Freedoms of Expressions Clash at Official Start of Olympic Spirit Train
It was mostly cloud Sunday afternoon -- September 21st, 2008 -- and though the Sun only showed occasionally, it wasn't rainy and it was very pleasantly warm for the assemblage who turned out for the launch of the "Olympic Spirit Train"¹. (image to left of 2010 Winter Olympic Locomotive -- image from Canadian Pacific) I didn't go to the event at the Port Moody West Coast Express Station, but I sure ended up experiencing it²
I was a bit buried in some work -- I have other projects on the go -- and hadn't realized that the Olympic Spirit Train was launching from just blocks away from The Gnomestead.³ I began to hear the sound of "tom toms" in the distance and at first thought the Air Cadet band had come to practise at the local schoolyard. The music continued and got louder and I realized that it must be coming from some sort of celebration which I figured was at the local Rocky Point Park -- they have an outdoor stage there. The music started to expand to include other cultures than Aboriginal American and was okay in the background and I sort of enjoyed the ethnic diversity we have here. But then I heard a different sort of chant and drum. That chanting and ranting that we have begun to hear again and again with all sorts of gathering where protesters have gathered -- whatever the protest or statement being made.
(Spirit Train Landscape -- Image from Canadian Pacific)
I must admit that the forms the chants take became boring to me years ago regardless of the words they put to them, but I recognize that the pattern and chanting helps to unify the protesters into a cohesive group. That is something important -- especially if you expect opposition of some sort.
I couldn't make out the words, but with the music sounding like there was some sort of "cultural mosaic" celebration I could only guess that the celebration was being protested by "Right-To-Life" people or perhaps it was a group protesting for or against gay rights. They seem to use the same sounding chants.
The chants being loud enough for me to hear from blocks away -- between 3 and 6 depending on where the event was -- became very annoying. Isn't it interesting how sound can be more annoying depending on content? Music you like at one volume in the distance is okay but music or chanting you don't like is annoying. The volume of the music began to increase too. It started to actually be louder than the music I had playing at the Gnomestead so I had to shut my windows for the remainder of the afternoon.
(Protest banners blocking CP Spirit Train Stage - image to right from No2010.com)⁷.
I found out later, on the 5-o'clock news, that it was the Olympic 'Spirit Train' send off celebration and that there was a fracas there with Anti 2010 Olympic protesters trying to interrupt the proceedings.
The protesters were protesting the Olympic Games' impact on the environment, the homeless, and on aboriginal rights.² There were around 3 dozen protesters.² Police arrested two people in connection with the protest. PM Police Sgt Phil Reid said he experted the protesters would be charged with assault.⁴ From the reports they say that the protesters where shouting "Homes, not Games!"⁴ and shouting down the scheduled entertainment for more than an hour. The performers turned up the volume but were unable to proceed.⁴
According to one of the protester's shouts:
"I think the idea is to make some f---in' noise here," shouted Garth Mullins, a fixture at anti-Olympic protests. "They're trying to drown us out, so let's drown them out."
(image to left taken by Dawn Paley of protesters from The Dominion)⁸
The protesters positioned two large banners so it was difficult for the audience to see the show and tempers flared when spectators tried to see the entertainment despite the banners and protesters. Colin Hansen, BC minister responsible for the Olympics; federal minister James Moore and four other guest speakers cancelled their speeches.⁴ One of the acts which was interfered with that was performing on stage was an aboriginal band. Cree musician Dallas Arcand sang and beat on a drum while his music was drowned out by screaming and banging on pots by the protesters.⁵
The protest did move from in front of the stage to the Canadian Pacific corporate tent next to a table where families were collecting autographed postcards.⁴ Eventually the protesters moved on to the Port Moody police station where the arrested protesters had been taken. The Globe and Mail⁶ reported 40 protesters were present.⁶ The Dominion's Dawn Paley⁸ puts the number of protesters at 50 while the No2010.com website places the number at up to 75 protesters. With the Canadian Press estimate of around 36 and from what it looked like on TV I would personally say that the number was between 36 and 50.
