We had a very successful public forum Monday night (Nov 9th) on security issues surrounding the 2010 Olympics. The panellists were excellent and knowledgeable - Micheal Vonn, BC Civil Liberties Association (www.bccla.org), Laura Track, PIVOT Legal Society (www.pivotlegal.org), and Am Johal, Impact on Communities Coalition (www.iocc.ca).
The issue here is what civil liberties, like freedom to protest and speak out, will be threatened, ostensibly due to security concerns surrounding the 2010 Olympics. Sixteen thousand security personnel under the management of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) will be at work and there are many concerns about the loss of rights, and the impact on homeless people if the BC Governments "Assistance to Shelter Act" passes in the BC Legislature.
The Vancouver Charter Amendments recently passed, which will allow severe limits on expression (can you say NO to 2010?), are also of concern. And then there are the 900 plus security cameras. What emerged was a good discussion about whether the 2010 Games serve as a convenient mega event, to bring in sweeping security measures that will then linger, and become an ongoing facet of Canadian society. Those attending the forum had many excellent questions and observations about these very dramatic security measures and what they really mean. MLA's Jenny Kwan, and Shane Simpson, and City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth, co-hosted the forum with me, and we agreed we will keep a very close watch on these issues. I also am very keen to do a follow up after the 2010 Games; to help assess what took place and what impacts there are. I am also working on the idea for a Code of Conduct that we would encourage security personnel to abide by. I will circulate this once drafted. (See the entire forum on working tv at http://www.workingtv.com/olympic-civilliberties.html)
Later in the week, I was honoured and delighted to host, with MLA Mable Elmore, a luncheon for Afghanistan women's rights activist Malalai Joya. We had a sold out audience (proceeds to help women's projects in Afghanistan). Malalai is wise and courageous. She has dared to speak out in Parliament and globally about the war in Afghanistan and the control by the warlords. She says the occupation by NATO countries (including Canada) is not helping her country or its people. Malalai is on a national book tour. Her book, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, is definitely worth reading as a personal and revealing account of her experiences and struggles, for a democratic voice for women in Afghanistan.
The strength and conviction she shows is inspiring and I know many Canadians will want to hear what she has to say. You can follow her book tour at http://www.rabble.ca/malalai_joya_tour.
There are clear connections between the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the security blanket underlying the Olympic Games as the Canadian Government falls into line with the ongoing war on terror in such a manner, that now, almost anything is deemed "acceptable" in the name of security.
It is good that there are many people and organizations, challenging the uber security view of the world. For many, this means personal sacrifice, such as for Malalai Joya, but also for war resistors, who have taken on the US military by refusing to participate in an illegal war.
I vested Rodney Watson for a follow up visit at First United Church in the Downtown Eastside, where he has sought sanctuary. He faces deportation to the U.S. and we are working to ensure this doesn't happen. Rodney is, like Malalai, very young, and has taken on enormous challenges too, because of his convictions. Rev. Rick Matthews is an amazing support to his cause, as is Sara Bjorknas of the Vancouver War Resisters. And I hope we can gather broad political support for Rodney so he can stay in Canada. A recent feature article in The Courier outlines his situation. (http://www2.canada.com/vancouvercourier/news/story.html?id=6490531e-b2d9...)
At the end of the week, I went to the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Center, for a TOONIE fundraiser for the Annual Missing Women's Memorial March. Not a lot of people there, but so determined, (and fun) to raise dollar by dollar, the monies needed to keep the March going - always held on Valentine's Day through the Downtown Eastside. It too, ironically, was impacted by the sweeping security measures of the 2010 Games. The march route always goes along East Hastings and was threatened for next year - but a huge public outcry resulted in the City of Vancouver agreeing that the usual route would remain.
The tragedy of the missing women in the Downtown Eastside, and across Canada, puts into sharp perspective, the billions of dollars spent on war and "security", while the basic human security and human needs of Aboriginal women, are a millionth of a fraction in expenditure and attention.
The lightening contrast of these issues seems so very evident this past week.