Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Protesters' guide to the Olympics should be required reading

Liberal MLA Harry Bloy described anti-Olympic protesters, such as these seen on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature, as terrorists. John Lehmann photograph.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
December 2, 2009


The events no one wants to see at the Olympics are the barricade steeplechase, the truncheon two-step, or the freestyle Taser.

Last month’s launch of the torch relay in Victoria offered a hint of the ugly possibilities of confrontation between demonstrators and security forces.

The protestors blocked a street, forcing the torch convoy to take a detour. It was reported marbles were tossed, a danger to police horses, though the culprit was never identified. No arrests were made.

Some good people were inconvenienced, notably those runners whose turn with the torch was interrupted.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose the Olympics, but the behaviour of protestors in Victoria is unlikely to win converts to their point of view. How about this for a slogan: No chanting expletives within earshot of schoolchildren on native land, stolen or otherwise.

With an Olympic history suggesting little tolerance for security threats, understandably so in the wake of the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Games and, especially, the gruesome murder of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972, the potential exists for demonstrations to descend into street clashes.

Vancouver also has the unsettling history of the RCMP attacking protestors in 1997, the infamy of Sgt. Pepper and the joking dismissal of the incident by the prime minister.

With 72 days to go before the start of the Games, Vancouver lawyer Leo McGrady has issued a revised version of a manual describing how to exercise your rights when dealing with the police at a public demonstration.

An online version of the “Protesters’ Guide to the Law of Civil Disobedience in British Columbia: Olympic Edition” can be found at the Lawyers’ Rights watch Canada website at

The guide began as a three-page sheet distributed in 1970 to help protect those demonstrating against the Vietnam War.

Mr. McGrady came up with the idea after “one of my pals got himself involved in a scuffle that was unnecessary and could have been avoided.”

The first revision came in 1973 to aid those protesting American involvement in the coup in Chile. The guide has since expanded to 43 pages, including entries on what to bring to a demonstration (identification, water bottle, prescription drugs in original packaging) and what to leave at home (illegal drugs, contact book, anything resembling a weapon).

The guide’s purpose is to outline ways of engaging in civil disobedience without violating bylaws, or the Criminal Code.

“You do respect the law,” Mr. McGrady said yesterday. “If there is any violation of the law, you accept the consequences. That’s part of the tradition of civil disobedience and waht makes it so successful a tool for change.”

Mr. McGrady’s guide is a considerably more worthwhile contribution to the public conversation than an intemperate statement by Burnaby-Lougheed MLA Harry Bloy.

A few days after the Olympic torch began a cross-country trek, the Liberal backbencher stood in the Legislature to provide his reaction to the demonstrators who interrupted the relay.

“You know, there was a disappointing factor about the Olympics,” he said. “It was that 200-odd group of terrorists who came to Victoria from across Canada to interrupt the games.”

Moments later, he added, “They do not understand, these terrorists, the potential goodwill and economic benefits that come from these games, because they have a limited intellect and do not understand how the world truly operates.”

Apparently, you’re either with the Olympics, or you’re a terrorist.

At the end of my block, neighbours gathered to cheer on the torch runner, who was recognized by some in the crowd as a local teacher. The sound truck blaring praise for a sponsoring cola was obnoxious, but there was something likably Canadian about a co-operative effort by ordinary citizens to pass a torch by hand across this vast land.

One family from down the block wore Cowichan knit toques, an expression of solidarity with the women whose craft got belated recognition from Olympic organizers.

Some Olympic opponents offered tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of Bloy’s black-or-white view.

“Good news, I’m a terrorist. You could be, too,” the musician Matthew Good headlined a post on his blog.

“Perhaps, when he gets a moment, Mr. Bloy can explain to me how, given that he knows ‘how the world truly operates,’ what he intends to do with regards to the facts that this province has the highest child poverty rate in the country.”

Olympic rhetoric scoreboard: Matthew Good 1, Bloy Wonder 0.

Both should check out the Olympic Edition of Mr. McGrady’s guide, a mandatory document for demonstrators that should also be on the required reading list for all peace officers.