At about 7:15 p.m., Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a few lines into his stump speech, to a ballroom packed with Tories at Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore, just a short stroll up the seawall from Stanley Park, when an intermittent fire alarm begins to sound.
He laughs it off with a quip about alarms going off in financial markets, too. A voice comes over the PA informing the throng that it the alarm is being checked out. Harper plows on. Wondering if the protesters I saw gathering outside earlier might have pulled the alarm, I head down two flights of escalators to see what’s going on around the hotel’s front entrance.
Before I can get to the door, though, I’m brought up short by the sight of Hawaiian dancers, in full regalia—well, plastic grass skirts—swaying in formation in the main-level conference area. Turns out they are the Tusitala Polynesian Dancers, performing for a luau theme night at the British Columbia Seniors Living Association’s trade show.
Outside about a dozen mostly black-clad demonstrators have turned on the sirens on their red bullhorns, setting off a piercing din. Their placards read “Trust evidence INSITE saves lives.” Mark Townsend, an organizer in a leather jacket, explains that they’re angry Harper’s government has ignored medical research that establishes a solid case for Vancouver’s safe injection site for addicts.
A senior citizen in a tweed jacket over a gray sweater vest loses his cool, strides over to the protesters, and makes as if to grab one of their signs. Then he thinks better of it, and instead finds a hotel worker to berate for not doing something about the demo. He declines to tell me his name, but describes himself as a Conservative voter from the Delta-Richmond East riding. He’s angry because he believes someone from the pro-Insite gang set off the fire alarm to spoil the PM’s speech.
The demonstrators move suddenly as if they’re going to try to get inside the hotel. A half dozen police officers, also in black, rush up in formation, blocking the door. The tweed-jacket guy stands back and looks on. So do a quite a few people, I notice, wearing colorful plastic leis. Everybody cools down. When I get back inside, the Tusitala Dancers are finished, the Prime Minister is wrapping up, and the fire alarm has finally stopped.