Victory in Victoria! Torch Relay Disrupted as it Starts in Victoria

Victoria Torch Relay at RBCA report from plus two corporate media accounts on October 30, 2009 disruption of 2010 Olympics Torch Relay in Victoria, ‘BC’. Check out Photo Gallery at:

2010 Olympic Torch Relay Starts Off Disgraced, Delayed, and Disrupted

by, October 31, 2009
Occupied Coast Salish Territory

The 2010 Olympic Torch Relay sparked controversy after its official lighting in Greece on October 22, 2009, when it was revealed that one of the runners in a seven day relay around the country was disgraced Olympian Fani Halkia. Ms. Halkia was disqualified during the 2004 Greece Olympics after winning gold in the 400 meter hurdles, only to later test positive for steroids. She had been banned by the IOC for two years. IOC, Vanoc and Greece officials brushed off the controversy, but Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson called it a ‘disappointment’ for the broader ‘Olympic movement.’

The official Canadian 2010 Olympic Torch Relay also got off to a rough start on Friday, October 30, 2009, arriving 90 minutes late at Victoria International Airport due to bad weather. After it was flown in onboard a Canadian military Polaris jumbo jet, it was transferred to local Indian Act band chiefs. The flame, still carried in a miner’s lantern which was lit in Greece (very symbolic considering BC’s multi-billion dollar mining industry), was then paddled in a band council canoe into Victoria’s inner harbour. From here it was used to light a cauldron and one of the 12,000 official torches made by Bombardier (shaped like a giant marijuana joint; Bombardier is the second largest military manufacturer in Canada). The torch was then ran around the city for the rest of the day by celebrity athletes, corporate employees, and citizens specially selected to run one leg of the relay.

Meanwhile, some 150-200 people gathered at Spirit Square (formerly Centennial Square) at 2 pm for the Anti-Olympic Festival of Resistance. This event was organized by No2010 Victoria, a coalition of grassroots community groups in the city. The festival featured speakers, singers, performers, puppets, banners, a marching band, and many in costume. Speakers represented groups from local Native tribes, university students, anti-poverty & homeless rights advocates, needle exchange workers, seniors groups, environmentalists, and others.

Around the square were as many as 30 cops in total, standing around in groups of 4-6. In three buildings overlooking the square (one of which was City Hall) more cops could be seen in the lobbies and moving up and down stairs. On one building, two black-suited cops stood on the roof observing the crowd with binoculars.

At 4:30 pm the Zombie March Against the Olympics began. At this time, there were probably 40-50 cops, from both the Victoria Police Department & Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assembled in the square, all wearing yellow rain jackets. These police followed the march on the sides and to the rear, at times mingling in the crowd (along with undercover cops). As the protesters moved through the downtown area, there were additional groups of police, including seven cops on horses from the Vancouver Police Department, who then also attached themselves to the demonstration. Overhead, an RCMP helicopter circled for the duration of the protest. Altogether, several hundred police were involved in security operations at both the protest as well as the Provincial Legislature building (where the big concert-type event was to occur in the early evening).

The protesters followed a designated flag and a large red banner with ‘No Olympics on Stolen Native Land’ emblazoned around the 5 rings. Medics were dispersed throughout the crowd, with arm bands and kit bags. Legal observers from the BC Civil Liberties Associations, decked out in bright orange shirts & carrying clipboards, as well as some video cameras, were also spread around the crowd.

The assembled ghouls & zombies, which quickly grew to some 400, along with the pigs and spooks, ‘snake marched’ throughout the downtown streets, snarling traffic for over two hours during rush hour. The main city intersection outside the Royal Bank of Canada on Douglas street was blocked for 30 minutes, with buses being turned around the street (RBC being one of the main financiers of the Tar Sands in northern Alberta and sponsor of the Torch Relay & Olympics). The group also made stops outside the Hudson’s Bay Company department store (the first colonial government of the colony, from1849-59, and now a corporate sponsor for 2010), as well as Bastion Square (where many Native chiefs & warriors were hanged by the government in the past).

As the sky darkened and it began to rain, the march worked its way down side residential streets, which turned out to be part of the Torch Relay route. A thin, sporadic crowd of spectators lined the route, some of whom cheered the protesters. The main slogans used in chants were ‘No Olympics on Stolen Native Land’, ‘Homes Not Games’, ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’, and the crowd’s favourite ‘1,2,3, 4… Fuck the Olympics!’.

