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Will Vancouver embarrass itself to the world?




                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Protesters in San Francisco demonstrate against Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics
and torch relay (April 2008)


With glossy new sports venues and millions of dollars’ worth of ads and merchandising, Vancouver looks poised to make the 2010 Winter Olympic Games a global success. But as the city prepares to host this mega-event, are Canada’s democratic traditions and ethics under threat? How do Olympic spending and initiatives relate to free expression, free assembly and democratic rights?


Any Vancouverite or visitor who publicly expresses anti-Olympic sentiment has faced, or will encounter, these chilling realities: censorship of anti-Olympic art; targeting for special policing and border control, and free speech limited to designated safe assembly areas  and protest pens. (See the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) website for more details.)


VANOC officials have received unofficial deputized powers to order the removal of visual materials that displease them or compete with the commercial interests of the Olympics’ corporate sponsors. Whether it’s the RCMP, Vancouver police or federal government officials at the Canada-U.S. border, authorities have created an oppressive atmosphere that tells us all: You have only as many civil liberties as we’re willing to grant you. We’ll tell you where and when and how you can voice discontent.


I find this extremely disturbing. Before or during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, if someone dares hold up an anti-Olympics placard (as shown above) and they’re outside the so-called “free speech zones” will they be arrested? It appears so.


The BCCLA recommends the abolition of so-called “‘safe assembly areas” for anti-Olympic protesters and that undercover police be prohibited from inciting wrongful acts and from infiltrating and leading in the planning of protests. (Click here to see recommendations regarding the Olympics and protest made by the Civil Liberties Advisory Committee.)


Last year, thousands of protesters and Tibetans from across North America converged on San Francisco streets in April to protest the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing and the event’s torch relay through Tibet. Many bore placards of anti-Olympic sentiment, complete with images of the Olympic rings converted to tank wheels, handcuffs, and bloodied bodies. These powerful images symbolized China’s human rights abuses and its ongoing torture of Tibetans. The New York Times even published a series of images of such placards.


When it comes to human rights, freedom of assembly and free expression, do Vancouver and Canada have more in common with China than with other democratic nations and cities? What a shameful Olympic legacy.

December 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm
1 comment »
  • February 23, 2010 at 10:13 amcat mac

    hi heather. that is amazing commentary on the olympics. i like the story of the teddy bear and the coverage about the coast here. really interesting to read. cat mac

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