Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

500-soldier brigade keeps watch on Whistler backcountry

Whistler, meet your new neighbours -- the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG), a Canadian Army outfit that will be here to the end of the Olympics.

The Brigade gave a tour to Whistler's political officials, John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country and a lot of Army public affairs people.

First stop, down a choppy forest service road, is a camp that's big enough to accommodate 800 personnel.

It looks much like the kind of residence you find for oil workers in Fort McMurray -- with a military twist. In between trailers provided by Edmonton-based PTI Group Inc., there are Army trucks similar to those that transport weary soldiers out of battle. There are also sewage tanks to accommodate the needs of the approximately 500 soldiers currently stationed here.

This is the headquarters for the Land Component Command of Operation Podium, code name for the Canadian Forces contribution to defence and security at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The military is here to support an RCMP-led operation by monitoring the backcountry around the athletes' village and Whistler Olympic Park.

Throughout the camp are posters warning "Silence is security" and "Don't talk about troop movements" and other order to keep it all secret.

Precisely what they're here to protect us against is a mystery to everyone. Lt. Col. Malcolm Bruce, Deputy Commander of 1CMBG, gives us a presentation outlining the Canadian Forces' role in the Sea to Sky corridor. A friendly slideshow about the Army's operations is followed by a question from John Weston: what threats is the Army concerned about?

Bruce defers to RCMP Staff Sergeant Andre Labrecque, who responds that it's a sensitive subject, everything's being monitored and he'll "have to leave it at that."

Whatever the threat is, the Army has the resources to fight it. They have CH-146 Griffon helicopters, stationed here, at the Whistler Heliport and at the Squamish Airport. They have Bandvagn-206's -- fixed-track vehicles normally used by the Norwegian military to transport personnel in bitter cold. They'll be used to troll backcountry trails and escort users out of areas that are too close to Olympic venues.

On top of that they'll have a Persistent Surveillance Aerostat stationed close to the athletes' village. Similar to floating apparatuses used by U.S. ground forces in Iraq, it's equipped with a suite of cameras that are mounted to a helium-filled balloon.

Its purpose is to monitor backcountry paths leading to the athletes' village. Spokesperson Major Kevin Mead says in an interview that it isn't meant to look into people's doors or windows... but he takes a second to respond when asked if it has the range to monitor Creekside, an area where Olympic events will be taking place mere metres from people's houses.

"It's not within the zone that we need to be looking at, at the end of the day," he says.

We're told that soldiers stationed here are excited to be serving in Canada and they enjoy activities such as skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling on their days off.

We are introduced to Brigade Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Hodge, who served under the U.S. Airborne in Afghanistan in 2002, part of Operation Enduring Freedom when it pushed the Taliban out of its strongholds and back to Kandahar Airfield.

Hodge doesn't answer when asked what kinds of threats the Whistler backcountry has faced -- adhering to the constant reminders posted all over the mess hall. Soon we're back out along the bumpy road and get our last sight of the temporary neighbourhood that's there to protect us -- from what?

Jesse Ferreras is a staff reporter for Whistler’s news magazine The Pique, where a longer version of this story first appeared.

Find more in:

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus