VANCOUVER — Days after a prominent Vancouver civil rights advocate stormed out of a community meeting with police about the 2010 Winter Games, the blue-ribbon panel advising security planners on the Olympics is giving them a cautious thumbs-up.
But the panel’s tepid endorsement of progress on civil liberties issues to date may not pacify a public increasingly edgy about Games-time security in light of reports police are infilitrating activist groups and border officials appearing to detain those who might speak out against the Games.
The Civil Liberties Advisory Committee has been meeting with Olympic organizers and the RCMP-led security team for months trying to make the issue of civil rights top of mind for them.
The committee issued its final report on Wednesday.
“The authorities do need to be watched closely, they need to be held to account,” said Michael Byers, a member of the committee and a professor at the University of British Columbia. “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.”
The report contained 13 recommendations, including a call for the immediate revocation of the Assistance to Shelter Act, a controversial B.C. law that allows police to force homeless people into shelter if the temperature drops.
Critics argued its goal was to clear the streets of homeless before Olympic visitors arrive.
The recommendations were fair and some have already been acted upon, said Cpl. Bert Paquet, a spokesman for the RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit.
“Do consultations with groups like CLAC have a direct impact on the way we do security? No,” said Paquet. “But it has a direct impact on how we are trying to minimize disruptions to people’s everyday lives but also to the rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights.”
One step that has been taken is the decision to leave one of Vancouver’s most hallowed ground for protest alone during the Games.
The north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a public space in the middle of downtown and over the years has hosted everything from pro-marijuana smoke-ins to anti-war demonstrations.
Given that it’s also home to the Olympic countdown clock, many had wondered what would happen to the space during the Games. But Byers said police appear to have listened to their suggestion that it simply be left as is.