To help communicate information throughout the crowd, ‘call & response’ was used, in which those who can hear the speaker repeat short statements he/she makes by shouting them, so that those in the rear can hear the message. Frequent warnings were given for the crowd to stay together.

A few more intersections were blocked for 10-15 minutes as the march continued, until organizers informed the crowd that the torch had been rerouted and that sections of it had been cancelled because of the protests. From here, the march began another long trek to the Legislature buildings (Victoria is the provincial capital of ‘British Columbia’). As it neared to within 1 block, another 50 or so police could be seen blocking an intersection. Some 25-30 of these then moved towards the crowd, which had stopped.

At this point, some organizers directed the crowd to turn around, but some refused and began to chant ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ After a couple of minutes the police line dissolved into the march, which then continued on towards the Legislature. The steady drizzle had by now turned into heavy rain.

When the protesters reached the Legislature buildings, they were routed through crowd control fencing and into the soggy, muddy, lawn area where the small, thinned out pro-Olympic spectators were gathered. Here there were even more cops. The protesters then worked their way forward until the red banner was to the left of the main stage. A large ‘Poverty Olympic’ flame prop carried by the protesters was tall enough to block one of stage lights, which helped illuminate it.

As the protesters arrived, the concert had a local Native performer doing pop songs and trying to hype the crowd, with a loud powerful sound system and fireworks (along with a flaming cauldron that would periodically erupt into a huge fireball).

Although the Olympic sound system was loud, the combination of the protester’s marching band and chants succeeded in disrupting the event, with some citizens later complaining their ‘once-in-a-life-time’ experience had been ruined because of the protest (as well as those of some of the torch relay runners).

When the last peformer had finished, the emcee rushed through his final remarks while the crowd chanted even louder: ‘No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!’ After a few minutes of reorganizing, the march withdrew from the Legislature lawn and walked back several blocks to Spirit Square, followed by 20-30 cops. After reaching the square, having marched for over 4.5 hours and rallying for seven, the protest dispersed in small groups.

There were no reported arrests. One media account stated that marbles had been used at one point in the march to restrict the movement of the horse mounted cops. Despite the police, government & corporate media hype about ‘violent protesters’, and the heavy police presence, the cops were clearly under orders to act in a restrained manner and to avoid provoking a major confrontation. Protesters also showed restraint, with no acts of vandalism or direct action other than blocking the streets and making noise at the concert (both of which were effective).

For the anti-Olympic movement, the Victoria torch relay disruption was a victory, and it is hoped that this action will inspire other communities to carry out similar protests against the Olympic Torch Relay as it passes through their area.

Mobilize Against the Olympic Torch Relay! RBC Out of the Tar Sands! Stop Coca Cola’s Human Rights & Environmental Violations!
No Olympic Police State!
No Olympics on Stolen Native Land!

Anti-Olympic protests force 2010 torch relay to divert in Victoria
By James Keller and Dirk Meissner (Canadian Press), October 30, 2009

VICTORIA, B.C. — Protesters agitating for years against the 2010 Olympics took their first chance to disrupt Games planning Friday and forced a diversion of the torch relay just before the Olympic flame was to be triumphantly presented at a community celebration wrapping up its first day on Canadian soil.

Several hundred anti-Olympic activists, angry that billions are being spent on the Olympics instead of housing and health care, blocked Victoria city streets for hours.

As the run was supposed to pass by Government House, protesters jammed the streets, forcing organizers to reroute.

Torchbearers were packed into the vehicle that transports them to their starting points as organizers tried to move around the demonstration. But they eventually gave up, driving the torchbearers several kilometres to Victoria’s waterfront instead.

The 10 or so torchbearers in the van were lined up side-by-side along the road, where they passed the flame from torch-to-torch. Lieut. Governor Steven Point joined them for the impromptu ceremony. The torchbearers missed their chance to run their 300-metre segments and they won’t be slotted in at a later date, said Jim Richards, director of torch relays for the Vancouver Games’ organizing committee.

He said relay organizers managed to make the experience meaningful, despite the disruption.

“It was a very unique moment for those torchbearers, very different from what was anticipated. So in a round-about way we were able to create a very positive experience out of something that could have degenerated.”

