question either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with a simple majority deciding. NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton said of the review that, “they don’t want to talk about his flaws.” COPE Councillor Elen Woodsworth called Robertson the “trademark” of Vision Vancouver.

Gregor has repeatedly come under fire, especially recently, about his failings on his campaign promises, especially surrounding his promise to end homelessness by 2015.