The Vancouver Olympics; a critical retrospect
24.08.2010By Laura Robinson
The following text is Laura Robinson's contribution to Olympiaboken 2010 (The Olympic Book 2010). Olympiaboken was first published in 1948 and is published by the Swedish Olympic Committee who issues an edition after each Olympic Winter and Summer Games.
“VANOC is under enormous pressure to stage the 2010 Winter Games in a responsible manner. This responsibility includes our commitment to be open and transparent in our practices.”
-Sustainability Report 2007-08
It’s All About Spin
On July 2, 2003 when Vancouver was awarded the Olympics, the bid showcased Aboriginal people as partners, promised a “Green Olympics” and that social inclusion was a fundamental policy, and to operate under Canadian human-rights laws, something VANOC summed up as the “Sustainable Games.” But did they?
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, included in the Canadian Constitution since1982, is the supreme law of Canada. No law supersedes the Charter, but it only applies to three levels of government—municipal, provincial and federal—not private institutions, which are covered by either the Canadian Human Rights Code or the human rights codes of individual provinces.
Three years after VANOC committed to the country’s human-rights laws, the IOC Olympic Programme Commission recommended to the IOC executive in November 2006 that women’s ski jumping not be added to the Games. Soon after this, on November 20, members of the Canadian Women’s Ski Jumping Team wrote to VANOC asking them to support equality. This would be difficult for VANOC as Canadian Walter Sieber was a member of the IOC Program Commission that recommended exclusion, and a VANOC Board member. They would not act against a recommendation from a board member, or the IOC. Legally, VANOC said they were a “mini-franchise” of the IOC, not an agency answerable to Canadians, even though public money funded them. One week later the IOC accepted the Program Commission’s recommendation, voting to not allow women’s competition.
In January 2007 the Canadian ski jumping championships were held at Whistler Olympic Park. American Lindsay Van set a hill record and recorded the most points for men or women on the 90-metre hill. She was also the top American in the men’s competition on the Large Hill. Three years later she watched as the American men she flew past were allowed to compete while she had to stay home. Though the ”best of the world” was at the Olympics, only two male athletes surpassed Van’s 2009 jump of 105.5—both of them medalists.
In September 2007, Jan Willis, mother of Canadian ski jumper Kati Willis, filed a complaint on behalf of her daughter and other female ski jumpers at the Canadian Human Rights Commission, saying the federal government discriminated against females. Two months later, VANOC started construction of the approximately $122 million Nordic facility (budgeted at $102 million), paid for by the Canadian and British Columbian public. On January 8, 2008 Canadian Secretary of Sport at the time, Helen Guergis, declared, after mediation with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the athletes, that she would lobby the IOC to include females in ski jumping. The women athletes agreed to settle the case. At the BC Supreme Court in April 2009 evidence was entered showing that Guergis made one call to Jacque Rogge, which was unsuccessful. The next secretary of sport, Gary Lunn, stated that only the IOC could determine whether or not women’s ski jumping should be an Olympic sport, and he would not influence their decision--a direct contravention of the government’s agreement at the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
On May 21, 2008 an international group of women ski jumpers--the “Flying Fourteen” filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against VANOC, saying they had contravened Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the section that guarantees equality before and under the law. The athletes were organized by Women’s Ski Jumping USA president Deedee Corradini, who is the former mayor of Salt Lake City where skeleton for both sexes and women’s bobsleigh were added as sports at the 2002 Olympics.
On April 20, 2009, the lawsuit against VANOC commenced. Walter Sieber supplied a 200-page affidavit devoting several pages extolling the commitment of the IOC, which has a 94 male and 16 female membership, to the rights of women around the world. Sieber wrote glowingly about the IOC’s Women’s Commission for instance, the composition of which is nearly 50% male, and includes five men from the military.
The ski jumpers did not argue that VANOC must add women’s ski jumping to the Games, because they knew only the IOC had this right. They argued that VANOC delivered a government activity in planning, organizing, financing, and staging the Games, therefore is bound by the equality laws of the Charter. Carrying out their Olympic duties without women’s ski jumping contravened the Charter. Because VANOC could not add an event, the athletes asked the presiding judge for the declaration below which allowed for one of three scenarios:
If VANOC plans, organizes, finances and stages ski jumping events for men in the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, then a failure to plan, organize, finance and stage a ski jumping event for women violates their equality rights, as guaranteed in Section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is not saved under Section 1
The scenarios were as follows:
1) Move the ski jumping event to another country that does not have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
2) Cancel the men’s event.
3) Add the women’s event; a competition that would take half a day.
