A planned drive-in demonstration aimed at supporting farmers in India was changed to a mobile car rally at the last minute, say participants, after RCMP shut down the event before it started on Saturday.
Demonstrator Harjap Grewal said the event, scheduled for the Cloverdale Recreation Centre, would have been COVID-safe, with people staying in their cars and listening to the event on their radios.
The drive-in event was also chosen as a way to avoid disrupting traffic, he said.
“(They are) telling us we cannot gather here on city property without a permit, and are stressing the reason is public safety concerns,” he said, arguing that police and city officials had not been able to articulate their concerns ahead of time.
“They tried to speak with me and the organizers. We informed them that if there’s any public health and safety concerns, please let the organizers know. They refused to communicate any of them, and now have blocked the protest from proceeding on site today.”
Surrey RCMP said it had information that as many as 10,000 people would show up to the event.
Insp. Dale Carr said police respect the right to peaceful protest, but need to balance that right with the need for public safety.
“It’s a question of whether somebody is able to control 9,000 to 10,000 people to remain in their vehicles,” he said.
“(They had) plans to do a stage, plans to have speakers, they had plans for music, all that suggests more than just the protest. Sounds like a festival, sounds like an event. It sounds like they’re trying to have people gather and they’re calling it a protest.
Grewal disagreed, and said it was unfair for police to cancel a public protest on government land.
“It’s public property. Parks, gathering places, city property has often been used for movements to gather for protests,” he said.
With the event shut down, supporters were being encouraged to meet at the RCMP E-Division headquarters to form a procession to the Strawberry Hill Mall instead.
A media release for the original event had advertised 20 performers and speakers.
“A collective of speakers and artists will voice their support for farmers, artists, activists, democracy and human rights,” it said.
On Friday, Surrey RCMP said members and city bylaw officers will be monitoring the event “to ensure public safety and compliance with health orders.”
“Public health orders are in place to protect our community, and will be enforced,” police added.
Event organizers say music has played a key role in the farmers’ protests, noting that about 100 songs backing farmers have been released during the dispute.
Talks between the Indian government and representatives of tens of thousands of protesting farmers remained deadlocked Friday, with the government refusing to scrap new agricultural reform laws, which farmers say will benefit large corporations.
Farmers have been blockading highways connecting the capital, Delhi, with the country’s north for nearly two months.
Farmers say the new laws will end guaranteed minimum prices, handing power to corporations to undercut their livelihoods. The government says it is willing to pledge that guaranteed prices will continue.
Saturday’s rally is the latest in a string of events in British Columbia and other parts of Canada that have been spearheaded by members of the South Asian community, many of who still have families in India.
“The protest in India has awoken an entire nation and its diaspora, mobilized by artists who released #songsofrevolution and artwork to express their support for the farmers and question the legitimacy of India’s democracy,” said Challo organizers.
The event is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Cloverdale Rec Centre, with vehicles to begin arriving and parking at 1 p.m.
Participants are being asked to remain in their vehicles and to follow all COVID-19 regulations.