Friday, December 11, 2009

Cop secretly driving protest bus is serious cause for alarm

The funny thing is, I always thought B.C.’s Olympics Resistance Network was just being paranoid with its talk about police trying to infiltrate the ranks of Olympics protesters.
Guess I was wrong. As Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham has now confirmed for all of us, police are so deep into the ORN that they’re even driving the buses that protesters travel on.
I’m not sure what alarms me more about this new information: That police have the right to do that kind of thing to people who have committed no crime, or that the way it came to public attention was through Graham blurting it out at a public dinner a couple weeks ago.
You’ve probably heard the story by now: Giving a keynote at the Vancouver International Security Conference at the end of November in Vancouver, Graham joked about how Vancouver Olympics protesters unknowingly travelled to Victoria for the launch of the torch relay in a bus driven by police.
“You knew that the protesters weren’t that organized when on the ferry on the way over, they rented a bus - they all came over in a bus - and there was a cop driving,” Graham said, to appreciative chuckles from the audience. (Hear the audio clip on reporter Bob Mackin’s blog at
I’m grateful for the heads-up, because it’s always better to know what’s really going on than to continue thinking that creepy police-state kinds of things just don’t happen in Canada.
But Graham also destroyed the cover of the officer who was driving the bus with that glib comment, and I’m sure that must be unsettling in a whole other way to all the undercover police officers out there on other assignments, not to mention whichever police force put the time into planting that officer in the ORN.
My first thought was that some Vancouver bus company must have informed police, because I couldn’t figure out how a police officer could have ended up driving their bus. But apparently the protesters in fact hired a bus privately, using a driver who was a friend of one of the ORN protesters.
So that means police had thoroughly infiltrated the group, just like they do in the movies. But in this case the “bad guys” were just regular British Columbians setting out for a garden-variety protest.
Who is ORN, anyway? Judging by the group’s Web site, they’re a focal point for all sorts of people with a bone to pick about BC hosting the 2010 Olympics.
ORN’s primary purpose is to protest that the Olympics are being staged on “stolen land.” The group’s roots go back to the 2007 Intercontinental Indigenous People’s Gathering in Sonora, Mexico, when 1,500 indigenous delegates signed a statement boycotting the 2010 Olympics because they were being held “on the sacred and stolen territory of Turtle Island - Vancouver, Canada.”
But ORN has also drawn in people whose passions are around things like capitalism, poverty, labour standards, migrant justice, homelessness, the environment - the usual stuff. They’ve even got a few civil libertarians.
Whatever your feelings about the group’s disruption of the Olympic torch relay in October, the fact is that people do have the right to be against such things in this great land of ours. They have the right to pick up a sign and protest, or to rent a bus to get to that protest with no fear that an undercover police officer might be behind the wheel.
Police obviously have a very difficult job to do at the best of times, let alone when a global party as big as the Olympics is shaping up. But we are giving up something very, very important when we allow our governments free license to plant police officers anywhere that state resistance might spring up. History has been a powerful teacher on that front.
You have to admire local activist Bruce Dean’s response to all of this. Having had his photographic equipment seized by police in 2007 on the grounds that he might have compromised the safety of an undercover officer with his photos, he’s now filed a complaint of misconduct against Chief Graham for doing the same thing to the officer driving the ORN bus.
In the Times Colonist story this week, Dean notes that if the mere “remote possibility” of his having taken a photo of an undercover officer was enough to suspend his freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, then Graham has to be held accountable for the damage his comments may have caused.
And our government must be held accountable for directing police to spy on British Columbians whose only crime is to disagree with the party line. How frightening.

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