Olympics fall short of Vancouver residents’ expectations

Patrick Miner

Now that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games have come to a close, the city of Vancouver is returning to everyday operation. But despite the international attention brought to the city by the games and the foreign monies poured into the local economy at restaurants and shops, many problems present in Vancouver before the Olympics began or those caused by the Olympics remain unsolved.
Since the 2003 selection of Vancouver as the 2010 Winter Games host, the number of people in Vancouver without housing has more than doubled. 1,300 low-income housing units have been removed. An area of Vancouver called the downtown eastside is one of the hardest hit by displacements. It is the poorest neighborhood in Canada and it has the highest HIV infection rate in North America.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, funds for public works and to improve education and medical care have been decreasing despite this crucial need. Many blame the recent global economic recession for these cutbacks, yet the budget for the Olympic Games themselves increased dramatically over the same time period.
The total budget is estimated at six billion dollars, one billion of which was spent on security measures. Using those funds, the Vancouver police have been cracking down on dissent, making questionable arrests and using excessive force against protesters.
Border police have been detaining and questioning reporters about their intended topics of inquiry. Many have had their personal belongings searched, including files on their computers and notes, letters, papers, etc. Some journalists have been denied entry to either the U.S. or Canada due to intentions to speak out against the 2010 Olympic Games.
As per usual, these violations of freedom of expression rights committed along our northern border and the protests in Vancouver and all across Canada have not been covered in the mass media. NBC, the only television network allowed to air the Olympics in the U.S., was eager to cover similar protests during the 2008 Beijing Olympics but did cover the much larger, much more frequent protests at these games.
Underlying much of the controversy over the Olympics is the ongoing struggle between the Canadian government and the native populations of the country. Only four percent of the Canadian population is descended from indigenous peoples, but this same minority accounts for nearly 20 percent of inmates in Canadian prisons.
On many reservations, drinking water is unsafe, disease rates are off the charts and infrastructure is dilapidated and infested with mold. This while Canada has more fresh water than any other country in the world.
The main slogan found on protest banners during the Olympics was “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.” The incorporation of the First Nations into both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Games created an interesting juxtaposition with this widespread slogan. There was a huge gap between the message of unity displayed during the Olympic festivities and the actuality that relied on the misuse of indigenous lands and the slashing of public programs.
Cities that have hosted the Olympics in the past have been precursors to Vancouver in their lack of vision for the enhancement of the lives of their inhabitants. Though the Olympics are meant to bear a message of global peace and respect, each host city fails to bring legitimate improvements to the lives of its residents. Vancouver has disrespected and stolen from its indigenous peoples and spent billions on the games when more and more of the city’s people need help.
I enjoy watching the Olympics and sincerely wish that they could be the transformative, peaceful events they aspire to be, but as long as the International Olympic Committee, its corporate sponsors and the host cities support policies of exclusion, censorship and prejudice, this ideal will never be.