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Feature photo: hellodan; Photo above: sillygwailo

Vancouver is host to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Is the city sacrificing morality in exchange for the lucrative business of the Olympics?
Public Debt

Public debt is probably the most noticeable of issues affecting Vancouver, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

When you take infrastructure and security costs into count, no modern Olympics has ever made back all of the money spent to put the Games on.

In fact, actual costs usually end up being exponentially higher than projected costs. The 2004 Games in Athens were projected to cost $1 billion but ended up costing a whopping $9 billion. Montreal held the games in 1976, but the city didn’t finish paying off its debt until 2002.

The Vancouver Olympics are projected to cost $2 billion.

In an effort to win the bid, the city was required to complete various infrastructure projects, including the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a new SkyTrain line, and a new convention center. This brings the cost of the Games to $6 billion. The security budget, originally estimated at $175 million, has grown to over $900 million due to fears of protests and riots, leading to my next point:

Vancouver 2010: Has the City Become a Police State?

To address security concerns in Vancouver, the federal government has enlisted the military to stand guard during the Games. The total number of security personnel is currently estimated at 12,500.

Photo: sashafatcat

As we speak, closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are being placed throughout the city to monitor crowds, and locals fear that these cameras will be kept in place after the Games are over.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have gone so far as to establish an Integrated Security Unit, that in the past few months has spent its time penetrating anti-Olympic groups and paying visits to anyone who bad-mouths the Olympics, whether in public or on a personal blog.

In an attempt to counteract protests, the security budget has even been used to build “free speech zones….”

Charter of Rights Violations

…Wait a minute, I thought Canada WAS a free speech zone?!

You can be in favor of the Olympics anywhere you want, but if you want to be against them, you’d better get to a free speech zone. The city of Vancouver has passed numerous bylaws that essentially make it illegal to protest.

Freedom of the press is also at stake. Amy Goodman, author and host of Democracy Now, was recently detained at the border and eventually granted only 48 hours of entry after she was pulled over for being suspected of speaking out against the Olympics, even when she had no such intention to do so, nor was she even aware that there was a problem. She has since educated herself on the subject, so the Olympics have now gained a powerful enemy.

Another act passed just in time for the Olympics is the controversial Assistance to Shelter Act, which gives police the ability to forcefully remove homeless people from the streets and place them in shelters. Many homeless are known to prefer sleeping on the streets than in shelters for reasons ranging from abuse and robbery to the monitoring of their sleeping and eating habits in shelters.

There is speculation that this act was passed in time for the Olympics in an attempt to clean up the streets before the tourists arrive, due to Vancouver’s quickly growing number of homeless….

Homelessness and Poverty

Vancouver has the highest rate of homelessness in Canada, most visible in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). Since winning its Olympic bid in 2002, Vancouver has been siphoning money out of crucial social programs to help fund the Games. This has led the closing of at least 850 units of supportive housing and homelessness has since doubled.

Photo: quinet

Rumors have circulated about unlawful evictions in the lead up to the Olympics as well, many cases of which are currently tied up in the courts.

Vancouver’s DTES is also a haven for drug dealers and sex-trade workers. With a rise in tourism also comes a rise in drug pushing and prostitution, which is going to make the streets of the DTES a very dangerous place during the Olympics, especially for those people who call the DTES home, like me.

Another controversial aspect of Vancouver’s DTES is Insite, North America’s first and only safe-injection site, where injection drugs can be used indoors with clean needles and water under nurses’ supervision. Although the project has proved positive in Vancouver and is supported by the city and the mayor, it is often criticized by Canada’s conservative federal government.

There are growing fears that this landmark program could be the next service on the chopping block of budget cuts. Insite is a critical program for treating addiction and preventing HIV and Hep C in a neighbourhood where IV drug use is rampant.


The Olympics as Big Business

The Olympic Games have positive benefits, from promoting physical activity to inspiring patriotism and bringing people together, but perhaps it’s time to take a critical look at the Olympics as a corporation.

Human rights should not be sacrificed for any reason, especially for sports. The time to act is now, to work towards a more peaceful Olympics that benefits everyone and not just the businesses and sponsors involved.

For more information and to find out how you can get involved, check out:

The Olympic Resistance Network


The Anti-Poverty Committee

To take direct action, consider organizing a boycott against Vancouver 2010’s Corporate Sponsors.

Or why not express your feelings in an email or letter to:

The International Olympic Committee

Château de Vidy
Case postale 356
1001 Lausanne


The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC)
#400-3585 Gravely St.,
Vancouver, BC, Canada
V5K 5J5

Community Connection

The Beijing Olympics inspired even more public controversy. Read Why It’s Useless to Boycott the Beijing Olympics and How Love and Money Conquered Communism at the Beijing Olympics for a recap of those Games.

