RCMP mistrust of the public on display with Olympic security preparations
Vancouver has become an armed camp.
Every day, the RCMP is putting on a show for the media to demonstrate how they plan to keep the city safe during the 2010 Games.
Today, assistant commissioner Bud Mercer and Vanoc CEO John Furlong took a helicopter tour over Vancouver, the Sea to Sky corridor, and Whistler.
Naturally, this was followed by a media briefing. The public has to see what it's getting for its $900-million security budget.
The RCMP characterize their preparations for the Games as the largest security operation in Canadian history. There will be sniffer dogs and ruthless control over the local airspace. Entering the Olympic opening ceremonies will be on a par with boarding a flight.
It doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun for anyone interested in attending any events.
It's obvious why the RCMP are putting on a big show for the journalists. It's known as "target hardening"--sending a message to potential terrorists and activists that disrupting the Winter Games is not worth the effort because their efforts are doomed to fail.
My biggest concern isn't the terrorists. It's the police.
I've recently been reading Rebecca Solnit's book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster. There's a section about how San Francisco was turned into an armed camp after the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire.
Solnit writes that there was no evidence that riots were likely. But that didn't stop Brigadier General Frederick Funston from marching his soldiers into the city from a nearby military base without political authorization.
Eventually more than 17,000 army troops were in San Francisco, joined by members of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marines, the California National Guard, and military cadets from the University of California at Berkeley .
Ordinary citizens worked cooperatively to cope with the crisis.
Despite this, Solnit reports that dozens to hundreds of people were murdered by soldiers, National Guardsmen and vigilantes. She cites historians' estimates of between 50 to 500 killings of civilians, sometimes after they were mistaken as looters.
"In treating the citizens as enemies, the occupying armies drove residents and volunteers away from scenes where fire could be prevented," Solnit writes. "In many parts of the city only those who eluded the authorities by diplomacy, stealth, or countering invocations of authority were able to fight the blaze."
Funston didn't trust the public, seeing it as "an unlicked mob", according to A Paradise in Hell.
"The authorities' fear was not precipitated by anything the public did in those days, but by earlier anxieties in that era of upheaval," Solnit states. "They believed uncontrolled crowds routinely degenerated into mobs and they doubted the legitimacy of the system they dominated, since they expected mobs to tear it apart given the least opportunity."
The way the RCMP are behaving, it's apparent that like Funston, its senior officials don't trust the public. Perhaps they also doubt their own legitimacy in the wake of Robert Dziekanski's death at the airport in 2007.
These are contributing factors behind the absurd declaration that the public will have to spend four hours in line to enter the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Games. Four hours to get into B.C. Place?
For anyone in line, it would probably be more fun wandering over to the nearby Tinseltown theatres and watching a couple of movies in the amount of time it will take to clear security.
Keep in mind that the Winter Olympics will be barely noticed outside of Europe, Japan, and North America. Most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America are only interested in the Summer Olympics.
The level of security seems far out of proportion to the magnitude of the threat.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the RCMP brass's deep-seated mistrust of the public doesn't result in the Mounties shooting any peaceful protesters.