Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

The hypocrisy continues

Last night, while talking to a friend on the phone about the Olympics, I was shocked at the vehemence of his reaction to a recent VANOC position. This friend, a retiree, wholeheartedly supports nonviolence; in the decade or so since I’ve known him, I’ve seen him angry only once. Yet, when he told me about VANOC demanding that a small-business owner, who makes hand warmers that carry a flame as a logo, remove the flame image and pay them $5,000, he was outraged. He said: “He should kick them in the balls.” I’ve never heard him use such language. I thought: Wow, if a VANOC move can prompt this level of reaction from a mild-mannered, committed pacifist, how will it affect the hotheads?

 

Meanwhile, the hypocrisy continues. The B.C. government has slashed funding to youth sports groups, but it can dish out millions towards promotion and support of the Olympics. Similarly, the B.C. Liberals have decimated arts organizations with their funding cutbacks, yet they’re touting the Cultural Olympiad as if they’re a huge patron of the arts.

 

I find it ironic that many Olympic athletes struggle along on low pay each year (unless they’ve got a generous sponsor), while Olympic sponsors and corporations make millions off their sporting backs. I applaud the dedication, perseverance, commitment, and skill of every Olympic athlete. Hurray for celebrating their dreams. It’s sad, however, to see their efforts awash in merchandising, mascots and promotional paraphernalia that have far more to do with corporate profit-making than rewarding the world’s best athletes. What if VANOC sponsors and advertisers had to share a percentage of their profits with the athletes? That would stun the world.

 

The glitzy, expensive Olympics are happening in the same city with Canada’s lowest per-capita-income neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, while thousands of homeless people still seek shelter. We can provide venues for a two-week event but not basic housing for residents. What skewed priorities. One group that highlights this inequitable contrast is the Poverty Olympics; I like their catch phrase: “World-class Province, World-class Poverty.” They plan to host their own torch relay, opening ceremonies and games  in the Downtown Eastside on Feb. 7, as a similar group is doing on the Sunshine Coast this Saturday (January 30) in Sechelt, BC. (They’re using plungers as torches.)

 

The Poverty Olympics website points out these facts:

  • Homelessness has doubled in Greater Vancouver between 2002 and 2005 with more than 2,000 people now living on the streets or in shelters. 
  •  Disease: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside,has an HIV rate of 30%, the same as Botswana’s. Other diseases like Hepatitis C are rampant.
  • British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate in all of Canada for six years in a row.

The Olympic Resistance Network website states the following:

“The Olympics are not about the human spirit and have little to do with athletic excellence. They are a multi-billion dollar industry backed by real estate, construction, hotel, tourism and media corporations, and powerful elites working hand in hand with government officials and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). “

Their site highlights Olympics-related issues from security and erosion of civil liberties to environmental destruction and waste and public costs and debt.

 

During the Olympics, the Pivot Legal Society plans to hand out to the homeless 500 red tents bearing the phrases “Housing is a right” and “End homelessness.” Hopefully, this will draw some attention from the international media.

January 26, 2010 at 8:39 pm Comments (0)

A victory for free speech in Vancouver

I am delighted that the City of Vancouver has rewritten its bylaws that previously outlawed any Olympic protests within a 40-block area in downtown Vancouver. The old bylaw, which could have led to the arrest of anyone carrying or displaying an anti-Olympics sign within the so-called demonstration-free zone, was an outrageous abuse of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

This bylaw change has prompted the withdrawal of a lawsuit by Chris Shaw, a University of B.C. professor and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, who charged that the previous bylaw violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and disregarded civil liberties. Good for them for launching the lawsuit, which was endorsed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

January 26, 2010 at 8:32 pm Comments (0)