Not all British Columbians share Premier Gordon Campbell’s belief that the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be “an incredible economic stimulant.” Concerns have been raised repeatedly about the real import of the games, and about the way in which the provincial government has gone about staging them.
After Vancouver won its hosting bid in 2006, residents of Eagleridge Bluffs in North Vancouver set up a road blockade to oppose the expansion of the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Whistler. The unveiling of the Olympic Countdown Clock in February 2007 was disrupted by protestors. In May 2008, activists trashed the offices of Deputy Minister Ken Dobell, who had been a key lobbyist for the games. Later that year, First Nations leaders led hundreds in an anti-Olympic march through the Downtown Eastside, infamous as one of the poorest postal codes in North America. In the final lead-up to the games, such protests are becoming regular fixtures in Vancouver. On February 15, the Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) plans to set up a sprawling ‘Olympic Tent Village’ downtown.
Associations like the APC point out that the cost of the Olympics is currently $6 billion, nearly ten times the official 2006 budget of $600 million. The government has tried to offset the cost through tax hikes, leasing city land to private developers, and slashing support for community programs. For local activists, this has only contributed to Vancouver’s rampant poverty and drug-problems. According to NGO Homes Not Games, the city’s homeless population has nearly tripled since 2006.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Union has also raised issue with the new 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games Bylaw. The bylaw outlaws material “interfering with the enjoyment of entertainment”; signs not considered “celebratory” require a special permit.
International media attention turned to this side of the Olympics in November 2009, when American journalist Amy Goodman was detained at the B.C.-Washington border. Goodman had been invited to speak at the Vancouver Public Library. Canadian custom officials held her for over an hour, demanding to see all her lecture notes; they grilled her on whether she was going to talk about the Olympics.
“I felt completely violated,” said Goodman on her radio show, Democracy Now. “It wasn’t just a violation of the freedom of the press. It was a blatant violation of the public’s right to know.”
For U of T sociology professor Helen Lenskyj, Goodman’s experience does not come as a surprise.
“The athletic aspect of the Olympics is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Lenskyj. “Underneath, it is just bureaucratic haggling for corporate sponsorships. Anything that interferes with a bid for broadcast or advertising rights can be more or less steamrolled: homelessness, environmental regulations, freedom of speech.”
Lenskyj is concerned that 2010 Vancouver foreshadows what Toronto will become in 2015, as host of the Pan American Games. U of T is slated to be the site for many events.
“Toronto—and the university—will likely see the same problems that Vancouver has now, and every host city from Montreal to Sydney has had in the past. The same crackdown on dissent, the same sky-high debt, the same shifting of focus from issues that need to be addressed. It seems to be a formula that mega-sporting events invariably follow. ”