The relay then resumed, with a short run covering the rest of the distance to the day’s final stop, the B.C. legislature.

Some of the protesters were jubilant, saying their efforts to draw attention to their issues were successful, even if it meant dashing the torch-running dreams of others.

Two women protesters, who wouldn’t give their names, said they were able to deliver their message that not everybody supports the Olympics.

“It was fantastic,” said one woman.

Another woman said the protest was peaceful.

“The energy was high. We kept tabs on each other.”

However, Sgt. Grant Hamilton of the Victoria Police, said the decision to reroute the relay was not taken lightly.

Hamilton said police were also worried about the actions of some protesters who threw marbles at the feet of horses being used by the Vancouver Police mounted squad.

“This was extremely disappointing considering the possibility that one of the horses could have taken a bad fall causing significant injury to both the officer and the animal itself,” said Hamilton in a release.

But police said no protesters were arrested.

Victoria resident Randy Marsh, who had been waiting along the part of the route that was skipped, said the protesters ruined his chance to see the Olympic torch.

He was waiting with his friend’s daughter who was going to hold the torch, and he said he can’t understand why protesters would want to interrupt a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the girl.

“I saw children who were upset,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned they should all be charged. An event like this will probably never happen here again.”

As Marsh spoke, protesters chanted “This is what democracy sounds like.”

Richards said the relay team is ready if such disruptions happen again, adding the team has had to make contingencies for all sorts of unpredictable situations.

“We’re facing risks everyday, and risks are the weather, risks are the road, risks are the potential for protesters. So we’ll never lose sight of the fact that these are the same issues we could face day after day. We’re pleased with the results of today and we’ll get better every time we face a challenge.”

The protesters took a meandering route through downtown, blocking several major intersections for up to 20 minutes. City buses pulled U-turns and left the scene. Some motorists appeared angry, but police helped them turn around their vehicles and leave.

Earlier in the evening, about 400 protesters dressed in Halloween costumes joined a so-called Zombie March to the provincial legislature, where a concert was planned by Vancouver Games organizers to celebrate the completion of the Olympic flame’s first day on Canadian soil.

The protesters walked in a New Orleans-style drum-and-trombone procession. Many chanted “Whose streets, our streets.” They stopped outside a downtown Victoria homeless shelter and chanted,”No Olympics on stolen native land.”

In the beginning, there was no sign of trouble and police officers dressed in yellow vests walked within the throng.

Protesters representing a variety of causes were there, from environmentalists to anti-war demonstrators to native-rights advocates.

Tamara Herman, an organizer with the group No2010 Victoria, said whatever opponents’ specific objections to the Games, it all comes down to money.

“The reasons that we oppose the Games are very multifaceted. We oppose them because we see homelessness is a bigger priority than a two-week parade, we see health services is a bigger priority,” she said in an

“Why have we decided to spend such an enormous amount of money on what is essentially a two-week party?”

Several anti-Olympics groups have sprouted up as the Games approach, promising to protest not just the torch relay but the Games themselves.

Their complaints vary.

Some are concerned about the amount of money spent on the Games, while others claim the Olympics are being held on “stolen native land,” a reference to the fact British Columbia has no treaties with many of its bands.

Still others object to sponsor RBC’s involvement in Canadian oil sands development or the environmental impact of building so much infrastructure
for the Olympics.

Megan Schlase, 50, who travelled from Vancouver to attend the demonstration, acknowledged the complaints make for a long list.

“It (the Games) benefits very few people in the long term, and I just think it’s a huge waste of money,” said Schlase, holding a sign that read, “Stuff your wasteful opulent militarized spectacle.”

“I just really don’t feel that the planet can sustain this sort of over-consumptive spectacle anymore. It’s just a huge waste of the planet’s

The Olympic Resistance Network has sent out a call for activists across the country to use the relay to protest the Winter Games or other issues.

Some activists have said they were inspired by the protests along the international torch relay ahead of last year’s Beijing Olympics, primarily targeting China’s human rights record. Those demonstrations showed the torch presents a useful podium for getting a message out to the world.

