Securing the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics will bring out the largest military and police presence on Canada's West Coast since the end of the Second World War.
More than 15,000 people from the Canadian Forces, private security companies, the RCMP and other policing agencies from across the country will be working to ensure that the Winter Games will be remembered as a sporting event and nothing more.
The federal and B.C. governments have set aside $900-million - five times their initial estimate - essentially to purchase a top-notch security blanket for the Olympics. Their efforts will be augmented by an elaborate air umbrella from NORAD, stepped-up security at non-Olympic sites and the work of private security firms hired by high-profile multinational corporations. Armed foreign security services may accompany some heads of state at the Games.
But how safe will it be?
Security experts and those responsible for security at the Games frankly acknowledge they cannot rule out another underwear bomber slipping past the extensive measures they have planned. With the world coming to Vancouver, anything can happen.
"It is impossible to totally secure an event like that," Ray Mey, an international security consultant, said in an interview. Mr. Mey, a former manager with the FBI, was involved in planning security for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002 and worked with Italian authorities in 2006 on the Winter Games in Turin. He also worked on preliminary plans for upgrading security on public transportation in B.C.
"You can do the best you can, you can take extraordinary measures to do as much as you can to protect the public and protect the event. But there is no way you can completely secure an event like that," he said.
The challenge is to find a balance between a celebration of sport and protection of the public, he added. "You do not want to make it so people will not have an enjoyable experience."
Canadian Forces personnel began arriving this week at the Abbotsford airport, setting up their quarters in armouries and camps throughout the region. Many are staying on cruise ships, the first of which sailed into Vancouver this week. Deployment of military personnel will be complete by the end of next week.
RCMP and officers from 118 law-enforcement agencies across Canada have also begun to arrive. They will be at full strength by the end of the month, two weeks before the opening of the Olympics. Security 3
All law-enforcement officers will wear their home uniforms, providing a vivid illustration of national involvement in the Games.
RCMP Constable Mandy Edwards, spokeswoman for the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, said the security forces have planned for "what is possible and what is plausible." Their mandate is protection of the Olympics venues and the people: the athletes, spectators, Olympic officials and international dignitaries who come to the Games.
The security unit has "close daily co-operation" with the U.S., she added. Authorities continue to work with partners in Canada and abroad to monitor potential risks to the Games. "We are thoroughly examining all risks and determining what is needed to keep people safe," Constable Edwards said.
The Olympics are spread out across 10,000 square kilometres. The Canadian Forces, playing a supporting role at the Games, will be at sea, in the air and in the back country outside Whistler. "Our focus is on doing what only we can do, providing unique capabilities to support the RCMP in securing the Games," said Major Dan Thomas, a Canadian Forces public-affairs officer working with the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit.
The Canadian Forces will predominantly be the eyes and ears, and, to some extent, the legs of the RCMP in the back-country venues, he said. The military has the mobility and other skills required to help patrol areas around Cypress Bowl, Whistler Olympic Park and Whistler's athlete's village, Major Thomas said. The military's response is "scalable," he added. "If it needs to be increased, we have the resources. We have the flexibility and depth to adapt on short notice, if need be."
SURVEY / IS TOO MUCH BEING SPENT ON GAMES?
About two-thirds of British Columbians and 48 per cent of Canadians overall say too much is being spent on Vancouver's 2010 Games, says a national poll by Ekos Politics released yesterday.
"Perhaps the most startling element of the poll is that in B.C., there is a veritable landslide for those saying that too much is being spent on the Olympics," Ekos president Frank Graves said.
The pollsters asked a random sample of 3,730 Canadians from Jan. 6 to Jan. 12 whether they thought too much, too little or just the right amount of taxpayer money was being spent on the Games. Some unofficial estimates place the cost of Olympic-related spending at close to $6-billion. Supporters say the estimates include projects such as improvements to the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler that will remain as legacies.