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Pound's Found Foul
In October 2008, a media firestorm swirled around Dick Pound, yet this key member of Canada’s elite managed to face down the calls for his resignation. Today he remains both Chancellor of McGill University and Canadian representative to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
It all started with an interview in Beijing conducted in French. Parrying questions about China’s record on human rights, Pound appealed to a colonial view of Canada’s history:
We must not forget that 400 years ago, Canada was a land of savages, with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants of European origin, while in China, we’re talking about a 5,000-year-old civilization.
It took two months for the interview to generate a reaction. Once it did, it took only a week for the IOC to exonerate Pound for a "misunderstanding," claiming he had "absolutely no intention of hurting anyone."
In what he termed an apology, Pound leaned on three points: that his use of sauvages meant something different in French; that he spoke from a basis in historical circumstances; and that his good intentions were all that really mattered.
"I thought that in doing a 400-year-old picture, you use 400-year-old words. If that hurts somebody today, I had no intention of doing that," he said.
By the same logic, Pound presumably would feel free to use "the n-word" to describe African Americans in the nineteenth century.
Olympic-sponsor newspapers the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun quickly closed ranks on the issue. Their columnists offered lengthy contorted pleas for the matter to be dropped. Which it was.
No Critics, Please
New "no-protest" rules will eliminate free speech as we know it through large sections of Vancouver, Whistler, and the Olympic Torch Relay route across Canada.
Vancouver has already adopted sweeping bylaws banning all forms of outdoor speech—except Olympic ads and "celebratory" signs—across most of downtown and near all Olympic venues (there are about 70 venues and "Olympic areas" in Vancouver.)
According to David Eby, president of the BC Civil Liberties Association, removing protections for free speech could lead to police abuse.
"Until the Vancouver bylaws came out [in July 2009], we wondered if our fears were overblown," said Eby. "Now, we're beginning to realize we may have underestimated the scope of the repression of free speech around the Olympics."
"You can only hold signs that you have a license for," Eby explains, "and the only signs that you can get a license for are 'celebratory' signs or official Olympic sponsors."
Skytrain Workers Rise
In preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, approximately 20 workers died, with as many as 1,000 injured, working on Olympic venues. Most of these were migrant workers. During the Beijing Olympics, approximately 3 million migrant and low-skill labourers were expelled from the city core.
In the lead up to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver migrant workers are being similarly exploited. During the construction of the Canada Line Skytrain route, there were at least 50 workers from Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia whose pay, after long hours, worked out to be five dollars per hour.
Construction of the Canada Line was carried out by an Italian corporation named Seli Tecnologie. The primary contractor is SNC Lavalin, one of Canada’s largest arms manufacturers. In November 2007, the BC Human Rights Tribunal ruled that 30 foreign workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador working on the Canada Line had been intimidated and coerced by Seli Tecnologie.
In December 2008 a group of migrant workers won a discrimination suit against SELI Canada, SCNP-SELI Joint Venture and SNC Lavalin Constructors (Pacific) Inc. for substandard pay and housing. The Tribunal found that “for two years the respondents’ treatment of the [workers] conveyed to them the message that they were worth less and less worthy than other employees because they were Latin American.”
Evidence included paying Latin American workers $10 less per hour for similar tasks and being crammed into motels while European workers were housed in upscale False Creek condos. The Tribunal found that “so long as they continued to work on the Canada Line project, they were unable to escape the discriminatory treatment that pervaded every aspect of their working and leisure lives.”
—No One Is Illegal Vancouver
Olympic Housing Woes
In the lead up to the World Exposition in Vancouver in 1986, hundreds of people living in single room occupancy suites in hotels were evicted to make way for visitors to the city. Real estate prices skyrocketed after Expo, and Vancouver’s housing bubble hasn’t lost steam since.
There is little doubt Vancouver’s housing crisis has worsened over the past two decades, and many believe that like Expo before it, the Olympics are to blame.
“As governments have been funding Olympic infrastructure like speed skating ovals and luge tracks, we’ve had an underfunding and setting up of barriers for people to access social assistance, which has also contributed to homlessness,” Am Johal of the Impact on Communities Coalition told The Dominion.
