Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Vancouver's Olympic Paranoia Explained

 The Vancouver Observer -  
Lalo Espejo

Posted: Dec 3rd, 2009

Now that Canada's border services agency has put Vancouver's Olympic Paranoia on the radar across Canada and to our neighbors to the south, thanks to their treatment of journalist Amy Goodman, it's probably a good time to try to explain a few things, such as why Vancouver and British Columbia are acting as paranoid as the high school pot-head trying to avoid the vice principal after a BC bud and hash brownie lunch.

To recap, Ms. Goodman was held up at the border because she was giving some talks in Vancouver and Victoria about Afghanistan, Iraq, health care, and a few other topics that could be grouped under the heading “Not the Olympics.” But the only thing the border guards were concerned with was if she was planning on talking about the 2010 winter games. She was incredulous that they were incredulous that she didn't plan on talking about it. It was a veritable vertigo of incredulity.

The comment sections on sites carrying the story were filled with people wondering, in the manner of comedians everywhere, What's the deal with Vancouver and the Olympics? Well, here's the deal: We Canadians are a sensitive peoples. So when we offer to host the Olympics and pass city by-laws restricting basic rights in order to satisfy corporate sponsors, our feelings get hurt when these actions are misconstrued as sinister by dirty hippies.

You see, when it comes to citizens' rights during the Olympics, the government treats them the way I treat a red light at 4 am on empty streets – as merely a suggestion. Granted, restricting rights and falling prostrate to the Olympic overlords may seem like conduct unbecoming of a first world country and wannabe-world-class city, but hey, we're nothing if not polite, and we want to make the IOC happy – hence the internal conflict. We can't stand the idea of people not liking us.

When the Beijing Olympics announced that there would be “free speech zones” far away from any venues, there was an international outcry against that move. Now, Vancouver is planning to do the same thing, without the attendant dictator to say, “Whaddaya gonna do about it?” The governments' only recourse is to try to convince us it's for our own safety, of which it is eminently concerned. Don't believe them? Their feelings get hurt. I mean, what's wrong with calling for celebratory-signs-only near sports venues? Okay, then. So, no to “Free Tibet”, but yes to “HOORAY! I'M SO EXCITED ABOUT FREEING TIBET!”

Now, due to public pressure, and the BC Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit, the city is reconsidering the language in the by-law.

But still, negative press started building, and the city and the Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) tried to play it all down (It reminds me of a line from The Flintstones. Barney: Hi Betty what makes you think there's a body in the trunk?).

Then, the Vancouver police buy some military grade hardware (the LRAD), originally developed to combat pirates, as a public address system. It's main use is usually to emit ear-splitting noise, perfect for use in Fallujah and dispersing protesters, which is what it was used for at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh recently. Some people find it hard to believe it wouldn't be used in this manner, and the VPD public relations department resents having to work so hard to convince us otherwise.

And, of course, there's that other perennial problem for the Olympics – what to do with the homeless? British Columbia has a terrible record on dealing with the issue, but, just in time for the Olympics, it passes the Assistance to Shelter Act. Against our own Charter of Rights, it would allow police to sweep up the homeless and deliver them to shelters against their will. No shelter provider in Vancouver thinks this is a good idea.

Shelters are overcrowded and some people don't like to be packed in like that unless it's a four-man bobsled, preferring to bundle up and sleep outside. Actually, they prefer adequate housing, and a crammed shelter doesn't qualify. “I consider it to be a draconian piece of legislation, which I hope will receive...a court challenge,” said Miloon Kothari, the former United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing.

And so the paragon of virtue becomes a parvenu with a retinue of goons, and that's bad optics.

So, yeah, authorities are smarting a little from having their good intentions misinterpreted. They're terrified of protests and they don’t want to see any embarrassment for the different levels of government; they don’t want to see it on the national or international news.

You have to understand, this paranoia is a particularly acute Canadian problem. I get the feeling that China didn't give a rat's ass what anybody thought about its “free speech” zones. And when the Americans host the Olympics, well, what?—you gonna tell the Americans what to do? Didn't think so. They will not go gently into that fortnight.

And then there's Maude, er, I mean Canada. We care deeply about what people think about us. “Does France think I'm fat? What does Holland think about my bong policy? Does hiking up my skirt to the Olympic Franchise make me look cheap?”

Most Vancouverites know that people are being hurt by the Olympics, but they choose to disavow this knowledge in favour of the Olympics....”I know what I see on the streets before my eyes, but I pretend otherwise, because the authorities tell me that the Olympics are a good thing...”

In psychoanalysis, this 'disavowal' of the real has the structure of psychosis, and man, does that ever make some people PARANOID. And that makes us feel like the Amy Goodman's of the world are out to get us. Not gonna happen. People will like us. Must make people like us. Please like us.


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