[News] Olympic Torch Sparks Action Nationwide

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 3 20:05:23 EST 2010

February 3, 2010

Torch Sparks Action Nationwide

A review of the 2010 torch trajectory

by <http://www.dominionpaper.ca/author/shailagh_keaney>Shailagh Keaney

The Dominion - http://www.dominionpaper.ca

MONTREAL­On October 30, 2009, the Olympic Torch 
was ignited in Canada and set out on its 106-day 
relay. A “unique moment in Canadian history” when 
people can “feel the Olympic Spirit and reach for 
gold,” according to major Olympic-backer Royal 
Bank of Canada (RBC), the cross-country tour has 
aimed to build hype for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

But the torch was not the only thing to be 
sparked and hype was not the only thing to be 
built in the months leading up to the Games.

The trajectory of the Torch Relay, set to finish 
on February 12 in Vancouver, will have brought 
the torch to 1,000 communities throughout the 
part of Turtle Island now known as Canada. The 
Relay events feature flashy setups, local artists 
and promotional trucks for Coca-Cola and RBC, two 
of the Relay’s major sponsors.

Police have accompanied the torch throughout, 
with a resulting $4 million security budget.

True to form, many people have been swept up in 
Olympic hype and have waited in crowds and on 
roadsides with children in tow, anxious for an 
Olympic moment of their own. Hidden beneath the 
Relay’s messages of inspiration, however, is a 
harsher reality that demonstrators coast-to-coast 
have attempted to display in nearly 20 cities so far.

People have greeted the torch along its route 
with their own messages, including the theft of 
Indigenous land, corporate profit grabbing, 
ecological destruction, militarization and 
migrant exploitation, all directly associated 
with the Olympics. Some have also used the Relay 
to bring forward issues of sovereignty, lack of 
justice for hundreds of missing and murdered 
Native women and opposition to the seal hunt.

As the Torch Relay has moved from community to 
community, it has been a magnet for opposition to 
the Olympics and has simultaneously stirred 
assertions of sovereignty in First Nations communities along its route.

At the Torch Relay kickoff event in Victoria, 400 
people held a zombie march and took part in an 
anti-Torch Relay festival. At one point, the 
protest jammed the street and forced the torch to 
be extinguished and re-routed. In the week before 
the event, at least 25 people were visited by 
Integrated Security Unit and asked questions 
about the torch, according to an article on anarchistnews.org.

 From there, the torch traveled north across the 
Yukon and the Northwest Territories, bypassed the 
Alberta tar sands, circled up to the northern tip 
of Nunavut and back down again to the Atlantic 
Provinces where it would once again meet opposition.

It saw dissidents with banners in Halifax, 
followed by more in Quebec City. Five days later, 
residents of Kahnawake saw to it that the RCMP 
would not enter their territory; local Mohawk 
Peacekeepers accompanied the torch instead.

Montreal’s sizeable opposition came next, with 
200 people blocking the stage set up for the 
occasion and delaying the fanfare for almost an 
hour. “We are here today to express our 
solidarity and our resistance with people in 
British Colombia and all across Turtle Island who 
are resisting these disgusting Olympics that are 
being built on stolen Native land, which are 
causing displacement all over downtown Vancouver 
[and] all over the interior of so-called British 
Columbia,” announced demonstrator Aaron Lakoff 
through a megaphone. Police in riot gear 
eventually arrived on the scene and 
heavy-handedly shoved the demonstration out of the way.

Five days later a small but respectable troupe 
leafleted in Peterborough, and in downtown 
Toronto, a demonstration of over 250 people 
arrived to stand in opposition to the torch. 
Speakers and a march were followed up with a 
banner reading “No Olympics on Stolen Native 
Land” in the Anishinaabemowin language, which was 
unfurled over the torch relay’s stage. Two people 
were arrested, both charged with mischief and one with assault.

Ian Robertson, a journalist working for The 
Toronto Sun, was shoved to the ground by a police 
officer during the Relay, suffering a concussion. 
Constable Mandy Edwards, spokeswoman for the 
Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, 
described the situation as being handled in an 
“appropriate manner,” and explained to the 
Canadian Press that Robertson was shoved only 
after already being told twice that he was 
getting too close to the torch bearer.

"This is an Olympic Torch Relay. It's a feel-good 
event. It's the last place where you would find 
heavy-handed, police-state, goon tactics," Robertson told The Canadian Press.

After Toronto, at the scheduled stop in Six 
Nations, in anticipation of the Torch, the 
Onkwehonwe were engaging their own struggle for 
sovereignty. The Canada-imposed band council had 
agreed to host the torch, despite opposition from 
community members. “In 2009, there was a town 
meeting where 90 per cent of the people in 
attendance opposed the torch,” Lindsey Bomberry 
of the Onondaga nation explained to The Dominion.

