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