They did not want to resort to a cancellation or allocation outside of Canada.
Justice Lori Ann Fenlon of the BC Supreme Court asked VANOC lawyers if the IOC told VANOC that no black people were allowed to compete at the Olympics would they have to abide? They tried to skirt the question, but finally admitted that, yes, the IOC’s request would be honoured and no black people would be allowed.
On July 10, 2010 Justice Fenlon dismissed the ski jumpers’ claim, saying the IOC was acting in a discriminatory manner, but because the IOC resides in Switzerland, it is not bound by the Canadian Charter. The court supported VANOC’s argument that it could not add women’s ski jumping because their contract with the IOC gave the latter all rights to determine all sports. The argument of the ski jumpers—that they were not asking that VANOC add ski jumping, only that the declaration that states they could not host an Olympics that contravened the Charter -- was not addressed. The judge did decide, however, that VANOC delivered a “uniquely governmental activity” and therefore was bound by the Charter.
On July 21, 2009 the athletes filed a Notice of Appeal, and on November 12-13 the BC Court of Appeal heard the case, unanimous in their finding to dismiss. They decided, as the BC Supreme Court had, that VANOC was unable to affect a decision contracted to the IOC. Still the athletes did not give up. By the end of November they had asked for Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. They did not allow Leave, which meant the court believed the previous decisions should stand.
The women were devastated. Most had lost any sponsorship they had as sponsors realized they would not be at the Olympics. Dick Pound, a board member of VANOC and the IOC had commented that if the women won they would “screw” Canada’s chances at holding another Games. During an interview prior to the opening ceremonies he said they should not assume they will compete in Sochi as it was not a good idea to “embarrass” the IOC.
The case was front page news, but what gains and losses in human rights were made? A legal decision plainly finding the IOC discriminated against women is a big gain. The IOC’s ratio of men to women is replicated in virtually all powerful sport organizations. Of the 18 members of the FIS executive committee, 17 are men. The Canadian Olympic Committee board of directors is a little better with 15 men and 6 women, while VANOC’s board had 15 men and 5 women. Sport equity advocates from other countries—mainly British Commonwealth countries and the U.S.--may be able to use this decision, depending on their country’s legal relationship with Canada.
But there was great damage done to human rights in that the decision allows for illegal discrimination to become legal through the contractual agreement between VANOC and the IOC.
A powerful organization in sport, or any other area, can contract with an organization that receives hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds as an Olympic organizing committee does; use the contract that resides in another country to ensure that both organizations are not bound by human rights law, and then use public funds to pay for the discriminatory act. Events at facilities where activities normally considered discriminatory under the host country’s law, such as the ski jumping facility, are suddenly legally able to discriminate. There is a good chance it was only a temporary jump. What, then, is the ultimate “legacy” of this sport and for equality in Canadians and international sport? VANOC sent a posse of lawyers who spent months preparing their case against the women athletes, arguing VANOC should not adhere to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
On top of this, neither VANOC nor the IOC had sexual harassment or sexual assault policies protecting athletes during the Games, despite the IOC’s 2005 Consensus Statement recognizing the inherent power imbalance between athletes and those in power, and the subsequent increased risk to athletes this imbalance creates. VANOC claimed National Olympic Committees have sexual harassment policies. When asked how they knew this, they did not respond. Even if this was the case, the policies only covered athletes if someone from their country harassed or assaulted them.
This unwillingness to protect athletes can be seen in a broader context through the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. The B.C. Coroner’s office investigated, but they do not have expertise in the relative safety of sliding facilities and luge. Had a worker died during construction of the facility, unions and health and safety organizations would have also investigated, whether the worker was Canadian or not, but because it was an athlete who died, there were no objective sport-knowledgeable organizations investigating on his behalf. The International Luge Federation and the IOC, who did investigate were also the agencies that declared the facility safe in the first place.
This laissez faire relationship with safety is ironic given the nearly $1 billion VANOC spent on the Integrated Security Unit ensuring a safe and secure Games. After the first week of the Games, two members of the ISU had been charged with sexual assault after two female officers reported alleged assaults on one of the cruise ships providing accommodation. These incidences are bound to happen, but there was a much deeper and profoundly more serious issue in terms of sexual assault. On March 17, 2010 the Vancouver Police Department issued a press release outlining how overall crime decreased from February 12 to March 1 during the Olympics saying, “property crime fell almost six percent with 1,730 incidents reported compared to 1,839 last year” but “violent crime increased from 324 in 2009 to 421 in 2010, an increase of almost thirty percent. Sexual assault rose from sixteen reported cases to twenty-seven, and common assault rose from two hundred and fifty to three hundred and forty.” This was an almost 60% jump in sexual assault.
