Foreign and Local Journalists Swarm VANOC Hearings

Court Room 30 of Vancouver's B.C. Supreme Court was standing room only. Reporters outside the court room openly ridiculed VANOC CEO John Furlong's assertion that disobeying the IOC might mean that the Olympics would never be brought back to Canada. "As if we want the f-ing thing anyway", one reporter scoffed. "I don't understand why VANOC would shoot themselves in both feet like this," another said.

A widely held view amongst spectators and journalists was that VANOC and the IOC were doing themselves enormous harm by blocking the women from competing.

Such was the atmosphere at the opening of the lawsuit brought by women ski jumpers against the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (VANOC) for denying them the right to compete in 2010. Reporters from local media outlets along with foreign journalists competed for space with some of the plaintiffs and their supporters, including Vancouver City Councilor Ellen Woodsworth, in what may be shaping up as a crucial test of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

At stake is not only the right of the women to participate in the 2010, but the broader issue of whether a domestic entity - VANOC - can acquiesce to Charter violations at the bequest of a foreign organization, in this case the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The case heard before Justice Laurie Ann Fenlon was brought by 15 women who allege that their Charter rights were violated by the refusal of VANOC to include womens' ski jumping events in the 2010 Games. The plaintiffs claim that since VANOC is "staging three ski jumping events for men" and none for women, the failure to "put on even one event for women ski jumpers violates their equality rights" under the Charter. VANOC has refused to stage the ski jump events for women because of instructions from the IOC to the contrary. VANOC claims that it is "contractually bound" to carry out the IOC's decision regardless of the impact on the womens' Charter rights.

The women are asking the court for a declaration stating that "If VANOC plans, organizes, finances and stages ski jumping events for the men in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, then a failure to plan, organize, finance and stage a ski jumping event for women violates their equality rights, as guaranteed in section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms..."

The plaintiff''s lawyer, D. Ross Clark, explained to Justice Fenlon that the declaration was intended to force VANOC and the IOC to either include womens' ski jumping in the 2010 Games or to remove the mens' events. Clark noted that either choice would be up to the IOC and suggested that perhaps the IOC could find a foreign venue that was more "amenable to discrimination against women" if they wanted to have men's' ski jumping only.

The plantiffs' arguments will run through Tuesday. VANOC's lawyers will have from Wednesday to Friday to make their case to Justice Fenlon.
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