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Council trims Olympics free speech declaration

VANCOUVER - City council flubbed its chance to decry “silencing” Olympics security force tactics, a prominent Games critic lamented today.

“They could have sent a strong message,” Chris Shaw told reporters after councillors approved a slimmed-down endorsement of the contentious Coventry Declaration. “What they passed is meaningless.”

The Declaration was drafted at the recent Play the Game conference in England. It was an attempt to condemn restrictions on free speech, based on allegations plainclothes officers publicly approached Shaw and several Olympics Resistance Network members last month.

“Do you think the impact of [these visits] has a silencing effect on people who might want to raise some concerns about how their taxpayer dollars are spent?” Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth asked Shaw in council today.

“I think it can have that effect, yes,” he replied.

The exchange was part of Woodsworth’s attempt – along with fellow COPE councillor David Cadman – to win official civic endorsement of the Coventry Declaration.

The document makes direct reference to Shaw, anti-Games protestors and the police who allegedly confronted them. Full council approval could have been interpreted as a critique of 2010 Integrated Security Unit tactics.

“I’m not going to endorse the Coventry Declaration,” Non-Partisan Association councillor Suzanne Anton said, “because I believe it shows a lack of confidence in the police.”

Other councillors questioned the information contained in the document – whether twenty Vancouver activists had, in fact, been approached by police.

“I have no knowledge of this,” Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie said. “I’m not clear that this happened or not.”

Council voted to not endorse sections of the Declaration that make reference to Shaw or police confrontations.

But it agreed to uphold Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding free speech and personal security. And to write a letter to VANOC, ISU and senior levels of government, urging them to do the same.

"Council missed a major opportunity," Shaw said. "What they passed guarantees nobody's rights in 2010."

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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