One of Vancouver’s highest-profile Olympics critics claims the 2010 Games will cost more than $6 billion. In a new 336-page book, Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games (New Society Publishers, $19.95), Chris Shaw claims that Games security is the “elephant in the room” going unacknowledged. The 58-year-old UBC ophthalmology professor said the public will “never know” the true security costs.
“There are too many moving parts and too many pockets to take money from,” Shaw told the Georgia Straight in a coffee-shop interview. “Even within the Department of National Defence there are too many different subagencies and subdepartments, and they all actively obscure their tracks.”
Shaw waits until the book’s final quarter before going in-depth into what this means to Canadian taxpayers, but he makes the claim repeatedly that the numbers used by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (Vanoc) do not add up and are so “low-balled” that they risk exposing the country to terrorism. Vanoc unveiled an initial security budget of $175 million to host a 17-day Olympics and 10-day Paralympic Games.
“It is one of two possibilities: they [Vanoc] knew they were lying and outright lied, or they are just bizarrely incompetent,” Shaw said. “Because if the security apparatus in Canada was trying to live with that number, they would create a really dangerous situation. If you couldn’t guard Kananaskis for three days for $300 million [during the 2002 G8 summit], how are you going to guard a 17-day event, plus the Paralympics, for a total of about 30 days, with half that amount? You can’t.”
Kananaskis was in a “post-9/11 situation”, Shaw noted, but it was also “easy to defend”. Shaw provided medical assistance to protesters there. On the way home from that summit meeting he read his first story of Vancouver’s interest in playing Olympic host.
“First of all, the real threat was [G8 leaders] being embarrassed by protesters, and the way that they dealt with that was by basically boxing them in over in Calgary and putting up fences at both ends of the Kananaskis Valley, and putting police and the military behind it,” Shaw said. “There was no way anyone was going to get into that valley. This is not what we have here. We have a 124-kilometre [coastline] defile and over 100 venues that you have to guard.”
In his book, Shaw has a graph showing security costs at past Olympic cities. He cites Athens (2004, $1.5 billion), Turin (2006, $1.4 billion) and London’s 2012 budgeted security figure of $1.7 billion as figures that prove Vancouver’s final tab must be higher than the original figure of $175 million.
“In a totally changed, security-culture world because of 9/11, they have defaulted to a number that, by the time the games are on, is 14 years old,” Shaw said. “This just defies logic, except that was the number they felt that the public would accept, and it made their final bottom line that was feasible for them to sell to the public rather than saying, ”˜Gee, folks, it is going to cost you $1 billion for security. Do you really still want to go ahead with this?’ ”
Vanoc spokesperson Katie Green referred the Straight to Cpl. Gursharn Bernier with the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit. “The budget is $175 million,” Bernier confirmed by phone. “There has been no change so far.”¦Right now, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the security budget until the provincial and federal governments have completed their review.”
Shaw said he intends on running for city council for the Work Less Party in November. However, it is Shaw’s six-year campaign against the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games—even earning the name “Dr. No” from then–CKNW broadcaster Rafe Mair—that will continue to garner him the headlines.
“If people want to know what really happened, this is, I think, the clearest picture they are ever going to get,” he said. “After the fact, it is going to be very hard to figure out what really happened. It is going to be hard to figure out where all the money went, whether that’s money for security or money for other things.”
Earlier in the interview, Shaw said: “It is too late to prevent economic damage; that has been done. The money is spent and it is gone.”
In the book, Shaw laments the flattening of West Vancouver’s Eagleridge Bluffs—to accommodate an overland Sea-to-Sky Highway upgrade—and the developments at Callaghan Valley, close to Whistler. Shaw said he just returned from the Callaghan and “barely recognized it”, claiming that a formerly pristine area has been bulldozed “to possibly re-create Whistler all over again”. (The Callaghan Valley is to be used for the Nordic events in 2010.)
Shaw stated that had the taxpaying public known the final bill for the three levels of government to host the Olympics, they would not have voted 64 percent in favour in the 2003 Olympic plebiscite. He named the Games’ biggest proponents when mentioning his Olympic Gang of Four: Vanoc president Jack Poole, Concert Properties CEO David Podmore, former Vancouver mayor
Sen. Larry Campbell—“everyone’s favourite but slightly smarmy uncle”—and then–COPE councillor Jim Green.
“I am not a big fan of Mr. Campbell,” Shaw said. “He said the Olympics wouldn’t cost Vancouverites a ”˜single penny’. Well, maybe he was telling the truth. It didn’t cost a penny—it cost several million pennies. The final number is still to be determined.”
When contacted by phone about Shaw’s comments, Campbell told the Straight: “Oh, now you’re really trying to get me in trouble.”
“I think he is a concerned citizen,” Campbell continued. “I think there is a Chris Shaw attached to every Olympics and I think he has some points, but I don’t agree with many of them.”¦Chris really is trying to rewrite history to make himself into some sort of hero. For the No Games [Coalition] people, I guess he is some sort of hero. To me, he is always someone who always pops up when something great happens in this city.”
Shaw said he wants his book to serve as a useful tool for other cities concerned about the possibility of the Olympics coming to their town. In the book and in person, Shaw often refers to what he calls the Olympic “frame”.
“The frame is the Olympic paradigm and the reasons why it succeeds, and also the reason why you can make it fail if you catch on to them early enough,” he said. “To some extent, the book is kind of a way of looking to future cities. We have been in regular contact with people in Chicago and we’ve had almost daily contact with opposition groups in Tromso, Norway [ahead of that country’s bid for the 2018 Olympics].”