In Canada for every sexual assault reported to police there are at least ten unreported. These numbers are actually 160 sexual assaults in 2009 and 270 in 2010 for Vancouver from February 12-March 1. Added to these numbers are statistics from Women’s Against Violence Against Women/Rape Crisis Centre, an organization that accompanies women to hospitals for the administration of the “rape kit.” Normally “five to six women a month” come to them, according to executive director Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer, but in the 24-hours after the Canadian men’s hockey team won gold, five women contacted the centre and were accompanied to the hospital, all alleging a sexual assault directly tied to game “celebrations.” In total eight women came to them during the sixteen days of the Games. They estimate that only 6% to 10% of women who are raped actually seek them out. Their statistics are only for Vancouver, not the surrounding area, or Whistler, which has a higher than normal rate of sexual assaults relative to the national average. Whistler does not have a women’s shelter; victims are transported nearly 100 km south to Squamish’s Howe Sound Women’s Shelter. The shelter asked British Columbia for additional funding of $35,000.00 (equal to one official VANOC General Motors Vehicle) when they estimated, by using statistics from the Salt Lake City Olympics, that violent crime against women and children would increase 10% to 36%. The province refused, and VANOC “would not deign to speak to women’s groups” says Tsepnopoulose-Elhaimer.
Freedom of Expression:
The right to freedom of expression in Canada is expressed in Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, an abbreviation follows:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media communications
c) freedom of peaceful assembly.
Professor Chris Shaw of the University of British Columbia, and many others who spoke out against the Olympics, did not feel protected by the Charter in the lead up to the Games. Dr. Shaw is an advocate of civil society. In 2008 he wrote “Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games.” The book chronicles cost overruns, to the destruction of pristine Eagle Ridge to make way for a widened Sea to Sky Highway, to the death of Tsimshian First Nation elder Harriet Nahanee from pneumonia, days after she was released from detention for camping on Eagle Ridge and facing down bulldozers. He spoke out against the Games at anti-Olympic rallies, but he did not expect to be subjected to police interrogation and surveillance.
On June 3, 2009 two police officers from the ISU interrupted his walk to work, interrogated him about his book, and told him they didn’t like what he had written. They visited his ex-wife, trying to pry information out of her, and other anti-Olympics activists, interrogating their neighbours, co-workers, and friends, discrediting those who spoke out against the Games. All of these advocates were under the impression that VANOC understood that freedom of expression was sacrosanct.
The ISU continued to harass and intimidate throughout the fall; even confronting a friend of Shaw’s who was about to write an exam at a local college, saying they wanted to talk about Shaw, and wanted her cell phone number. She gave no information, but when she finished the lengthy exam, they were still there. Shaw’s friend reported the ISU to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who had already commenced a lawsuit against the City of Vancouver for their draconian Olympic anti-ambush marketing by-law. As it stood, after 24-hours, police could break into a home or business, arrest the occupant and confiscate material that was deemed as “ambush marketing.” By then the anti-Olympic movement had taken the five rings, turned them into handcuffs and put them on everything from posters to t-shirts. The Civil Liberties Association only withdrew the lawsuit when the city changed the by-law’s wording so it protected the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. As soon as this happened city officials “cleaned” the “graffiti” on an art gallery that had turned one of the rings into a frown. The gallery had installed the work as art, not graffiti.
At the same time VANOC issued the following press release:
”A balance of interests: freedom of expression in public spaces, athletes competing at their best and spectator enjoyment at the 2010 Games:
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) is working closely with its partners to provide a reasonable balance of interests at the 2010 Winter Games including freedom of expression in public spaces; the protection of Olympic marks and Games sponsors against commercial infringement and ambush marketing; and venues where athletes can compete at their very best before spectators who can fully enjoy the events.
The following outlines VANOC’s position and intentions on freedom of expression in public areas, commercial rights management and the terms and conditions of attendance at Games venues, which are entirely consistent with international sporting event norms:
I. Respect for Freedom of Expression in Balance with the Celebration of Sport
- VANOC and its partners respect every citizen’s right to freedom of expression as protected by Canadian law.
- VANOC also recognizes the need to find the balance for all; including respecting and protecting the rights of athletes, spectators and sponsors, as agreed to when Canada won the right to host the 2010 Winter Games.”
