Ridiculous Scenarios: the Press, the Vancouver Police Department, and/or the ISU
A couple of weeks ago, Police Chief Jim Chu called a press conference to complain about the “dire picture” he said the press had "painted" in the recent weeks about the suppression of civil rights 2010 Games.
Addressing a room packed with reporters, Chu said, “I’m asking everyone to please stop.”
“The scenarios described are becoming ridiculous,” he said.
He took a few short questions then declared the conference over.
The press continued to throw questions at the chief that clearly made him uncomfortable. One reporter mentioned Gordon Hill, the First Nations activist who had been “harassed and threatened, by officers identifying themselves as Integrated Security Unit (ISU) officers” after the CBC published an allegedly exaggerrated and only marginally accurate story on Hill.
The ISU officer standing next to Chu answered, “I’m not going to comment on individual cases…When individuals make comments, people who make those comments should be expecting a follow up from a police officer. If somebody makes public comments such as those, we’re going to follow up.”
The conversation then turned to signage and what kinds of restriction the city would place on signage in the Olympic area.
But I was still reflecting on Chief Chu’s holding the press responsible for painting a “dire” picture. It seemed to me a perfect example of not liking the message so shooting the messenger. The BCCLA’s lawsuit against the city for violating free speech originated from a serious allegation of civil rights violations.
Plus, the ISU had generated some spectacularly bad press all by itself by pulling ordinary citizens with anti-Olympic sentiments aside for questioning in a manner more in keeping with the style of the KGB in the fifties than with Canadian governmental policy in 2009.
I asked Chief Chu if he didn’t think the fact that ISU officers had approached a Langara College student right outside her class and insisted on interviewing her then and there, simply because she was a friend of anti-Olympics blogger Chris Shaw, might just possible help account for the “dire picture” reported in the press. “Are we guilty by association now?” I asked.
The ISU officer and the police chief looked painfully uncomfortable. They ignored the question and the conference quickly ended.
On the way home, I thought about the nearly one billion dollars in funds the Integrated Security Unit had at its disposal. It struck me that the experience of the agents in charge of security might not match the proportions of their budget.
The abuse of power and the mismanagement of funds are one of the oldest stories in the history of governments. We all know that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely and that at the centre of every corruption scandal stands a big pot of gold.
Chief Chu seemed absolutely sincere when he said, “Our goal for 2010 Olympics is that they be safe, and welcoming. We want them to appreciate that Canada is an open and free society that places a high value on the rights of citizens, not the least of which are the right to free assembly and free speech.”
It’s hard to know why ISU officers would waste their time on people like Gordon Hill, Chris Shaw, or his friends --- when there are legitimate security concerns, such as chlorine traveling the rails through Vancouver or the containers that arrive in Vancouver’s ports.
Perhaps the real issues, the big issues, confound security at any cost. Perhaps the less tangible concerns would be worth throwing some money at. Community relations that are real and meaningful, press conferences where the press is not quickly shut down, dialogue with and between security agencies, media and citizens, how Vancouverites feel about what is being done with the money and how the security units treat people leading up to the games would rank at the top of my list. It might engage people more in considering the where we ought to really look and how, to keep the city as safe as humanly possible.
Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, at the Media and Democracy Conference last Saturday, shook her head and said, "Why would anybody want to attack Vancouver?"
Even if you have an answer to that, as a friend put it to me over sushi last Friday night, “It doesn’t matter how much money they throw at security, something can happen anyway. All the money in the world can’t really keep us safe.”
Meanwhile, today, we got another look at what the police are doing with their big budget.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said today that the Vancouver Police Department has purchased a sonic gun known as a Long-Range Acoustic Device for crowd control in time for the 2010 Olympics — a charge the department vigorously disputed at the press briefing this morning.
The Ottawa Citizen reports: "According to the American Technology Corporation website — the company that produces the LRAD — the device is "a high-intensity directional acoustic array designed for long-range communication and unmistakable warning."
Thank God they've allegedly got that! Now I feel secure.