NDP House Leader Libby Davies has been keeping an eye on the police presence in Vancouver during the Olympics, and on any social cleansing kinds of activities the police may be engaging in. This on top of getting ready for Parliament's return in less than a week's time. I spoke to her this morning from her riding in Vancouver.
Q: How is your Olympic vigilance going?
A: Well, pretty good. There’s so much going on – it’s very intense. The “tent village” is set up in the Downtown East Side on a vacant lot, which was meant to be a parking lot for VANOC, and it’s been taken over by about 80 tents, and it’s part of what’s called the Red Tent Campaign. I’ve just been talking with folks down there, and the key issue is when they fold up their tents, most people have nowhere to go. Most people are actually homeless, so we’ve been trying to get BC Housing, which is the provincial housing agency, to help find places for people to go. It’s very well organised, very well managed, and it’s amazing that there are some people there who were in shelters who actually prefer to be there a tent than in a shelter because there’s a much stronger sense of community, and people are sitting around a campfire at night singing songs, and of course the weather’s been good, but of course it started raining. There’s just an awful lot of activity going on in Vancouver, both with the Olympics and stuff that’s associated with it.
Q: Have you heard of any security-related incidents?
A: No. Most people I’ve talked to have felt that the police have acted with restraint. At the rallies and protests that I’ve been at, the police have been barely visible. Downtown, there is a police presence, but it’s not that visible, and when I was at the tent village, there were police walking around. They are on the sidewalks, walking down the back lane, and also interestingly, they’re also accompanied by Canada Border Service Agency – CBSA. Some people ask why would they be here, patrolling lanes in the Downtown East Side, and what I’ve heard is that they’re on the lookout for people who they think are not meant to be there, meant to be deported or whatever. So that’s curious that they’re monitoring the tent city for people who they feel may be there illegally. They haven’t gone into the tent city so far as I know, but they have been certainly going around it. People have told me that there are probably security forces on rooftops on the surrounding buildings, and taking photos and if they’ve got cameras, I don’t know, but in terms of direct police harassing people, again I haven’t heard anything specifically. I had a couple of comments about the police harassing people, but it was very generalised. I haven’t heard any specific situation. There was that one so-called riot outside the Bay, but I think a lot of people felt that the police actually acted in a very restrained way in response to that.
Q: That’s good, I guess, considering how much concern there was in the lead-up.
A: Yeah, but for sure there’s a massive police presence overall. You see officers everywhere. In fact, one city councillor told me that they were more concerned that there might be some sort of riot downtown after a hockey game or something, because there has been drinking. I think it might change a little bit with the weather now, but on Saturday, you could just feel the intensity of so many people on a beautiful warm afternoon, and I wasn’t even downtown late at night. I think it changes at night, but they closed down the liquor stores early one night, Saturday.
Q: Otherwise, the House comes back next week, so what are you doing in preparation for that?
A: I’ll be in Ottawa on Monday, and we have caucus meetings, and already the Conservatives are making requests. It’s quite breathtaking their huge capacity to just take more, take more, take more. They prorogued the House, they changed the calendar, they demand that the calendar be changed again, then they say that they want all these motions – we want to reinstate things when we want them, and I just find that their demands and their greediness is quite breathtaking. We will obviously be looking over these various so-called “requests” that they’ve put forward, but I think the feeling in our caucus is fairly strong that these people made a decision for prorogation, and they have to deal with the consequences. We’re obviously looking at what’s coming in, and I think the first few days back will be very intense – obviously the budget, and the various motions. Usually there’s a sub-amendment, an amendment, and the main vote on the budget after four days of debate, so I think it’ll be pretty intense. But our folks are all fired up. We had a health forum taking place, and I talked to a number of our caucus members and I think people feel really very fired up to go back and take them on. We’re ready. We were ready a long time ago. We were ready five-and-a-half weeks ago.
Q: So you’re even more ready now.
A: We’re even more ready now.
Q: Do you have any more demands in terms of what they’re demanding?
A: I just got the motions yesterday that they want, and we’re looking them over right now, and we’ll decide how to respond to that.
Q: With Jack Layton’s treatments, does this mean that you’ll be front-and-centre a little more during Question Period for the next few weeks?
A: Not necessarily. I think Jack is very much involved in doing things. He’s still being as active as he’s ever been, and I think we’ll see him be very active in the House when we return. Thomas Mulcair and I are there obviously to give him all the support he needs, and if there are extra things to be done we’re certainly ready to do that, but I think Jack’s pretty fired up as well. He seems to be in very good spirits, good energy and I think he’s ready to get back into the House. We’ll be there to support him all the way.