VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Even as the clock approached midnight Friday, the Hudson's Bay Company on Granville Street -- better known to visitors here as the must-visit Olympic souvenir "superstore" -- was bustling with shoppers.
Just a few hours later, it was trashed, its windows shattered and storefront cordoned off by yellow tape, a symbolic victim of a well-organized group known as the Olympic Resistance Network, which is using the worldwide profile of the Games to protest various issues.
The precise time the vandalism occurred was uncertain. But at approximately 9:45 a.m. local time, the protesters, the majority dressed all in black, marched down Granville Street and then Robson Street near the damaged store, led by one protester shouting through a megaphone.
The core of the protest appeared to concern the amount of money Vancouver has spent on the Games. But there were also handmade signs addressing such issues as animal rights, globalization, and the plight of the homeless who have been displaced by the Games, confirming the Associated Press's description of the ORN as an "umbrella group for many causes."
"They’re using it as a front," said Samantha Jung, a student at the University of British Columbia who followed the protest through the city this morning. "I’ve seen [protests] for seal hunts. Seal hunts have nothing to do with the Olympics.’’
Andrew Bates, a student journalist for the Canadian University Press who was at the scene, said the first protest "petered out into anarchists," which is when the windows were smashed. The protesters then split into two groups.
“The first group started walking and the cops started following them," Bates said. "There was everyone from cops to regular riot squad, and then riot squads with big guns."
As we walked through the city toward the media center at 9:45 a.m., the protests appeared to be under control. But by 10:30 a.m., a television monitor tuned to CTV showed another, much more contentious scene on the west side of the city, approximately a mile from the store as well as the center of the Olympic scene.
Police dressed in riot gear were face to face with a group of aggressive protesters near the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park. One spit in the direction of a policeman, while another protester charged in an officer's direction, only to retreat and hold up his camera as if to take a picture.
Heading out toward the scene, the prominence of police on virtually every block was immediately noticeable. Georgia Street, a main road leading toward Lions Gate Bridge and the park, was partially barricaded by police.
As we neared the park and the bridge, the police and security presence was enhanced even more, even as the protesters had again split into smaller groups and the disturbance near the park had dissapated.
Approximately 75 police offers could be seen walking in unison down West Georgia St, then gathered in a parking lot on Alberni St. before departing for different locations in nine vehicles. There were no more reports of disturbances or confrontations by noon.