Five Ring Circus Author Questioned by Vancouver Olympic Security Unit

by: Heather on 07/21/2009
Posted in: Activism

Here at New Society, we have always been proud to call ourselves an activist publisher - we are committed to bringing you books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologically sustainable and just society, and we are no strangers to championing ideas that challenge the dominant paradigm.

Christopher Shaw is also no stranger to questioning the powers that be - one of the many reasons that we chose to publish his book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games. In the book, Chris argues that what was once understood to be the pinnacle of achievement in amateur sport has been revealed to be a cesspool of greed, scandals, backroom deals and the trampling of civil liberties. He examines the hidden history of the games, and shows how host cities, far from benefiting from the experience, actually incur huge capital costs and a legacy of debt while the profits end up in the pockets of realtors and developers. He then goes on to show how cities facing future bids can learn from the experience of Vancouver and others and organize resistance when the IOC juggernaut comes to town.

Last week, Quill & Quire broke the story of how, as a result of his book, Chris has now found himself on the radar of the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Securities Unit whose members include personnel from the RCMP, Vancouver Police Department, West Vancouver Police Department and Department of National Defence.

I asked Chris for his thoughts on this situation:

The series of visits by ISU members to anti-Olympic activists raise important questions about the real nature of our democracy. Many of the activists approached, and in some cases their families, felt intimidated by the visits and the knowledge that the police were watching them because of their political views. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the supreme law of Canada, but far too often various police agencies, including ISU, and governments merely mouth their support for what the Charter promises, but then violate what the document was designed to guarantee. In the last week alone, ISU has confirmed that they are creating "free speech" areas around Olympic venues while denying any intention of forcing potential demonstrators to use them. At the same time, the City of Vancouver is contemplating a series of 2010 by-law changes that could effectively make real protest during the Olympics impossible outside of such protest zones. ISU head, Bud Mercer, recently addressed Vancouver City Council and painted a dire picture of mayhem in the streets due to "violent criminals" intent on creating another "Battle of Seattle". This sort of rhetoric, the visits to activists because of their unsanctioned political views, combined with by-laws that are certainly Charter violations points toward problems in 2010 and beyond. In such a climate, it is crucial that all those who cherish the Charter with its guarantees of freedom of speech make their voices heard and demand that it be made stronger, not weaker. Free speech and our other Charter rights are useless if they only protect those things the state approves. If the Charter is to be any more than a collection of meaningless, unenforceable platitudes, then it must guarantee and protect our right to dissent. The events of 2010 will prove a decisive test of exactly what the Charter really is.

Chris also provided me with a copy of an open letter from the Writer's Union of Canada to the minister responsible for the 2010 Olympics.

The Honourable Gary Lunn
Minister of State for Sports
House of Commons
Ottawa Canada
K1A 0A6

July 15, 2009
An Open Letter to The Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sports (2010 Olympics).

Dear Mr. Lunn,

I am writing to express the concern of The Writers' Union of Canada regarding the actions of the Integrated Securities Unit (ISU) when interviewing Dr. Chris Shaw, the author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, a work which is critical of the upcoming Vancouver Olympics. A complaint was brought to our organization by one of our members. We researched the situation and found the following:

On June 3, 2009, two members of the Integrated Securities Unit engaged Dr. Shaw in a conversation as he was leaving a Vancouver coffee shop. One of the officers, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, stated that he did not like the content of Dr. Shaw's book. This was followed by ten-minutes of questioning during which Dr. Shaw was asked what he knew about planned demonstrations against the Olympics. Shaw declined to answer and ended the conversation.

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.


Erna Paris
Chair, The Writers' Union of Canada

To learn more, check out Five Ring Circus, also available as an ebook here.

Please tell us what you think. Is the Security Unit for the Olympics within their rights, or have they overstepped the boundaries? Leave your feedback in the comments below.



Five Ring Circus


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