The City of Vancouver announced Monday that it will begin to implement “metal detection screening” of citizens and journalists who plan to attend council meetings and other public events in the third-floor chamber at city hall.
The new security measure goes into effect Tuesday when council meets for its regularly scheduled public meeting, according to a news release issued Monday by the city’s communications department.
“This change is in response to the evolving security environment and aligns with similar security measures being implemented by other Canadian municipalities,” the release said.
“The City of Vancouver will ensure Vancouver city hall remains open and accessible, while continuing to be a safe space for the public and media to attend public meetings in council chambers, public events and as they access services at city hall.”
Security increasing at city hall
The release didn’t say whether there was an event or concern that required the additional level of security. The new measure comes as the city has increased its security presence at city hall in recent years, particularly on council meeting days.
Glacier Media first observed the unprecedented presence of security guards at a meeting in May 2019, when guards were posted outside city hall, in the main lobby and in the third-floor lobby leading to the council chamber.
Citizens can no longer freely take the elevator or stairs from the main lobby to the third floor of city hall, unless escorted by security. The elevators and doors leading to the stairs all require security fobs to gain access.
Prior to the increased security, people could fill the chamber and its balcony.
Greg Conlan, the associate director of the city's protective services, told Glacier Media via email in 2019 that the budget for security personnel at city hall was just under $700,000 and increased slightly for 2018 “due to enhanced safety and security practices on council days.”
“Prior to the new procedures put in place, there had been increased acts of aggression and disruption which created anxiety for councillors, city staff and the public, and also interfered with the democratic process,” Conlan said at the time. “Since the new procedures have been implemented, there have been no significant incidents of concern.”
Former city councillor Jean Swanson told Glacier Media in 2019 that she suspected the additional security could be traced to her time before politics when she and other housing activists stormed the chamber in June 2017.
Then-mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors left the chamber, and Swanson went and sat in the mayor’s chair. She led a mock council meeting before all involved left the chamber. No one got hurt.
It was shortly after Swanson’s time in the mayor’s chair that more security guards were put in place at city hall.
“That’s when it started,” said Swanson, who was elected in October 2018 and served until October 2022.
Mayor Ken Sim targeted
The current council, which is led by Mayor Ken Sim and his seven ABC Vancouver colleagues, were targets of protests prior to being elected and after taking office in November 2022.
During the campaign, ABC’s campaign office on Broadway was shut down by protesters, who later showed up outside the Hollywood Theatre, where Sim and candidates were holding an election rally.
On inauguration day Nov. 7, 2022, Sim and some of his council colleagues had police escort them into city hall for their first council meeting. The politicians entered the front door of city hall while about 50 people held a rally on the back steps of the building at 12th and Cambie Street.
The group, which included housing advocates and members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, had a list of demands, including for city officials to keep their “hands off” tent cities, but to provide bathrooms, showers, running water and food for people living in tents and makeshift shelters.
Sim later supported the decampment of East Hastings — a move that caused some unidentified person to scrawl graffiti on the back steps of city hall in April 2023 that targeted the mayor.
Asked about the incident in an interview in May, Sim said: “Look, it's unfortunate. And the reality is if these decisions [regarding the encampment] were easy, they would have been done long ago. So it comes with the territory. If we could wave a perfect magic wand where everything would be taken care of and everyone was super happy, I would reach for that magic wand.”