Thousands Protest Opening of Vancouver Winter Olympics
Vancouver BC — Five thousand people took to the streets here on February 12 to protest the opening of the corporate spectacle known as the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The largest social rights action in Vancouver in many years coincided with the Games’ opening ceremony at a downtown arena attended by 60,000 people.
The demonstration was organized by the Olympic Resistance Network, 2010 Welcoming Committee, and many affiliated and participating organizations. Slogans and chants on the march reflected the concerns of participants, many of whom traveled from across British Columbia and northwest United States, and of a broad cross section of the population of the province of British Columbia.
“2010 homes, not 2010 Games!” and “Homes not Games!” were the most common chants. They spoke to the crisis of homelessness across British Columbia and the broken promises of Games' sponsors and organizers to build meaningful housing for the homeless as part of an “Olympic legacy.”
Another popular chant was “No Olympics on stolen Native lands!” The governments of Canada and British Columbia have stalled for years in reaching land and resource claim settlements with some 300 Indigenous communities/peoples in the province. Industrial, tourism and other capitalist developments routinely take place on disputed lands without permission of its historic owners.
Antiwar chants were popular throughout the march. The staging of the Games has seen a full-scale police and military occupation of the city and surrounding region. There are more Canadian troops deployed to Vancouver for the Games (4,500) than to Afghanistan. The “security” budget for the Games will top $1-billion.
The International Olympic Committee promotes a tradition of “truce” in military conflict in the lead-up to and during Olympic Games. Last October, the host country of these Games introduced a resolution at the United Nations to this effect, purportedly promoting the “ideals of peace, friendship and international understanding.” Point one of the 5-point resolution “Urges Member States to observe, within the framework of the Charter of the United Nations, the Olympic Truce, individually and collectively, during the XXI Winter Olympic Games and the X Paralympic Winter Games...”
The UN resolution notwithstanding, Canada and its war allies have said all along they will not observe a truce in Afghanistan, and in fact Canada and its NATO allies have launched a major military offensive there, possibly the largest since the war of occupation began in 2001.
The “Truce Patron” for the Vancouver Olympics is Canada’s Governor General, Michaëlle Jean. Last September, in her first speech in that capacity, she told an audience in Vancouver, “The Olympic Truce tradition gives us an opportunity to really think about what peace really means. It allows us to reflect on our roles as ambassadors of peace and solidarity.”
A rally preceding the march heard speakers from many of the organizing groups. A march sendoff was delivered by Garth Mullins of the ORN. He drew a roar of approval when he said, “Olympics officials said we couldn't get such numbers out to a march and deliver a firm message of opposition to the Games. But we've done it. Now it's time to deliver our message. Let's go for the Gold!”
The march was orderly and disciplined, rebuffing police warnings that it would descend into violence and mayhem. Extra security precautions were taken by march organizers to prevent police provocateurs from disrupting the event. The “Integrated Security Unit” of Games organizers had refused to divulge whether it would send provocateurs into the march, as other police agencies have done in recent protest actions in Canada.
On two occasions earlier the same day, several hundred protesters blocked the route of the Olympic Flame as it wound its way through Vancouver neighbourhoods on the final leg of a months-long parading across Canada.
Noticeably absent from the February 12 march were contingents from the trade unions and their political party, the NDP. Days before the opening ceremony, party leader Carole James reiterated her party’s devotion to the Games in a joint celebration in the BC legislature with the widely-hated Premier Gordon Campbell.
Support for the Olympics in BC has steadily declined in recent years as Campbell’s government has stepped up cuts to social programs while spending lavishly on the Games. The latest cut was announced one day before the opening ceremony. Organizations that provide services to some of the most vulnerable children in the province will lose $10-million. They provide such services as crisis phone lines and help for those with mental health problems and addictions.
Distrust of Olympics organizers has been highlighted by the death of a 21-year old luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia on the day of the opening ceremony. He crashed during a training run on a Games track that many athletes had warned was too fast and dangerous. The International Luge Federation, an affiliate of the International Olympic Committee, conducted a quick investigation of Kumaritashvili's death and said it was due to “athlete error.” The competition proceeded the following day.
Scores of additional protest actions will take place during the 17 days of the Games. Many will focus on Vancouver's homeless crisis, including the mounting of a permanent tent city in the poor, downtown neighbourhood that lies just blocks away from the arena where the glitzy and outrageously expensive opening ceremony was held.
On February 15, the Stopwar coalition is organizing a march to oppose the war in Afghanistan and the militarization of Vancouver and surrounding region, and in support of aid, not troops, for Haiti.
In a press release, the coalition writes, “Vancouver’s Stopwar coalition is deeply concerned about the continued escalation of the war in Afghanistan, especially in light of the supposed commitment of the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) to the Olympic Truce. Stopwar calls on the Canadian government to observe the Olympic truce, and to use the truce to begin a full and complete withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan.”
See photos of the Vancouver demonstration at www.flickr.com/groups/olympic2010
Roger Annis is a trade union and antiwar activist in Vancouver BC. He has written frequently on the Vancouver Winter Olympics.