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Olympic resistance conference media

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Activists met in Vancouver Sunday to talk strategy around
resisting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

While opposition to the Games has been steady since before Vancouver won
them in 2003, protests are usually connected to a single of the many issues
around them.

But dozens gathered at the one-day conference to focus on converging
Canada's diverse activist community under one banner for the Games.

"It's important to use to connect with each other," said conference
participant Phillipa Ryan.

"Our humanity needs to be respected."

The issues around the Olympics range from the displacement of low-income
residents from inner-city communities to the environmental consequences of
development for the Nordic venues near Whistler, B.C.

"All of those things are going to be the legacy of the Olympic Games and
from our perspective this legacy is something we can use in order to build
resistance to the 2010 Games," said Harsha Walia, a member of the Olympic
Resistance Network and a panellist at the conference.

The network is also hoping to draw activists from other causes under the
anti-Olympic banner by showing how many environmental and social issues can
be connected to the Games.

One example given is how some companies supporting the Games are the same
ones supporting resource extraction in B.C. and in the Alberta tar sands.

"(The Games) provides an opportunity for people to come together and target
something very tangible that's having a very visible impact," said Walia.

Games organizing committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade, however, said
officials take their responsibility for staging a socially and
environmentally responsible Games seriously.

And, Smith-Valade said, organizers are working to ensure positive legacies
both before and after the Games.

"While the vast majority of Canadians support the 2010 Games, we know there
will be some who chose to use them as a platform to highlight various
issues," she said.

"Of course, they have the right to peacefully demonstrate, and we would only
hope that protesters recognize the rights of Games supporters, especially
families and children, to enjoy pre-Games and Games-time events and
celebrations in a safe, respectful environment," Smith-Valade added.

And, the Olympic organizing committee has reached out to groups involved in
all of the potential hotspots around the Games.

Multimillion-dollar agreements have been signed between the federal and
provincial governments and the four First Nations on whose traditional
territories the Games are being held.

The organizing committee also hired environmental watchdog The David Suzuki
Foundation to do a study on how it could run a carbon-neutral Olympics.

The committee has given $250,000 for temporary shelter beds during the Games
and has a remaining $250,000 to allocate for Games' time housing.

It also recently announced that temporary athletes housing being built in
Whistler, B.C. will be converted to provincially funded low-income housing
in six communities around the province after the Games.

But, said some conference participants, the official connections between the
Games and community agencies also has the effect of silencing dissent.

"We have to take this issue back into the population," said conference
participant Robert Annis.

Annis said he believes the global financial crisis will make the issues
around the Games much more real to the general population as governments are
forced to make cutbacks to social programs yet still fund the Olympics.

While the lead speakers at the conference - parts of which were closed to
the media - were all well-known in the resistance movement, they said there
were many new faces in the crowd.

"Usually at this stage, a year before the Games, you actually see the
opposition beginning to vanish," said Chris Shaw, of 2010 Watch and one of
the early Olympic naysayers.

"We're not seeing that here. This is the first time to my knowledge that you
actually see an opposition building."

Conference organizers acknowledged right up front that stopping the Olympics
at this point isn't an option.

However, they hope the coming together of groups will help lay the
groundwork for a more connected protest movement in Canada in the future.

It's of particular importance in 2010, they said, as in addition to the
Olympics, both the G8 and the Security and Prosperity Partnership meetings
will be held in Canada.

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