What really happened outside the Fairmont Hotel at the G8 University Summit protest?
Six arrested at G8 summit. Combing through Google, after typing in "protesters arrested G8 university summit," I find a page full of headlines that continues on to the next page. The news sources differ, but the headline is identical, from CBC to The Province. The press release that inspired the stories originated from the bland headline: "Protest in Downtown Vancouver", sent out by email to press organizations across Canada from Constable Jana McGuiness of the Vancouver Police Department.
"What began as a peaceful protest Friday afternoon ended with three men and three women being taken into custody by Vancouver Police after protesters tried to storm (my emphasis) the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel located at 900 Canada Place Way, in opposition to a meeting taking place inside," it read.
Like the other news organizations in Vancouver and throughout Canada, I posted the press release and tagged it "press release", then I posted links on Facebook and Twitter. Instantly, I got a reply on Twitter: "Is this a press release from the police?" I tweeted a message, asking if anyone had a more complete picture of what happened. Then I found the video CTV posted, documenting the disturbing encounter.
Thanks to a Facebook contact, I got in touch with Harsha Wallia, an eyewitness and participant in the protest. Wallia says she's in her late 20s and who describes herself simply as a "local activist". I asked her what happened. What were the protesters demonstrating for? What did they want to accomplish? What motivated them to get out in the streets and confront the police? The first thing she said was that demonstrators never tried to gain access to the hotel. So, what really happened, she said, was this.
The march began at 3 p.m. Friday afternoon and continued until 6 or 7 p.m., she said. 80 to 100 people had organized themselves in opposition to the G8 University Summit that was taking place at the Fairmont Hotel on Burrard. The G8 Summit in Toronto in June is the meeting of the heads of state, Wallia explained. The G8 University Summit was called, in the protester's view, "to talk about the ways in which universities can continue to privatize."
To the protesters the summit's agenda seemed aimed at deteriorating public education. In their view, the meeting was less about making education accessible and more about "shifting the burden more onto the shoulders of students through debt, and partnering with some of the world's biggest corporations, many of whom have atrocious human rights and social records, like pharmaceuticals and defense companies, and mining corporations that have devastating environmental records," Wallia said.
"When you break down the summit, it's knocking out a path of neo-Liberalism and inaccessibility to pursue education."
The Vancouver Courier previewed the meeting. "Presidents of world universities gather in Vancouver today and tomorrow (May 21 and 22) to prepare advice for their governments as Canada gets ready to host the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ont. next month. The summit, held at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, is co-hosted by the University of B.C. and the University of Alberta. It's the third G8 University Summit and the first to be held in North America," an unsigned article reported. It also quoted a news release from UBC president Stephen Toope. "Our G8 University Summit offers a chance to show that universities can be effective agents for change and that we have solutions to help communities all over the world take action to ensure a sustainable future," said Toope.
"It was a handpicked group of students and politicians, presidents of universities.