On November 27, 2009 American writer and radio host Amy Goodman tried to cross the border as she was invited to speak about her book “Breaking the Sound Barrier” at the Victoria and Vancouver public libraries. The Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA) detained her for 90-minutes, demanded she supply her notes and computer to examine, questioned her about what she might say about the Olympics, and issued a document that gave her 48 hours to leave Canada. Goodman’s book has nothing to do with the Olympics. Erna Paris, president of the Writer’s Union of Canada wrote to senior politicians and to John Furlong, VANOC CEO about the treatment of Shaw and Goodman:
“The Writers’ Union distinguishes between the legitimate crime-prevention role of police and the right to free expression that is fundamental to our democracy. It is disturbing to learn that a member of the Integrated Securities Union suggested to an author that he disapproved of the author's work. Such behaviour, coming from a person carrying out a security function, appears to have been purposively intimidating.
When the police included Dr. Shaw’s opinions in their questioning they challenged the right to freedom of speech that is the bedrock of Canadian society. The Writers’ Union requests your formal assurance that authors and journalists who are critical of the Canadian Olympics will be free from such intimidation.”
As the Games commenced American journalist Martin Macias was also detained by the CBSA, and interrogated by the ISU and American authorities at the border. He was not charged, not allowed to make a phone call, even to a lawyer, and was denied entry.
Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran protested the VANOC contract artists had to sign in order to be part of the Cultural Olympiad, and excerpted it on his website: “The artist shall at all times refrain from making negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.”
He said VANOC told him he could be part of the Olympiad if he read a poem on the theme, “equality” but in doing so he would have contravened the contract. His poem is entitled, “In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No: For the 14 Women Ski Jumpers Petitioning to be Included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.” Cran eventually camped out with those protesting homelessness in Vancouver, and wrote that the VANOC directive against freedom of expression “came at a time when our provincial government announced its plans to cut art funding by as much as 90%. This has put many cultural organizations in jeopardy and created tension in the arts community between those who are now prevented from speaking their mind because of their contracts and those who feel it is the right time to speak up.”
Journalists covering the Games had to use Bell Net Zone internet at press centres as Bell Canada was an Olympic sponsor. Access to the internet cost publications $600.00 per line for three weeks. Bell had a monopoly on internet access within Olympic areas. Given the deadlines they had to meet, few journalists even read the contract:
“By logging onto this service you agree to abide by the following terms of service:
The service provider reserves the right to restrict or terminate your ability to use this service without prior notice if the service is used for illegal purposes…or if the account is used for activity that is deemed to degrade or otherwise negatively impact the performance of the service for other users. To this end, the service provider reserves the right to monitor your use of the network for any time and in any manner.”
At the June, 2010 Annual General Meeting of the Writer’s Union of Canada a motion to address this flagrant contravention of the right of journalists, writers and artists to freedom of expression was put forth and was passed by a large majority.
VANOC defines sustainability as “managing the social, economic and environmental impacts and opportunities of our Games to produce lasting benefits, locally and globally.” This chapter is a snapshot and does not purport to be comprehensive.
It was impossible for even the casual visitor to Vancouver not to notice the over 4,600 VANOC vehicles on the road—mainly SUV’s or pick-up trucks, which had one or two occupants. VANOC devoted 300 of these vehicles to chauffeur VIP guests. One anonymous volunteer said he mainly drove a VIP to parties or took his wife shopping. When asked why VIP’s could not use public transit at the Sustainable Games, VANOC’s Director of Corporate Sustainability Ann Duffy cited IOC protocol.
Duffy will not disclose how many American bus companies were contracted as venue shuttle buses, or the carbon footprint created driving them from the southern U.S., to venues (especially to Whistler which has an existing rail system in place). She will not acknowledge emails or phone calls asking why the railway between Vancouver and Whistler was not upgraded instead of widening of the Sea to Sky Highway. Duffy will not answer or acknowledge emails asking how many trucks and helicopters were used to transport snow to Cypress Mountain and the subsequent carbon footprint. Nor will she answer or acknowledge emails asking what the carbon footprint was of having snowmaking machines going non-stop at Cypress Mountain from late November to January or questions about the use of ammonium nitrate to harden snow. Reviewing VANOC’s “Sustainable Games” requires a book; this chapter will suffice with looking at one venue.
