Overzealous security clampdown on photography around Olympic venue in Vancouver

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      You can’t take photographs from the streets or sidewalks surrounding the Vancouver Olympic Centre, despite the fact they are public property.

      At least that’s what this Georgia Straight journalist was told this morning (February 9) on three occasions while circumnavigating the 2010 Olympics’ curling venue at Hillcrest Park, before being escorted across the street for standing in an unfenced but apparently closed area.

      The first incident occurred as I was taking pictures of video surveillance cameras located just behind the Olympic security fence along the Ontario Street sidewalk. A yellow-jacketed man behind a gate told me that objects inside the fence were off-limits for photography. I told him I was on public property and continued down the sidewalk.

      A few minutes later, as I snapped shots of people gathered at an entry point along the fence, one of them approached me. He said he was from Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, and he didn’t think I could take photos there due to “security reasons”.

      When I told him I was on public property and from the Straight, he didn’t push the issue. He and his firefighting colleagues were there to take a tour of the venue, where a few of them will be stationed during the Games.

      I continued walking around the fence to where it lines Midlothian Avenue, which is closed to vehicle traffic. As I aimed my camera at the media entry gate, I noticed a woman with a safety vest approaching me. Her accreditation badge identified her as an Olympic transportation attendant. I hit the record-video button on my camera.

      “We’re actually closed right now,” she said. “So, all photography is actually not allowed.”

      According to the attendant, although I was standing outside the fence, I was still within the security “perimeter”. I asked her where the boundary was, and she pointed to the grass of Queen Elizabeth Park on the other side of the street.

      I observed that, as we spoke, a woman was walking down Midlothian. (Earlier, I had seen several other people strolling down the street without any interference.)

      “Yeah, she is, but she also doesn’t have a camera,” the attendant said. “I’m sorry, I was just given strict instructions on photography.”

      Then she said, “Sorry, I’ll just have to escort you out.”

      As we walked up the street, she said Midlothian will be open to accredited media during the Games, when more security will be present.

      “It’s just a little bit more of a strict guideline with the Olympics around, so we have to follow protocol,” she said.

      After I arrived at work today, I called Rob Holmes, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, for his thoughts on my experience. According to the lawyer, there’s no good reason why I couldn’t stand outside an Olympic fence and take pictures.

      “I think it’s not the best start to the Olympic season if they’re doing that kind of stuff,” he said by phone. “The fact is that you’re entitled to take pictures of whatever you can see from a public place.”

      Holmes argued that it’s important for citizens not to stay silent about run-ins with overzealous Olympic personnel.

      “As our mothers used to say, you’re not supposed to be good just when somebody’s looking,” Holmes said. “So, it’s important that this be brought to the attention of the people who are in charge, so that they can actually show some managerial control over what’s going down on the ground.”

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.

      Update: No photography ban around Games venue, Olympic security unit says

      See also: Photos: Olympics bring security checkpoints, fences, and closures to Vancouver




      Feb 9, 2010 at 4:31pm

      Interesting. I think I'll head out for a bike ride wearing my helmet cam and publish a video called "Olympic Perimeter Helmet Cam". Look for it soon, just google my name or the video name.


      Feb 9, 2010 at 4:54pm

      Photog flash mobz, anyone??


      Feb 9, 2010 at 5:28pm

      How about getting a comment from the other side of the story? Oh yes, biased reporting!


      Feb 9, 2010 at 5:41pm

      Get a court injuction right away? A restraining order? -- Stephan


      Feb 9, 2010 at 8:01pm

      So big deal, they wouldn't let you take photos. I could understand your concern if this was an everyday occurrence but it is not. Normally, Vancouver isn't what you would call a high profile target for terrorists. With the Olympics here now, it most certainly is. These people are just doing their job as best they can in the way they have been instructed. This is about keeping competitors, spectators and tourists safe.

      Don't get me wrong, we need to watch the conduct of VANOC and the police during these games to ensure that our civil liberties are not violated. This however, is a non-issue.

      Put your telephoto lens on, cross the street and take your pictures from there.

      John Goldsmith

      Feb 9, 2010 at 9:48pm

      While this could simply be the case of one cranky security guard, I spent the entire last Saturday at the foot of BC Place and without hassle. Nobody gave me or the other photographers I was with a difficult time. In fact, the police were welcoming to me. One Montreal-based Sergeant even handed me his card if I needed his name for publishing even though my shot of him would clearly be less than flattering (see link below). Other Olympic security guards were actually welcoming and even wanted to be in the photographs. I took their portrait and gave them my card to contact me for a free copy. And, I am not accredited either.

      While I can sit here and be an armchair photographer, I wish the Straight photographer would have challenged the security guard and asked to speak with management. While VANOC and the Integrated Security Unit will no doubt be tough on photographers, it is our right (and duty) to stand our ground as photographers, writers and citizen journalists.

      As far as not being able to take photos on public land... well, just wait until the hoards of Olympic ticket holders show up with their dSLRs, point-and-shoots and cell phone cameras. They cannot stop the unstoppable wave of digital media and it's worth pressing the issue if and when we are confronted.


      don h

      Feb 9, 2010 at 10:25pm

      Oh no! You're not getting what you want. The system isn't working.



      Feb 9, 2010 at 11:00pm

      I feel so much safer now :-P


      Feb 9, 2010 at 11:02pm

      Boo. It was almost inevitable that they'd start treating photographers like terrorists.

      Lame, Vancouver, very lame.


      Feb 9, 2010 at 11:07pm

      wouldnt really blame em... the security ppl are poorly trained and even more poorly informed when it comes to things... theyre just following vague instructions from vanoc managers who are probably just as informed.