Thursday, December 3, 2009
Are you going to talk about the Olympics?
from the 2010 Games Watchdog Committee site
After being brought in for questioning by the US border guards at the International Falls US/Canada border crossing a few weeks back, I falsely assumed that it is US border guards that have a premium on paranoia and suspicion due to Homeland Security tied in with Islamophobia.
But it appears that Canadian border guards also take up questionable tactics that cause some people to be singled out unfairly, creating unnecessary distress for them. Indeed, freedom of speech and the concept of democracy have both been challenged by the recent actions of Canadian border guards in their treatment of Amy Goodman, who was coming to Canada to speak at a library.
At a public library --that radical site of dissent! Geez, all along I had thought libraries were conservative places and librarians tinged with a bit of reserve. Who would've thought that a person who was coming to town to speak at the library would have her notes looked over, her laptop examined, and be grilled about her writing--and then being allowed to stay only 2 days in Canada, as if she were not to be trusted here?
Respected and award-winning reporter and journalist Amy Goodman was detained by Canadian border guards and questioned extensively about her writings and talks. I highly recommend watching the report on her ordeal here, which details not only Goodman's questioning but also the larger issues of "security" in Canada and the loss of the rights of dissent. THe whole issue of freedom of the press, and the question of more journalists being harassed at the border if they are SUSPECTED of writing critical pieces on the 2010 Olympics.
Goodman has written the following account of her interrogation and search.
Canada’s Olympic Crackdown
by Amy Goodman
Going to Canada? You may be detained at the border and interrogated. I was, last week. I was heading from Seattle to give a talk at the Vancouver Public Library. My detention provoked outrage across Canada, making national news. It has serious implications for the freedom of the press in North America.
I drove to the border with two colleagues. We showed our passports to the Canadian guard and answered standard questions about our purpose for entering Canada. No visas are necessary for U.S. citizens to enter.
The guard promptly told us to pull over, leave the car and enter the border crossing building.
What followed was a flagrant violation of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. A guard first demanded the notes for my talk. I was shocked. I explained that I speak extemporaneously. He would not back off. He demanded notes. I went out to the car and brought in a copy of my new book, a collection of my weekly columns called “Breaking the Sound Barrier.” I handed him a copy and said I start with the last column in it.
“I begin each talk with the story of Tommy Douglas,” I explained, “the late premier of Saskatchewan, father of Canada’s universal health care system.” Considered the greatest Canadian, Douglas happens to be actor Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather, but I didn’t get that far.
“What else?” the armed guard demanded as we stood in the Douglas border facility.
“I’ll be talking about global warming and the Copenhagen climate summit.”
“I’ll address the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“What else?” The interrogator was hand-writing notes, while another guard was typing at a computer terminal.
“Well, that’s about it.”
He looked at me skeptically. “Are you going to talk about the Olympics?” he asked.
I was puzzled. “Do you mean how President Obama recently traveled to Copenhagen to lobby for the Olympic Games to be held in Chicago?”
He shot back, “You didn’t get those. I am talking about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.” Again, stunned, I said I wasn’t planning to.
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.
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.
It was then that I started learning about what was going on. The crackdown is widespread, it turns out. David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, told me, “We have a billion dollars being spent on security here; protesters and activists have been identified as the No. 1 security threat to the Olympic Games ... we have new city bylaws that restrict the content of people’s signs.” According to critics, the police can raid your home if you place an anti-Olympic sign in your window. There are concerns that homeless people may be swept from Vancouver, about how much public funding the Games are receiving while vital social services are financially starved. Anti-Olympic activists—and their family and friends—are being followed, detained and questioned.
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.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of "Breaking the Sound Barrier," recently released in paperback and now a New York Times bestseller.