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"We Better Be Ready"

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Issue: 64 Section: Canadian News Victoria Topics: 2010 Olympics, security

February 8, 2010

"We Better Be Ready"

2010 resistance anticipates a rough ride

by Zoe Blunt

VISU head Bud Mercer holds up an image of Olympic mascots with molotov cocktails at Vancouver City Hall in July, 2009. Photo: Jay Black

VANCOUVER—Earlier this year, RCMP officers with Vancouver 2010 security intelligence began knocking on doors in Victoria and Vancouver to interrogate social justice advocates about their plans for the Olympics. The officers had no warrants, no probable cause, and no due process. So far, they've gotten no information. But it appears that this tiny piece of the Olympic security machine has spent thousands of dollars on intimidating local residents.

The cost of security for the 2010 Games will be around $1 billion, and may be more, when the final tally comes due. A billion dollars could feed, clothe and house 20,000 homeless people for a year, or provide clean drinking water to dozens of remote communities.

Instead, the government is funding 16,000 police, soldiers, and security personnel. The Games will include helicopters overhead, military vessels offshore, large-scale road closures, miles of security fences, and almost 1,000 closed-circuit television cameras.

Two key figures in the RCMP's Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit have extensive experience in using force to quell dissent.

Readers may remember RCMP Sgt. Maj. Hugh Stewart, nicknamed "Sergeant Pepper" after the 1997 Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) at the University of British Columbia. Stewart won fame for unleashing streams of pepper spray on a crowd of students holding a sit-in outside the Leader's Summit. Stewart is also the master architect of the secret security plans for 2010.

Assisting Stewart in pepper-spraying students at APEC was Sgt. Gary R. "Bud" Mercer. The RCMP has named him chief of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

Mercer, now an assistant RCMP commissioner, has shown up at crucial moments in other high-profile political confrontations. In 1995, he tracked two people who fled a pickup truck disabled by RCMP explosives outside Gustafsen Lake, where First Nations activists were occupying a Sun Dance ceremony site. That confrontation became the largest paramilitary operation in BC history. After a heavy one-sided firefight and a month-long standoff, the Ts'peten Defenders surrendered and 15 people went to jail.

In July 2000, Sgt. Mercer appeared at the climax of a siege in the Elaho Valley near Whistler, BC. Wilderness advocates were using civil disobedience to block loggers from accessing old-growth forests. Four environmentalists were perched in tree platforms supported by ropes and cables fifty meters up when Mercer pulled in with dozens of emergency response officers, sharpshooters, helicopters, and canine units. Mercer then led the charge to dismantle the blockade, using a long-handled cable-cutter to sever one of the cables attached to the tree platforms, causing them to shift and drop under the four tree-sitters. Branches and backup ropes stopped the platforms from falling further, and no one was hurt, but the action panicked the activists and witnesses on the ground.

One of the tree-sitters made a complaint, and charges of aggravated assault were filed against Mercer. The charges were quickly dropped, however, and the tree-sitter was later convicted of filing a false report—a charge that he and other witnesses still feel is a gross miscarriage of justice.

More recently, a massive 2008 police raid at the Bear Mountain Tree Sit on Vancouver Island may be a premonition of 2010 security operations. There, a protest camp next to a rare cave and endangered wildlife habitat was delaying highway interchange construction. The raid consisted of a small army of SWAT-type officers—armed with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, and dogs—storming the camp before dawn and forcing five terrified campers to surrender at gunpoint. All charges were later dropped. While there is no evidence thus far that Mercer or Stewart was involved, the raid draws from the same playbook they used years ago. Hundreds of military ration boxes left scattered across the site suggest a joint RCMP-military task force was at work.

In July 2009, Mercer spoke to Vancouver City Council about the threats the security police are preparing to handle. He made several references to past incidents of police violence against protesters, according to observers.

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, an outspoken Olympic critic, found Mercer's speech disturbing. "Certainly all the violent incidents that Bud Mercer brought up to justify the RCMP's security plans—Montebello, APEC, WTO in Seattle—those were all incidents of police violence, not protester violence."

Chris Johnson filmed Mercer's presentation for B-Channel News. He said Mercer's Vancouver presentation was illuminating. "He's talking about police suppressing political demonstrations, not controlling rowdies or preventing terrorism, for example. He's describing their bag of tricks here. So we better be ready."

Zoe Blunt is a Victoria-based writer and environmental non-profit director.

For up-to-the-minute Olympics resistance coverage, check out the Vancouver Media Co-op, and the Convergence website. Follow the VMC on twitter!

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