Anti-Olympics protests in Vancouver 2010 – human rights versus corporate profits

17 Feb

Like any major international event, the Olympic Games have always invited censure from local groups in the host city. Back in 2008, Indigenous Canadians, the homeless and anti-poverty groups were already campaigning against the Winter Games. According to the former group, the government had no right to stage the event since it never signed a treaty in toceding  their land rights. The latter claimed that the government slashed and redirected public money on housing, health and education to corporations that profited from the Olympics.

Am Johal, Chair of the Impact on Communities Coalition, a watchdog group around the Vancouver Olympics founded in 2001 endorsed these views in an interview with Democracy Now!. According to him, the International Olympic Committee is ‘one of the largest corporate franchises in history’ and that the Vancouver Olympics had done considerable damage to  the state’s economy, its ability to provide social services and civil rights records. These  impacts are unmistakably the trails left over by the whirlwind of neoliberalism reforms.

On housing, he asserted that homelessness has since doubled from the day Vancouver was awarded the games to the ceremony.

On civil liberties,

‘Social activists who have been critical of the Olympic Games have been visited at their homes by the Integrated Security Unit, which is the unit responsible for security around the Games…. this kind of thing that you would never suspect would exist in Canada is happening under this exception around the Games.

… added to that is the purchase of equipment and bureaucratic inertia around the Olympic Games. We have an expansion of closed-circuit television cameras happening. We had the purchase of a military-grade sonic weapon that was first used against G20 demonstrators in Pittsburgh, that was purchased by the Vancouver Police Department without any democratic consultation about whether we needed such a piece of equipment in the city of Vancouver. They did eventually take down the piece that could blow out eardrums and are simply using it as an audio device.

… We also know, for example, that a protest that happened in Victoria, when the march was taking place, the bus driver of that—the bus driver was actually an undercover police officer. So there’s been an incredible amount of surveillance of those who have been critical of the Games, and many of the—the extent of which we won’t know until after the Games, when we go through the public process…’

The Olympic Resistance Network which was established with the slogan, ‘No Olympics on Stolen Native Land’ aimed to shine a spotlight on social justice issues brought about by hosting the games.  In its website, it listed nine knock-on effects which demonstrates corporate profits trumps over human rights and environmental concerns:

1. Theft of unceded Indigenous lands

There are over $5 billion worth of resort plans since the Olympic bid, despite significant grassroots Indigenous opposition around areas such as Kamloops and Mount Currie. At Sun Peaks Resort alone, there have been over 50 arrests of Indigenous people who have been opposing the $295 million expansion of the resort on their traditional territories. Indigenous land has also been appropriated for the creation of transportation infrastructure such as bridges, port facilities, and highways. Since the Olympic bid the BC government has expedited the application process within the construction, mining, logging, forestry, oil/gas and resort sectors, thus opening up unceded Indigenous territories for sale to corporations, akin to the “gold rush” particularly for sport tourism and resource extraction.

2. Increasing homelessness and gentrification

It is projected that the number of homeless in Vancouver will triple from 1,000 homeless people since the Olympic bid in 2003 to over 3,200 people by 2010. The hardest hit area has been Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES), the poorest off-reserve postal code in Canada. At present, over 1,200 low income housing units have been lost in the DTES since the Olympic bid in 2003. Meanwhile, real estate speculation and gentrification has led to a projected 1,500 new market housing units, primarily condominiums, being built in the DTES. According to a report by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, the Olympic Games have displaced more than two million people around the world over the last 20 years. This figure does not include the estimated additional 1 million displaced due to the Beijing Games.

3. Unprecedented destruction of the environment

This includes massive deforestation in the Callaghan Valley to build the Whistler Olympic Center, clearcuts of Cypress Mountain which is a designated 2010 venue location; massive sand and gravel mining operations to build construction materials; and the destruction of Eagleridge Bluffs due to the Sea-to-Sky Highway construction…

4. More privatization of public services and ballooning public debt

The total cost for 2010 and related construction will be close to $6 billion, with Olympic venues alone costing over $4.5 billion…

5. Union busting and vulnerable working conditions for migrant labour

Union busting through imposed contracts that deny the right to strike during the Games are common, for example in BC the seven-year imposed contract handed down to the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the recent Canadian Union of Public Employees contracts. Social control over labourers is also ensured through use of vulnerable migrant workers. There are an estimated 3,000-5,000 temporary migrant and undocumented workers in the Olympics-fuelled and speculation-driven construction industry who are prone to hyper-exploitation and are vulnerable given their lack of full legal status.

6. Increased funding for the police, military, and border agents

Sociologist David Lyon has dubbed Vancouver 2010 “the Surveillance Games” since security operations will include over 13,000 RCMP, military & other security personnel as well as joint US-Canada military & North American Aerospace Defence Command operations. The 2010 security budget is estimated at $1 billion, almost five times the original estimate of $175 million…

7. Criminalization of the poor

… Plans to “cleanse” the city’s core of the poor include, for example, increased funding for private security initiatives such as the Downtown Ambassadors; passing of the Safe Streets Act which prohibits sitting or lying down on city sidewalks; banning dumpsters from the downtown core. In addition, VANOC has set aside $500,000 for an emergency homelessness shelter “warehouse” that will only be open for the duration of the Games.

8. Corporate profiteering

Beginning in 1985, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) designated top-level corporate sponsors as The Olympic Partners (TOP). These corporations gain exclusive world-wide marketing rights for a specified term. Along with paying sponsorship fees, these corporations supply products and services to Games as part of their contracts with the IOC. While making billions, these corporate sponsors of the Olympic Games also have some of the worst environmental and social practices on record. For example: Petro-Canada is one of the most environmentally destructive oil and gas companies; Royal Bank of Canada is the top financier of the environmentally devastating Alberta Tar Sands; Hudson’s Bay Company has been responsible for the colonization of Indigenous land; General Electric is one of the world’s top three producers of military aircraft engines and a major producer of nuclear power plants; Dow Chemical is the world’s second largest chemical manufacturer and cause of the Bhopal gas disaster in India; Coca Cola has been responsible for massive depletion of groundwater and toxic waste pollution, and has also been involved in hiring paramilitary groups to violently repress union organizers throughout Latin and South America; and McDonald’s is one of the largest junk food restaurants known for its exploitation of workers and its contribution to poor health standards.

9. Repression of dissent

Anti-Olympic activists are already being subjected to heavy surveillance and repression and countless people, particularly Indigenous defenders, have been intimidated and harassed by CISIS and VISU (Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit).  A May 2008 CSIS Threat Assessment document notes that “opposition to the 2010 Olympic Games is most noticeable amongst the more extreme elements of First Nations communities in conjunction with groups like No One is Illegal, the Anti-Poverty Committee, and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.” Protest pens, fenced-in areas for demonstrators that are isolated from the public, and control of political displays are already planned for the Games under the guise of “free speech zones”.

– to be continued –

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One Response to “Anti-Olympics protests in Vancouver 2010 – human rights versus corporate profits”

  1. ruth green February 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    I feel isolated in my thinking. Thank you for exposing the truth. “All that glitters is not gold” Everyone it seems except me is watching and cheering the Olmypics. I refuse to watch the Olympics for the reasons you gave.

    And what about the athletes? When will they become conscous and realize they are being exploited and victimized themselves.I heard a very good interview on CBC where an Olympic athlete was saying at that level it is not really about health and fitness. The level of training they have to do is really not healthy .

    I would love for you to write about the actual athletes themselves who have gone throught the process and eventually speak the truth about the games.

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