National Olympic Spirit Train gearing up amid threats of protest

Posted by admin on Sep 19th, 2008

Canadian Press, Sept.19, 2008

VANCOUVER — An event designed to drum up enthusiasm for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver is set to begin amid threats of nationwide protests. Canadian Pacific’s Spirit Train is scheduled to leave Port Moody, B.C., on Sunday for a 10-city tour and activists say they’ll be at every stop. “Across the country people have an understanding the Olympics has created (and) perpetuated, displacement, homelessness, destruction of the environment and increasing theft of indigenous land,” said Harsha Walia of the Olympic Resistance Network, which is spearheading the call for national protests.

Opposition to the Olympic Games has been constant since Vancouver was awarded the bid in 2003 but some protest groups say their membership is getting stronger as the Games near.

“I think its fair to say that many communities, urban, rural and remote are becoming more educated about the oppression the Olympics brings, especially with all the media coverage in Beijing,” said Angela Sterritt of Native 2010 Resistance, which is connected to the resistance network.
First Nations activists have been vocal in their opposition to the Games, saying they are being held illegally on traditional territories.
It’s an attitude organizers have worked hard to try and counter.

The federal government has signed agreements worth billions of dollars with the four bands whose traditional territories are home to the Games and with whom Olympic organizers have also built official relationships.

Aboriginal themes weave through much of the 2010 Olympic designs and aboriginal artists will be playing at the Spirit Train events.

But the train is still chugging on dangerous tracks – blocking rail lines has become a favoured tactic of native leaders, though activists wouldn’t disclose the exact nature of any Spirit Train protests.

“Rail right of ways continue to trespass reserves and are the subject of specific claims,” said Sterritt.

“It is fitting that a train trip is used to spread the ‘Olympic spirit,’ in that rail was a harbinger of cultural destruction and is today continuing that legacy via the 2010 Winter Olympics.”

Both CP and the Vancouver organizing committee said they’re prepared for protests.

“We also hope the people recognize the need for peaceful protest if you feel compelled to do that, things that don’t disrupt certainly wouldn’t disrupt the business of CP or other rail users but don’t endanger the people,” said Maureen Douglas, director of community relations for the committee.
“This is about bringing the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic movement.”

Although the Spirit Train protests could be seen as a test run for potential protests around the Olympic torch relay which will begin late in 2009, activists say that is not the case.

The rail company said it hopes that if there are protests, they remain under control.
“We understand people’s right to protest and we hope that they do it peacefully,” said Breanne Feigel, a spokeswoman for CP.

“This is a family event and it’s a free family event for everybody and really the goal of the Olympic Spirit train and CP’s programming is to be all inclusive.”

The train will start in Port Moody and stop in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Mississauga and Smith Falls, Ont., before ending its journey in Montreal on Oct. 18.
The day-long festivities around each stop will showcase local and Canadian talents like Colin James and feature mini-Olympic villages where visitors can try out a luge start or get their photograph taken as if ski jumping.

The Spirit Train will make a repeat journey in the fall of 2009 and potentially after the Games as a tour for medallists.

CP Rail, as the official rail freight services supplier to the 2010 Vancouver Games, paid somewhere between $3 million and $15 million for the sponsorship, in exchange for access to tickets and the use of Olympic trademarks for such promotional events.

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