A few dozen protesters clashed with police Wednesday morning at the annual Cannabis Day protest on the south grounds of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Demonstrators and officers were shouting and shoving, and some people were placed in handcuffs, though it’s not clear what sparked the turmoil.
The crowd had been chanting, “Let them go! Let them go!”
Police had confronted event organizers earlier in the day.
Organizer Jeremiah Vandermeer says only a few tents and tables were set up on the south plaza steps when the situation became tense.
“The city and police surrounded us with a whole bunch of cops and city officials trying to force us to shut down the booths — puffing up their chests and getting right in the face of our activists.”
Vancouver Police say four people were arrested. Charges are pending.
Constable Brian Montague says officers moved in to arrest one person who refused to stop selling marijuana to minors, igniting a clash with protesters.
“These individuals not only confronted officers and swarmed officers, but then jumped on the individual we were trying to arrest to prevent that arrest. Clearly we can’t have that happen. We ended up making four arrests. All four people are in our custody, they remain in custody, and I expect investigators will be recommending charges against all four.”
“This is becoming more than a protest; it’s becoming more of a festival type of atmosphere, and an open air drug market.”
Montague was asked why police didn’t dismantle the illegal protest?
“We tried to make one arrest and how problematic that became, how dangerous it became for not only our officers, but the individual we tried to arrest, and anyone that would be nearby. You can only imagine if our officers went in and tried to arrest 150-200 people.”
Organizers had said they were determined to still hold a huge event, despite city crews putting up fencing around the gallery’s north grounds on Monday night, prompting the group to move to the south side.
City manager Penny Ballem has denied the fencing was installed in a bid to force the event to move or cancel.
The city does not support the unsanctioned pro-marijuana event, and had asked for it to be held near the Cambie Bridge.
Vandermeer says it was unrealistic to move with just three weeks’ notice.