Thousands rally, but masked artists face heat

Last week thousands of people gathered on the lawn of the legislature for what was billed by organizers as...

Last week thousands of people gathered on the lawn of the legislature for what was billed by organizers as “one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history.” This action consisted of erecting a black banner on stakes driven into the sacred ground of our provincial government’s seat to symbolize the proposed pipeline.

The goal of this illegal action was to lure the Victoria police into playing the antagonist and arresting a few dozen protestors under the watchful eye of the media. When VicPD refused to play along, the long-awaited act of defiance garnered little more than a cheer from the crowd and a few bored stares from  unmoving officers.

Meanwhile, a small group of local activists created a different kind of protest in a quiet corner of the lawn. The purpose, according to one organizer, was to create space to discuss the effectiveness of the protest and explore other forms of opposition.

Organizers were critical of the misguided theatrics of the international NGOs responsible for the Defend Our Coast rally, advocating instead for a new approach to protecting our bioregion. “People’s intentions were to go and ‘defend the coast,” but if we’re not addressing the systems that are attacking the coast or the indigenous people whose coast it is, then we’re not effective.”

Despite their refusal to perform on the main stage, the Victoria police weren’t entirely absent from the day’s events. Officers arrested street performer Mikhail Miller — whose face was painted like a skull — and detained two fellow artists (dressed as a bird and a clown) on their way to the protest, informing them that it was illegal to wear a mask during the rally. “It was very invasive, and all we were doing was an artistic performance. I just didn’t feel like they had any right to be asking me for information.” Miller is correct — while a federal law is being considered to criminalize disguises in certain situations, VicPD jumped the gun with enforcement.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that The Capital had been given a taste of real politics. After last week’s rally, local activists have shown that they can respond just as appropriately to political theatre. M

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