Canada: Thousands protest Olympics opening

February 19, 2010

Five thousand people took to the streets of Vancouver on February 12 to protest the opening of the corporate spectacle known as the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The largest social rights action in Vancouver in many years coincided with the Games' opening ceremony at a downtown arena attended by 60,000 people.

The demonstration was organised by the Olympic Resistance Network, the 2010 Welcoming Committee, and many other organisations. Slogans and chants reflected the concerns of participants, with the most common being "Homes not Games!"

This was in response to the crisis of homelessness across British Columbia, and the broken promises of Games' sponsors and organisers to build housing for the homeless as part of an "Olympic legacy".

Another popular chant was: "No Olympics on stolen Native lands!" The Canadian and British Columbian governments have stalled for years on reaching land and resource claim settlements with about 300 indigenous communities in the province.

Industrial, tourism and other capitalist developments routinely take place on disputed land without the permission of its historic owners.

Anti-war chants were also popular. The staging of the Games has involved a full-scale police and military occupation of the city and surrounding region. There are more Canadian troops deployed to Vancouver for the Games (4500) than to Afghanistan.

The "security" budget for the Games will top C$1 billion.

The International Olympic Committee promotes a tradition of "truce" in military conflict in the lead-up to and during Olympic Games. Canada and its war allies have said all along they will not observe a truce in Afghanistan.

In fact, Canada and its NATO allies have launched a major military offensive in Afghanistan.

The march was orderly and disciplined, rebuffing police warnings that it would descend into violence and mayhem. Extra security precautions were taken by march organisers to prevent police provocateurs from disrupting the event.

The "Integrated Security Unit" of Games organisers had refused to say whether it would send provocateurs into the march, as other police agencies have done in recent protests in Canada.

On two occasions earlier that day, several hundred protesters blocked the route of the Olympic Flame as it wound through Vancouver neighbourhoods.

Support for the Olympics has steadily declined in BC in recent years as the BC government has stepped up cuts to social programs while spending lavishly on the Games.

The latest cut was announced one day before the opening ceremony. Organisations that provide services to some of the most vulnerable children in the province will lose $10 million.

They provide such services as crisis phone lines and help for those with mental health problems and addictions.

Distrust of Olympics organisers has been highlighted by the death of 21-year old Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili on the day of the opening ceremony. He crashed during a training run on a Games track that many athletes had warned was too fast and dangerous.

The International Luge Federation, an affiliate of the International Olympic Committee, conducted a quick investigation of Kumaritashvili's death and said it was due to "athlete error". The competition proceeded the following day.

Many more protests will take place during the 17 days of the Games. Many will focus on Vancouver's homeless crisis, including the mounting of a permanent tent city in the poor, downtown neighbourhood that lies just blocks away from the arena where the glitzy and outrageously expensive opening ceremony was held.

On February 15, the Stopwar coalition is organising a march to oppose the war in Afghanistan, the militarisation of Vancouver and in support of aid, not troops, for Haiti.

The coalition said it "is deeply concerned about the continued escalation of the war in Afghanistan, especially in light of the supposed commitment of the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) to the Olympic Truce. Stopwar calls on the Canadian government to observe the Olympic truce, and to use the truce to begin a full and complete withdrawal of Canadian forces from Afghanistan."

[Abridged from Socialist Voice, . Roger Annis is an SV editor, as well as a Vancouver trade union and anti-war activist.]

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