Police descend on anti-Olympic speakers in Kelowna

Posted by admin on Jan 20th, 2010

By Adrian Nieoczym, Kelowna.com, Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

The police took a special interest in an anti-Olympics speaking tour’s Kelowna stop last night. And while the cops say they are just doing what’s necessary to keep the Olympics safe, critics contend their actions are intimidating and an attack on the right to dissent. About 15 minutes before the talk began, according to event organizers, a uniformed RCMP officer dropped by the Okanagan College classroom where it was being held to check up on what was going on. Once the talk was over, one of the speakers, Aboriginal activist Ska-Hiish Manuel, was approached in the college parking lot by a waiting member of the special Vancouver 2010 Joint Intelligence Group.

“He made me feel uncomfortable,” said Manuel, noting that it was dark and that he was by himself.

According to Manuel, the officer identified himself as Greg Smith, produced his badge and handed Manuel his card. Manuel quickly snapped a picture of the officer with his cellphone.

Manuel says he told the officer he had no interest in speaking to him and kept walking to his car. Smith however, kept following him.

“I told him to stop following,” said Manuel. “I was pretty thrown off. I wasn’t expecting that.”

Feeling scared, Manuel decided to turn around and reenter the college. Smith did not pursue him and when Manuel left a second time -accompanied by one of the other speakers- the officer was gone.

Contacted on his cellphone, Smith would not say why he was trying to talk to Manuel and directed all inquiries to the intelligence group’s media relations office.

The executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, David Eby, said he’s not surprised police showed up at the Kelowna event and tried to talk to participants.

“They’ve been doing these visits for a number of months now,” he said. “We feel that they have mistakenly identified people who disagree with the Olympics as a security threat and that they’re mistaking dissent with some kind of danger to the public and they have launched a very high profile and successful campaign, despite our concerns, to intimidate people who speak out against the Olympics.”

Eby said police have visited people who showed up at Vancouver city hall to speak out against Olympic-related initiatives, Cowichan knitters who are upset the Hudson Bay Company is selling a knock off of their traditional designs as the official Olympic sweater and outspoken academics like Dr. Chris Shaw, who is an ophthalmologist, UBC professor and a member of the Canadian Reserves.

“It used to be if you were opposed to government policy you wouldn’t need to expect a visit from the police. Now it appears if you are opposed to government policy you should expect a visit from the police as a matter of course,” said Eby.

Staff Sgt. Mike Cote, a media spokesman for the Joint Intelligence Group, said “it disappoints me” to hear people say they find the approach taken by police intimidating.

“Let’s face it, the people we approach aren’t picked out of a hat. Obviously there’s reasons for these people to be approached and asked to be spoken to… perhaps they have information that would be of interest to our security planning, to our security workforce or perhaps they have associations that might be relevant,” he added. “We have to do our due diligence…I think Canadians expect us to make sure we leave no stone unturned when it comes to the security of the Olympics.”

But that kind of reasoning does not wash with Eby.

“In the history of the Olympics, have any of the people who’ve engaged in violent acts held press conferences, held open meetings or gone to city hall to speak about their concerns?” he said, “The people they are identifying as threats have never historically presented any threat except perhaps blocking a road or causing a delay. The people that they need to be concerned about are the people who are not doing press conferences, who are not holding public meetings, the people who potentially would set off bombs or who would attempt to target athletes with violent acts.”

Last night’s event was organized by the Kelowna chapter of the Council of Canadians and besides Manuel, included speakers from the COC and the Olympic Resistance Network.

Comments are closed.