Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why we must block the Torch

Olympics are like Christmas: they might pretend to have a noble origin, but nowadays they are so diluted by commercial interests that the noble goal has all but disappeared. However, in contrast to the December celebrations, the Olympics are not powered by small enterprises, but by giant consortiums building highways, transit systems and sports stadiums. While parading across town pretending to spread Olympic goodwill, they are actually riding the crazy train of greedy corporations invading Native territories with the help of the government.

The Olympic Torch Relay is a $25 million publicity stunt that uses nationalism and feel good imagery to promote the Games. Beginning in October, the Torch will pass through over 1,000 communities in its 45,000km journey across Canada before the launch of the 2010 Games in Vancouver in February. Even though VANOC states that « The Olympic Flame has a sacred history and symbolizes the principles of peace, brotherhood and friendship », in fact the Torch Relay finds its origins in the Nazi Olympics of 1936, in which young Aryan looking runners brought the torch to Berlin.

But while the torch is fanning a national infatuation with the Olympics, it also provides an extraordinary opportunity to inform the whole country about the damages done by the Games in British Columbia.

Impacts on indigenous peoples: The vast majority of land in B.C. is unceded Native territory, unlawfully occupied by B.C. and Canada. By Canadian and international law, Native title exists unless yielded by treaty. Even if we take into account flawed treaties, little of B.C. is covered by nation to nation agreements.

Yet instead of taking steps to meaningfully address its role in a colonial occupation, the B.C. government prefers to invest in a 17 day party which has created large scale infrastructure on unceded and undeveloped territory. Examples include the widening of the Sea to Sky Highway through Squamish territory and critical wetland habitat, the expansion of the Sun Peaks ski resort on Secwepemc traditional territory, and the construction of parking lots in Whistler on Squamish and Lil'wat land.

“Security” and Eroding Civil Liberties: Increased political repression and security buildups accompany all modern Games. With a $1 billion security budget, Vancouver Games organizers (VANOC) are bringing together a security force of at least 16,500 Canadian military, border guards, private security, police, RCMP, and CSIS agents (plus foreign security). This may sound like a lot, but in fact, these estimates are unrealistically low: the Sydney Games had 35,000 police and security (4 cops per athlete) with 4,000 troops and commando units, and the Athens Games had 70,000 police, security,
and military forces.

Vancouver has plans for at least 40 km of crowd control fencing, video surveillance, and airport style security zones around the city, including on public property. The monitoring and intimidation of political opposition has already begun. Vancouver City Council has complied with the IOC's request to create an environment free of protest (Section 51 of the Olympic Charter) by enhancing bylaws to restrict posters, signs, leaflets, demonstrations, noisemakers, and any possible “disturbance” to Olympic entertainment. There is no guarantee that these elements – video surveillance, new security bodies and policing rules, and the criminalization of protest – will not become permanent.

Housing impact: There is ample evidence that construction and land speculation related to the Olympics have fueled Vancouver's housing crisis. Single room occupancies (cheap hotels) and affordable rentals are being torn down or converted to high priced housing, while the City lends money to build Olympic condos. Promises of affordable housing and shelter spaces are rarely met by host cities, and Vancouver has already admitted that its own commitments will not be met. In fact, since winning the Olympic bid in 2003, we have lost over 850 low income housing units, and homelessness in the city has tripled. Salt Lake City Games promised 2500 units of affordable housing and created only 150; prior to Sydney’s Games, tenant evictions increased 400%; and Calgary failed to build any of its pledged social housing.

While the inhabitants of B.C. suffer these consequences, the public money invested by the city of Vancouver, the city of Whistler, the B.C. government and the Canadian government (including other provinces) is now nearing $7 billion. New economic estimates show that the economic benefits to the host region are unlikely to exceed $4 billion. As the experience of other host cities demonstrates, much touted infrastructure projects rarely bring in future revenue. We already know that the $2 billion sky train line built for the Olympics will run at a deficit of at least $20 million per year until 2025. We have yet to reckon with the social costs of this year's massive cuts to health care, childcare,
arts and education.

With the specter of financial crisis raising its head again, governments have shown that they are prepared to plunge into deficit to keep their corporate friends afloat. If the government can hand us the Olympic sized bill of a two week corporate party without opposition, the next years will be bleak. But it is up to you to ignite the torch of resistance, especially since highly priced paid with your taxes flames are within reach...

Check out for extensive information
(Indigenous anti-Olympics website in the Olympic Resistance Network).
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  1. i support those who fight against people who 'steal' others land. i would like to come but i have final exams. all the best in the protest. the harper government is careless and rude against indigenous people. show canadians what harper is hiding. i support the natives' cause. keep it up. i feel your pain.

  2. The Olympics are a disgusting exercise in militarization, public graft, forced property gentrification, and the restrictionof civil liberties. Not surprising, considerign the lineage of it's most prominent, cherished symbols. FU, Olympics.

