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Torch Ignites Resistance

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December 23, 2009

Torch Ignites Resistance

Opposition to Olympic Torch spreads across Canada

by Dan Kellar, Alex Hundert

Resistance to the Olympics Torch run in Toronto. A positive effect of the Olympics has been to unify the anti-colonialist movement across Canada. Photo: Dan Kellar

KITCHENER-WATERLOO—Emerging from the October 2007 Indigenous Peoples gathering in Sonora, Mexico, was a call out for an anti-Olympics convergence in Vancouver in 2010, to coincide with the opening days of the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics. In February 2009, the Olympics Resistance Network (ORN) in British Columbia issued a statement: Solidarity and Unity in Opposing the 2010 Olympics.

The call was heard in Ontario, and since then resistance to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in the province has drawn attention to ongoing local colonialism and environmental destruction. Actions undertaken by anti-poverty, Indigenous and solidarity activists have highlighted how the Olympics impact the gentrification of Vancouver and Whistler, the destruction of native lands, and the criminalization of activists—all also occurring in communities across Ontario.

The Olympic torch is to arrive in Ontario on December 12, 2009, after departing from Victoria, BC, on October 30.

In August 2009, headlines were made when residents of Six Nations, in Southern Ontario, started debating the torch relay’s intrusion into their territory. In October 2008, protests followed the Canadian Pacific Olympic Spirit Train through Ontario (including a rail blockade outside of Toronto). In March 2009, activists disrupted the Royal Bank Torch Relay press conference in Toronto and directly confronted the then-Assembly of First Nations chief, Phil Fontaine. In October 2009, the Olympic Resistance Network-Ontario (ORN-O) released a statement calling for autonomous actions to disrupt the torch relay.

Wherever groups have organized against the Olympics, activists have been targeted by policing and intelligence agencies who have visited and interrogated people at their homes and workplaces, and in some cases even pulled them out of university classrooms.

One of these activists is Melissa Elliot, a founding member of Young Onkwehonwe United (YOU) and one of the individuals who confronted Fontaine this past spring. Elliot has been central in the debate about the torch relay at Six Nations, where youth are organizing to stop the torch passing through their territory. They have echoed the slogan that unites much of the Olympic resistance movement nationwide: “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.”

Elliot says that at Six Nations, “We have land rights and we have treaties that are nation-to-nation.” She emphasizes that the torch relay compromises their assertion of sovereignty: “They’re not coming to us under the Two Row Wampum and asking if they can cross our territory.” She continued, “They are going through band council and asking if it can pass through our Canadian municipality—we’re not a Canadian municipality, we are a nation.”

In Stratford, 100 kilometres northwest of Six Nations, the annual, six-month-long Shakespeare Festival has been targeted by Stratford Action for Equality (SAFE). Comparisons are drawn to the Olympics by showing how the festival committee is an instigator and propagator of local gentrification, which targets low- and no-income communities, and of neoliberal exploitation of art and culture.

While attempts to convince City Hall to block the torch from coming through Stratford have been rejected, SAFE continues to conduct rallies and small actions directed against the city and Olympic sponsors. These actions have ignited debates around gentrification in Stratford and Julian Ichim, one of SAFE’s core organizers, draws connections between his own community and the 2010 Olympics. “Stratford is a town based on tourism,” says Ichim. “We have a lot of social cleansing [...] removing specific undesirable elements to create the image of the town being perfect. And the reality of the situation is that what is happening in BC is happening in Stratford [...] so we have a direct interest and a direct tie to what is going on.”

Elliot and Ichim both think that one major benefit of working on the No 2010 campaign is that it has created new energy for direct action and change in their respective communities despite the negative police and media attention that has been focused on anti-Olympics organizers across the country. Elliot adds that the No 2010 campaign has played a big role in the recent trend towards political engagement and mobilization among youth from Six Nations.

Elliot and Ichim are both also excited about the positive impacts Olympics organizing has made on the activist community in Southern Ontario. Ichim says that anti-Olympics organizing in Stratford has helped to “take things to the next level...It has revealed the inefficacy of the democratic process, it has exposed the city and has exposed the liberals who claim to be the friends of poor people, it has exposed all the hypocrisy.”

Ichim and Elliot both stressed that solidarity between native and non-native activists has been one of the campaign’s strengths. Ichim says, “The Olympics are imperial in nature. In Canada the issue is that the Olympics are taking place on stolen Native land.” For him this equates simply: “As settlers we have to take a stand...while some people think that it is an issue of the past, it is still today stolen land.”

For Elliot, one of the reasons she is enthusiastic about the campaign against the torch relay and the Olympics is that, “We’re all working together, and that is very powerful: non-natives and natives working together, that is a huge step forward in healing.”

Alex Hundert is a founding member of AW@L and the KW Community Centre for Social Justice (kwccsj) in Kitchener. He is a co-host of AW@L Radio on 100.3 SoundFm, and the Rabble Podcast Network.

Dan Kellar is an organizer with AW@L. He recently completed a master’s degree focusing on the application of environmental impact assessment legislation to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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