Dennis Rose and Chris Turo sit on foldable chairs outside Robson Street’s designer shops in downtown Vancouver nearly every day, selling their art on the sidewalk.
They carve wooden feathers and watch shoppers stroll by, arms draped with shopping bags that hang like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
Wood chippings typically collect at their feet. The smell of cedar fills the air and gives the sidewalk-shop the feel of a log cabin.
Shoppers wouldn’t guess that Rose and Turo are breaking the law by carrying on First Nations trading and selling traditions that have been in place since before the arrival of European settlers.
“I’m a First Nations resident, on First Nations land, doing First Nations stuff that First Nations have done since before this city was built,” said Rose, chief of the Robson Tribe, an unofficial band of First Nations artists named by Robson Street locals.
“I honestly don’t feel the obligation to have to pay to do the things we have always done.”
Robson Tribe artists rarely purchase vending licences. But city officials say that is going to change in February when 2010 Olympic bylaws take full effect and are strictly enforced.
“Anyone that is selling product on the street has to have a permit,” said Alan Rockett, city street vending coordinator.
“If they don’t have a permit, then they would get a warning from city inspectors or city police and if they are caught again then their items will be impounded and they have to pay a fine.
The City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department plan to increase use of the Safe Streets Act and Trespass Act as the Olympics draw closer. That includes an increase in the number of fines shelled out to illegal street vendors and buskers.
Vendors breaking city bylaw face a fine up to $2,000 and their items are impounded until the fine is paid. Vendors are at the whim of the City Engineer’s right to issue other permits.
All locations are non-transferable regardless of scaffolding on buildings under repair or noise created by city roadwork causing obstructed customer access.
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Olympic bylaws supported by the City of Vancouver will restrict buskers and other street vendors on Robson and Granville Street to those selected by VANOC.
City Council re-passed the Olympic bylaw that limits or prohibits, commercial activities and street vending on Robson and Granville Street on Dec. 03, 2009. The bylaw gives VANOC authority over Olympic venue sites for the purpose of limiting congestion that could negatively affect the enjoyment of Olympic spectators.
“On Granville Street and Robson Street all of the vendors and buskers and other people meeting on that street won’t be there during the Olympics,” said Eby. “They’ll be displaced.”
Shoebox of violations
Turo moved to Vancouver seven years ago, leaving behind three shoeboxes full of bylaw violation tickets. Combined, the tickets totaled over $30,000, said Turo.
The City of Toronto issued a warrant for his arrest. Turo returned to Toronto, serving time in jail to pay off the fines. He did not mention if he has started another shoebox collection in Vancouver.
It’s been five years since Rose or Turo have been confronted by authorities.
“There were a few officers during a period about five years ago that used to ram my table, knock over my carvings and confiscate my carvings,” said Rose.
The police and downtown ambassadors don’t pester Rose or the other native artists anymore, he said. He’s content to leave things as they are with the city.
He doesn’t want to create problems, but the Olympics loom like a cloud ready to rain on Rose and Turo’s carvings once the games begin.
The two said they don’t care what the city plans for the Olympics.
Aboriginal involvement from the Four Host First Nations is just one commitment VANOC has boasted about. Rose said if the Robson Tribe can’t sell its art come February, they’ll compensate during the rest of year.
“The medals are cool though,” said Turo. “Anything with a native design is cool. I guess those are okay.”
Protocol for the success of the 2010 Games signed by The Four Host First Nations and VANOC, 2005, vancouver2010.com
- Increase opportunities to showcase art, language, traditions, history and culture
- Promote skills development and training related to the Games
- Build lasting social, cultural and economic opportunities and benefits
- Improve health, education and the strengthening of the communities through sport, economic development and cultural involvement
- Create youth sport legacy
- Increase participation in Arts festivals and events
- Increase participation in medal ceremonies, Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies