By JOHN MACLACHLAN GRAY
Tuesday, December 3, 2002
Way out here on the West Coast, where the news media and the political leadership, like the cast of The Full Monty, change their tune with their shorts and in unison, I suppose it's too much to ask for a shred of consistency when a proposal comes up stinking of money. I refer of course to Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the trashing of our new mayor's proposal for a referendum on the prospect.
Oh no, we can't have that, says the Premier, having on our behalf paid for a provincial referendum on the constitutional rights of First Nations -- a thumping success, democracy at its best, woof, woof. A referendum on the Olympics, on the other hand, would be a waste of money; worse, it might scotch our chances of a "winning" bid.
Quite so, quite so, harumph, go our business leaders, echoed in the editorials of the various Asper possessions. Mustn't send the wrong signal, stay positive, world-class city, hack-kaff.
These are the same media outlets that, in between spasms of Olympic boosterism, pump out one finger-wagger after the other about Canada's smug unpreparedness in the face of international terrorism, our porous border, the deadly threat we're not taking seriously. Didn't bin Laden himself mention Canada in his latest al-Qaeda infomercial? Not to mention the front-page photo spreads featuring potential local "targets," including B.C. ferries -- and let me tell you, while on the Queen of Surrey, my eyes have been peeled for swarthy people in lumpy vests ever since.
This is where the yearning for consistency arises: Given that terrorists tend to target highly symbolic places and events having to do with Western business (the Trade Towers), Western decadence (a nightclub in Bali) and anything perceived as a sign of Western hegemony, is this the ideal decade for a Western city in its right mind to host an event that is all three at once?
Faced with a war whose battleground is any place with satellite coverage and something to blow up, perhaps the citizens of a potential host city might be asked if we wish to be subjected to the security precautions attending our moment in the electric sun. What will life be like at the Vancouver airport, in its state of perpetual renovation? How tight must we zip our borders to satisfy American security fears, while preventing our American guests from bringing their guns for personal protection? Can we expect roadblocks and spot checks at Lion's Gate Bridge? Metal detectors at every Starbucks? Will we all wear ID badges?
Yes, I know, Salt Lake City managed its security spectacularly well -- at a cost of about a quarter-billion dollars. This feat involved an effort by, among others, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI, the Department of Defence, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard -- in what FBI Director Robert Mueller called a "model of interagency co-operation."
Well, let's see now: In Canada that would mean the RCMP, the Vancouver Police, the Whistler Police, the Canadian military and . . . er, that's it, really.
And how about that road to Whistler -- 120 kilometres of tortuous S-turns through the blasted-out walls of the Coast Mountain Range, subject to mudslides in winter, sheathed in steel netting so that loose boulders don't hurtle down onto the cars below. Buy a truckload of phosphate fertilizer, some hydrochloric acid and a condom, and you have a bomb capable of moving a couple of hundred tonnes of mountain; not to mention what you can do to a bridge with a few handfuls of explosive.
Given the vulnerability of a free society to anyone who happens to want to make us miserable, wouldn't the best defence be to keep one's head down, maintain a low profile until the coast is clear?
Unless, of course, our opinion leaders are confident that the problem of international terrorism will be solved by 2010 -- and I don't hear a lot of support for that view, not even from the President of the United States. More the opposite in fact, with the prospect of "weapons of mass destruction," and the spectre, dear God, of a "suitcase-sized nuclear device."
In the meantime, we can expect more little wars against dictators we don't like, as our troops -- under American leadership, of course -- prance through country after country, spreading freedom, making enemies, showering depleted uranium about the landscape like confetti at a wedding.
I remember these same provincial leaders, following Sept. 11, urging Ottawa to adopt the Zip Lock Bag concept, in which a sealed North American defence perimeter would keep the freshness in and the germs out. Of all the fear-mongering since that terrible date, they have produced more than their share -- parroted by our local Pravda, getting the party's message out there in both tabloid and broadsheet versions.
On the other hand, for all the security costs, the Salt Lake City Olympics made a profit of $110-million. Is it possible that all this terror, so eagerly marketed and spread, can be made to evaporate the moment the opportunity arises to make a fast buck? Kind of looks that way.