Garry John and Maude Barlow: 2010 Olympics will leave legacy of social, environmental destruction

By Garry John and Maude Barlow

The Olympic ideal of friendly international competition between athletes who excel in their respective sports is a positive goal. We at the Council of Canadians understand and appreciate the pleasure and enjoyment so many around the world share in the spectacle and achievements of the Olympic Games.

However, with less than half a year until the 2010 Games begin, we are gravely concerned by the increasing evidence that these worthy aspects are being overwhelmed, if not totally supplanted, by an “Olympic industry” focused on real-estate development and massive corporate marketing opportunities. An “Olympic industry” founded and based in undemocratic and unaccountable national and international structures, implicated in numerous corruption scandals that undermine everything a truly noble Olympic movement should stand for.

In particular, the Council of Canadians believes the February 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler will leave a negative legacy contrary to the goals set forward during the application and approval process to host the Games. There is now no doubt that the Vancouver organizing committee and its affiliated partners will fail to meet their commitments with regard to the environment, social programs, and fiscal accountability.

The 2010 Games are being held on unceded indigenous territories and are providing mining, resort, real-estate, and energy developers with opportunities to continue expansion of projects on indigenous territories throughout the province.

Civil liberties of local communities and those who have a critique of the Games are being undermined by an unnecessary security presence. The security budget for the games has ballooned to $1 billion, while security and law-enforcement agencies have identified protest groups as the most significant threat to the Games. Over 4,500 Canadian military troops will be deployed to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics—twice the number Canada has in Afghanistan.

Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association have both raised serious concerns about the threat to fundamental rights to privacy and protest arising from the installation and introduction of new surveillance and security measures.

Almost a year before the start of the Games, surveillance cameras are being installed in Whistler and Vancouver, and, according to several credible reports, harassment of protesters has begun.

Residents of Whistler, site of the nordic and downhill venues, are already living in what amounts to a “security zone”, which is only expected to escalate as the opening date approaches. Critics of the Games, including a Council of Canadians board member, have allegedly been placed under surveillance, while hikers and mountain bikers find favourite wilderness trails blocked by mysterious military operations.

As with Beijing 2008, there are plans to suppress legitimate dissent, including restricting demonstrators to areas far away from venues, visitors, and the media. The Council of Canadians is concerned for the civil liberties of those who challenge the negative impacts of the Olympics and asks: Will those who ignore such undemocratic limitations be pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, and arrested? Will they be labelled “terrorists” and face global travel bans for exercising their democratic rights?”

We are especially concerned that the 2010 Olympics are providing a prime “greenwashing” opportunity for corporations involved in the most egregious threats to the survival of humanity and the Earth through their active participation in the privatization and commodification of water and massive environmental degradation exemplified by the exploitation of the tar sands.

A “worldwide Olympic partner”, Coca-Cola (also a sponsor of the torch relay), is notorious for depleting groundwater in areas of India and Latin America with scarce water resources. Furthermore, Coca-Cola is a leading promoter of water commodification, as one of the largest producers of bottled water in the world.

EPCOR, an “official supplier” for the Games, has been working to privatize the water utilities of municipalities across the country, including in B.C. EPCOR tried to bid on the privatization of wastewater treatment in Whistler in 2006. The bid was successfully overturned as a result of efforts by the Council of Canadians and community members in Whistler.

General Electric, another “worldwide Olympic partner”, is a major financier of private power projects in B.C., including the enormous Bute Inlet proposal, with its partner Plutonic Power. The Council of Canadians has taken a stand against private power projects in British Columbia through the IPP model.

The Royal Bank of Canada and Petro-Canada, both “national partners” for the 2010 Games, are directly involved in the Alberta tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects in the world. The Royal Bank is a major financier of tar-sands projects and is also a sponsor of the torch relay. Ironically, its ad campaigns for the relay ask individuals to make a “green pledge” by volunteering to carry the torch.

Dow Chemical is also an Olympic sponsor. Currently Dow is suing the government of Canada for $2 million, through NAFTA’s Chapter 11 investor-state dispute process, as part of a challenge to a Quebec ban on the use of lawn pesticides. Dow claims that the ban has amounted to an unfair expropriation of Dow’s Canadian pesticide business. The Council of Canadians has long campaigned against NAFTA and Chapter 11’s harmful impact on public regulation.

