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Civil rights monitors to be trained for 2010 Games

Whether it’s an airport tasering or a free speech clampdown, roving legal observers will hold Olympics powers accountable come 2010. At least, that’s the goal of a new program announced today by local civil rights advocates.

Starting this Sunday, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) and Pivot Legal Society will begin training regular people to become their eyes and ears next February.

Come Games-time, the groups hope to arm at least 100 volunteers with video-equipment, cameras and notebooks.

They’ll be deployed down city streets and outside Olympics venues, on the lookout for illegal security searches, restrictions on lawful protesters – basically, anything that violates a civil liberty.

“If something does arise then they’ll be in a position to observe, take notes, take video,” BCCLA president Robert Holmes told The Tyee. “They’ll ensure there is some kind of record.”

And that’s essential when things go wrong, Holmes said. He pointed to amateur video taken of the infamous RCMP Tasering of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport.

That record contradicted the statements of several officers and painted a clearer picture of the event, he said.

So is he worried about a violent incident during the Olympics?

“I hope it all comes off without a hitch,” he said. But he’s concerned 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU) forces might use agent provocateurs to justify a clampdown on protesters.

Video evidence shows undercover RCMP officers attempting to incite a confrontation with police at the 2007 North American Leaders Summit protest in Montebello, Quebec. ISU boss Bud Mercer has refused to rule out the tactic, Holmes said.

Should Olympics protests occur, civil rights monitors are urged to carry eye protection such as scuba goggles in case police use tear gas or pepper spray.

“We recommend that Legal Observers never wear contacts, because contacts react very badly with both of these crowd control weapons,” reads a training manual prepared for Pivot and the BCCLA.

A spokesperson for the ISU said security forces have "no issues" with today's announcement.

"Police work in this day and age is in the public domain and everything we do is very much in the public eye," Staff-Sgt. Mike Cote told The Tyee. "We'll continue to respect the laws of Canada and the Charter."

"Agents provocateur I can guarantee you will not be a measure utilized by the ISU," he added, when asked about Holmes' concerns

Civil rights observers won’t be the only monitors to walk the streets come 2010. The Vancouver Organizing Committee is employing 20 teams to confiscate materials around venues that infringe on the Olympic brand or the rights of sponsors, according to recent reports.

“VANOC and its partners respect every citizen's right to freedom of expression as protected by Canadian law,” reads a statement released by the organizing committee today.

But it won’t stand for ambush marketing or unauthorized commercial activity, it adds.

“VANOC has an obligation to protect to the Games sponsors and that it is in the public's best interest to protect the almost $1 billion investment by these sponsors.”

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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