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Olympic Civil Liberties Advisory Committee releases recommendations

'The authorities do need to be watched closely': professor

Traditional free speech areas such as the Vancouver Art Gallery lawn need to be preserved and protest areas should not be fenced in during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Those are among 13 recommendations outlined by the 2010 Olympic Civil Liberties Advisory Committee (CLAC) in a report released Dec 2.

The committee, consisting of a retired judge, academics and lawyers, hope their recommendations to Games organizers will preserve civil liberties during the February Olympics.

CLAC members Prof Michael Byers and Prof Neil Boyd say the planning organizations understand that failing to allow citizens to express opinions during the Games will have a negative impact on police forces, governments and the country as a whole.

“The authorities do need to be watched closely, they need to be held to account,” says Byers. “But our point here is that through our consultations we have encountered goodwill, we have encountered learning on the part of the authorities with respect to civil liberties.

“We have reason to hope that all will go well,” Byers says.

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.

Boyd and Byers say they are pleased the RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit (ISU) and the Vancouver Police Department have accepted invitations from the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Pivot Legal Society to have several senior officers take the training provided to legal observers.

The legal observer program was developed to act as a watchdog on Games security forces to ensure civil rights are not violated.

Last month, the BCCLA said it had asked for assurances that no agents provocateurs would be used during the Games.

The BCCLA’s executive director, David Eby, reiterated Wednesday that no such assurances have been forthcoming from the ISU.

What’s more, says Eby, police have already used officers to infiltrate protester groups.

He says Victoria police chief Jamie Graham (who was Vancouver’s police chief prior to Jim Chu) has boasted that an undercover police officer was driving the bus of protesters bound for the Olympic torch lighting in Victoria at the end of October.

Eby wants assurances that police will be prohibited from “inciting wrongful acts and from infiltrating and leading in the planning of protests.”

ISU spokesperson Cpl Jen Allan told Xtra last month that “agents provocateurs will not be used during the Games. Our tactics would always be in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian law.”

Boyd says he has “been assured police won’t do that.”

The Olympic Civil Liberties Advisory Committee also recommends that any use of closed-circuit television cameras during the Games be strictly monitored and that any footage be destroyed at Games’ end.

CLAC met with Games organizers, including the RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit and the City of Vancouver, to ensure plans for securing the Games and protecting Olympic sponsor contracts were in line with Canadian civil rights laws.

The civil rights panel also called for immediate revocation of the provincial Assistance to Shelter Act, which allows police to force homeless people into shelters if the temperature drops.

“The timing is rather suspicious,” says Boyd. “There was no need to bring in the Assistance to Shelter Act unless, of course, you want to clear the streets.”

Critics allege the act exists to sanitize the Downtown Eastside during the Games.

Byers and Boyd say they were given access to security plans to conduct their work but cannot reveal them due to confidentiality issues.