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  • Olympic dream vs. Vancouver reality

    Media love-in with Winter Olympics challenged by city's new journalist co-op -   July 13, 10
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    Franklin López is a video producer with the Vancouver Media Co-op. You can find the co-op at It is one of a series of similar projects getting started in Canada, currently there are also chapters in Toronto and Halifax. For the co-op's coverage of the Olympics, go to


    With the close of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, much of the media was quick to declare them a total success. This goes against the mounds of journalism produced before and during the games by the Vancouver Media Co-op, the city's newly launched independent media center. Believing that there might be more than one answer regarding the success of the games, and one of those should come from the host communities, The Real News spoke to Franklin López, Video Producer with the Co-op, to find out more about the legacy of the 2010 Olympics for the people of Vancouver.


    Olympic dream vs. Vancouver realityJESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: With Sidney Crosby's overtime winner, Canada's men's hockey team brought home the last gold medal awarded at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It was Canada's 14th gold medal, giving the host the most gold medals of any country participating. Despite early concerns about bad weather, massive cost overruns, and the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, by the end of the 17-day spectacle most media coverage of the games declared them a resounding success. Even NBC's experienced commentator Bob Costas temporarily lost his bearings during the euphoria of the closing ceremonies.

    BOB COSTAS, NBC: And the always enjoyable giant inflatable beaver.

    FREESTON: Canada's national broadcaster, the CBC, concluded that "Nothing but raucous cheering in Vancouver and in Canada was heard for the 2010 Winter Games." This might have ended up being the unanimous conclusion if it hadn't been for the work of Vancouver's burgeoning media co-op, which was one of the few media outlets that managed to separate the achievements of the athletes from the effects that the Olympics were having on the residents of the Vancouver area. The Real News spoke to Franklin LĂłpez, a video producer at the co-op.

    FRANKLIN LĂ“PEZ, VIDEO PRODUCER, VANCOUVER MEDIA CO-OP: [inaudible] co-op assembled a team of over 40 international independent volunteer journalists, and we produced dozens and dozens of videos [inaudible] dozens of articles everyday, a daily broadsheet (a.k.a., a newspaper) called the Balaclava!

    FREESTON: The media co-op extensively documented a coalition of groups that opposed the games for a variety of reasons.

    HARSHA WALIA, OLYMPIC RESISTANCE NETWORK: We see that the games had been overrun with a budget of over $7 billion. Indigenous lands continue to be exploited and stolen with ski resort developments all across British Columbia, increasing poverty and criminalization of the poor in the Downtown Eastside, a massive cutback in public spending, and an increasing budget for policing and militarization here in Vancouver.

    LĂ“PEZ: The cost of living in the city is enormous, and one of the only places a lot of folks could live were these single-occupancy hotels. The city has been slowly buying those out and closing them out and basically forcing out thousands of people onto the streets. Like, we can't just attribute this to the Olympics, but the Olympic certainly helped this out.

    UNIDENTIFIED: It's important because all the money that we're spending on the Olympics, they could have, like, effectively eradicated homelessness and poverty in Vancouver, like, completely, 100 percent, you know, and they care more more about impressing the world than caring for their own citizens. You know? It's sick. And I'm not against the games for the sake of the games. It's just, like I said, you know, the fact that there's so much money being spent on the Olympics, you know, when people are suffering.

    FREESTON: The city and provincial government set up a kiosk with resources for journalists looking to find out more about homelessness on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. According to the CBC, the kiosk was, quote, "designed to help the visiting media understand life on the streets." But journalists from the Vancouver media co-op chose instead to go speak directly to the people without homes and their supporters, some of which set up a tent city in a parking lot owned by Concord Pacific, Canada's largest condominium developer.

    ELAINE DUROCHER, POWER OF WOMEN: This tent city is bringing awareness to this country on how the poor people in the Downtown Eastside are being treated and shoved under the rug because the government has spent all their money on the Olympics.

    LĂ“PEZ: That is where these folks have to take their fight. They can't really do it any other way but to basically show that there's empty land there that could be used for homes.

    FREESTON: On Monday they packed up the tent city after the BC authorities claimed homes had been found for the 40 members of the encampment who had no home. But thousands in Vancouver continue to go without such security.

    UNIDENTIFIED: [inaudible] fact that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing program, and homelessness is rampant across the country.

    FREESTON: Indigenous people make up a disproportionate amount of the poor on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, one of Canada's poorest neighborhoods. The four chiefs representing the four indigenous nations on whose traditional land the Olympics took place have openly supported the games. They point to the more than $50 million in Olympic contracts that went to indigenous-owned businesses and the opportunity the Olympics offered for presenting their cultures to the world.

    LĂ“PEZ: Anybody who's seen the opening ceremonies would think that natives are a big part of Canada, and they are a big part of the dirty secrets of Canada, but the reality is that native folks are treated like second-class citizens on their own lands.

    MELISSA ELLIOT, COFOUNDER, YOUNG ONKWEHONWE UNITED: We are not Canadian. We are not a defeated people. This land was never surrendered. Our nations and our people still exist and will continue to exist. We represent broken treaties, broken promises, and the effects of centuries of colonization and colonialism. But we also represent the integrity of our cultural lineage that continue to survive tactics of genocide.

    PETER DERANGER, RESIDENT, DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE (DTES) VANCOUVER: When I walk down the street, then the Canadian people, they look at me, they're ashamed, they're embarrassed. They take me in a back alley and they beat me up. They take my sisters in that back alley and they rape my sisters and they kill them.