Whistler Olympic Park (WOP), the Nordic venue, is located in the Callaghan Valley, approximately 90 km north of Vancouver, 15 km south of Whistler and 12 km west of the Sea to Sky Highway. On November 23, 2002 before the bid was won, the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, who claimed the area as their traditional lands, signed a Shared Legacies Agreement (SLA) with the province of B.C. and Vancouver Bid Co. Historically First Nation people in B.C. had not signed treaties with the Crown, so with few exceptions, all B.C. land has been claimed by First Nations. The Olympics were occurring on Musqueam, Tsleil-Watututh, Squamish and Lil’wat traditional lands. The Bid Co had to ensure the leaders of each nation were on board in order to win approval from the IOC, and so created the Four Host First Nations by working with leaders from the four communities. Agreements were written into the SLA. For instance, land referred to as “Payakentsat” (A Wild Spirit Place) by the Squamish and other sacred land for both nations in the area near WOP would be protected.
The agreement also recognized the “current conflict development pressures in the Valley, including the proposal for the Nordic Centre.” The WOP site was causing conflict, not only because people did not necessarily trust the negotiating process, but because, like many parts of Canada, both nations had claimed it as their traditional territory. They had historically hunted, fished and existed in overlapping areas and didn’t necessarily want the rainforest slashed and wildlife threatened. But the Squamish and Lil’wat chiefs agreed to share in the “economic development” of Callaghan Valley and the SLA included “…potential uses on these lands including, but not limited to, a public championship or executive golf course, Nordic Lodge (75-100 room facility) and recreational campground (including RV [huge vehicles, equipped with televisions, etc]) and related services.” In addition to this, they also received significant parcels of land in the Whistler area.
On February 2, 2005, a Letter of Mutual Understanding was signed by the province, VANOC, and FHFN; the Squamish and Lil’wat handed over Callaghan Valley to VANOC, weakening their claim to the land. On May 10, 2007, the Squamish and Lil’wat signed the Legacy Land Agreement with the Resort Municipality of Whistler which gave them parcels of valuable land in the Whistler area.
All totalled there would be one representative each from the Lil’wat and Squamish Nations on the Whistler Sports Legacy Society (WSLS), the body charged with running WOP, the sliding centre and the athlete’s village post-Olympics. By 2007 an application was made for a golf course on land near WOP. Certain politicians, families, and businessmen did very well. But many others quietly disapproved, while others formed the advocacy group “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.”
VANOC applied to have an environmental assessment done of the Callaghan Valley and on April 5, 2005 the Cumulative Environmental Effects Assessment Certificate from the B.C. Ministry of the Environment (MOE) was received. In 2007 they amended the certificate and MOE granted permission to add “legacy trails” designed for recreational skiers, for a total of 55 km of trails, with another 48 km cut by Callaghan Country--a “wilderness” ski area adjacent to WOP.
Before the Olympics neither the paved road in, nor WOP existed. The area was a dense rain forest, receiving the third highest amount of precipitation in Canada. VANOC says it was “previously logged” but venue chief operating officer John Arlberg says he got his “first real look at it in April 2004. It was very thick. I couldn’t see anything in the summer—you could hardly see more than three metres in front of you because of the dense forest.” He stated that the trails are “the most expensive” ever cut at $150,000.00 per kilometre.
The first big cut of trees occurred when the 12-km road was built into the valley, which then allowed crews in the rainforest where they cut trails wide enough for logging trucks. Whistler Watch—an environmental organization--reports that 100,000 old growth trees were cut—enough for 500 fully loaded logging trucks. The only way to get to Whistler Olympic Park is by a private vehicle, as there is no public transit so VANOC created over 500 parking spots—each space representing one full truck of old-growth trees.
VANOC did not respond to questions asking why the rail system was not upgraded so skiers could go by train from Vancouver to WOP’s road entrance and use a shuttle service to the trails, thus eliminating 180 km round trips by private vehicles and most parking spaces. Both Whistler Watch and AWARE—Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment spoke critically about what VANOC was doing to WOP. Neither organization are opposed to international sporting events, but stated the Vancouver Olympics “were not green” and that the area had been “irreversibly damaged by the Games.”
The legacy trails are built in black and grizzly bear habitat, and in 2007 during intense construction an unprecedented 11 black bears were hit on the Sea to Sky Highway. In the spring of 2008, Arlberg saw 8 black bears while building the legacy trails. Though the MOE gave approval to build, grizzlies are listed by the B.C. government as being at risk, and are also very dangerous to humans. Though attacks are rare, Canadian cross country skiers and biathletes training in summer have been killed by grizzlies and black bears. When bears kill humans they are in turn killed. The same situation exists for cougars, also found in the area.
According to Lindsay Durno, now manager of WOP there is no activity yet in the park concerning cross country athletes as they are still reestablishing the area after the Olympics. In 2007 there were plenty of bears in the area but when the construction of the Olympic Park began, the bears dissapeared, Durno says. This spring, however, the bears have returned in numbers equal to the 2007 numbers.
