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Newsbox removal order sees 420 event as new Occupy Vancouver

April 15, 2016
Freestanding newspaper boxes on the corner of South Granville St. and West Broadway Ave.

Newspaper boxes on the corner of South Granville St. and West Broadway Ave.

What is the motive behind the City of Vancouver’s April 12 email to the Georgia Straight, ordering the independent weekly newspaper to remove or relocate all of its newspaper boxes along the routes of three upcoming public events: the April 16 Vaisakhi parade, the April 17 Vancouver Sun Run and 420 Vancouver 2016, taking place April 20 at Sunset Beach?

Is it to prevent opportunities for terrorism or is the city trying to apply lessons from the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot, in order to prevent opportunities for hooligans to use the newspaper boxes as projectiles—and if so, who are the hooligans that the city is worried about?

I would argue that the removal order has nothing to do with either the family-friendly Vaisakhi parade or the Sun Run but has everything to do with the black sheep of the three events: 420 Vancouver 2016. In my view, the city is ordering that newspaper boxes be removed from all three events only to deflect charges of singling out and discriminating against the 420 event.

Precedent for the city’s unprecedented order

In an April 13 editorial published on the Georgia Straight’s website, the newspaper decried the city’s sudden, unprecedented and unexpected “diktat”. In the case of Vaisakhi, the April 12 order only gave the Straight two days notice to move or remove newspaper boxes away from the parade route by noon of April 14.

According to the Straight, the city’s email allowed that in areas with commercial frontage the newspaper boxes only had to be relocated 50 metres away from the event routes but that they had to be completely removed from residential areas.

Newspaper boxes are regulated by the city of Vancouver and the Georgia Straight pays, what it described as a “significant amount” in annual fees to place newspaper boxes on city streets. The Straight also said that it had never before been asked by the city to remove its boxes from the routes of the Vaisakhi parade, the Vancouver Sun Run, or the 420 event.

However, this is not the first or the second time that the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver police have endeavoured to have newspaper boxes removed from the area of large public events and in the two previous instances, the city’s desire to see the boxes out from under foot stemmed not from fears of terrorism but rather of hooliganism and protesters running amok.

“A severe overreaction based on fear”

Nearly five years ago, in October of 2011, the City of Vancouver announced plans to remove 100s of newspaper boxes from Vancouver’s downtown core, ahead of the Occupy Vancouver protests, which planned to occupy parts of the Central Business District. The city’s fear was that if violence occurred, the boxes could be used as projectiles, as they had been four months earlier, during the great Stanley Cup riot of 2011.

According to a memo from the Bentall Centre to some of its tenants, as reported by the Georgia Straight on October 12, 2011, the City of Vancouver planned to remove all free-standing newspaper boxes within a four-block radius of the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery, where the Occupy protest was scheduled to begin on Saturday, October 15th, 2011.

Charles Gauthier, Executive Director for the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), wrote in an October 11, 2011, email that:

“…[the city] will remove free-standing news boxes within a 4-block radius of the VAG and other potential target businesses of the protesters (ie department stores, financial institutions). The DVBIA will be submitting a map of potential target businesses to the City tomorrow (Wednesday) so that these news boxes can be removed by end of business on Friday.”

In October, 2011, four years before it became an exclusively digital publication, Xtra! was one of the small independent publications with newspaper boxes in the area around the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In an October 19, 2011, post Xtra!’s engagement director Gareth Kirkby explained how removing newspaper boxes disproportionately affects smaller and minority publications:

“The smaller papers, including papers serving minority communities, have fewer boxes on the street in the first place,” Kirkby explains, “and taking some of them away makes it harder for their readers to find the papers. The long-established mainstream publications have far more boxes everywhere, and they tend to be very heavy boxes that the city does not remove.”

Xtra! also quoted Jerry Dobrovolny, with the City of Vancouver Engineering Department, who pointed out that the July 15 Stanley Cup riot “wasn’t that long ago.”

Dobrovolny also explained that the city had the ability to remove newspaper boxes, or to threaten publishers with confiscation if they failed to remove the boxes as ordered.

Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang told News 1130 that the order given to the Georgia Straight to remove newspaper boxes this month was based not on any specific threat but on the way that newspaper boxes were used during the Stanley Cup Riot back in 2011, which is the same reason that boxes were removed from around Occupy Vancouver five years ago.

With hockey fans like these, Vancouver doesn’t need terrorists

Ryan Dickinson throws fit and newspaper box suring Stanley Cup Riot, June 15, 2011.--CP/CTV/Global

Ryan Dickinson throws a newspaper box during Stanley Cup riot of 2011.—CP/CTV/Global

The “Vancouver Police Department 2011 Stanley Cup Riot Review“, authored by Kristie McCann and published September 6, 2011, contains three references to newspaper boxes:

  • On May 30, 2011, before the fourth round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a City of Vancouver FEST meeting decided that newspaper boxes and bus shelters would be removed (from the Live Site areas).
  • By the time of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Vancouver police were still asking the city to remove or secure street furniture from the Live Site areas that could potentially be used as projectiles, including mailboxes, and newspaper boxes.
  • Officers responding to an internal post-riot questionnaire cited “Projectiles in and around the Live Site area (e.g., mailboxes, glass at bus shelters, newspaper boxes)”.

A second report on the riot, entitled “The Night the City Became a Stadium: Independent Review of the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Playoffs Riot“, was authored by John Furlong and Douglas Keefe and published August 31, 2011.

This report reiterates that by June 1, potential projectiles such as bus shelter glass and newspaper boxes were removed from the Granville and Hamilton Live Sites (although not uniformly).

And 14 days later, on June 15, the day of Game 7, city crews again carted away garbage cans, newspaper boxes and other potential projectiles from the Live Site areas.

I was unable to find any recommendations in either report directly addressing the need to proactively remove newspaper boxes and other freestanding street furniture from the site of future large public events but it’s clear that the Vancouver Police didn’t need any prodding in that direction.

A so-called newspaper superbox on the southwest corner of West Broadway Ave. and South Granville St.

Newspaper superbox on the corner of West Broadway Ave. and South Granville St.

Riots notwithstanding, virtually every Friday and Saturday night of the year drunken young men have be seen, for as long as I can remember, tipping over freestanding newspaper boxes, as well as mailboxes and any other piece of street furniture that’s not bolted down, all along West Broadway Avenue but particularly in Kitsilano.

So it’s easy for me to imagine that the City of Vancouver would be happy to rid the streets of freestanding newspaper boxes altogether and move entirely to the fixed “superboxes” that are part of the city’s street furniture/advertising contract with OUTFRONT Media/JC Decaux which has another seven years to run before it expires in 2023.

In Extra!’s October 19, 2011 report on the removal of newspaper boxes ahead of Occupy Vancouver, Asian Pacific Post executive editor Jagdeesh Mann lamented that the boxes were increasingly unwelcome on Vancouver’s streets:

“It almost feels inevitable that news boxes will be pushed out of the city. Those poor little metal boxes—they’re a very important part of our society. All our voices create diversity and richness in the environment.”

Note: An important question remains unanswered, namely whether any other Vancouver publishers besides the Georgia Straight have been subject to same April 12 order from the City of Vancouver to move or remove newspaper boxes from the routes of the three April events. Click the images to enlarge them.

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