At a time of economic crisis, when federal, provincial, and municipal governments should focus on public projects that create a lasting positive social and economic foundation, the 2010 Games appear set to leave a legacy of social and environmental destruction and massive debt that will hobble our ability to make positive change and respond to the serious challenges facing communities across the province and the country.

Garry John is an aboriginal rights activist who spent many years serving his community in British Columbia in an elected capacity and is currently a board member of the Council of Canadians.

Maude Barlow is the national chair of the Council of Canadians.




Oct 10, 2009 at 10:10am

This is a really good article. We need so much more of this kind of discussion. I also don't want to diminish the hard work of athletes, but I question how this ultimate competition benefits both athletes and the communities that host it. These sort of competitions should be about the highest standards for people, communities and the environment. We all know that very few are actually benefiting, let alone able to afford to participate. What more and more of us are recognizing is that this is a publicly funded free for all for a very small group of wealthy people. At the end, only the rich and the few athletes who excel benefit from it. During the Olympics hard-working athletes are prostituted to wealthy sponsors who pay to be associated with their skills and talents. After they win, these athletes are then up for sale again to the highest bidder via sponsorships, oftentimes sponsorships that are not to the high standards these athletes represent. As this article discusses how are General Electric or the the Royal Bank, when they are involved in polluting are planetary circulatory systems (water and air), a good match with the spirit of the Olympics? Yes, this is a very important dialogue we need to have. Of course, the government that is supposed to represent us is very busy about suppressing it. So, who do they represent anyway?

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K. Jean Cottam, PhD

Oct 10, 2009 at 1:10pm

I am concerned that Dow Chemical, that is suing the Canadian government under NAFTA's Chapter 11 for the Quebec pesticide ban, is one of the sponsors. Thus I agree with much that is being said in the veryimportant discussion above.

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Jim Parker

Oct 10, 2009 at 5:47pm

Boy, more negativity about the Games! Nobody ever said Canadians are a pragmatic bunch, I guess. Get over it! The Games ARE going to happen! And by the way, I live in Whistler and I see absolutely NO evidence of this alledged 'security zone'. Please, if you are not going to get on side, at least quit the rumour mongoring! That is a truly cheap way of furthering your cause.

Jim Parker

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J Peachy

Oct 11, 2009 at 12:31am

Jim likely comfortably lives in Whistler and has no problem leaving his children with a massive financial and social debt from these games (ya "Get over it!") I am sure he has no qualms about paying a highway toll on your way to Whistler, to assist on the return on investment on the Olympics that is nowhere near the original target. The facts are clear this project is overspent and the revenues significantly below forecast, I don't think this cause has come cheap at all!

This government may have intentionally sabotaged this province so that it will have to be sold off just to sustain itself. Next step, Campbell's friends get wealthy in the process; story sound familiar?

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Oct 11, 2009 at 10:31am

General Strike Feb. 12 2010, Pass it on.

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A comment

Oct 11, 2009 at 4:26pm

Is it just me or does the title and head shot look like something from the onion?

Maude Barlow should be smiling less in her photo, with a title like this...

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Green man

Oct 13, 2009 at 3:18pm

By this article's reasoning, anyone who has a client card from RBC or enjoys a rum and coke is as environmentally distructive of the big bad Olympics.

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No Surprise

Oct 15, 2009 at 6:56pm

Saw this crap coming from the day the 2010 olympics were announced. So sad, disgusting, and par for the course. Politics and big business has been on a greasy slope for awhile.
Yes, the Olympics are happening, and we should attempt to be hospitable to our visitors. But we MUST look out for our HUMAN RIGHTS and Charter of Rights. I think we all aught to support community bans on pesticides, move our investments from RBC as we can, cut down on our use of oils and synthetic products, etc, AND REMEMBER what these traitors are doing, and have done to our land. Make them accountable. Make personal choices to protect your families, and your world whenever you can. Remember this.

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Oct 19, 2009 at 2:48pm

how is the goverment helping with the 2010 olyimpics

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Feb 9, 2010 at 10:13am

i hate the olympics i do not like hockey i have no taste for the olympics.

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