Countdown to controversy

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      When this issue of the Georgia Straight hit the streets on February 22, there were 1,086 days until the start of the 2010 Olympics.

      That's what the new Omega Olympic Countdown Clock clearly tells us. Premier Gordon Campbell and VANOC CEO John Furlong unveiled the clock in the city-owned plaza at the Vancouver Art Gallery on February 12 to mark the three-year countdown.

      What is not so clear is whether or not the remaining 1,085 days will be counted down under the 24-hour watchful eye of staff from Premier Security, the company hired to keep the clock safe. VANOC has released no information regarding its security measures—such as the costs—regardless of the fact the unveiling was met with vehement protests and egg-throwing by housing advocates from the Anti-Poverty Committee and other groups. VANOC media-relations director Chris Brumwell did not respond over a five-day period to repeated requests for an interview.

      On February 13, a lone security guard at the clock would not give his name nor answer any questions, saying, “I don't deal with this issue. It's political.”

      The clock has not been damaged so far. According to Vancouver police Const. Howard Chow, the police have left it to VANOC to hire its own security.

      “However, when it comes to policing, keeping an eye or protecting property in the City of Vancouver, our members patrol that area regularly,” Chow said. “If they see something happen, obviously they would take action.”¦I would assume it just wouldn't make sense to throw a cop on our salary on a clock.”

      The VPD was more active at the unveiling, making seven arrests of “hooligans with masked faces”, according to a February 13 police news release. The release claimed that activists disrupted the event and threw eggs, balloons full of paint, and papier-mí¢ché balls filled with rocks “at police and participants”.

      One activist arrested (and later released) for breaching the peace that day was APC organizer Anna Hunter. She told the Straight that the APC is taking direct action to raise awareness about the loss of social-housing units in the Downtown Eastside. She added that the APC was also about to embark on a sit-in at the constituency office of B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor.

      Hunter said she believes that potential around-the-clock supervision of the Omega clock is “another example of the misuse of money around the Olympics”.

      “They're willing to protect a piece of stone that's counting down to something that is also counting down to the increased amount of homelessness and criminalization of poverty in our city,” she said. “The city, the province and federal government, and VANOC—plus anyone else who has contributed to this Olympics—is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in protecting these Olympics. The same consideration is not even given to poor people being pushed out on to the street.”

      In a February 12 speech at a Board of Trade–organized luncheon following the unveiling, Furlong seemed to have forgotten about the eggs and the short-term takeover of the stage by APC organizers an hour earlier.

      “We were in Beijing a few years ago for a debriefing,” Furlong told the Sheraton Wall Centre crowd. “We took a walk to Tiananmen Square and we saw the countdown clock in Tian ­nmen Square, which is beautiful. So we pulled out our cellphones and we phoned back to Vancouver, photographed it [the clock]—I don't even know if you're allowed—and we sent it back to Vancouver and said, ”˜We have to get ourselves one of these.' And today we have it, and it's very special.”