The legacy society has seeded the land on either side of the 12-km access road with a mix of fertilizer, goose droppings, grass seed and mountain flora, and then even more grass seed was added. The bears are very attracted to it as a source of food, and are being followed by wolves and coyotes.
Many questions remain. The snow is extraordinarily wet; therefore waxing is very difficult. Snow in the track can be completely different from the surrounding snow, while precipitation can arrive as rain, but turn to snow at slightly higher elevations. How novice and intermediate skiers will cope with these challenges and hard, pellet-like precipitation remains to be seen.
To counteract humid snow, during the Olympics, VANOC said they used urea ([NH2]2CO) on the trails; a fertilizer that hardens snow at above freezing temperatures. Fertilizer has long been used by ski event organizers on Canada’s West Coast because of warm temperatures and high humidity. Temperatures at the Olympics reached 10C+ under sunny skies or around zero when snowfall was super-saturated. Both conditions made for very soft tracks and slow skiing. However volunteer groomers say they did not use urea; but rather ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) that was administered twice a day on the race course and warm-up/wax area. It is a more powerful hardening agent that works faster. Groomers said they used “dozens” of 20 litre pails each time they groomed.
Even though one of the head groomers said they used virtually only ammonium nitrate, present manager of WOP, Lindsay Durno says that 1,430 kg of ammonium nitrate prilled and 4,900 kg of prilled urea were used during the Games on the Olympic trails ecosystem which includes eight ponds and a stream.
The BC Ministry of the Environment continued to avoid answering all questions about the use of fertilizers in WOP. In total, they did not answer a single request for information from May 2010 to the end of July 2010.
B.C.'s Freedom of Information office did finally respond to requests for all information on VANOC's use of snow hardening agents (fertilizer) at WOP. VANOC never mentioned in any of their documents to the Ministry of the Environment, both provincially or federally, that they were planning to use fertilizer on the snow. Durno says they have been using it on the ski jump since 2007.
Ammonium nitrate is often used in roadside bombs. One of the groomers said trace amounts were so great on skiers, volunteers and staff, bomb-sniffing dogs were removed from the venue. It also has a negative effect on wetlands, particularly ponds where it accumulates and contributes to algae growth through eutrophication, or nitrate contamination, killing the pond, harming mammals living in and by it, and contaminating drinking water. The international fertilizer company Kemira’s Health and Safety instructions read, “If any water containing ammonium nitrate enters any drains or watercourse, inform the local authorities immediately.” Their Ecological Information reads, “Vegetation in contact with dilute ammonium nitrate solution may suffer leaf scorching. In rivers, lakes, etc. dilute ammonium nitrate solution may increase the nitrate content above the recommended values for drinking water. Due to nutrient properties, spills to static water may cause massive algai blooms and affect local species population balance in the aquatic environment.”
Anyone handling the chemical should “wear eye and hand protection” and “safety showers and eye wash facility at any location where skin or eye contact can occur” should be provided. The grooming team wore ski gloves and no extra eye protection. They say they felt protected because they used pellets that dissolved in the snow. “We used lots. Hundreds of litres because we used 20 litre pails and dozens and dozens of pails every time we groomed. That’s what saved us” said an anonymous groomer.
Neither the 2005 nor the 2007 Cumulative Environmental Affects Certificate (CEAC) applied for by VANOC to federal and provincial Ministry of Environments mention ammonium nitrate or urea under their “Operations” category. VANOC’s sustainability officer Ann Duffy did not reply to e-mails or telephone calls asking for clarification. The federal Ministry of the Environment says they were “not notified by VANOC about the use of ammonium nitrate.” The B.C. Ministry of the Environment refuses to respond. A freedom of information request to the province has gone unanswered at this time.
First Nations People:
This overview seeks to give some historical context and present day issues while giving a synopsis of the relationship between VANOC and Aboriginal people.
It is estimated that 250,000 people once lived in the land now called “B.C.” and in the 100 years after Captain Vancouver arrived in the 1770’s, the population dropped to 25,000 through colonialism, disease and war. Today the Indigenous population is approximately 170,000 (5% of total), and most live in poverty. In 2008 the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health and the U.N. published “Aboriginal Children’s Health: Leaving No Child Behind.” They reported, “In almost any measure of health and wellbeing, Aboriginal children – including First Nations, Inuit and Métis – are at least two or three times worse off than other Canadian children. As children, they are less likely to see a doctor. As teens, they are more likely to become pregnant. And in many communities, they are more likely to commit suicide. The result is a generation of children whose health and well-being is unjustly compromised.”
