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Tyee reporter barred from Harper rally

Prime Minister Stephen Harper spoke to what was most likely a packed room of supporters at Vancouver's Bayshore Westin hotel last night. The Tyee can't be sure though, because I was not let inside.

This was the second time the Harper team barred The Tyee from reporting on this campaign.

As the Conservative leader began his address in the Stanley Park Ballroom, several members of the media pleaded with event staff to be admitted.

The staffers held firm that the event had already begun and nobody standing outside was to be admitted.

I was running a few minutes late because I had stopped to report on a boisterous Insite protest outside of the Westin hotel, where supporters of Vancouver's controversial safe injection had blared sirens and unfurled a banner from the roof. But I arrived at the ballroom before 7:00 p.m., the official start time of the rally, according to a Conservative press release.

Harper staffers were adamant that media were too late for the rally. After a few minutes, however, reporters from World Journal and Channel M were admitted to the ballroom.

I'd called the Conservative press office earlier in the day, and was told to bring a letter from The Tyee and a drivers license to gain admission. But when I presented these to an Ottawa-based Harper staffer who identified herself as Christine Csversk, she questioned my legitimacy.

"The Tyee?," she asked. "Is that a website?"

Csverisk phoned The Hook's editor, Monte Paulsen, to confirm my credentials. He was politely adamant that I be admitted. She told me to wait, then walked into the rally.

Muffled cheers and chants of "Harper! Harper!" came from the ballroom.

More minutes passed. Fearing the prospect of facing Paulsen with nothing in hand, I began to copy down names from the media list in case I needed to call them later.

A grey-suited man approached quickly and snatched up the list.

"Excuse me," I asked, "Can I get your name?" The man ignored the question and walked away.

A brown-haired staffer in a light blue Conservative T-shirt then demanded to know what I was doing here. I asked him if he knew the name of the man in the grey suit.

"The answer is no," the brown-haired staffer replied. "Stop asking."

Asked if the staffer would provide his own name, he said: "No comment."

The Harper team similarly barred Tyee reporter Rob Annandale from a Sept. 24 rally at the Pan Pacific hotel.

Annandale was given an Ottawa phone number, then showed to the door by security personnel. When Annandale dialed the number, he was told the same thing I'd been told: A signed letter from his editor along with a Driver's License were required.

“It was a little frustrating,” said Annandale, who like other Tyee staffers, had no difficulty reporting on visits by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton during this election. “The only real trouble I've had is with the Conservatives."

(Oh, and by the way, if I had been admitted, if there was a media scrum afterward, and if I were lucky enough to squeeze in a question, I'd have asked Harper: "Throughout 2006, you said you were waiting for a report from the RCMP before making a decision about whether or not to close Insite. Did you authorize the RCMP to fund anti-Insite research?")

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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