(image to right taken by Dawn Paley of protesters being arrested from The Dominion)⁸
There are a number of different sides to the whole episode. There is the side of the Olympic promoters and the people who were putting on the whole send off for the Olympic Spirit Train. There is the side of the Protesters who very much want their message to be heard on the injustices they see being done to the homeless or those who might become homeless and the aboriginal people, and the damage that they see being done to the environment. There is the side of the politician who does not want to see discord in the community. There is the side of the police who are there to keep the peace and the law... hopefully the two coincide. There is the side of the public who have come to be entertained at a family event and celebration open to the public. There is the side of the entertainers who are their to express themselves in their art. There is the side of the people in the neighbourhood who expect to live in a peaceful community and the businesses in the neighbourhood who expect the same.
It is not peaceful to sit at my desk in my room and listen to this protest war. The argument with the volume control over who can be loudest is not confined to those for or against the Olympics. While the protesters were heard to say that the protests did not bother or scare their children that they brought -- their children were brought to the event expecting to be taking part in their parent's protest. The children at the event were there with their parents expecting to be entertained at a show and they were -- from what I saw on camera and what parents and reporters said -- scared, afraid, or at least bothered by what was going on.
(No 2010 banner from no2010.com)
Perhaps the protesters nearly outnumbered the spectators? (Gord hill speaking on behalf of the "Olympics Resistance Network")⁸ Perhaps the police presence was too much with three separate police contingents? Regardless, there was too much something.
The event was attended by uniformed and undercover officers from:⁸ the Canadian Pacific Police Service, the Port Moody Police Department, and the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service. The Dominion Paper⁸ also reported a large group of private security guards from Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security. While I am not sure of numbers, I do note that the train is on CP property and their train and thus responsibility of their CP Police Service; the venue for the event being the Port Moody West Coast Express Station Park and Ride lot means that Translink is also responsible and thus the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority Police Service; and the whole station is in the City of Port Moody so it is fairly obvious that the Port Moody Police Department be there.
(image to left, Spirit Train - image from Canadian Pacific)
I am sure that a quiet protest at the entrance to the event with the banners and placards would have announced to everyone the issue without problem. But I am also sure that there was a desire for confrontation that would be enough to make news headlines and national television news coverage on the part of protesters. It was pointed out that a number of the faces among the protesters are regulars at many different sorts of protests and seem to be keys in organizing them. I recognize the faces without them being pointed out.
I do believe in freedom of expression -- which I believe is a part of freedom of speech -- but I think that there is a problem where what people are considering a "freedom of expression" is instead infringing on other's freedom of expression, and on other's rights to peacefully appreciate that freedom of expression.
People do have a right to peacefully protest and make their voice heard -- but stretching things just a slight bit farther to illustrate a point -- would they have the right to disrupt a movie in a theatre or a show on stage to make their point?
(image to right of Vancouver 2010 Mascot Wallpaper from Vancouver 2010)
I agree with some of the points of the protesters, but not the protest. I agree that there are also many benefits that come with hosting the Olympics as well. I do think that we could be getting greater benefit from the games and we could be creating fewer problems with them as well. But I don't think the protesters are helping with the way they are protesting.
I think that the protesters of the games lost much credibility before with some of their protests -- I think they may have lost a lot of support with their "demonstration" on the 21st.
¹ "Vancouver 2010 Mascots Sumi, Quatchi and Miga join the CP Spirit Train Experience" Breanne Geigel Sept 8, 2008; Canada Pacific
² "Departure of Olympic 'Spirit Train' met with protesters in B.C." Sep 21, 2008; The Canadian Press
³ If you hadn't gathered, "The Gnomestead" is the location from which I write and live.
⁴ "Protest mars Olympics fun" Ian Austin Sept 22, 2008; The Province
⁵ "Spirit Train spreads Games excitement" Allison Cross Sept 21, 2008; The Vancouver Sun
⁶ "Olympic spirit train makes debut in B.C." In Brief Sept 22, 2008; The Globe and Mail
⁷ "Banners Blocking CP Spirit Train Stage" No 2010 Olympics on Stolen Native Land -- Resist The 2010 Corporate Circus no2010.com
⁸ "Protesters Disrupt "Spirit Train" Sendoff" Dawn Paley Sept 21, 2008; The Dominion Paper.