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Panelists Decry Signs of Racism in Opening Ceremonies of 2010 Olympic Games

The face of Vancouver, after Canada's Gold Medal Olympic hockey win, in a photograph by Linda Solomon

Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart, Minister of Citizen Service and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism and the Public Affairs Bureau of BC, students from Kwantlen University and UBC, Sikh community leaders and advocates created a dialogue last week about  racial profiling and systematic discrimination in the city and province. 

Dialogue is the antidote to racism, all agreed,  on the anniversary of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination March 21.

"Visible minorities are increasing and a recent report out suggests that Vancouver, which has roughly 42 percent of visible minorities, is going to see that number increase to almost 60 percent by the year 2031," Minister Stewart said.

"Racial discrimination is wrong. There's nothing  I can say that the government can try to do to change that. It's really in the hands of all of you. It's in the hands of British Columbians throughout this region to be able to embrace all sorts of diversity and people that come from all different lands because there are over 120 different ethnicities (ethnic groups) living here in BC."

Sandhu, an anti-racist activist in Surrey, tried to address what he said he perceived to be systematic exclusion of ethnic minorities other than First Nations people during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremonies.  He addressed a complaint to  the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) and VANOC's director, John Furlong:

"We feel like having a good cry," said Sandhu. "We are surprised that it takes this much energy to bring some common sense to people." "I'm not going to call any more, I'm not going to beg," Sandhu said. The opening ceremony included strong First Nations participation both in the show and the dignitaries box. Four local First Nations chiefs sat as heads of state to welcome the world along with Canada's Gov.Gen. Michaëlle Jean and Premier Gordon Campbell.

But the show contained little to represent the country's other major ethnic groups, critics said.

"The exclusion of and making invisible diverse communities that represent the ethnic composition of Vancouver today, was clearly manifest during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics held in Vancouver," Councillor Woodsworth said.

"So, when I brought forward the motion on May 2, calling on Vancouver to join the Canadian Coalition and Municipalities Against Racial Discrimination, I was shocked to find that my motion was replaced by a motion that the city council should not take this decision but it should be deferred to a Multicultural Advisory Committee that meets once every four months and has minimal staff support. Every department in our city, every level of government has its responsibility. And it is the responsibility of every alert person to do their utmost to fight racism."     

Woodsworth manifested that racism is interwoven with sexism and homophobia and was distressed by it.

"The City of Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities in the world. The majority of our citizens are visible minorities or Aboriginal. Addressing the social issues of discrimination is necessary to achieve institutional completeness, which is the groundwork for achieving a multicultural society," Woodsworth said.     

Panelists included: Meera Bains from CBC, Angela MacDougall of the Women’s Rights Movement and Executive Director of the Battered Women’s Support Services in the DTES, Lisa Yellow-Quill supporting women in the DTES, Meiko Assoon on investigating how people perceive violence, and Sawani Puma from the Fijian Culture and Community.

Candid personal stories from each panelist highlighted the reality of racism, of all forms and in varying degrees. 

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