19 UBC students arrested at bonfire protest - Macleans.ca

19 UBC students arrested at bonfire protest

Police make arrests after protestors block fire department

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Nearly 20 people at the University of British Columbia face a series of charges including assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest after a protest escalated into a confrontation and arrests. The students are now asking for a public inquiry into the incident.

Police arrested 19 students rallying Friday in support of a peer who was blocking a fire hose being used to douse a protest bonfire. About 100 people with Students for a Democratic Society and Trek Park for People gathered outside UBC’s Student Union Building to demonstrate against the redevelopment of a nearby grassy knoll, a popular student hangout, for a bus loop.

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Steve Klein, of the Students for a Democratic Society, says police used excessive force, aggravated a peaceful situation and engaged in a process of misinformation with the media following an anti-development rally at the university on Friday. Klein says the students will be contacting the B.C. Civil Liberties Union and are considering a complaint to the province’s police complaint commissioner.

A release from the society said a woman was told she was violating a bylaw by blocking the hose. “(The woman) was grabbed by an RCMP officer and thrown to the ground, pinned, and handcuffed. Her face was literally shoved in a puddle of mud while an RCMP officer sat on top of her,” the release said, describing it as an “uncalled act of police aggression.” The society said another student was immediately arrested for questioning the police action.

Watch the video from the protest:

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The release said the detentions led to students forming a human chain in protest. As a result, the release said, 26 students were arrested after 30 police cars from throughout Metro Vancouver arrived on the scene.

However, RCMP Cst. Annie Linteau with RCMP’s E Division said only 19 people were arrested at the scene. She said they received a call from campus security and the Vancouver fire department for assistance of dealing with the large crowd and bonfire.

“Upon their arrival, the firefighters deemed the fire to be unsafe and asked for our assistance to move the protesters,” she said. When they protesters were told to move, Linteau said “they banded together against the police and prevented the fire crews from putting out the fire.” At this point officers from Vancouver and Richmond detachments were called in the deal with “combative” protesters.

When one man was arrested and put in a police cruiser, the protesters banded around the car. Police then made their arrests.

The Alma Mater Society vice-president of administration Tristan Markle called on university president Stephen Toope to condemn the arrests. He called the arrests a “collective punishment” for students who have been protesting development on the campus.

Steve Klein from the Students from Democratic Society said protesters confronted security after they were holding a female on the ground in a puddle of water as they were trying to put out the fire. He said they tried negotiating with the officer to let the woman go. “He finally stood her up and eight people locked arms around her and said that this was a complete overreaction,” Klein said, in a phone interview, adding that they spoke with the officer for about an hour.

The woman wasn’t arrested but the same people who were negotiating with the police, surrounded a car where a fellow protester was inside, under arrest. “We danced around the police cruiser and sang songs for maybe an hour,” he said. “We were careful not to touch the police cruiser or anything else.”

At this point, more officers were called in and the situation escalated. Klein counted 18 police cruisers, two paddy wagons, a police van and several undercover police car. He said the commanding officer at the scene would not allow the people surrounding the car to negotiate with them and the crowd started to get upset. It was then that the arrests were made.

“It seemed to me like it was inexperienced police officers escalating the situation rather than diffusing it and letting it get completely out of hand,” Klein said.

-with a report from CP