Less than two weeks ago Bud Mercer, head of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit looking after security for the 2010 Olympics, raised with Vancouver City Council the specter of the violent clashes that rocked World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle and Quebec City. To combat this forecast of the dangers Mercer thinks they foretell, the taxpayer is spending one billion dollars, at last count, and using 16,000 police and armed forces personnel!
To support this gross overkill, Mercer said “I can assure council as I stand before you here today, that locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, there are groups that are considering or planning to engage in criminal protests during the 2010 Games. North America and Canada is not strangers to criminal protests during major events — the 1999 Seattle WTO, 2001 in Quebec City or the Stanley Cup riot. There are things that will happen during a major event that we have a responsibility to plan and prepare for” adding that precautions include more than 900 cameras to guard the perimeters of Olympic venues, creation of “Free Speech” zones where protesters can legally demonstrate, a 2010 security force of 7,000 police, 5,000 private security officers and 4,500 members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mr. Mercer didn’t define just what a “criminal protest” was but one suspects it is much different than my definition and that of many readers.
Mr. Mercer and authorities ought to know, but evidently don’t know, that protesters waving banners and shouting insults don’t assassinate people. They annoy hell out of the establishment which some might say is an excellent reason for encouraging them but they don’t assassinate. (I’m not talking here of the huge riots we’ve seen, alas, in other lands but Mr. Mercer clearly isn’t thinking of them either.)
The Americans have had four presidential assassinations – Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. All these men were killed by a single fanatic. Indeed Lincoln, in the midst of a Civil War, moved easily in large crowds as did Kennedy in his day at the height of the “Cold War”.
Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were killed by individual assassins and not by picketers. Robert Kennedy was assassinated by a single mad man, and Archduke Ferdinand, whose assassination in July 1914 triggered the 1st World War, was killed by an anarchist. Mohandas Gandhi, and the unrelated sharers on his surname, Indira and Raj, were killed not by protesters but individual terrorists; in the case of Mahatma and Raj Gandhi by Hindu fanatics and Mrs. Gandhi’s case it was two of her bodyguards. Lord Louis Mountbatten died when IRA members planted a bomb on his yacht. There have been at least three unsuccessful attempts on US presidents lives – Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan – none by protesters.
Mr. Mercer and others of his persuasion, would do well to read the law which both here and in the United States is in clear, unadorned English.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states in Section 2,
“Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.”
Article 3 of the US Bill of Rights states
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Thomas Jefferson said “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security are deserving of neither”.
Yes, these are perilous times but the truth remains – large crowds waving banners and shouting slogans unto the obscene do not kill people. What they do is make it embarrassing because, in the words of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, they offend “those set in authority over us.”
It’s interesting to note that policeman Mercer talks about special places for protesters just as they have 3rd Amendment sites for free speech in America. What the hell point is there in making people protest in places where the objects of their attention are out of ear shot and thus invisible to the media?
Does it take 16,500 cops and soldiers to ferret out potential assassins and locate them? That plus denying honest citizens their right to associate and protest?
Of course not.
This is 1997 APEC revisited where one radical youth was put in jail several days before the parade and only released if he promised not to go to the scene; where a young law school student was jailed for carrying a cloth banner saying “Democracy” and “Free Speech” and where protesters were hit with pepper spray for no greater sin than saying nasty things about the nasty Heads of State and Heads of Government that our authorities didn’t want embarrassed. It was pepper spray then – will it be Taser guns this time?
This billion dollar extravagance has, I suspect, a lot less to do with perceived terror than giving off to the international media the image of sweetness and light in a place where never is heard a discouraging word. This is akin to the Potemkin villages which were shacks with beautiful façades created so that the visiting Tsarina, Catherine II, would believe that this village she was visiting was a prosperous with loyal and happy subjects.
Vanoc, under considerable pressure from governments, doesn’t want the image of Canada, Vancouver or Whistler tarnished with evidence that not everyone wanted the Olympics and that a great many people see them as bad for society for one reason or another. The classic reason to protest is to ask others others, especially those in charge, to see and hear the messages portrayed. Whether these protests are against a war in Viet Nam, separate facilities for Blacks or against heads of countries whose stated commitment to freedom is not matched by reality, they are perfectly legal and, in fact, the quintessential expression of the freedom which connotes a free society.
If – God forbid – there is an attack on anyone you can be sure that it would have happened with or without demonstrations.
Vanoc’s position is untenable in a free society, expensive out of all proportion to the risk of serious harm and a huge waste of our money to boot.