Civil libertarians wary of RCMP’s plans for 2010 Olympic Games

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      Soldiers won’t be patrolling downtown Vancouver. People will be free to hand out leaflets. Protesters will be able to demonstrate inside and outside of the still-to-be-designated “free speech” zones. Surveillance cameras won’t stay put after the Games.

      RCMP assistant commissioner Bud Mercer made these pledges to Vancouver city council on July 7 amid ongoing concerns about security operations for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

      “If it’s lawful today, it will be lawful in 2010,” Mercer, head of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, told council. But he also said that the security force is preparing to deal with “criminal protests”.

      David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said that Mercer’s presentation left unanswered a number of questions that Olympic watchdogs have wanted the ISU to address for some time.

      “These assurances are great, but we want to see some concrete plans on how protests are going to be accommodated,” Eby told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      For one, according to the civil liberties lawyer, the ISU hasn’t identified the extent of security perimeters around Olympic venues or where and how many designated protest zones are going to be established. “If the security perimeter happens to be a block in every direction, this means the protesters are practically invisible to people who are coming into the venue,” Eby said.

      Mercer told council that the ISU will command a total of 7,000 police officers, 5,000 private security personnel, and 4,500 members of the Canadian Forces. But Eby claimed that there is no “unified” mechanism in place to deal with civilian complaints “in a timely manner during the Olympics rather than months after”.

      Eby also wants to know what use-of-force policy will be in place, as the ISU is a composite of law-enforcement agencies that have different guidelines. One area Eby is particularly concerned about is the use of tasers.

      Mercer told council that some 900 closed-circuit television cameras will monitor public activities in Olympic venues, but that these will be removed after the Games. Eby noted, “We don’t know who has access to security-camera footage, how long it will be stored, how it will be stored.”

      Mercer said his agents will continue to approach people who may be planning protests during the Olympics, even though activists have threatened to sue the ISU if this practice isn’t stopped.

      As the assistant commissioner told council that local, provincial, national, and international groups are planning “criminal protests”, his on-screen presentation displayed two distinctly Vancouver-related photos. One was a picture of three hooded figures standing behind the giant Olympic flag that was stolen from the grounds of City Hall in March 2007. The other shot showed a banner reading Riot 2010, which was unfurled by the Olympic Resistance Network in Chinatown last November as Games organizers hosted foreign media representatives.

      Mercer also said that, just before addressing members of council, he was able to download from Web sites images like Olympic mascots holding Molotov cocktails and Olympic flags with Nazi swastikas.

      In a phone interview, Olympics critic and ORN member Chris Shaw said Mercer is “badly misrepresenting the diversity of opinion and feelings within the anti-Olympics community”.

      “He cherry-picks things off the Web site,” Shaw told the Straight. “If I wanted to convince the world that the RCMP are a bunch of dangerous maniacs, I could show pictures of Robert Dziekanski being killed.”

      On Thursday (July 9), members of the public will have a chance to voice their concerns about Olympic security to council.

      Also on Thursday, council will consider a motion by Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth that asks the City of Vancouver to endorse a declaration adopted by participants in an international conference held in Coventry, England, in June. The Coventry Declaration calls on governments, Olympic organizers, and the ISU to pledge that they will respect the rights of Canadians and those who visit the country during the Games. The preamble to Woodsworth’s motion notes that police visited 20 people in the first week of June who had questioned the Olympic Games.