Canada and the U.S. are the only countries not to have signed the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada ranks 3 out of 177 countries in the U.N.’s Human Development Index (HDI measures access to healthcare, education, shelter, etc), but when Canadian Aboriginal communities are factored in Canada ranks 68 out of 177—just above Albania and Brazil. A report released two months after the Olympics by The First Peoples’ Heritage Language and Culture Council, stated that there are 32 Aboriginal languages and approximately 59 dialects spoken within B.C. One hundred per cent of the languages are “endangered” and three are “sleeping” in that there are no known speakers alive. Most of the speakers of first languages are over 65 and amount to 5.1% of those surveyed.
In 1876 the federal Indian Act was passed, wiping out the sovereign status of Indigenous people in Canada, and in 1884 was amended to allow Indigenous children to be taken to church-run residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996. The disappearance of first languages has much to do with this legacy. Approximately 150,000 children were taken from their families; many never returned. Today their ancestors search for their graves, and a nation-wide Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Indian Residential Schools has commenced. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in litigation between Aboriginal people, the government and churches. The shadow of murder, torture, sexual abuse, cultural loss, and emotional abuse hangs over every Indigenous person in Canada, but there was only one piece of work—the play “Where the Blood Mixes”--out of hundreds selected by VANOC for the cultural portion of the Games that portrays this history.
Aboriginal people outside the Four Host First Nation circle spoke out about the way in which VANOC controlled how Aboriginal people were manipulated through the Olympics. Shain Jackson, an artist and lawyer from the Sechelt First Nation on the B.C. coast, started a petition on December 19, 2009 when he learned that Aboriginal artists had to sign away their intellectual property rights in order to be part of the Aboriginal Pavilion or the Cultural Olympiad, and that VANOC was calling merchandise “Authentic Aboriginal Design” when in fact the products were made in China, Haiti, India, Vietnam, Honduras, or Bangladesh—where virtually all Vancouver Olympic products originated.
“Our issues are two-fold” Jackson says. “From the Aboriginal perspective, things we craft ourselves are our greatest form of direct revenue. When VANOC got the games they promised there would be real opportunities for Aboriginal businesses and Aboriginal artists. But not one Aboriginal company is an Olympic licensee, and artists have to sign away creative control over their work. People think they are buying our product when they buy an ‘Authentic Aboriginal Design’ t-shirt, but it’s made for next to nothing in China and brought here by non-Native business people.
“The second issue is that VANOC has reproduced small sections of large pieces of art they commissioned—they print up a likeness of a little part of a painting, and slap it on t-shirts. The original artist has no say in how his art is used. Once they sign with VANOC—that’s it. It’s despicable that they call it ‘authentic.’”
VANOC defends their position, saying they collected one-third of the royalties acquired through all “Authentic Aboriginal Design” products sold to the Aboriginal Youth Sport Legacy Fund of B.C., but won’t reveal how much that is. Jackson retorts that 100% of the royalties should go to the artists and it is the profits VANOC will realize from the sales that need to be directed towards the youth fund. He adds that by stamping non-Aboriginal products as Aboriginal, VANOC dilutes “what it means to have designed, produced and distributed true Aboriginal art and designs.”
Jackson and other artists created an Authentic Aboriginal Design stamp and used it on their products, but even a table with their art or crafts on a street within the Olympic zone—where all the tourists were--and an “Authentic Aboriginal Design” sign could have had them arrested for “ambush marketing.” Jackson was thrown out of the Aboriginal Pavilion because he refused to give VANOC creative license or intellectual property rights to his work as they demanded of all Aboriginal artisans who wanted to participate.
“They are holding the Games on our territory, but unless you’re sitting there carving a mask, and don’t have any others to sell, you’re breaking the law. If they did this in the United States, it would be VANOC breaking the law because legislation there protects Aboriginal artists from being misrepresented” said Jackson.
Renowned Inuk carver, Angus Cockney, echoes Jackson’s critique. “All you had to do was look at how VANOC chose the Vancouver Olympics 2010 logo to see how they would treat Aboriginal artists. A non-Native artist took an Inuit symbol, sold it to a white company, and made it into a total misrepresentation of what it’s all about” says Cockney, referring to the stylized Inukshuk from the Arctic that was used as the Game’s trademark. “It shows how little they know about real Aboriginal people.”
