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Security efforts give Canada a black eye

Nine... hundred... million... dollars. Canadian taxpayer dollars. Being spent to provide security during the 2010 Winter Olympics.


Nine... hundred... million... dollars. Canadian taxpayer dollars. Being spent to provide security during the 2010 Winter Olympics.

And some of it is being used to interrogate Amy Goodman?

Goodman is the co-founder, executive producer and host of Democracy Now!, an independent, award-winning news program syndicated to more than 450 public radio stations across North America. Last week she was traveling by car from Seattle to speak at the Vancouver Public Library as part of a tour to promote a new book, Breaking The Sound Barrier. She and her colleagues were detained at the border, their laptops and notes were reviewed and she was asked about the Olympics.

Goodman says she responded by asking if the border guard meant Barack Obama going to Copenhagen to push for the 2016 Olympics in Chicago. She says the guard said "no, the 2010 Olympics." Goodman said she hadn't thought of that. Her intention was to speak about health care reform in the U.S. and Tommy Douglas's role in shaping health care in Canada.

This is the type of security "threat" $900 million is protecting us from?

Security lives by the broadest of rules: we don't have to explain, lives may be at stake.

And who can deny that when the cards are so stacked in their favour? They know more than we do. They have better information.

But people in the security business in Canada also have a lot to make up for, starting with the 1985 Air India massacre that was virtually CSIS's first assignment.

Leading up to the 2010 Olympics the Integrated Security Unit has been interviewing critics and opponents of the Games. It could be argued that more has been made of these interviews than is warranted. After all, how many people across the country are interviewed by police in a pre-emptive effort each week? Dozens? Hundreds?

No right thinking individual wants a major disruption or life-threatening situation during the Olympics. And if U.S. President Barack Obama or German Chancellor Angela Merkel decides to visit during the Games (and it appears that only if one of them came would Stephen Harper consider venturing this way), certainly there will need to be a very high level of security for these heads of state. That security would start with intelligence collected weeks and months in advance.

But intimidating and harassing an American journalist on the incorrect assumption that she was going to speak negatively about the Olympics is not only a waste of time and money and an embarrassment, it's a little erosion of the foundation we like to believe Canada is built upon: a free and open society.

Earlier this year a federal government report estimated the cost of Canada's mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011 to be $11.3 billion. Last year Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, estimated the 10-year cost of the Afghan mission to be $18.1 billion, but Page suggested that figure may be low.

Choose your numbers: a little over $1 billion per year for 10 years or a little under $2 billion per year for 10 years, in a noble effort to stabilize Afghanistan and bring some semblance of democracy to that country. Put them up against the budget for security for the Olympics - $900 million, or a little under $1 billion for essentially 17 days, although there are lots of pre-Olympic exercises and planning included in that total.

The money spent in Afghanistan is an attempt to build a new democracy; some of the money spent on Olympic security has been used to chip away at democracy in Canada.

The Afghanistan mission is not completely transparent, but those who are interested can question, criticize, praise, support - they can debate it in public. The Olympic security budget is beyond reproach.

The 2010 Olympics - Canada's Olympics - are a symbol, an example to the rest of the world about Canadian values. And last week we didn't look so good.