Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Anti-Olympic efforts come to Edmonton

Anti-Olympic efforts come to Edmonton

SCOTT HARRIS / scott@vueweekly.com
September 24, 2008

While it is still 18 months before athletes competing in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games start arriving on Canada’s West Coast, last week’s closing ceremonies to wrap up the Beijing Paralympic Games signalled that the eyes of the Olympic-watching world would now fully shift focus to Canada.

And just as China discovered in the months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, while the Games may bring a flood of corporate sponsorship, new athletic infrastructure and international media attention, they are also inextricably linked with the politics of the host country and rife with controversies about who benefits and who suffers as a result of preparations to host the sporting world.

Since Vancouver first won its host bid in 2003, the Games have drawn the ire of many in British Columbia due to cost overruns—venue costs alone have ballooned 23 per cent above initial estimates to $580 million—and a host of other issues, including the use of a public-private partnership to build a rapid transit link from the airport to downtown Vancouver, concerns about the impact preparations for the Games are having marginalized communities in Vancouver, and issues arising from unresolved land claims and development linked to the Games infringing on unceded First Nations land in the province.

For social justice activists in BC, opposition to the Games has increasingly become a central rallying point.

“Although certainly the issue of Indigenous sovereignty and Indigenous land is foundational to anti-Olympics work, it does provide a space for people to come together from various movements,” explains Harsha Walia, a Vancouver-based organizer with the Olympics Resistance Network, a coalition of groups and individuals opposed to the Games. “The Olympics does affect and impact people from a wide variety of communities—whether that’s poor neighbourhoods and therefore anti-poverty activists, people within the labour movement, especially those working on migrant labour justice issues, people working on the Security and Prosperity Partnership because of security preparations. So it provides a space for activists working on a wide variety of issues to come together and make links.”

She says the social and environmental problems caused by the Olympics are easy to see.

“There’s a huge amount of construction, especially in Vancouver, but certainly in surrounding areas to get to Whistler, where most of the winter games will happen. You can visibly see the destruction of the mountains as you drive out of the city,” she says. “You can see a huge number of condos going up all across Vancouver, construction cranes everywhere. And the starkness, for example, in the Downtown Eastside where you have approximately 3000 people on the street while at the same time approximately 1500 condo units that are slated to go up by 2010. There’s no way someone in British Columbia—no matter what they say about the Olympics, whether they’re neutral about it, whether they support it—there’s no way one walks into BC and doesn’t clearly see the negative social impacts of the Olympics.”

While such impacts have been coming into sharper focus in BC for years, as the Games draw closer, anti-Olympics activists are stepping up efforts to bring the issues surrounding the Games to national and international attention.

On September 21, protesters in Port Moody disrupted the launch of the “Spirit Train,” the first of a series of events planned by Olympic organizers to “move the Olympic spirit across Canada” (see sidebar). Walia says additional protests are being planned in many cities—including the September 29 stop in Edmonton, although she wouldn’t provide details—as the train makes its way across the country.

And as the train moves through the Rockies, activists here in the city are organizing a tour of their own, bringing together Indigenous activists and allies from BC and Alberta to make the links between preparations for the Olympics and our own oil-driven boom.

“The connections between what’s happening in Edmonton due to the uncontrolled development of the tar sands and the social impacts of uncontrolled developments around the 2010 Games seem, at a distance, to be very different,” concedes Macdonald Stainsby, one of the local organizers of the panel. “But in reality the connections are very clear, especially when one draws in the environmental destruction to unceded Indigenous territories in BC and to traditional territories in Northern Alberta.”

He says that many other problems are being seen in both provinces, including the increased use of temporary foreign workers brought in to ensure Olympic facilities are completed in time for the games, much as they are being brought to Alberta to work on the numerous tar sands developments underway in the province.

Stainsby adds that bringing together activists from both provinces is important in light of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), which means whatever happens to standards in one province will have a direct impact in the other.

“Ultimately as a result of the 2010 Olympics, the debt will fall on the people of Vancouver and BC,” he says, “but the social debt with the way we interact with labour legislation, environmental legislation, etc will change across the entire country, and in particular in Alberta, with the two provinces being joined at the hip through TILMA.”

But, says Stainsby, the upside is that the shared challenges presented by the Olympics in BC and the tar sands in Alberta means there is a unique opportunity to build ties between social justice activists in the two provinces, a collaboration he hopes the event in Edmonton can kick-start.

“The primary thing is to understand the commonality of these various struggles. When people feel their community is under siege from these giant corporations and giant spectacles, they realize that we’re all in the same boat and can therefore start to address these things together, with the strength of numbers and the strength and confidence of understanding that it’s a larger agenda and not just their own communities that are under siege.” V

Sat, Sep 27 (6 pm)
No Games on Stolen Native Land! Panel on 2010 & Tar Sands
Edmonton Native Friendship Centre
(11205 - 101 St); Free

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