After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

Olympics Lame Excuse to Erode Basic Canadian Freedoms

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety," Benjamin Franklin wrote some 250 years ago. A dozen years earlier he had written, "Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power."
Both quotes have been reverberating in my brain this week as the Integrated Security Unit's (ISU) real time assault on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms continues unabated. No slouches when it comes to overseeing the well being of their citizens and a newly minted "right to party" as long as it is for the Olympics, the City of Vancouver happily continued its lame justification for jettisoning civil liberties in favour of marketing agreements with the International Olympic Committee.
The ISU's ham fisted approach to my friends and family was followed by Solicitor General Kash Heed's glib assurances in the Legislature that all the police intended was to provide for a "safe and secure Olympics". Safe and secure for whom, was the unanswered question.  But to many, I suspect, the answer was that it was all designed to be safe and secure from embarrassment for the IOC and their extended family of grifters. And, let's not forget the self-serving politicians who should know better than to trade away our rights as if these were so many hog belly futures.
The response to the City's signage bylaw was a lawsuit launched yesterday by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.  I was joined as plaintiff on this suit by my friend and fellow activist, Alissa Westergard-Thorpe. Future actions by me against the ISU may follow and surely by now ISU realizes that I'm not bluffing.
However, I doubt that they much care: A billion dollars buys a remarkable level of cushioning from legal actions and no doubt they've salted away a fraction of the these taxpayers' dollars for future settlements.
ISU stepped in a media cow pie this week because they got caught interrogating a person who had only the (mis)fortune to know me. Not an activist, no one who would have come up on their regular radar, just someone going about her normal life who had suddenly, and without warning, become a "person of interest".
The message sent was this: Anyone and everyone who questions any aspect of the Olympics, anyone and everyone who talks to those who dissent, or reads one of the dissenting pamphlets, or attends a anti-Games lecture, is now under the security microscope. The realization for many that this could have been anyone at all -you, your kids, your grandmother - hit ordinary people very hard and led to justifiable outrage.
Then, for many, the chill factor set in, as it was clearly designed to do.
I just heard yesterday that I'm no longer welcome in the house of acquaintances because of my Olympic views and the potential for a visit from the ISU. These are generally decent people and progressives. Alas, for all their good intentions, my presence is now verboten, as if merely walking into their space brings a toxic cloud of potentially hazardous political blasphemy. After all, no one wants a visit from the State, no matter how outwardly friendly those agents of that state may seem.
Edmund Burke once said that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  Maybe in the Vancouver of 2009 as we rush headlong toward the rendezvous with the 2010 Games, the thoughts of Franklin and Burke could be melded to yield the following caution: If the ISU can frighten ordinary people, ostensibly honourable people, and make them shun those who raise their voices in dissent, then something fundamental has been damaged in the body politic.
Liberty, like innocence, once lost, is not easily regained as another political philosopher named Thomas Paine suggested.
We're not there yet: Canada is still Canada, and, yes, we still have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For now. But the pathway to the loss of functional versus words-on-paper liberty is clear...and it starts with seemingly innocuous bylaws and the indifference -or cowardice - of those who turn out to be strangers.

More in Olympics Retort

Eight Billion Dollars Got Canadians High on the Olympics. Was it Money Well Spent?

The costs of the Olympics were absurdly higher than VANOC or any level of government was ready to admit. The final number will come in north of $8 billion. How much north we may never know due to a r

Olympic Nation

I don't much like my country these days, indeed haven't for the last week or so.  Is it simply a case of me being an anti-Olympic no-fun grinch?  Maybe.   Or maybe it’s something else...

Olympic Battle Rattle: The Rules of Engagement Have Already Been Written

The question is not whether opposing elements will meet in the streets. The question is what happens when they do?
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.