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Shaw Blog: Olympic Security Officials Meet DTES Residents

Last night at the Strathcona Community Centre in the DTES, Pivot Legal Society hosted a two hour meeting between community members and representatives of the Vancouver Police Department and the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.

A panel of two Pivot members, lawyers Laura Track and Douglas King, were joined by VPD Deputy Chief Steve Sweeney and V2010 ISU head Assistant Commissioner Bud Mercer of the RCMP. Sweeney was in uniform; Mercer wore civilian clothes. About 100 members of the public and media were present.

Track began her comments by noting that community consultations had been promised before planning commenced on security preparations for the 2010 Olympic Games but that these had not occurred to date. The event was intended to address this gap. However, before the officers were able to begin their presentations two members of the APC read statements criticizing the lack of true consultations with the community.

After these APC members departed, Mercer introduced members of VISU in the room by name. He began a short power point presentation by stating that the purpose of the meeting, in contrast to the comments by Track, was actually to “provide an update on where we are [with security plans for 2010]” and went on to state that the plans were still fluid and “won’t be firmed up until the day before the Olympics begin."

Mercer noted that the situation could be expected to change in the coming year as circumstances dictated. Mercer stated that the mission of VISU is to provide “safe and secure games through an integrated security model” in what he characterized as the largest operation ever undertaken in Canada in peacetime from a security perspective.

Mercer told the audience that VISU had 385 full time staff and a budget for security for his agency alone of $496 million. VISU media contacts did not confirm this number by press time. (The earlier bid book security budget not corrected until October 2008 by Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day had been $175 million for all security costs associated with the Games).

The evaluated threat level was considered to be ‘low’, in spite of the large costs for security because, Mercer said, VISU was “responsible for everything” overall. VISU, according to Mercer is specifically going to be dealing with everything that happens “inside the fence”, that is inside Olympic venues and that RCMP staff would be assisted by police seconded from various forces from across Canada.

VISU would also be responsible for protecting so-called internationally protected persons of which he estimated 24 to 40 would attend the Games. VPD would deal with whatever policing was required outside the venues. Mercer, and later Sweeney, emphasized that it was a ‘myth’ that Canadian Forces personnel would have any role in patrolling city streets or in any aspect of law enforcement.

The period in question for VISU runs from January 19th, 2010 until March 26th, 2010, thus beginning almost a month before the Olympic opening ceremonies and continuing until two days after the closing of the Paralympics.

Deputy Chief Sweeney followed with his own power point presentation, stressing VPD’s role in the so called “urban domain”, that is the city external to venues. VPD presence would be focused on the entertainment districts of the city, traffic control and regular policing. He denied that there would be street barricades along Hastings Street or elsewhere outside of routes closed because of venues, with a possible exception for international protested personnel. He stated that there would be no searches of persons entering areas of the city, even near venues and denied that the police had received any new legal powers due to the Games.

Sweeney was quick to state that “protests will be allowed” and that VPD and VISU would “assist in conducting protests”. Further, both promised that “high profile” protest would be allowed outside venues and that the police had no concerns about the content of Olympic messaging that did not advocate violence.

Sweeney back-traced somewhat on signs stating that they were OK as long as, “they are not used as weapons and don’t block views”. Mercer reinforced these points, adding: "Protests are lawful, stand where you want.

Police will have no more powers then than now. If it is legal now it will be legal in 2010”. Sweeney, in responding to a question from the audience about CCTV cameras, stated that they would be, “from the fence line in” and in some public spaces such as the entertainment district, but would not be in residential neighborhoods or in the DTES.

Sweeney admitted that homeless people living around the viaducts would be removed from these areas since they are part of an approach to an Olympic venue. Those affected would be “offered the opportunity to relocate elsewhere”.

Both officers responded to these and numerous other questions during their presentations and during a prolonged question and answer period. Some of the key ones and the responses were:

-How does the police promise to allow demonstrations square with the IOC’s demands that there be no protests near Olympic venues?
Mercer: “VISU’s security plans are governed by the laws of Canada. Free speech will be protected and embraced”.

- The slogan “riot 2010” suggests violent intent by some groups. Can we can we safely assume that such organizations and individuals are being surveilled and watched?”
Mercer: “Groups that are going to engage in peaceful protest, have nothing to worry about. Groups that are going to resort to violence have everything to worry about”.

-What if someone is wearing a shirt that shows someone throwing a Molotov cocktail? Does wearing such a shirt a problem for the police? What crosses the line with you? Will people wearing such shirts be banned from venues if they have tickets?”
Mercer: “No”.

-When do fences go up around venues?
Mercer: “Mountain venues in December; Metro venues the first week in January”.

-People who are being ticketed now for things like jaywalking, will they be arrested on these charges in 2010 to get them off the streets?
Sweeney: “No”.

-What private security service will be here in 2010?
Mercer stated that VANOC and the IOC had hired private security firms to provide security inside venues. Further, at venue access points there would be four private security personnel to each police officer. He denied rumours that the notorious American firm Blackwater would be deployed.

-Where will those arrested for various reasons be held?
Mercer: “Statistics show that crime actually drops during the Olympics”.

As the meeting ended, several members of the VISU approached me to introduce themselves.
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