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US journalist’s howl over Olympics interrogation is going viral

“The guard looked incredulous. ‘Are you telling me you aren’t going to be talking about the Olympics?’ I repeatedly asserted that I was not.

“Clearly not believing me, the guard and others combed through our car. When I went out to check, he was on my colleague’s computer, poring through it.”

That’s high profile U.S. journalist Amy Goodman telling her story about her shakedown by Canadian border guards on her way into Vancouver. If they were acting under orders to try and keep outsiders from whipping up sentiment against the 2010 Games, the border guards seem to have had the exact opposite effect.

Goodman and others are seeing to it that her grim tale gets told and spread far and wide, and that’s a black eye for Canada, say local commentators like Harvey Oberfeld, who frets “even if Canada wins Gold…THIS could be the most lasting legacy of Vancouver 2010.”

Before Goodman was stopped, she was oblivious to official sensitivities over Vancouver’s Olympic image. She had come by invitation to talk about Tommy Douglas, global warming, freedom of the press, just about anything other than the Olympics, she writes.

But all that changed when the guards treated her like a criminal suspect and began browbeating her about what she might say about the Games during her visit.

“Afterward, they pulled me in a back room and took my photo, then called in the others, one by one. Then they handed us back our passports with ‘control documents’ stapled inside. The forms said we had to leave Canada within two days and had to check in with their border agency upon leaving. We went to the car -- and discovered that they had rifled through our belongings and our papers and had gone into at least two of our three laptops. We raced to the event, where people had been told about our detention. We were 90 minutes late, but the room remained packed, the crowd incensed at their government.”

The result is that “Canada’s Olympic Crackdown”, as Goodman headlined her piece, is now news viralling all over the United States and beyond. Goodman hosts a syndicated radio show with hundreds of thousands of listeners and her writings are distributed widely in print and via the internet on progressive sites like Alternet and Truthdig.

Those sites are fodder for the blogosphere and a left-wing social media network energized by the Obama moment. That huge audience has now met Vancouver-based Olympics critics Chris Shaw, the UBC scientist who wrote Five Ring Circus, and David Eby, civil liberties watchdog. Both of them were guests on Goodman’s show two days after she had her border run-in. A sample:

“David Eby, let’s begin with you. Can you explain this crackdown at the border, how typical is this? And this obsession with -- well, first demanding notes of a talk, not been satisfied until I would say I was speaking about the Olympics?

“Well Amy, unfortunately, it is quite common to see police forces, security forces in Vancouver in Canada targeting activists, what’s unique about your situation is that you, as far as I know, were not on the record on Canada’s 2010 Olympic Games and the people who’ve been targeted here at least, have spoken out in public at City Hall, the media about the Olympic games. We have had Americans who are in town who are activists who have been arrested and taken to the border because they are associating with anti-Olympic activists here in Canada. And so it’s not surprising for me to hear that the Canadian Border Service Agency, which is part of the larger Integrated Security Unit providing security for the Olympics, is interested in Olympic issues. What was surprising was somehow they tied you in with these Olympic issues in this crackdown against activists that’s happening here in Vancouver.”

You can listen to the rest of the radio show or read a transcript here.

The next day, December 1, Goodman fired off another blast in her syndicated column. Here’s how she closes:

“Our detention and interrogation were not only a violation of freedom of the press but also a violation of the public’s right to know. Because if journalists feel there are things they can’t report on, that they’ll be detained, that they’ll be arrested or interrogated; this is a threat to the free flow of information. And that’s the public’s loss, an Olympic loss for democracy.”

Oh Canada, maybe someone should have a little talk with who stands on guard for thee.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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