Demand Housing Before Olympics
Tent City in for Long
Whether it stays in part at Victory Square, or expands its base at
Crabtree, or whether it relocates yet elsewhere, Vancouver’s Olympic tent city will
continue to advocate against the policies of the BC Liberal regime and
for social housing, say participants.
Dozens of squatters set up 30 tents in Victory Square July 2, the day Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Winter
Olympic bid by the International Olympic Commission. Since then a second
squat at Crabtree Park in the Downtown Eastside has
formed, with more possibly to come.
The squat has already faced some
challenges, including a rub-up Canadian war veterans’ representatives on
the weekend. The vets had arrived to supervise the start of renovations
to the square to be completed before the next Remembrance Day on Nov.
11. They were concerned the protest might delay the work, and the
square would not be ready by that date.
At first, things were tense. Tent city
squatter Russell Nolin told reporters, “the war is like my ass. It’s
The comment infuriated veterans like
86-year-old Dick Wilson. “I can understand they are hungry and homeless
and they want to do something about it. But we went through the war.
This monument is here for those who died in the war, and the renovations
are badly needed.”
But Nolin later apologized for his comment
and saying he appreciates the sacrifices the veterans made and the
hardships they went through.
Veteran spokesperson Frank Helden
sympathized with their concerns but says Victory Square is the wrong place to hold
such a demonstration, since it is the only place where veterans can go
to pay respects to the victims of war.
Protesters say there is no conflict with
the veterans, but with the ruling elite in the province and its
politicians in Victoria, and they vow to continue
their efforts. The Vancouver Park Board, while expressing support for
the tent city cause, agrees with the vets that Victory Square isn’t the right venue. The
board asked the squatters to begin moving on Tuesday, although it did
not give any formal deadline.
In fact, by awarding Vancouver the Winter Games, the IOC
invariably provided the Anti-Poverty Committee, the main sponsoring
group for the city, with the banner sized backdrop necessary to
juxtapose the two sides of what they call an on-going class war between
the rich and poor in British Columbia.
It’s not the first time Vancouver has seen a squat erected by
advocates fighting for social housing, and until there is a change in
the federal and provincial government spending priorities, it won’t be
the last. Indeed, the $1.3 billion being allocated for the 2010 Winter
Games have some people calling on the government to re-evaluate its
“I think a lot of people are
over the fantasia that the Olympics have wrapped around their eyes.
Maybe they’ll realize they aren’t going to have a house or a TV to watch
the Olympics on [in 2010],” said APC Spokesperson and Tent City
Organizer David Cunnigham.
“So maybe priorities are going to be set
straight. Maybe it is more important for people to get social housing,
not to watch a hockey game,” Cunnigham added.
The participants, a collective that
includes the APC, the Housing Action Committee, and a group of about one
hundred squatters, respectively, are calling on the Provincial and
Federal governments to address a number of fundamental issues.
Primarily, the squatters are calling for an end to the two-year time
limit on receiving welfare in BC. As well, the participants want the
government to take immediate steps toward providing social housing for
those most in need in the province, an action that would mean providing
at least 2000 units of social housing for the city’s growing
The squatters also want construction of
social housing units in the currently vacant Woodwards building to begin
“These are the places that can be
converted into social housing,” Cunnigham said standing before the
buildings to which he was making reference. “There’s no lack of space
for social housing, it’s just a lack of initiative. There’s more than
enough money,” he added.