It was a perfect evening: Out for dinner, then down to Waterfront Park in North Vancouver to watch the Canada Day fireworks bloom over Burrard Inlet.

The twilight air was balmy as people spread blankets across the grass and the kids raced around.

It was downright festive, or would have been if there weren’t a full squadron of RCMP officers armed with flashlights and Tasers and their K-9 buddies patrolling the crowd with an intensity usually reserved for a dragnet operation.

Judging by the oohs and aahs as the pyrotechnical wizards worked their magic, I seemed to be the only spectator disturbed by such an aggressive display of policing power.

Of course, it wasn’t unexpected. Our big public events are routinely plagued by drunken or drug-induced incidents, and Waterfront Park itself has been the scene of ugly gang confrontations. Once again this week, Vancouver’s gang epidemic drew international press with a Los Angeles Times feature that told readers: “This crisp region of polished highrises, emerald spruce, azure waterways and feel-good vibes finds itself in the midst of a gang war that has killed at least 18 young people this year.”

Meanwhile, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is worried that dozens of surveillance cameras brought in to provide security for the Olympic Games will become permanent fixtures long after the Games are over, a reasonable concern considering officials have admitted the control centre and wiring built to support the system is permanent, and no host city has ever dismantled the camera array after the Games were over.

Big Brother is watching you, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I suspect most people will tell you (as a number told me at the fireworks) they welcome the extra police presence and surveillance. Frankly, just going out in public freaks them out, as they have to endure a post-industrial nightmare worthy of Hieronymus Bosch — heavily armed gangstas zipping around in bullet-proof SUVs, bizarre, threatening squeegee “kids,” or smoking crack on the sea wall — and they’d rather have more security and less freedom, thank you.

So there we were, hundreds of happy sheep bursting into spontaneous eruptions of O Canada while our human shepherds shone flashlights in our faces and their German shepherds sniffed out our picnic baskets.

And I was left to wonder: Just what kind of birthday party is this, anyway?

– Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;

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