Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada's Games, but not its rights

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Two important decisions were made in Vancouver last week. The first came on Thursday when city council passed a motion committing the city to ensuring the right of all Canadians to freedom of expression and security of the person -- Sec. 2 and Sec.7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- in the lead up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The city also agreed to "write to senior levels of governments, VANOC and the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit [ISU] requesting them to publicly reaffirm their commitment to these rights. This, after author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, Chris Shaw and others who questioned the sanity and legitimacy of the Games were intimidated and harassed by ISU members.

The second decision came on Friday and was a major blow to female ski jumpers when Madam Justice Lauri Fenlon agreed with VANOC -- the Games organizing committee -- after they argued in court in April that they could not dictate to the IOC what events they could or couldn't select for the 2010 Winter Games. There are parts of the decision that will make arguing discrimination in sport easier for female athletes in the future, but this is cold comfort for the Flying Fifteen -- the international group of ski jumpers who should have the right to compete in 2010. On the face of it, these two decisions may appear not to have much in common, but they are close cousins.

Both decisions, one by municipal politicians, the other by the B.C. Supreme Court, involve Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its relationship to sport. The first decision arose out of Shaw's presentation in Coventry, England at Play the Game: The Sixth World Communications Conference on Sport and Society. There Shaw laid out his criticism of the 2010 Winter Olympics, from cost overruns to the possibility of "Games security" used as an excuse for robbing people of their human rights.

He spoke of being pulled over in February by the police and detained for 40 minutes while they demanded identity proof from his American visitors. In the week before he left for Coventry, he came out of a café near UBC, where he is a professor and expert on Parkinson's disease, only to have two plainclothes confront him, one on each side, saying they would like to discuss his book. After an hour of being detained, Shaw continued to decline their request.

While listening to Shaw, I knew as a writer who believes revealing the not-always-rosy-story in sport is more important than who won or lost the Stanley Cup final, but more importantly as a Canadian who believes in the rights guaranteed by the Charter, that the ISU and VANOC are threatening the precarious balance in which our democracy exists. Canada must be a country where the freedom of expression of writers and everyone else is what police and the state protect, not jeopardize.

I wrote the Coventry Declaration, which asks Vancouver, B.C., Canada, VANOC, and the RCMP to "state in unequivocal language" that "all Canadians and those who visit Canada" will be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Declaration was endorsed by the conference, and Canada began to replace China in the Olympics and human rights debate on the net.

Last week, when ISU head, Bud Mercer of the RCMP, told Vancouver city council about the "free speech zones" VANOC and the ISU would be setting up, Mayor Gregor Roberts correctly called the idea Orwellian. Mercer guaranteed the city would be writing letters immediately, and that the international discussion on human-rights and the Olympics would increase considerably by sounding like a character out of 1984.

Perhaps Mercer is taking notes from the IOC in his understanding of human rights. This antiquated Boys Own Club, located in Switzerland where they take full advantage of that country's ability to keep untidy files and information away from public perusal, allows the odd woman in -- if they toe the party line. The IOC comprises of ninety-something men and 15 women.

Canada's Beckie Scott represents athletes, a position Charmaine Crooks once had; two female athletes who benefited from the good work women did to make their sports of Nordic skiing and track and field more equitable. But they obediently zipped their mouths shut when the IOC disallowed women's ski jumping at the 2010 Games.

Justice Fenlon decided the contract between VANOC and the IOC giving the latter the right to bar any group from competing at the Games, including black people -- a question counsel for VANOC had to answer in the affirmative when Justice Fenlon asked it -- allowed for blatant and systemic discrimination against women. This action, however, did not contravene Sec. 15 of the Charter guaranteeing equality because the IOC is located in Switzerland and is not under the jurisdiction of our Charter.

She also wrote that while she had no choice but to allow the discrimination, VANOC is planning, organizing, financing and staging the Winter Olympics. In so doing, it is carrying out an activity that is "uniquely governmental in nature" and is subject to the Charter. Using this knowledge, Beckie Scott and Charmaine Crooks should now -- as advocates of the rights of athletes -- be leading the charge for an international athlete boycott of the Games. They should argue that no foreign entity like the IOC should be able to sweep away fundamental rights that Canadians hold dear simply because they choose to, especially when VANOC -- the organization they represent -- has such an obligation to uphold Charter rights.

Laura Robinson, a former national team cyclist and rower, writes about sports issues.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2009 A10

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