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What’s happened to free speech in Vancouver?

Excerpt from a B.C. Civil Liberties Association letter sent to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and his city council:

“[W]e are losing confidence in your political will to ensure that all voices are heard during the Olympic period, despite your repeated assertions to the contrary.”


Freedom of speech is a fundamental right for all, but you’d never know it these days in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The city recently shut down a public art space, which has operated uninterrupted since 2003 in the downtown eastside, after an artist displayed an anti-Olympic painting deemed “graffiti.”


Jesse Corcoran, a downtown-eastside artist, hung his art on a horizontal, wooden board outside the Crying Room studio gallery at 157 East Cordova Street, part of the urban area known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” It showed the five Olympic rings; four contained a sad face and one showed a smiling face.


Although the art was not painted directly onto the exterior brick wall, the city of Vancouver forced its removal on Dec. 11, calling the art “graffiti.” It had been hanging there since September.


“There needs to be freedom to critique the Olympics,” Corcoran told The Vancouver Sun. He thinks the graffiti excuse is “a convenient way to silence this social criticism.” I agree.


Corcoran, a community-care worker, said that his art symbolized the many people who will suffer as a result of the Olympics; only a few will benefit. The homeless have been displaced by the closure of popular Oppenheimer Park in east Vancouver.  Pigeon Park on East Hastings Street is fenced off for repainting and beautification. There are reports of city representatives rounding up the homeless, giving them tickets to board a bus, then driving them to suburban areas like Chilliwack and dumping them off. Whether that’s urban myth or not, it’s disgraceful.


Although Mayor Robertson has made shelter for the homelessness one of his priorities,  the city seems more interested in casting Vancouver during the Olympics as a beautiful haven with no ” taint” of panhandlers, people with mental-health issues or substance-use issues. This oceanfront city is  just a prosperous place with glossy new venues and thousands of happy, smiling people, right?


I think it’s ironic that Vancouver and VANOC have touted artists and their projects from around the world as part of this upcoming global event. They want to showcase the city as a great patron of culture and the arts, yet grassroots artistic self-expression such as Jesse’s gets quashed.


This sets a dangerous precedent against freedom of expression. As David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has said: “This [removal of anti-Olympic art] is an excellent example of our worst fears.”


Meanwhile, Canada Customs officials at the B.C. border recently detained and grilled U.S. journalist Amy Goodman, accusing her of fomenting anti-Olympics sentiment. Find out the details on my blog; it’s the second item under Media.

December 14, 2009 at 1:15 pm
  • May 8, 2010 at 10:27 amgambar lucah

    You have a point. Very insightful. A nice different perspective

  • April 13, 2010 at 10:18 amawek telanjang

    Great Post. I would love to read more in future. keep up the good work.

  • February 16, 2010 at 11:46 amFrank

    I’m glad to take a break from brief writing to reflect on the Olympics. For me it’s a mixed bag. I like the olympic philosophy, maybe more of a theory, that anybody with talent can work hard and win. It’s sort of like the Horatio Alger myth which is prevalent in the US. To deny that it is a party for elites would be dishonest. There are some compelling stories, like the US couple with husband figure skating who have lost their jobs and can’t pay their mortgage. More often it’s the wealthy entitled or the corporate sponsored who can afford to play in the games. But it’s hard to argue with the beauty of earnest competition. Coverage of the men’s normal hill was the best ever, and even biathlon got a real view with commentators who actually knew the rules of the sport and the competitors. Overall, so far, the coverage has been sober, calm and dignified. That’s a real change for US coverage, and I certainly appreciate it. Of course it’s a shame that the beautiful portrayal of Vancouver is inaccurate, that people at or near the bottom have been displaced as inconvenient, and that there is absolutely no coverage of these and other fundamental realities (like the horrifying impositions upon ordinary people everywhere in the lower mainland). The gruesome corporate culture of the games was sadly exampled last night by Gordon Campbell’s horrifying image at the medals ceremony. Dignity, a concept lost. I remember the games in Mexico City, one of the first games with corporate activity, of course mild in comparison to what we see now. Now we have Mr. Campbell and his government, the government of the City of Vancouver, and the Federal Government complicit in one or more dubious aspects of these very different games. Everything from suspension of free speech to gender-based discrimination. All to benefit a party which is designed to generate money for the giant corps like Coke. Don’t look for it to change, and I’m sad about the street fighting which happened today (more worried about the shipment of aluminum phosphate which still eludes discovery). Just imagine the abuses which will attend the games in Rio. Back to work. Frank McElroy

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