    I've posted a bunch of news items about the Olympics and VANOC on my Facebook page to commemorate the occasion.

  3. You are all a bunch of idiots! Sure the spirit of the Olympics have changed over time but so has our society. We strive to evolve.
    The torch is a symbol of whatever we want it to be and for most Canadians the Olympics and the torch are symbols of the world coming together as one - peacefully, thus a symbol of peace. The majority of Canadians find great joy and pride by being selected to host the Olympics and look forward to seeing the torch go by their community. Get out of the way. You are a shame to all true Canadians!

  4. Let me be clear - I am proud of athletes that sacrifice so much of their lives for their "Olympic Dream." That said, I believe that the Olympics provides a very valuable platform on which political activism may be engendered. This was done in the case of Beijing. Americans and Canadians had a field day referring to the Chinese regime as "backward" and "intransigent".

    Despite what you may believe, "myopinion", there are a number of Canadians who are not particularly proud of our nation, and believe that the Olympics provides a very useful means by which to highlight pressing issues around equity, racism, and poverty. These individuals are to be praised, and listened to, not denounced as shameful or buffoons.

    Before shaming others, you may want to look inward. What is your positionality? What privilege are you afforded by your skin? Class? Geographic location?

  5. josefraker - if you are not a proud Canadian you have a choice where to live..... LEAVE.
    Let me be clear, I believe there is a lot wrong with society not just here but globally, however, Canada is where I choose to live as I truly feel it is the greatest nation on this planet. Stop looking into the past and create what you want in life. I am a minority and have worked very hard to be successful. I haven't always been treated equally but I haven't used it as an excuse and it fuels me to succeed.
    I just think that you will create more enemies than supporters using what is to many a symbol of peace, unity, equality, and togetherness as a means to selfishly promote social issues. I believe in the right to protest but fear in this case you will do more harm than good.

  6. First and foremost, let's examine some definitions:

    Patriotism: A love of one's country.
    Nationalism: A love of one's country, above all others.

    The former, while often misguided, is understandable given our lifelong indoctrination to adore our nation state and its ideals. The latter has been responsible for a a world war, among myriad ethnic conflicts. This is the sentiment that you exhibited in your above post.

    Secondly, you invoked the notion of "choice," which I would like to problematize. I did not "choose" to be born in this country, any more than an individual "chooses" to be born in poverty. I may be privileged, as evidenced by my access to the internet, but it does not necessarily follow that it is within my means to "choose" to live elsewhere. Avoid baseless, trite rhetoric lest you wish to see it readily deconstructed.

    As for your suggestion to "stop looking into the past," I will restrain myself from sinking to vituperative vitiation. However, it is crucial to understand history, as it shapes the lives we lead today. We are engaged within a process of institutionalized forgetting, that starts with our schooling and spills into our public lives. That the Canadian genocide of its indigenous peoples is never mentioned in our public schools' history textbooks is nothing short of a travesty. I suggest you read up on structural violence before attempting to debate with me again.

  7. You did not Choose to be born here but you do choose to live here. We as Canadians are free to leave and live elsewhere. We are also free to have our own opinions. My opinion stands that the Olympics are not the place for the protest of anything except for perhaps the Olympics.

    I was born on a reserve. I was poor for a long time and worked hard to escape poverty. I did this not by studying history dwelling on the travesty of my people but by determining what I can do to have a better future for myself and my family.

    I did not mean to have a debate with you Jose, just providing my opinion on protesting what is to me a notion of PEACE. My people and my country need PEACE. Our planet NEEDS peace. This so called cause shames me and my family and I would like everyone to know that not all aboriginal peoples have the same opinion.

  8. Thank you very much myOpin10n. I've just finished watching the news of protesting in Toronto. I have to say I was upset at native people for trying to ruin what is to so many people a proud and positive moment for Canadians. You are right that the majority of Canadians will not understand, and will be angered just like me. Thank you again, I do realize that it is not all native people who act like this, it's just a generalized group of individuals who have a gift for doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

  9. This is the first time I even heard of the reason for Olympic torch protest...but I do think that some Natives have the right to protest if they really believe that this is affecting many people negatively below the radar. The history is important beyond what a lot of people realize...I am in health care and as part of our studies, we had to examine history of this country, and in particular what colonial occupation has done to the aboriginals of this country. Even when you account for all factors like socioeconmic status and income levels, aboriginals have consistent poorer health than their Caucasian counter parts. The reason does lie in the history of oppression and even if many want to move on...the reality is we still have these issues to contend with. And it will be a long while before they are sufficiently address and healing takes over and peace will come at its own time.
    Still, I think we should give support to our athletes, but just not at the expense of others less privileged. The housing crisis in Vancouver affects many outside of aboriginal community I am sure.

  10. Wow. Well put, Ams. Glad to see there are people who make an active effort to understand that history does not exist in a vacuum, is very real, and greatly affects our present situation.

  11. Great, I'm so proud of the hardworking athlete all over the world. Keep it up.

    Rio Pousadas