Culture + Religion


About The Author

Chris Vandenberg

Chris Vandenberg splits his time among going to school in Niagara Falls, Ontario, guiding tours through the Canadian Rockies, and working in supportive housing and addiction treatment in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a freelance writer and human rights activist with a passion for travel and Candiana.

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  • Eva

    Protest peacefully if you must, but please don’t turn to violence as the anti-Olympic protesters in Kitchener-Waterloo did when they assaulted a torch bearer during the relay.

    I understand the objections to the Olympics in general (as having become a corporate event, etc) and to the Van games in particular (the security stuff is really over the top, though I don’t think public debt is really a question of “morality,” myself) but I’ve always believed that what the Games stands for, its role as a symbol for the world, should still outweigh the distaste I feel when I see the Golden Arches slapped all over the event. And that distaste is nothing compared to the disgust at seeing a torch bearer tackled by an anonymous crowd of shithead cowards “making a statement.” I mean, the flame is still supposed to mean something, right?

  • Steve

    I’m trying to understand how you don’t consider public debt an issue of morality, so I’m going to have to assume you have no concept of how government money is used. The billions of dollars that Vancouver is now going to have to pay back are not exactly going to be coming out of the Premier’s salary: it is going to come out of government funded programs designed to help the people. When the people, including students and people with illnesses, who rely on these programs are denied the help they need, because the funding is going towards paying off a debt due to the Olympics, it clearly becomes a moral issue. Not to mention the fact that this money is coming from taxpayers in the first place, meaning the government is effectively using money that’s supposed to go back into the community on the Olympics.

    And I also don’t understand why the only ‘distaste’ you feel is from seeing the corporate logos associated with the Olympics. Did you not read the entire section on homelessness and poverty in the article you just commented on? The issues are more than just superficial problems such as corporate sponsorship: people’s lives are being destroyed, and they are losing their homes because of this ‘symbol’ for the world… why can’t we just be content with the numerous other symbols of unity and pride that already exist in Canada? And if we are not content, why not create a symbol that does not have such a destructive side effect?

    Really, someone being tackled to the ground is such a petty issue when compared to the fact that people are losing their homes and being put at risk of serious danger as the downtown eastside’s state worsens further and further due to the games. I personally would not mind someone tackling me if it managed to raise awareness towards a serious issue, and potentially led the way for someone to get their home back.

    • Eva

      Steve – I’m trying to understand why you would start out by patronizing me if your aim is, in fact, to sway me to accept or at least respect your views, so I’m going to assume that you’d rather feel superior than actually convince anyone to change their position.

      Re: debt and morality – governments run up debt all the time, frequently by spending money on programs aimed at less noble causes than curing illness or relieving student debt. (Because, you know, the latter is really a high priority – even for governments in the black…) The Olympics is more high-profile, certainly, but is it all that different in its moral quality than government-funded programs for the arts, amateur sports at the grassroots level, or any other program not aimed at the public’s most basic needs? Should every government with debt (um, nearly all of them) refuse to spend a penny on anything but essential services until the debt is gone? And, the question of “should” aside, is over-spending on the Olympics anything exceptional here, or just standard operating procedure for all sorts of governments all over the world? Somehow I’m not sure I’m the one lacking perspective on how government money is used, here.

      As for homelessness, sure, I read that section. But the problems in the Downtown Eastside have been around for a long time, the Olympics didn’t create them, and while the Games may well have exacerbated the troubles of the residents there, that section is a little low on links to reliable sources (and contains the words “rumors” and “growing fears” a few too many times) for me to be sure. Insite just won a major court case protecting its ongoing existence – and the threat to Insite was always the unfortunate “war on drugs” mentality of our current federal government, not the presence of the Olympics.

      I guess my main question for the anti-Olympic movement is: Why now? Why the Games? Nearly every issue cited is an ongoing problem – from homelessness and drug use to corporatization to public debt (sure, I’ll agree it’s not a good thing) to the ongoing question of Aboriginal land claims – an issue that’s not mentioned here, but that is the most frequently mentioned sore spot in anti-Olympic coverage I’ve read. These are all worthy problems to tackle. Why not work to solve these problems, to raise awareness about these problems, all year round? Why the focus on Vancouver 2010? Maybe the answer is that the Games are a huge global event that provides a profile like no other for the protesters’ causes of choice. Fine. I’d have a lot more respect for the protesters if they would just say so, rather than claiming the Games as a scapegoat for seemingly every ill in Canadian society today.

