Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Living under the hyperspin of the PMO

A bit of a brouhaha erupted out in Vancouver this afternoon. So here is some coverage of the protest and surrounding partisan fluffing which occurred in Vancouver this afternoon. Supporters of Insite, the Vancouver safe-injection site held a protest at a Chinese Cultural Centre that the Prime Minister was supposed to attend: "Stephen Harper targeted by Insite supporters." Here's an overview:
A protest by supporters of Vancouver's safe-injection site has been called off by organizers, who say they have made their point.

Nathan Allen, representing a coalition of community groups supporting INSITE, told about 100 activists to leave and saluted police.

The activists left, though police officers remain around the Chinese Cultural Centre on the edge of the Downtown Eastside.

Mr. Allen dismissed suggestions from the PMO that the protest was engineered by NDP MP Libby Davies.

He promised INSITE supporters would find Mr. Harper for protest reasons wherever he goes in downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver police officers converged on the Chinese Cultural Centre in downtown Vancouver Wednesday, as protesters rallied over a scheduled photo op by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

More than three-dozen officers surrounded the building, target of a peaceful but noisy protest that saw activists chain the doors, ring the complex with yellow police tape and target it with portable police sirens.

“Hey, Hey. Ho Ho. Insite stays and Harper goes,” protesters chanted.

It was not clear if the prime minister was on site.
Peaceful but noisy. Three-dozen officers surrounding the building. It certainly sounds, after the fact, as if the site was secure and there were no concerns at all about any safety threats posed by the protest. In fact, it sounds like your typical protest. Yet it wasn't. The Prime Minister's spokesperson Dimitri Soudas was on site and began to publicly stoke the event by sending out emails, inflaming the situation:
"Veterans, seniors and young children are currently being prevented from exiting or entering the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver because of the libby davies "welcoming committee" has taped all exits shut. This is a lack of respect for seniors, veterans canadians of chinese origin and the young kids inside the building. The situation has created a security risk for all the people currently in the building. Some doors have been chained or taped shut while people were preparing for a Chinese New Year rehearsal."

Dimitri N. Soudas
Associate Director | Press Secretary
Directeur associé | Attaché de presse
"Veterans, seniors and young children," clearly a bit of crafting going on there. It wasn't clear what basis Soudas had for saying there was a security risk given what we read in the Globe report. And if there was, why was the Press Secretary hyping the issue through media channels and not devoting attention to that security risk? It's very difficult to imagine that there was some kind of legitimate risk here. Prime Ministerial security, we have been told, has been greatly heightened in recent years. How could this major breach have occurred? If the PM was supposed to be there, surely the security detail fell down on the job, if we accept Soudas' framing of the situation.

Further, Soudas immediately jumped the gun, blaming NDP MP Libby Davies for putting these people at some kind of risk. Davies rebutted Soudas' accusations on twitter:
@LibbyDavies: It was a peaceful protest in support of Insite (I didn't organize). Didn't see chains on doors. Police moved in&out freely
She also did so later on CBC's Power & Politics. More at the rabble site.

What to make of all this? The Prime Minister's Office was clearly hyped for the day, perhaps expecting such a demonstration in the wake of Justice Minister Nicholson's announcement yesterday of an appeal on the Insite case to the Supreme Court, well-timed on the eve of a Prime Ministerial visit to Vancouver. Knowing that they might face visible public opposition to that decision while in Vancouver, what better way to deflect from the real substantive issue than to cause a diversion and fluff up a protest event into some kind of security situation. The slightest hint that this protest went offside - a bike chain, it appears, looped around one set of door handles (how many entrances were there?) - was used to pump the situation into a security scare and even an effort to pit the Insite supporters and the NDP against the Chinese community. That's what Taylor's blog post title - and Soudas' email - suggests.

Civility. That's the issue here. The Prime Minister's Office should be better than this. There's a level of professionalism, calm and good governance that is just not evident in this PMO. Today's incident was one more example of that.