'What the RCMP did was not right': Attendees of cancelled rally criticize police for shutdown
Published Sunday, January 17, 2021 6:39PM PST
SURREY, B.C. -- Attendees and those involved in planning a drive-in rally in Surrey on Saturday remain critical of the RCMP’s decision to break up the event before it even started.
“What the RCMP did was not right. They did not have the right to do that,” said Sukhpreet Singh.
Singh said he was set to perform on stage during the rally as an estimated maximum of 500 hundred cars would listen in on their radios.
He said volunteers had planned to ensure those arriving would stay in their vehicles and be from the same household to adhere to B.C.’s COVID-19 safety protocols.
At some point leading up to the rally, Surrey RCMP decided the plans were concerning.
“We received information that with this event there were going to multiple vendors that would be attending,” said Cpl. Joanie Sidhu, a spokesperson for Surrey RCMP. “These vendors included a food truck and a DJ.”
Sidhu said the RCMP worried having vendors such as these would encourage people to leave their vehicles and walk around.
“This was not about preventing a protest,” she added.
Organizers of the rally argue the scenario suggested by police would not have happened.
On Saturday, officers turned cars away one by one from the Coverdale Recreation Centre parking lot, where the rally was scheduled to take place.
Some attendees later reconvened at the Strawberry Hill Shopping Centre to wave signs and hold an impromptu display.
On Sunday, CTV News Vancouver learned one volunteer associated with the original rally was given a $2,300 ticket for promoting a large gathering.
“What (RCMP) have the right to do is issue fines when a violation takes place, but a violation did not take place,” argued Singh.
The BC Civil Liberties Association agrees. In a tweet sent Sunday, the organization’s staff counsel Meghan McDermott called the ticket, "an overbroad enforcement measure.”
She urged police to withdraw the fine.
Vancouver litigator Jason Gratl goes a step further in his analysis, suggesting that senior officials with the RCMP should apologize to protesters for what he calls “heavy-handed action.”
“If the protesters promised that as part of their protest they’re going to break the law, then the RCMP might have a basis for stepping in and shutting down the protest,” Gratl said in an interview with CTV News.
“But here, in this case, where the protesters have very clearly articulated to the public and to the police that they intend to comply with the regulations by staying in their vehicles, then that basis evaporates and the RCMP drag into unconstitutional territory.”
Sidhu said police have to balance everyone’s right to protest with public safety concerns related to the spread of COVID-19.
“People that would be attending this protest would then go back to their communities and have their regular contacts, which poses a big concern,” she said.