An Olympic watchdog group has filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Council alleging that the Games threaten free speech and could spur mass evictions.
The group, called the Impact on Community Coalition, has also asked the UN to send human-rights observers to Vancouver to keep an eye on civil rights.
"In our view, both in terms of civil liberties and tenancy, Canada is not living up to adequate housing and basic democratic and civil liberties standards," IOCC spokesman Am Johal told a news conference yesterday.
For example, Mr. Johal said police in Vancouver have paid visits to the homes of Olympic activists and have increased the number of tickets they hand out - especially in the impoverished Downtown Eastside - for minor infractions such as jaywalking. The group suspects that the ticketing campaign is a precursor to jailing people who don't pay these fines.
The IOCC was formed after Vancouver won the 2010 Winter Games bid. Its stated goal is to work with Olympic organizers to ensure the city avoids the pitfalls - namely evictions and the loss of free speech - traditionally associated with the huge sporting event.
The complaint won't be heard until next spring, after the conclusion of the Games.
Mr. Johal and other civil libertarians say they're not suggesting that Canada doesn't respect human rights, but they want the observers to ensure Canada's high standards aren't breached.
Canada is a signatory to several UN protocols that protect the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens.
"When you think about civil-liberties violations internationally, I'm sure this would rank very low in terms of priorities for observers," said David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. "With that said, Canada is expected to set a standard internationally, the gold standard for democratic rights, for free speech. And it would be an important symbol for them to consider sending observers because this is their opportunity to hold Canada accountable to the international example Canada sets."
On the housing front, Mr. Johal and renters' advocates say they're concerned that evictions will spike in the months leading up to the Olympics, set to begin next February.
They want provincial loopholes plugged that allow landlords to evict tenants during renovation. The city has taken some measures to protect tenants during the Games. For example, it has required building owners to obtain permits if they intend to rent space during the Olympics. But critics are concerned this system won't be adequately policed.
"In our view, both in terms of civil liberties and tenancy, Canada is not living up to adequate housing and basic democratic and civil liberties standards that we would expect," Mr. Johal said. "We are afraid there will be hundreds and hundreds of evictions, that there will be mass evictions in the city," Mr. Johal said.
Despite the concern expressed by activists, there have been no mass evictions to date in Vancouver. In fact, the province bought nearly 20 low-rent hotels to be used for low-income housing. However, there is concern about the loss of rental units due to condominium conversion. Homelessness figures have also dramatically jumped in the last three years, but these phenomena can't be pegged to the Games.
The UN complaint was laid July 31 in Geneva. It is the second Olympic-related complaint filed by Vancouver activists.
In April, 2008, two University of British Columbia students filed a complaint concerning the lack of affordable housing in Vancouver.