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Civil Rights Advocates in Vancouver Score Three Big Victories This Week

Anti-Olympic organizers in Vancouver scored a hat trick over the last seven days, beginning with a declaration from the “Security Games” forum issued after last weekend’s meeting at the Simon Fraser Harbour Centre campus. 

The opening panel on Friday morning on privacy and security in 2010 (Nov. 20th) saw presentations by the deputy Information Commissioner for Canada, Chantal Bernier, B.C’s information commissioner, David Loukidelis, BCCLA policy director, Micheal Vonn, and this writer. The two information commissioners spoke about the more theoretical aspects of information and privacy legislation and how it should work. Vonn and I dealt with the realities: CCTV cameras -likely to be a permanent fixture after the Games – invading public spaces and the dichotomy a situation where security services can, and do, obtain information about individuals and groups with little or no real oversight while being able to hide behind the legislation to conceal information from the public. 

Conference organizers, Profs. Colin Bennett and Kevin Haggerty, along with various of the international delegates signed the declaration which included the following statements:

“…having analyzed past and planned Olympics and other mega events, from a variety of historical and international perspectives, we recognize: 

  • that recent Games have increasingly taken place in and contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance; and
  • that this has often been to the detriment of democracy, transparency and human rights, with serious implications for international, national and local norms and laws.

Therefore, we ask the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada: 

  • to moderate the escalation of security measures for Vancouver 2010 and to strive to respect the true spirit of the event;
  • to be as open as possible about the necessary security and surveillance practices and rationales
  • to withdraw temporary bylaws that restrict Charter rights of freedom of speech and assembly;
  • to work constructively with the Provincial and Federal Privacy Commissioners;
  • to respect the rights of all individuals and groups, whether they be local people or visitors, and pay particular attention to the impacts on vulnerable people;
  • to conduct a full, independent public assessment of the security and surveillance measures, once the Games are over, addressing their costs (financial and otherwise), their effectiveness, and lessons to be learned for future mega-events.
  • not to assume a permanent legacy of increased video surveillance and hardened security measures in the Vancouver/Whistler area, and to have full and open public discussion on any such proposed legacy.”

This declaration marks the second time since June that an international body has felt compelled to scold the various levels of government about observing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and follows a summer of increasingly aggressive surveillance and intimidation tactics by members of the Integrated Security Unit. 

The second goal scored was yesterday when the City of Vancouver held an “off the record” technical media briefing by City Manager Penny Ballem in which she spoke about significant modifications to Vancouver’s odious 2010 Olympic and Paralympic bylaw passed last July. The bylaw triggered a lawsuit launched by this writer and supported by BCCLA against the city. 

Councilor Geoff Meggs, who spoke after Ballem, attempted to deny that the proposed changes were in response to the lawsuit or public pressure, but merely due to “misconceptions” in the public mind. All the skating around the issue failed to dissuade most of the journalists in the room that the City’s change of heart had very much been an attempt to wiggle out from under the lawsuit and the ferociously bad PR that the bylaw had triggered. 

The proposed changes are more superficial than substantive as they still seem to divide the public into those who want to “celebrate” the Games who enjoy full rights to do so in public spaces, versus those who want to protest them and still face restrictions on how they can do so. As the plaintiff in the lawsuit this much is clear: the suit won’t end until the civil liberties playing field for all of us gets a lot more level. 

The hat trick occurred last night at the IOCC forum on 2010 that featured ISU chief Bud Mercer, Deputy VPD chief Steve Sweeney, City Councilor Geoff Meggs, PIVOT lawyer Laura Track, BCCLA director David Eby, and anti-Games activist Alissa Westergard-Thorpe. The event, also at SFU Harbour Centre was hosted by IOCC director Am Johal. 

After some typical messages from Mercer and Sweeney about securing the Games and respecting Charter rights, Eby left the room in disgust according to observers. The highlight of the evening was Westergard-Thorpe’s rendition of the past histories of both Mercer and Sweeney, not as police willing and able to uphold the Charter, but two men with significant track records doing everything possible to quell dissent. 

Overall, a good week: ISU still has their billion dollar security budget, the City still has its brain focused on commercial agreements with the IOC and “showcasing Vancouver before the world,” but those who oppose the Games won on points.

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