Traffic was once again flowing across one of the major roadways into downtown Vancouver Monday.
It had been closed over the weekend as the result of a protest by a group of people who claimed to be supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many held signs that read “Defund the police” and “Defund white supremacy.” Reporters covering the event recognized prominent faces from the Wet’suwet’en rallies held in the city earlier this year.
The protests in Canada associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have not been anything like the ones we have witnessed in cities across the United States, which in some cases turned violent. Many reporters sacrificed their personal safety covering those protests; several were injured, some seriously.
But the media, generally, have helped train a light on issues – systemic racism and police brutality – that have been ignored for too long. Generally their presence at protests in the U.S. have been welcomed by organizers, who don’t see the media as the enemy but as an outlet for their viewpoints.
The recent Black Lives Matter protest in Vancouver was different in that way. The demonstrators refused to grant interviews. And they didn’t want reporters anywhere near their blockades, which were set up on either end of the viaduct.
This is something CTV reporter Regan Hasegawa discovered when she showed up near one protest site at 2:30 a.m. An overnight reporter, she arrived alone with her camera and was soon met by an individual who told her to leave. When Ms. Hasegawa asked why she was being so confrontational, the protester got upset.
“I’m not being confrontational, and the fact that you said that is racist,” said the protester, who identified as a woman of colour.
She said the fact that Ms. Hasegawa, a Japanese-Canadian, was there demanding to document the goings-on at the protest was “anti-Black and anti-Indigenous.”
“I have a job to do,” Ms. Hasegawa replied, “and I’m also on public property.”
“You are a stupid bitch,” the protester fired back. “And I hope you know that, because you’re not respecting what Indigenous and Black people who organized this protest want.”
At that point, Ms. Hasegawa, feeling increasingly unsafe, decided to leave.
If this is the type of person the Black Lives Matter movement in Vancouver has in its midst, they have a problem. I’d like to think this person is an outlier, someone who does not in any way represent the people who are gathering to fight the profound injustices that racialized people in this country and elsewhere face every day.
But I have a message for the protest movement: If you decide to close a major traffic corridor to draw attention to your issue, whatever it may be, you’d better be prepared to be covered and asked questions by the media. It’s only fair that you spend some time explaining and justifying your actions. Under no circumstances should demonstrators think they can stage events that affect the broader public and be exempt from scrutiny.
It doesn’t work that way.
Many a protest in Vancouver has been undermined by professional agitators who attach themselves to any cause and use it as an excuse to disrupt and generally cause mischief. We certainly saw this with the Wet’suwet’en protests, in which rail traffic and critical intersections of major cities were blockaded. Among the protesters were members of the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism, which advocates for the dismantling of capitalism and an “anti-imperialist” revolution.
Groups that use valid and important causes as a cover to create havoc ultimately help delegitimize the very issue at the forefront of the protests.
I say all this as a strong advocate of peaceful protests. Done properly, and with true commitment, they can conjure broad public support for long-overdue change. They can prompt some of us to look deeper within ourselves and see the world in a new way.
The media have been, and will continue to be, an important conduit between those demanding change and those who need to be educated about it.
Trying to intimidate and harass people who are merely doing their jobs undermines the very ethos of peaceful protests – and seriously damages the credibility of the cause around which protesters have gathered.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.