Last week Pique ran a column headlined "Do Olympic critics confront their enemies?" by Jesse Ferreras. I would like to answer some of Jesse's questions in the article.
Jesse asks, "Have Olympic opponents ever sat down with VANOC and listened to some facts they can offer?" Through my work with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), I've met on several occasions with VANOC, both with a smaller group in a personal setting to try and negotiate for the environment, and larger meetings where AWARE invited VANOC to make a presentation. It is, however, my personal opinion that these discussions have not gained anything positive for the environment, as I feel none of AWARE's goals were achieved or even partially recognized. This is my opinion alone and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of individual board directors past and present.
I have also attended several of VANOC's open houses and made a point of asking questions on behalf of another group, Whistler Watch. In at least one case, an answer given to me by a member of the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) was false. I was told that people with signs opposing the Olympics would be allowed into the venues. A short time later a document obtained through a Freedom of Information Request in Vancouver was publicized stating, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." This is just one small part of a much lengthier Games bylaw passed by the City of Vancouver that outlaws all sorts of free speech. It is difficult to work with organizations that are not truthful and open. We've been told repeatedly that Canada's free speech laws will be upheld, but the FOI demonstrates otherwise.
I also agreed to meet with the ISU when they called me, but told them I would only meet with a reporter present. The officer had to check with his supervisors and then came back to me, stating that they would meet with the media, but first they wanted to meet with me alone. Again, I stated that I would only meet with a reporter present. I have not heard back from them since. How can I trust the ISU if they are not willing to make the conversation a public one?
There are many groups in Vancouver who are critics of the Olympics that have also made efforts to sit down with VANOC and the ISU. Other groups have watched this and have decided it is not worth their effort when little seems to change.
Another question Jesse Ferreras asks is, "How can we take Olympic opponents seriously if they can't even query the organizers directly?"