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'Climate of fear' can ruin Olympic spirit: Researchers

The spirit of the Olympics is in jeopardy because surveillance, security and secrecy threaten to overshadow the 2010 Winter Games, say 20 academics from five countries.

Researchers from Canada, Germany, Greece, United Kingdom and United States issued the Vancouver Statement on Tuesday in the wake of the Nov. 20-21 Surveillance Games conference.

They say the Olympic Games should celebrate “human achievement, friendship and trust between people and nations” but instead have “taken place in and contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance” to the detriment of democracy, transparency and human rights.

In a seven-point statement, the signatories ask governments of Canada, British Columbia and Vancouver to “moderate the escalation of security measures for Vancouver 2010 and to strive to respect the true spirit of the event.”

They also want the governments to withdraw temporary bylaws that restrict freedom of speech and assembly; be open about security and surveillance practices and rationales; work with federal and provincial privacy commissioners; respect the rights of all local or visiting individuals and groups; conduct an independent post-Games analysis of security costs and effectiveness; and prevent a legacy of “increased video surveillance and hardened security measures.”

“We hope that these recommendations will contribute to a unique and positive Olympic legacy by which Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada will be remembered for setting the highest ethical standards,” said the statement.

The federal government is spending $900 million on security for the Games. The RCMP is in charge of 16,500 police, military and private security personnel. The biggest peacetime security operation in Canada’s history is imposing restrictions on air, water and land transportation throughout southwestern British Columbia during the first three months of 2010.

The B.C. government has enabled Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond to pass bylaws aimed at curbing ambush marketing that critics say will allow police to stop protests and tear down signs critical of the Olympics.

Bob Mackin reports for Vancouver 24 hours.

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