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Calls for an Olympic security code of conduct

'Constant danger of disproportionate use of force': BCCLA

East Vancouver’s queer member of Parliament, Libby Davies, is calling for a code of conduct for security forces during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

A spokesperson for the Games’ Integrated Security Unit (ISU) says Davies will need to provide a letter detailing what form of code she would like to see.

“We would provide a response,” promises ISU spokesperson Cpl Jen Allan.

Davies says such a code should be printed and circulated. She says it could be a popular tool for holding the more than 14,000 police, military and private security officers accountable for their behaviour during the Games.

“We know they are susceptible to public opinion,” Davies says.

Davies was among six speakers at a forum on Olympic security issues Nov 9 who discussed the constitutionality of Olympic security measures and legislation to deal with the homeless.

The panelists also fielded questions from the more than 120 people in attendance on levels of force security officials can use against perceived threats.

Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) pulled no punches in outlining possible nightmare scenarios for the Games.

“Security logic is a form of insanity,” she says. “Security logic tries to add every form of security risk no matter how ridiculous.”

And that, she says, raises “the constant danger of the disproportionate use of force.”

Vonn says the BCCLA has asked security officials for assurances that police agitators will not be used to agitate protesters.

She says such assurances have not been forthcoming.

“The peaceful protests are probably going to be dangerous,” she says, “Not because of the peaceful protesters but because of the dangerous police.”

But Allan tells Xtra West, “agents provocateur will not be used during the Games. Our tactics would always be in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian law,” she says.

Vonn suggests people get a copy of the BCCLA’s rights manual so they know their rights.

Among the laws in question are those in the city’s proposed bylaw package due back before Vancouver city council the first week in December, says lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth.

Civil liberties groups say the bylaws and provincial enabling legislation would restrict constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of expression.

Woodsworth is urging people to attend council and contact politicians and the media to protest the bylaws.

But, with the laws in place, says Laura Track of Pivot Legal Society, comes the threat of arrest. She says plans are already underway to have lawyers doing pro bono work in place to assist those who may be arrested.

She says while many of the Vancouver’s courts will be closed during the Games period, first appearance and bail courts will remain operational.

Security plans for the Games will put 15,000 police officers, private security and military personnel in Vancouver and Whistler, where alpine events are being staged. Four thousand Canadian troops will be on hand with air, land and water support.

US forces will be involved through NORAD – the joint Canadian and American defence agency.

There was a public outcry when it was revealed Games security costs would be almost $1 billion, four times the initial 2002 estimate.

Critics were first outraged when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced there would be “free speech zones” for protesters.

Now, Olympic officials say, there will be protest areas set aside within sight of venues and media. But, stress officials, protesters do not have to use those areas.

It remains to be seen what will happen to protesters who do not use those areas.

There have also been fears raised that private security officers not understanding the laws and constitutional rights will breach the rights of those who protest outside designated protest zones.

Vonn says the mechanism for complaints against private security companies is “deplorable.”

She suggests people be ready to deal with problems there through civil court actions.

Track says Pivot and the BCCLA are training legal observers to watch all security and to act as witnesses to abuses should the need arise.

Vonn also says there is an added post-Games threat to Vancouver. She says the implementation of Games security will leave behind “a dangerous security infrastructure.”

Davies shares her concern.

“It’s not really about the Olympics, it’s about a general security agenda,” she says. “International events are used as a vehicle to bring in regressive security measures. When we have gotten used to that, we won’t worry about it anymore.”