    RICKY, RESIDENT, DTES VANCOUVER: We will put up a big fight. We will put up a fight. We will close the gate. We would close that gate if the police could come. This is on native land. This tent city stays here as long as we want it to.

    FREESTON: Police were denounced for numerous rights violations, both before and during the games.

    LÓPEZ: The worst part about it was the chilling effect that they were hoping to have by intimidating activists—many activists, including myself, were visited by not just police officers but intelligence officers, who went to or workplaces, who went to our homes, who went to the houses of our girlfriends and our moms and our colleagues to try to stop us from showing our dissent.


    (OFF CAMERA): Can I ask what's going on right now?

    POLICE OFFICER: You're going to have to speak to media relations. Sorry. [inaudible]

    (OFF CAMERA): Well, if there's not media relations here, then—.

    POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, well, we can't help you, then. I'm sorry.


    UNIDENTIFIED: They asked us where we were going. They said that they weren't detaining us but that we couldn't just go.

    FREESTON: This man was arrested and charged with obstructing justice while riding his bike on the sidewalk. Police refused to give reporters from the media co-op an explanation for the arrest but did stop to take pictures of their faces.

    POLICE OFFICER: Okay. I just want to know who you are.

    LĂ“PEZ: Sadly, one of the biggest legacies is going to be a police apparatus that was not really there before, thousands of CCTV cameras throughout the city.

    FREESTON: The police have said that the cameras will be used for traffic purposes, but history provides a cautionary tale. The privacy commissioner for the Greek government resigned in protest in 2007 after discovering that cameras installed for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens were now being used by police to gather information on protesters, this in spite of a law constraining the cameras to traffic surveillance only.

    DAVE ZIRIN, WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED AND THE NATION: My beef with the Olympics is that everywhere they go, you see the same three things: you see police repression; you see budget-busting graft; and you see hardcore gentrification and displacement. And that's true no matter where the Olympics go.

    FREESTON: Also present in Vancouver were members of the No Sochi 24-team coalition, a group opposed to the next Winter Olympics, which are scheduled for the Southwest Russian city.

    TAMARA BARSICK, NO SOCHI 2014 COMMITTEE: We're here tonight because we're going through the same thing that the natives here in Vancouver are going through. We are the indigenous people of Sochi, the Circassians. And on that land, 1.5 million of us were murdered. Ninety percent of our people were then exiled out of there. And today in the world 90 percent of Circassian people live outside of Sochi and the Caucasus, and they're not giving us the respect and honor that we deserve.

    JOHN HAGER, NO SOCHI 2014 COMMITTEE: In Sochi, actually, it's—they're trying to complete this process of ethnicide. And this is kind of like the fait accompli—it's finishing it off. So once the Olympics are there, no mention of Circassians anywhere, in any of the literature, and it's complete, and the Circassians never existed, Circassia never existed, and they have no one to be accountable for.

    ADVERTISEMENT: See you in Sochi, gateway to the future.

    FREESTON: In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, host-to-be of the 2016 Summer Olympics, 10-foot walls are already being built around the city's poorest slums.

    ZIRIN: Like, most people know about how this went down in Beijing. But it's not a China issue; it's not a Beijing issue. It's an Olympics issue. It's wherever they go, they make these demands of a given community. And I don't think any community should have to deal with that to host a sporting event.

    FREESTON: On the day of the opening ceremonies, large protests caused the Olympic torch relay to be rerouted on two separate occasions.


    BEATRICE STARR, POWER OF WOMEN: It felt good, it made me feel good, because I was helping part of the Downtown Eastside, and I like that.

    PRESS: [inaudible]

    STARR: No, we sat right on the road there.


    FREESTON: As the Olympics got underway, protesters employed a variety of tactics. There were peaceful gatherings of thousands, while others opted to break the windows of the Olympics' biggest sponsors, like the Hudson's Bay Company. LĂłpez believes this should cause people to rethink the $900 million that were spent on security for the 17-day event.

    LĂ“PEZ: On Friday, thousands of people demonstrated peacefully. Nothing happened. On Saturday, a few windows got broken, and this is what they have to justify this. I mean, there have been no terrorist threats. I think that there have been more broken windows because of drunken fans coming out of the hockey games and breaking windows in neighborhoods than anything that the Olympic resistance movement could have done. The analysis is that this is a huge excuse to basically funnel all this money into this police apparatus for use, as I said, to criminalize the poor, to clean up these areas.

    FREESTON: The final cost of the Olympics is still not known, but it's believed to land between $6 billion and $7 billion, and the province of British Columbia, already running a deficit, has a responsibility for all cost overruns.

    LÓPEZ: Already we're seeing cuts in the arts, cuts in education [snip] province is broke. The city is not doing very well financially. It's very, very sad that these things are suffering because we decided, or at least the city of Vancouver decided, to [inaudible] that cost $7 billion. As far as I am concerned, the legacy is going to be absolutely marvelous, independent, non-corporate media center. Our website completely got overwhelmed over the weekend—it just kept crashing due to the high volume of people. But what we showed is that non-corporate, noncommercial, truly open and truly democratic media can happen with very, very little budget. And we're very proud of this accomplishment, aAnd it's basically raised the bar as to what the next incarnation of Indymedia should be.


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