Tuesday 23 February 2010

When Snow Melts: Vancouver’s Olympic Crackdown

By Dave Zirin Edge of Sports News Flash: Winter Olympic officials in tropical Vancouver have been forced to import snow – on the public dime – to make sure that the 2010 games proceed as planned. This use of tax-dollars is just the icing on the cake for increasingly angry Vancouver residents. And unlike the snow, the anger shows no signs of abating. As Olympic Resistance Network organizer Harsha Walia wrote in the Vancouver Sun, “With massive cost over-runs and Olympic project bailouts, it is not surprising that a November 2009 Angus Reid poll found that more than 30 per cent of [British Columbia] residents feel the Olympics will have a negative impact and almost 40 per cent support protesters. A January 2010 EKOS poll found that almost 70 per cent believe that too much is being spent on the Games.” 

Officials are feeling the anger, and the independent media, frighteningly, is paying the price. Just as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman was held in November for trying to cross the border for reasons that had nothing to do with the Olympic Games, Martin Macias Jr., an independent media reporter from Chicago, was detained and held for seven hours by Canada Border Services agents before being put on a plane and sent to Seattle. Macias, who is 20 years old, is a media reform activist with community radio station Radio Arte where he serves as the host/producer of First Voice, a radio news zine.
I spoke to Martin Macias today and he described a chilling scene of detention and expulsion. “I was asked the same questions for three and a half hours in a small room. They told me I had no right to a lawyer. I went from frustrated and angry to scared. I didn’t know what the laws were or how the laws had been changed for the Olympics. I kept telling them I wasn’t going to Vancouver to protest but to cover the protests but for them that was one and the same. This is bigger than me. We need to ask who is exactly ordering this kind of repression. Is it the government? The IOC? Why the crackdown?”
Then insult on top of injury when they deported Macias and insisted he pay his own way out of the country. “They wanted me to buy a $1,300 plane ticket back to Chicago. I said ‘no way’ and now I’m in Seattle.”
Martin’s story is not unique. Two delegates aiming to attend an indigenous assembly taking place alongside the games were also detained and turned away.
For people with just a passing knowledge of our neighbors to the north, it must all seem quite shocking. When we think of human rights abuses and suppression of dissent, Canada is hardly the first place that comes to mind. But there actually is a long history in Canada of this kind of abuse of power. The latest chapter in that history has been written during the pre-Olympic crackdown of 2010. Now as protestors and independent, unembedded journalists gather for the February 10-15 anti-Olympic convergence, as tax dollars go toward importing snow, the need to silence dissent becomes an International Olympic Committee imperative.
As Chicago’s Bob Quellos, who entered Vancouver successfully after accompanying Macias, said to me,
“Walking the streets, residents here are very clear about who is responsible for the billions of dollars of Olympic debt they will be paying off for generations. They are outraged that the over $1 billion that is being spent on security has placed a cop on almost every corner of Downtown Vancouver. And they are outraged by the government’s priorities. For example, while Vancouver’s Downtown East Side struggles with poverty similar to third-world countries and social programs continue to be gutted, VANOC is spending an untold amount of money helicoptering in snow to the Olympic venue of Cypress Mountain that would otherwise be a mud hill due to the warm weather.” 

It’s not hard to deduce why the snow is melting: it’s the heat on the street.
[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.] See also: The Vancouver Olympic Blues

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