Premier of B.C, Gordon Campbell also misrepresented the Olympics to a Mi’kmaq First Nation children choir in Newfoundland when he invited them to sing in 2007 at the opening ceremonies for the Olympics, something he had no jurisdiction over. The children practiced for two solid years as they thought they were going to the other end of the country and sing for the world. Just months before the Olympics began, after they heard nothing from VANOC, the choirmaster contacted organizers and found out that they were not on the program. The children stayed home, devastated.
Similarly, Cowichan First Nation knitters are famous for their hand-knit sweaters from Vancouver Island. When Vancouver won the Olympic bid, women who make the sweaters gave the B.C. premier and IOC president Jacque Rogge a sweater each as a gift. Cowichan band general manager Ernest Elliot believed the knitters could supply hand-knit sweaters that would be sold as official Games merchandise and outfit the Canadian team. “I can’t describe what we would have felt if all the Canadian athletes walked into the opening ceremonies with genuine Cowichan sweaters” said Elliot. But VANOC and Olympic sponsor, the Hudson’s Bay store, decided the women knitters could not supply the amount needed, and hired a commercial knitter. When the sweaters appeared they looked very much like Cowichan sweaters, with slight differences that the Bay claimed showed they had not stolen the design from First Nation people. “To have an authentic product available and to not go with it seems like a real slap in the face, especially when they’ve lauded these Games as involving First Nations” said Tim Stang, an employee at Hills Native Art on Vancouver Island, where the sweaters are sold.
The way in which VANOC needed to orchestrate depictions of Aboriginal culture and people was pervasive even in the opening ceremonies. In the summer of 2009 Aboriginal people between 18-29 could apply to the Indigenous Youth Olympic Gathering to be held from January 30 to February 14. The ad said, “Hey, want to be part of the Olympics?” and did not mention that they would be auditioning for the opening ceremonies. In order to come to the gathering, you have to agree to “volunteer.”
VANOC made them sign a contract of over five pages stipulating they would not be paid or have any rights to revenues generated through their artistry and talent. They had to bring their dancing regalia or drums to Vancouver; in fact in order to be considered they had to send a photo of themselves in regalia—not in the twenty-first century clothing they normally wear. VANOC had the right to make them change their traditional regalia to their specifications. The youth had to “be able to take direction and perform in front of an international audience” but if they composed music, created visual art, choreographed a dance, or dance or drum, not only will they not be paid for it, VANOC and the IOC owned their creative work in perpetuity. VANOC had the right to send them home if they said or did anything that was critical of VANOC, the IOC, the Olympics, Paralympics or Olympic sponsors.
Those eventually selected spent twelve of the fourteen days in rehearsal, and while the dancers and drummers said it was a momentous experience, they were not treated like others involved in the Games. Remote cabins with 12 people per cabin, in a woods outside of Squamish--an isolated town approximately half-way between Vancouver and Whistler were utilized. RCMP officers brought in for the Integrated Security Unit were well paid and also housed in Squamish, but in large houses on the golf course, one person to a room. When asked if any other group was housed in such cramped quarters, VANOC did not reply. The youth were sent home early in the morning on February 14, just as the Games started, but after their performance in the opening ceremonies--a multi-million dollar broadcast slot for the IOC.
The group “No Olympics On Stolen Native Land” say VANOC co-opted the four nations and other First Nation people. “The FHFN has enabled the government to promote the image of a healthy & harmonious relationship between Natives & Canada, while in reality conditions for Indigenous people have declined as a result of the Olympics. The FHFN is presented as the only legitimate Indigenous voice in regards to 2010 and the lands directly impacted. Their financial and monetary gains from 2010 are presented as if to the benefit of all Indigenous peoples. Neither of these views is correct....As well, the extent of corporate invasion associated with the Olympic industry will also have social and ecological impacts far beyond the territories of the FHFN (including more mining, oil and gas, and ski resorts).”
Finally, VANOC attempted in October 2009 to get a court injunction against the Women’s March that occurs every February 14 in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver (DTES) where the homeless, poor and alcohol and drug addicted tend to live. The march has taken place for 18 years as people remembered the murdered and disappeared women—mainly Aboriginal—who once lived there. They also remember the other Aboriginal women—over 520 since 1970, with more than half of this number occurring since 1990—who have been murdered or disappeared in Canada. For years friends and relatives of the women of the DTES reported them missing to Vancouver police, but no investigations took place. Finally, in 2002 the police revealed a crime scene on a farm outside of Vancouver. Forensic investigations found DNA matching 23 of the more than 60 disappeared women.
VANOC’s injunction argued that the event would cause traffic jams during the Olympics. The City of Vancouver denied the injunction and the march drew record numbers.