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.