Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Olympic security spending too much? You be the judge.

The Vancouver Club will be an Olympic venue that most will never see. It’s perhaps the most exclusive of them all, so exclusive that members of the posh club aren’t allowed to enter.

It will temporarily be the Olympic Club, a place for International Olympic Committee members to rub shoulders with princes, prime ministers, dukes and dictators and various captains of industry. Plus our local politicians.

The 1889-established club at 915 West Hastings St. was host Jan. 25 to a Fraser Institute-presented discussion on the Olympics and civil liberties.
It was a respectful debate among two people prominent in the legal profession: B.C. Civil Liberties Association executive director David Eby and Wally Oppal, the former B.C. Supreme Court judge who was a one-term Liberal Party wonder as the province’s attorney-general.

Oppal gratuitously cited the 1972 Munich massacre and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park pipe-bombing to justify the $900 million security budget for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I expect a judge to be more rational than emotional, so I had to challenge him on it.

Here’s how it went.

Mackin: “Mr. Oppal, your background is as a judge, which is not an easy job. You have to consider all the evidence before you and during your presentation you mentioned Munich and Atlanta and I don’t want to be seen to be belittling what happened there, because those were very tragic incidents.

"But the evidence doesn’t support spending a billion dollars on security if you look at all the Olympics in the past, all the World Cups, all the Super Bowls, all the public gatherings.

"We have the Symphony of Fire/Celebration of Light here every year, a couple hundred thousand people converge in downtown. There has never been a major incident (here) that has caused massive human loss of lives, there has actually never been a terrorist incident at a Winter Olympics.

"I think you have perhaps been bought what has been sold by Bud Mercer and the security machine, the security industrial complex, because they want that money to spend in their budgets."

Oppal: "Point is well taken, we haven’t had an international incident here that can be characterized as terrorist, except we did have the bombing of an Air India plane a number of years ago, that originated from here. So do we wait for an incident to take place before we embark on any kind of security? Are the police and all other security personnel not entitled to rely on what’s taking place at an international level?

"We know of terrorist activities that have taken place on an international level wen there are global events that are taking place that could draw attention to the causes of those who may be inclined to take part in those activities.

"I hope you’re right, I hope whatever the amount spent on security was spent without any incident ever taking place. I don’t know if we want to take that chance that because nothing really has taken place in the past. We all know Canadians are a peace-loving nation and therefore we shouldn’t do anything about it and rely on our reputation of the past.

"Keep in mind that we have a lot of international visitors who will come here as well. The police have a very dificult job, I don’t know that $1 billion is too much, it is a lot of money. I agree with you. I’m not in a positoin to say it is excesssive under the circumstances, all I can do is say we have to rely on police and assume they are acting in the public interest."

Mackin: "The evidence with Air India, with 9/11, with 'Mr. Underpants Bomber,' was there were actually communications errors and the agencies were not working together beforehand. These weren’t about buying large amounts of equipment, there were agencies that weren’t talking to each other and not passing on information that could have been very useful to prevent what happened."

Oppal: "You’re right, in that there were a series of errors that were found to have taken place in Air India (flight 182). But we don’t know now what information the police have that if they did not act upon it would amount, would we be in a similar position where it could result in a tragic incident? We don’t know what information they have or what information they don’t have.

"I don’t think we can blithely ignore all of those potential threats that take place at an international level."

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