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"He's like the George Bush of Bowen Island..."


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Police actions at Bowen festival to be reviewed

Residents say tactics of RCMP were frightening

Ethan Baron

The Province

September 2, 2004

Regional RCMP commander Bud Mercer yesterday ordered a police review of RCMP conduct at a festival on Saturday on Bowen Island.

The mayor's daughter and a councillor's son said they were treated harshly by police, and festival-goers, organizers and local politicians complained that RCMP were aggressive and heavy-handed.

"They ruined our party," said organizer Colleen Molineux, who blamed island RCMP Cpl. Greg Lui for the Bowfest problems.

"He's like the George Bush of Bowen Island. He thinks there are nuclear weapons under the jiffy-johns."

The RCMP probe will start soon, said RCMP spokesman Sgt. John Ward.

"We're going to look at our files," Ward said. "There will be some statements taken by the investigator when he goes over there. There will be some consultation with the community."

Keegan Leigh, 17, said he and his friends attended a post-Bowfest party, and chased away three off-island youths who had been kicked out for fighting and were vandalizing cars.

Leigh and his friends went to the RCMP station. Police talked to the three off-island kids, then threatened to arrest Leigh and his friends for chasing them, Leigh said.

"I ran away," said Leigh. "I climbed a roof and tried to lay flat on it until they left. One of them spotted me up there."

Leigh said he told two officers, "OK, I'm giving up here," then one of them pepper-sprayed him in the face from a metre away.

"They started getting really rough. One of them pushed me down. Two or three of them were kneeling on my back."

He was arrested for resisting arrest and released later without charges.

Ella Barrett, 12, who took second place in the Bowfest slug race, said police accosted her while she was sitting in a tree waiting for a ride home around 10 p.m.

"They were shining a flashlight in my eyes," Ella said. "I asked them if they could stop, and they were all like, 'That's a sign you've been doing drugs.' "

The officers demanded she empty her pockets and she complied, she said.

"They were asking a whole bunch of my friends to empty their bags."

Ella's mom, Lisa Barrett, the island's mayor, said: "It's not just with the kids. It was adults coming to me saying they had been horribly treated by the police, as if they'd committed some kind of terrible crime. One 56-year-old man was told he was 'walking with purpose' and therefore was suspicious."

Ward said the island's three RCMP, plus five extras, policed the festival, which attracted 2,500 to 3,000 people.

"I don't know how heavy-handed that is if we only had five arrests," he said.

Bowfest organizer Chris Molineux said celebrants were shocked to see eight flak-jacketed cops standing around the grounds in intimidating poses.

"Families were saying they were frightening their kids," Molineux said.

Ward denied reports that police told B.C. Ferries staff to refuse to sell tickets to off-island youths. Police asked ticket sellers to advise young people that the last ferry back sailed at 10 p.m., because in past years drunk teens had stayed overnight and caused problems, Ward said.

B.C. Ferries spokesman Stephen Nussbaum said miscommunication between ferry staff and police led to some customers having their ID checked, but nobody was turned away because of where they lived.

The North Shore News reported that West Vancouver police said one of their officers helped a Bowen Island RCMP officer screen passengers, and they turned away a group of teens who couldn't prove they were residents and "did not have a purpose" for going there.

Neil Boyd, a Simon Fraser University criminologist and Bowen Island councillor, said there's good reason for significant police presence at Bowfest.

"Many young people see it as an opportunity to get loaded and cause conflicts," he said.

ebaron@png.canwest.com

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© The Vancouver Province 2004

Copyright © 2004 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest Global Communications Corp. All rights reserved.

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