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Homeless relocations part of 2010 Games security plan

Homeless people living close to 2010 Games venues may be asked to relocate or face arrest when fences go up, security officials said today.

“I’m not going to lie to you and tell you there won’t be an impact for them,” deputy police chief Steve Sweeney told reporters and concerned residents at a public information session on 2010 security.

When the Games hit town, designated venues such as BC Place will be surrounded by security barriers. Zone size has yet to be determined, but fences at Metro Vancouver venues will start going up the first week of January, assistant RCMP commissioner and head of 2010 security Bud Mercer said.

BC Place and GM Place – along with parts of the Dunsmuir and Georgia Street viaducts – will be barricaded by a single perimeter. When the fences are erected, any street people living inside security zones have to go.

“There may be a few instances where homeless people are impacted because they’re in close proximity,” Sweeney said. City workers and Vancouver police will help affected people find shelter or relocate, but individuals could be arrested if they refuse, the deputy police chief added.

Relocations were just one of many issues at an often heated Q & A session that addressed everything from protest groups to street sweeps.

Through it all, Mercer tried to make one message clear: “If it’s lawful today, it will be lawful during the 2010 Games.”

The Olympics will be the largest peacetime operation in Canadian history, with an estimated 15,000 police, private security and military personnel and a $900 million price tag.

Come Games-time, many protest groups will try to make their message known to the world. Security forces will cordon off free speech areas in high profile areas near venues, but it’s fine if activists decide to demonstrate lawfully outside the zones, Mercer said.

“It makes no difference to me,” he said.

He added the 2010 Integrated Security Unit is keeping tabs on groups that “have a history of criminal protests” and profess violent or unlawful aims.

To ensure public safety, Vancouver police will beef up their numbers at city-run "live sites", entertainment districts and the Downtown Eastside, Sweeney said.

He gave assurances that people won’t have to go through any barricades unless they’re entering official venues or be subject to a physical search unless there’s a lawful reason for it.

“There are no special authorities granted to police because we’re having the Olympic Games.”

Sweeney added there are no plans afoot to move Downtown Eastside locals off the streets in anticipation of 2010.

“We’re not engaging in social cleansing,” he said.

In 2002, VANOC committed to holding an inner-city consultation to address issues around the 2010 Games and security.

Vancouver poverty activist Am Johal said today’s meeting is a positive step, but should have occurred when security plans were being thought out, not in the final stages.

“We’re seeing very late in the game a move to address our concerns,” he said. “This is not a consultation.”

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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