A report by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) estimates that between 1988 and 2007, over 1.25 million people were evicted, forcibly displaced, or arrested on citations relating to homelessness in Olympics host cities.
But the COHRE report praises the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s “commitments in the field of housing rights,” which according to the organization, “go beyond any previously made by a city hosting a mega-event.”
“I think that’s a total lie,” said Johal. “If they actually think they have met their commitments, why is it that we have a doubling of homelessness since 2002?”
An estimated 1,150 units of low-income housing have been lost over the last six years, but the onus has been on those evicted and advocates to prove evictions are related to the games.
When a United Nations’ Human Rights Council delegation visited Vancouver in 2007, the final report on the mission stated the Special Rapporteur “remains concerned by information he received on the impact that the preparation for the Olympics could have on low-income housing residents, and particularly on low-income single resident hotel units situated in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood.”
When Civil Liberties are ‘Propaganda’
When the Olympics comes to town, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) intends to stand in as the supreme government. This IOC remains unaccountable, issuing no audited financial statements and never paying taxes.
By charter and by contract, the IOC seeks to exert absolute control over the public spaces that it occupies. The primary concern is to block all advertising by competitors to its lucrative corporate partners and sponsors.
At the same time, the IOC shows little concern for how these policies damage civil liberties. Defense against corporate freeloaders seems to extend to brand protection against all criticism whatsoever.
The Olympic Charter leaves the contentious job of overriding fundamental human rights and freedoms to one thin but powerful clause:
No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. (Rule 51.3—Advertising, Demonstrations, Propaganda)
When former Mayor Larry Campbell signed Vancouver over to the IOC in July 2003, he consequently agreed to “no propaganda...within the Olympic venues or outside the Olympic venues...within the view of the television cameras...or of the spectators” (Host City Contract—Section 47).
Vancouver City Council followed up by passing an omnibus bylaw on 23 July 2009, spelling out in detail how the host city has altered eleven bylaws to comply with the civil liberties atrocities demanded by the IOC contract.
The sovereignty of the IOC over the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has already been maintained by a judge who ruled against a legal challenge to allow women ski jumpers to participate in the 2010 Olympics. Even though the judge recognized such discrimination to be unacceptable in Canada, the IOC is considered a “non-party” and remains beyond the reach of the judgement.
To enforce sign and graffiti bylaws, pending BC provincial legislation (Bill 13, Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act, 2009) intends to allow officers to enter private property in Richmond, Vancouver, and Whistler with no consent—with minimal to no notice—during the months of February and March 2010.
That same legislation also intends to alter the Vancouver Charter (Section 333) to increase bylaw offence penalties to a draconian maximum fine of $10,000. Continuing offence could see the $10,000 fine multiplied by each day of offence, plus imprisonment for up to six months. (The existing provision for continuing offence is a maximum of $50 per day.)
When the last of the Olympic athletes ski, skate and slide out of town, Vancouverites will be left with an unexpected legacy: 970 cameras.
“Security investment always leaves a good legacy of security for the country,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told media gathered last February in Whistler, marking the one year countdown to the Games.
A March 2009 Vancouver city report includes the total cost of installing Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems. The Vancouver 2010-Integrated Security Unit (V2010-ISU) will pay $2.1 million, in addition to the $435,000 the province is contributing. But all costs do not appear on the balance sheet. There are also social costs, such as the diminished personal privacy in public spaces.
Although the Vancouver City report Privacy Games: The Vancouver Olympics, Privacy, and Surveillance points to the cruise ship terminal and entertainment district as key areas the cameras will be installed, the City of Vancouver and the V2010-ISU have not been specific regarding locations for all CCTV systems.
Andrew Pask, director of the Vancouver Public Space Network, cautions that CCTV cameras should only be seen as a “tool of last resort.”
The pattern of Olympic cities, including Athens, Turin, and Beijing, has been to retain surveillance cameras after the Games.
The City of Vancouver has admitted the $435,000 worth of cameras will not be temporary, but part of a “redeployable unit.”
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.