Olympic protesters disrupt torch relay

The Globe and Mail, By Justine Hunter, Friday, October 30, 2009

VICTORIA – A demonstration against the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games disrupted the torch relay route on its first day and created traffic chaos in downtown Victoria for three hours, leaving disappointed spectators and frustrated commuters in its wake.

“There are five-year-olds here waving their Canada flags, all excited to see the torch down here and they couldn’t see it because of this – it’s absolutely disgusting,” said Randy Marsh as a noisy march of 400 demonstrators  passed by.

Mr. Marsh said he had been waiting in the rain with a friend’s child who had been ready to carry the torch. Instead, the torch was moved by van to avoid the protestors who wended their way through the city streets before arriving at the lawns of the legislature where a children’s choir was performing as a torch ceremony before thousands of spectators.

The demonstrators cheered when they learned they had disrupted the torch relay, but families who had lined up to watch the torch were instead treated to profanity-laden chants. One couple angrily turned their backs on the protest. “It’s a shame they would spoil something like this,” said Sally Durno. “We’ve waited a long time for this.”

While police tried to stay ahead of the protest to stop traffic, buses were directed to pull u-turns on a downtown street. One woman, waiting at a bus stop, watched the zombie-themed demonstration as she waited to get home. “We’re not ‘the man’, we’re just ‘the people’ trying to take the bus,” said Christie Scott.

About 400 anti-Olympic demonstrators wound through the downtown core. The zombie-themed march zig-zagged unpredictably through the streets, keeping police on the move to keep rush-hour traffic at bay.

A cheering crowd of more than 5,000 gathered at the B.C. Legislature to welcome the Olympic flame to Canada, but a handful of dissenters jeered Prime Minister Stephen Harper under the watchful eye of a mounted police squad.

Organizers of the Anti-Olympic Festival promised a peaceful protest, and events proved to be muted.

From an 87-year-old who resisted the Nazi occupation in the Second World War to veterans of anti-globalization riots, the start of the torch relay in Victoria was a rallying point for opponents of the Games preparing their own “circus” events.

Inger Kronseth stood alone with her protest banner with families waving their Coca-Cola “happiness” pennants around her. Jailed as a teenager in Denmark for singing Nazi protest songs, the hundreds of police on the streets around her were not intimidating, she said. “They were all nice.” As for the Games themselves, she is protesting against the “terrible” waste of tax dollars that would be better spent helping the homeless.

Jennifer Conklin, carrying a protest sign, stood near the stage where the cauldron was lit and looked at the sea of Games supporters. “We are not going to change the world here,” she said. “But if we can change one person’s mind, it will be worth it.”

While celebrity athletes carried the torch past the Legislature, some well-known leaders of the anti-globalization movement were on hand.

Marla Renn, a member of the Vancouver-based Olympic Resistance Network, estimated that 200 people connected with her group had travelled to Victoria to show dissent.

“What’s amazing about organizing the anti-Olympics is what an umbrella it has become for creating solidarity between different groups,” she said. She added that the sense that civil rights are being trampled has been a rallying point. “Even holding signs is a political act,” she said. “We see this as an attack on our civil liberties in the extreme.”‘

Underscoring that point, members of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association patrolled the scene wearing bright orange “legal observer” t-shirts.

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe and Garth Mullin, veterans of the demonstrations that disrupted the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation session in Vancouver, 1997, were in the crowd too.

Ms. Westergard-Thorpe was asked what theme linked those demonstrations to the Olympics. Just then, three CF-18 Hornets roared overhead as part of the celebrations. “There’s your connection right there,” she said.

Whether it is the $6-billion cost of holding the Games, or the fears for civil liberties, the protesters have a range of complaints. But Ms. Westergard-Thorpe said it is harder to crystallize the protesters’ message to the public in this case. “It is easier to understand why we are opposing free trade, but the image-making around the Olympics – it’s about family and athletes and nationalism – is harder to resist.”

The police presence was low-key but obvious. Fears that protesters would try to disrupt the torch relay, or the ceremonies, meant hundreds of police from Vancouver and across Southern Vancouver Island were dispersed through the streets. High-profile sponsors of the Games had private security on hand as well. And less obvious security measures included snipers positioned on rooftops around the downtown stretch cordoned off for the torch relay.


Posted on November 6, 2009, in Indigenous Struggles. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Victory in Victoria! Torch Relay Disrupted as it Starts in Victoria.

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