An alleged theft prompted a series of clashes in an illicit pot market that’s taken hold at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver.
Witness video obtained by CTV News shows one man holding a teenaged boy as several people berate him and accuse him of stealing a large jar of marijuana buds on Jan. 4.
“You’re under citizen’s arrest!” announces one vendor, while another admonishes him not to hurt the boy as he’s a minor.
Vendor Kyle Levins told CTV News the teen stole from his table.
“It was one of my jars and all I wanted him to know was I wanted my jar back and to say ‘hey, this is not right.’”
As the boy tried to leave, CTV asked him whether he tried to steal something. He didn’t answer. When he was released by the vendors and started leaving the square, a young man who's a regular at the market threatened the teen in front of our camera.
“He's a thief, he's under citizen's arrest. [The] minute he leaves the area, I'm more than welcome to do whatever I want."
He looked like a minor himself, and after he started chasing the alleged thief from the square one of the vendors tackled him to avoid an assault. The young man who made the threats was arrested by Vancouver police soon after.
The force has been taking heat for not doing enough to deter open marijuana smoking and sales in the pedestrianized square frequented by tourists, shoppers and families attending the Robson Square Ice Rink underground. None of vendors appear to have permits, business licenses or Health Canada approval to sell marijuana, which is still heavily regulated under federal laws. Full legalization is anticipated July 1st.
"We are paying attention. We are looking at ways of dealing with this,” Sgt. Jason Robillard told reporters Friday. He also used the strongest language yet in connection with the market, suggesting police are ready to take action on the vendors.
"We don't have a timeframe but we are making this a priority right now."
In response to complaints against the market by visitors and permitted vendors jockeying for space and trying to get rid of what they say are pungent smells associated with weed, the City of Vancouver consistently says they’re working on the issue.
“We don't allow people just pull up with a pickup truck and just jump out with tables and chairs and tents and start selling any products—whether it's T-shirts or whether it's pot," general manager of engineering Jerry Dobrovolny told CTV in December.
But when asked what they’ve done in response to a steady increase of vendors from two on Friday and Saturday nights to six or more every day, Dobrovolny says there’s been discussion, occasional confiscation of tents and tables and a handful of warnings and tickets.
In fact, CTV News has learned that as of December 13th , the city had issued just 12 fines of $1,000 each for operating without a business license.
When asked for updated statistics on January 12th, the city replied: “To date, the City has issued 12 tickets and impounded three tents which carries a $300 fee per infraction.”
That means the city hasn’t issued any new tickets for operating without a business license in at least a month, despite a daily presence by an increasing number of vendors.
"We are listening to the concerns of the public and we are concerned as well,” insisted Robillard.
“It is still illegal and we have never not enforced it, we're just looking at other ways of working with the city to possibly deal with this issue."