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Protests to test Charter, organizers say Add to ...

The first big test of police and security vows that protest and civil rights will be respected during the Olympics and related events is headed for normally sedate Victoria.

Under the organizing banner "NOlympic Torch Relay Halloween Convergence," opponents of the 2010 Winter Games have been meeting and planning for months to protest the Canadian launch of the famed Olympic torch relay late next month in Victoria.

Tamara Herman of No 2010 Victoria said the hundreds of expected protesters have no intention of using any of the so-called free speech zones police say will be offered to them for peaceful demonstrations.

"We have a constitutional right to hold rallies. We believe every part of our city is a free-speech zone," Ms. Herman declared yesterday. "This is all about creating a space where people can express their dissent."

Despite Olympic security, police promises that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be respected - underscored by 2010 organizers, who say protests are part of the fabric of Canada - activists and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association have expressed concern that normally lawful opposition may be curtailed for the Games.

After the ceremonial lighting of the flame in Greece, the Olympic torch is scheduled to begin its 45,000-kilometre cross-Canada journey in the B.C. capital on Oct. 30.

No 2010 Victoria's plans for the day include a downtown anti-Olympic festival in the afternoon, followed by a Halloween-inspired "zombie march" to a special evening torch celebration in front of the B.C. Legislature.

"We are going to be the opening act of this circus. We are going to be the test case for the Canadian Charter and the Olympics," said artist Zoe Blunt, a protest organizer.

"People in Vancouver, Chicago, London, they're all going to be watching us, to see whether the Charter of Rights will be upheld [for Olympic protests] However it plays out, we're going to be the first to find out."

Added Ms. Herman: "Everyone's kind of standing around nervously, waiting to see what happens."

She was one of three activists who had their homes visited last month by members of the RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit for the Olympics, seeking to question them about the Games.

"I wasn't there, so they tried to question my roommate, but she refused to talk to them," Ms. Herman said. "It's harassment. No one likes to have the police come to their private residences."

Several past Olympic protests in Vancouver have been marked by incidents designed to disrupt events rather than demonstrate peacefully against the staging of the 2010 Games.

Ms. Herman said No 2010's goal is to bring "a disruptive message" to Victoria's torch celebration, rather than actually impeding the event.

"But I am not going to condemn anyone who takes on more disruptive activities. We don't want people to think that it's business as usual. The Olympics is a ludicrous waste of money."

Alice Bacon, co-ordinator for the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee, which is organizing the first two days of the torch relay, said there will be an opportunity for protesters to express themselves at the event.

"But we certainly hope they don't choose to spoil the experience for everyone else. ... This will be a celebration organized by the community for the community."

No protests are expected farther up Vancouver Island on the Snuneymuxw reserve by Nanaimo, where native elders plan to bless the flame during its stop in the native community on Day Two of the relay.

While one of the main slogans of the Vancouver-based Olympic Resistance Network is "No Olympics on Stolen Native Land," local relay co-ordinator Teyem Thomas said that so far she hasn't heard a peep of opposition to the Olympics.

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