It appears that my initial tour of downtown Vancouver came one day too soon. Somewhere within the many hours that I was buried deep inside a hotel meeting room, the city transformed itself into one that is worthy of and ready for hosting the Olympic Games. This transformation literally happened overnight, as though a fairy godmother sprinkled magical dust onto the city... and poof! January 30, Vancouver is a typically sedate Pacific Northwest city. By February 1, it has become scene and setting for one Olympic-sized international party. Open-air music concerts, Katarina Witt on the Robson Square skating rink, splashes of green and blue Vancouver 2010 signs, sweatshirts, buses and uniformed volunteeers on every corner. Busy traffic lanes have been shut down to make way for lively pedestrian zones, and every street is overflowing with snap-happy tourists. Two days before the Games are scheduled to kick off, there is a buzz and an excitement in the air that tell me this: Vancouver is ready.
These Games, of course, are the hot topic and headline news of every local news source in Vancouver, be it in print or on television. But next in line for hot topic, and something that is garnering quite a bit of media attention, is the protest movement here in Vancouver. February 12 marks the official start of the 2010 Games, and this day may also bear witness to what could be a large-scale and carefully organized protest march on the streets of Vancouver. Apparently there is a strong anti-Olympics movement in this Canadian province, headed up by The Olympic Resistance Network, an organization which seeks to draw attention to the "social injustices perpetrated by the Games." The group is expected to gather thousands of people in the vicinity of BC Place Stadium on Friday evening, with the goal of disrupting both the Torch Relay and the Opening Ceremony.
In regards to this protest, I will not take a political stance one way or another; this is not the appropriate forum to do so. I mention this news, rather, to draw attention to the remarkable freedom that the people of Canada enjoy: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly (you know, all those things we typically take for granted and never think twice about.) While in Beijing for the 2008 Games, there were whispers about an anti-Games demonstration there. Rumor had it that the government approved a small area of land where this event could take place, the time it could take place, and the manner in which it could be conducted, and in effect corralled the "dissidents" into a predetermined area far enough away from view and from the Olympic venues to have no real impact. I am not sure if the demonstration actually happened, because there was no local media coverage of the event. In fact, throughout the Games, there was no local media coverage of anything that leaned even slightly toward the negative. All newscasts (of which all channels in all languages were run by the government) aired shiny, happy, Olympic-bubble news. For 6 weeks, I was living in a shiny, happy Olympic bubble.
The not so shiny reality - one that is quite disturbing - is this: if the demonstration did happen in Beijing, the protestors were probably arrested soon thereafter. So whether I agree or disagree with the Olympic Resistance movement here in Vancouver is irrelevant. Whether I am slightly irritated that it may disrupt our carefully planned access route into the Stadium on Friday afternoon is beside the point. Regardless of all of this, I tip my toque to those citizens who are willing to organize themselves for a cause. I thank my lucky stars that I come from a country where we are legally entitled to such basic human freedoms. And I am reminded once again just how lucky I am to have been born on this side of the Pacific Ocean.