A declaration from the Onkwehonwe of the Grand 
River read, “This land is not conquered. We are 
not Canadian... We hereby affirm our peaceful 
opposition to the entry and progression of the 
2010 Olympic torch into and through our 
territory.” People created a blockade to stop the 
flame from going over the Grand River or down 
Highway 54 into the heart of the Six Nations 
territory. As a result, the torch was re-routed 
and festivities were held at another location on the Six Nations Reserve.

“This was very significant,” says Melissa 
Elliott, a founding member of Young Onkwehonwe 
United (YOU), and member of the Tuscarora Nation. 
“Six Nations was the first community to have the 
torch rerouted. [The demonstration at Six 
Nations] was held entirely by Onkewonkwe people, 
and so it had our issues at the forefront: issues 
like sovereignty, like our territory and our land.”

“The Olympics is not just about sport. It is 
political, and it is colonial and it is imperial, 
and the Torch carries this symbolism. When we 
heard that it was coming through our community, 
there was strong opposition since we have already 
been facing what the torch stands for,” adds Bomberry.

The following day, people in Oneida succeeded in 
repelling the Torch Relay entirely using a 
blockade and a pledge to keep the torch from entering Oneida.

Two days later was Christmas Eve, and London 
folks served a holiday meal “to anyone who 
thought free food was a better deal than an 
overpriced flame,” according to an article posted 
on no2010.com. Around 40 people joined in.

In Kitchener, over 150 people marched with 
banners denouncing colonialism on Turtle Island. 
Banners were draped from RBC buildings, where 
“the government of Canada and the RBC were 
publicly shamed for their role in the ongoing 
genocide of Indigenous people and their support 
for the criminal developments of Alberta's tar 
sands,” according to an article on peaceculture.org.

According to Alex Hundert of Anti-War At Laurier 
(AW at L), the RCMP intervened in the demonstration 
as it was winding down, formed a “hard line,” and 
pushed some demonstrators in the process. “There 
were people who were voicing the perspective that 
if the police were violating the family-friendly 
protest, then it was time to take the gloves off 
and all bets were off,” he says. “And it was in 
response to that that the local police called the RCMP off.”

Then came Guelph, where a small demonstration of 
20 to 30 people made headlines when a 
torch-bearer was knocked over during a skirmish 
with police. Witnesses say she tripped over a 
police officer’s leg. Two protesters were charged 
with assault, but the charges were later dropped.

There was leafleting in Sudbury and then Nairn 
Centre, where an attempt at a highway blockade 
and banner drop opposing the Olympics was 
thwarted by police. A group made up primarily of 
Indigenous people arrived and were stopped almost 
immediately. “People were arrested before 
everybody was out of the van,” says Hundert, who was nearby.

Some days later in Roseau River First Nations, 
Manitoba, people held signs and photographs 
showing some of the over 500 missing and murdered 
women in Canada as the torch went by. Former head 
of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine 
criticized the event for “tarnishing the image of Canada.”

"The fact that there is a list of over 500 
murdered and missing native women is what 
tarnishes the image of Canada," Chief Terrence 
Nelson, one of the organizers of the event, rebuked.

In Winnipeg people dressed as Olympic rings each 
representing a particular issue: homelessness and 
the criminalization of the poor, massive police 
spending and the outlawing of dissent, 
environmental destruction, missing and murdered 
women, and the theft of Native land. Upon taking 
the street, demonstrators were pushed out by 
Winnipeg police. The torch was extinguished and transported forward in a truck.

Later was Saskatoon and then Calgary, where over 
500 brochures were handed out. Teri, who helped 
to organize the leafleting, told The Dominion two 
people were ticketed for littering­apparently for 
a brochure that a police officer dropped.

The final stop will be in Vancouver on February 
12, in the midst of the NO2010 Convergence, where 
people are anticipating a festival involving days 
of actions and protests against police brutality 
and calling for justice for missing and murdered women.

Over the past four months, the torch has been 
moving from North to South to East to West and 
back, draping the Canadian flag and littering 
miniature Coca-Cola bottles all across the country.

This, however, will not be the only legacy of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“I think the torch relay is a major step where 
various forms of anti-colonial and anti-capital 
resistance that were rooted in very different 
places and different issues along those common 
themes had come together physically in several 
places,” explains Hundert. “One of the things 
that is going to be really interesting to see is 
the way momentum does get carried into Toronto and the G20.”

Shailagh Keaney is a writer based in occupied 
Atikameksheng Anishnawbek territory.

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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