Q: How many security officials will be in Vancouver during the Games, and what will they be doing?
A: The Olympics will be the largest peacetime security operation in Canadian history, with an estimated 16,500 police, private security and military personnel and a $900 million budget. The Vancouver Police Department will handle policing in the city, RCMP and private security guards will provide security in the venues, and Canadian soldiers will provide security support during the Games, but will not be patrolling the city. U.S. military will be cooperating with Canadian Forces under the provisions of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command); the U.S. will contribute Coast Guard and Navy vessels but no American troops will be involved on Canadian soil unless both countries declare a state of emergency. The U.S. State Department has leased an entire floor of a downtown Vancouver building for the month of February.
Q: How will security operations affect homeless people during the Games?
A: People sleeping close to Olympic venues like BC Place will be displaced during the Olympics. They will be asked to relocate before the Games begin, and may face arrest if they refuse to leave when the security fences go up. Officials have promised publicly that there are no plans to sweep the streets of homeless people or panhandlers during the Olympics. However, a new law called the Assistance to Shelter Act allows the police to use force to take homeless people to shelters against their will during cold weather.
Q: Will the police step up their enforcement of laws against possession and use of drugs, prostitution, sleeping in parks or street vending during the Olympics?
A: We cannot be sure. Officials have been saying that what’s legal today will be legal during the Olympics, and what’s illegal will continue to be illegal. Police have discretion in how they enforce the law, and there is no way to know whether they will decide to crack down on drug users, sex workers, homeless people or panhandlers during the Games. The city recently passed a new bylaw permitting City workers to issue tickets and impose $250 fines for street vending. Last year’s VPD ticketing blitz in the DTES has people worried they will be targeted for minor offences or arrested for unpaid fines.
Q: Will there be CCTV cameras monitoring people’s activities in public space during the Games?
A: The City voted to spend $2.6 million to install CCTV cameras in Olympic venues and public gathering areas. About 900 CCTV cameras will be put up in Olympic venues, and another 50 to 70 monitoring devices will be in place at celebration sites, along pedestrian corridors, and in the Granville Street entertainment district. There are no plans for Olympic cameras in the DTES.
Q: Will protests be allowed during the Olympics? Will they be restricted to designated protest zones?
A: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The Charter is part of Canada’s constitution, the highest law of the land. Officials have said many times that lawful protest will be allowed in public areas of the city, but unlawful activity like blocking roads or pedestrian access will result in enforcement action. One problem with this is that traditionally public areas, like David Lam Park, Robson Street and Granville Street will become “celebration sites” during the Olympics.
Officials said they would create “free speech areas” for protesters; many people pointed out that all of Canada is a free speech area, and officials clarified that they will not restrict protests to those zones, and people will be free to protest outside those areas. We still do not know how many protest zones there will be, how big they will be, or how surrounding neighbourhoods will be affected. Officials have not ruled out the use of agents provocateurs during protests – officers who incite violence during protests in order to justify police crackdowns. Similarly, they have not ruled out using undercover police to take over the leadership of activist groups or direct the activities of those groups.
Q: Will I be able to carry a sign or wear a t-shirt critical of the Olympics? What about handing out leaflets or other written material?
A: The City passed new bylaws to clarify that signs containing political messages, including signs critical of the Olympics, will not be confiscated or destroyed during the Games. The police say that signs will be permitted as long as they aren’t used as a weapon. If you are a spectator at an Olympic event, you will be searched and may not be allowed to carry any signs or display messages critical of the Olympics or Olympic sponsors.
Q: Will the Poverty Olympics and Women’s Memorial March be cancelled due to the Games?
A: The Women’s Memorial March happens every year on February 14, and the police and City of Vancouver have committed to ensuring the event can take place during the Olympics. Organizers of the event are still concerned about last minute route changes and increased police and surveillance of the march. The 2010 Poverty Olympics happen February 7, 2009, the week before the Games begin.
Q: Will I be able to get around during the Olympics? What parts of the City will be blocked off?
A: Hastings Street is a designated Olympic corridor, meaning that one lane in each direction will be reserved for Olympic traffic only. Pedestrian safety is a major concern. Streets throughout the Downtown Eastside such as Cordova, Powell and Gore will have 24-hour parking restrictions, meaning that people who work on these streets and who need a vehicle for their work will have a hard time finding parking during the Games.
Q: Will people be able to access the supervised injection site, food lines, and other services in the Downtown Eastside during the Olympics?
A: The Olympics are going to put a lot of pressure on the Downtown Eastside and make life more difficult for many people. Increased police presence, thousands of tourists, and an Olympic lane running through the heart of the community could make accessing necessary services more difficult. We all need to work together to do what we can to make sure that people’s lives are disrupted as little as possible due to the Olympics.