Anti-Pipeline Activists in Vancouver Had Their Computers Confiscated Over Graffiti Charges
Armed police officers in Vancouver raided the home of indigenious activist and author Gord Hill under the premise of investigating graffiti charges against of one of his roommates. During the raid, VPD confiscated phones, computers, video cameras and...
“Get down on the ground!” Vancouver police shouted at Gord Hill and his girlfriend as they raided their house last week, with their handgun pointed at his centre-mass.
In an interview, the Kwakwaka'wakw activist and author accused the police of using “No Pipelines” graffiti charges against another roommate—since dropped pending an investigation—as an excuse to confiscate all four residents' phones, computers, video cameras and USB sticks and to search their house.
Now, the activists' supporters are fundraising to buy new phones and laptops for the household.
Hill is author of the book 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance and an outspoken radical Indigenous activist.
Even though the warrant only named one of the four residents and said cops were looking for “graffiti vandalism paraphernalia”—related to hundreds of spray-painted “No Pipelines” slogans that have peppered East Vancouver's walls for the last five years — Hill said officers seemed more concerned with snatching up everyone's electronic equipment and political propaganda in their day-long search, which included a K9 dog squad.
“We were locked out of our house until 6 p.m.,” he said in an interview through a friend's phone, since his phone was seized. “Everything was obviously searched-through.
“The main thing missing were all our laptops, computers, USB sticks, my video camera, political zines, a banner… but they left lots of spay-paint cans behind.”
As Hill recounts it, 16 officers were involved in the raid of his Parker Street home, shared with three other environmental and Indigenous activists and one overnight couch-guest. One of the roommates had only moved in the day before.
Details about the raid were posted on Warrior Publications, a blog run by Gord Hill, that’s stated mission is to “promote warrior culture, fighting spirit, and resistance movements.” In a post entitled “Talking with a Target: Vancouver Police Department’s ‘Guns-Drawn’ Graffiti Raid Draws Fire,” police intimidation methods are described frankly in a dialogue between ‘C.L. Cook’ and ‘Zig-Zag’ who compared the raid to a similar arrest in London, Ontario where environmental activists had their computers confiscated under the guise of a graffiti charge.
VICE reached out to a Vancouver Police Department spokesman, who disputed that there were that many officers involved—but notably didn't deny their guns were drawn.
“I am assuming that your interest comes from the colourful blog posting online today,” wrote Const. Brian Montague in an email, referring to Warrior Publications. He went on to write that when police execute a search warrant, “in many cases” they attempt to have occupants surrender of their own volition.
Often, officers will use “less-lethal bean bag rounds” in such situations, he said, but that drawing sidearm pistols is always an option because the “safety of the public, our officers and the suspects is a priority when entering a home to look for evidence related to criminal activity.”
“Officers are not required to unnecessarily risk their personal safety,” he explained. “We have various tools for entry and protection available to us.
“In potentially dangerous situations, such as entering premises where there are always many unknown factors, drawing of a sidearm and having it 'ready' is one of those options.”
Hill first realized a police raid was underway when he heard “yelling” outside his East Vancouver house around 9 AM. When he looked outside his upstairs bedroom window, he recalled seeing several police officers on the sidewalk. He and his partner went downstairs and a plainclothes officer was in his living room “with a pistol pointing towards us,” yelling at him to drop to the floor.
“I asked if they had a warrant,” he recounted. “They proceeded with an armed takedown.”
The graffiti in question—“No Pipelines” scrawled freehand around the neighbourhood since at least 2009, sometimes accompanied by a circle-A anarchy symbol—has raised the ire of more moderate anti-pipeline activists anxious it will damage the movement to stop Enbridge and Kinder Morgan from building controversial oil sands pipelines across the province.
The federal government is poised to announce its final decision on the much-hated Enbridge Northern Gateway any day now, with a deadline of June 17 to rule on the $7-billion project.
Others, who purport to be fans of street art, have criticized the tags for being either unoriginal, or painting over existing businesses' mural art. On social media and newspapers, some in the anti-pipelines crowd have even suggested the alleged vandal should be beaten or injured by police for bringing their popular cause into disrepute.
The issue has raised tensions amongst activists over how they should go about opposing the pipelines, and provoked a violent reaction from some who normally tout nonviolence. One Facebook commenter quipped after the raid, “If they had pistol-whipped that idiot I probably would have been moved to make a large donation to the Policeman's Benevolent Fund or whatever they have today.” The artist behind one Commercial Drive mural “defaced” by the graffiti told the Province newspaper he's “a pacifist at heart, but there’s a part of me that would like to disable the hand that uses the spray can.”
So was the unnamed suspect sought by police actually the tagger behind the ubiquitous slogan?
“He's not convicted of it at all that this point,” Hill replies. “The method of their investigation is over the top and rather extreme on the part of the police.
“The method by which they carried out this raid is a message they're trying to communicate to radicals here: to intimated and silence opposition… To possibly disrupt our communications—a number of us run blogs and do communications work. It puts a dent in that.”
But Hill said that those protecting the land and water shouldn't be deterred from activism. Rather, what he called “heavy-handed” police tactics should serve as “a heads-up to people” that standing up against major industrial projects is increasingly seen as a threat to the state itself.
In fact, two years ago Canadian authorities launched a new integrated national security enforcement team (INSET) dedicated to protecting the country's increasingly vital oil sands infrastructure, including pipelines and refineries, from “extremist” activity by politically, ideologically and religiously motivated groups.
The INSET brings together the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), RCMP, and local police forces.
Coupled with former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver's infamous comments that fossil fuel activists were “foreign-funded radicals” endangering the national economy, some say the Conservatives have cast a chill over dissent.
“I don't think people should be intimidated out of organizing or participating in social movements,” Hill says. “On the other hand, it's something we expect from the state when you resist the state and corporate entities.
“It's part of the package when you're fighting against government and big corporate projects—these are national security issues.”