      Finally, I don’t think tackling a relay runner is a petty thing at all. Symbols and actions matter, particularly when you’re protesting and trying to sway the public. Even if you don’t believe there’s any moral issue with random physical assaults on Olympic participants (and hey, we could have an interesting conversation about the circumstances under which violent protest becomes morally acceptable), it comes down to tactics. If the goal of those protesters was to come across as a bunch of inarticulate bullies, well, mission accomplished. You’d think, if you believe in the issues you’ve mentioned here, you’d be inclined to condemn them for setting your cause back a ways.

  • Hal Amen

    Military policing the games? That’s a little creepy.

  • Steve

    I apologize if I appeared as if I was attempting to patronize you, but that was not my intent. I admit the “no idea how government money works” was worded a bit harshly, but I was just upset at the idea that somebody could trivialize something like government debt and make it seem as if it was not an issue requiring morals. As somebody who has personally been severely hurt by government cuts due to a lower public budget in the past, I was being sincere when I said that I do not understand how you cannot consider it a moral question. I did not intend for the comment to come out offensive (I guess that’s the problem with the internet is it doesn’t allow for tone of voice, or that sentence would’ve come out more confused than patronizing), it was just my reflection on the comment you made.

    Anyway, I understand that the problems voiced in this article have existed before, but the Olympics have been serving to make them significantly worse. Even if the government is already in debt, that does not excuse furthering this debt by billions of dollars, which only serves to make a bad situation worse. I know from personal experience that the money used to pay off debt is usually taken out of programs that help people, as when the City of Niagara Falls had debt issues several years ago, it resulted in cuts to mother’s allowance and government assistance that made me and my mother lose the apartment we were living in. If more debt means more people will have to suffer like this, then we should clearly avoid things that severely increase it (and I’d definitely call several billion dollars a severe increase)
    Also, there are a large number of people who do work year-round to help improve issues in Vancouver. The reason that the Olympics are being protested so harshly is not simply because of press coverage or scapegoat ism: it is because they have significantly worsened issues that the people have been working so hard to fix. 850 units of housing is quite a large blow to both the people who rely on them, and the people who have worked so hard to help these people find housing. The Olympics may not have caused the issues with downtown eastside, but they are making them significantly worse, and it is becoming harder to help the people who need it. Therefore, people feel the need to stop the situation from continually worsening, in order to continue trying to help fix it.
    And although the government does often spend money on funding arts and amateur sports, i highly doubt that they spend enough to put themselves billions of dollars in debt for one single entity like they have with the Olympics. And if they do, then I would certainly consider it worthy of resisting, but since I have not come in contact with any information related to this, I still stand by resisting the Olympics, as they are currently the most damaging thing for the economy and well-being of Vancouver.

  • Sandy

    I live in Burnaby (about 3 minutes out of Vancouver.) and I am already fed up with the games. The city has become a zoo, everything has gotten a lot more expensive, and both transit and driving has become impossible- It takes me 2 hours to get to school when just last month it took 20 minutes. Usually I have a “if you got to vote you don’t get to complain” policy, however, because I live three minutes outside and not in the city, I didn’t get to vote.
    It’s ruining a beautiful city, and causing everyone to put a “quick fix” on everything that’s wrong.

    • Julie Schwietert

      Thanks for sharing your local’s perspective. Do you get the feeling that these are temporary problems, or are you worried that they will have serious long-term repercussions for Vancouverites?

  • Chris Vandenberg

    The voting issue is something I feel I should have touched on as well. Matthew Good’s appearance on CBC’s The Hour put it into perspective when he mentioned that a lot of this funding is provincial, though only the city of Vancouver itself had any say. Vancouver is an incredibly expensive city to live in and those living outside the city, even if it means just living on the other side of Boundary Road, didn’t get to vote. This is a province with the highest child poverty rate in the country. Many of the small northern and island towns are now footing the bill for the Olympics when they have other serious social issues to deal with. Canada is the only G8 nation without a national housing strategy, yet we can siphon money into something with no long term gain. It’s appalling.

    I didn’t touch on native rights in this article which is something that should be considered as well, seeing as BC is largely unceded territory.

    Also, it was recently discovered that Leni Riefenstahl’s footage is being used in the torchrunner’s promo video. Hitler used the 1936 Berlin games as a way to legitimize fascism across Europe, using the torch as a symbol of his reign. Leni was his head propagandist and helped formulate the Olympic connection with fascism through video and documentary. While I was writing this article I chose to leave out the fascist links to the Olympics, assuming they had been successfully buried, but, alas, here they are again.

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