Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Regardless of the outcome, torch fiasco a black eye for Guelph

Political issues and criticisms surrounding the Olympics are vast and often justified. Whether it’s discrimination against our Native peoples and their lands, the excessive corporatization of the Games itself or the proliferation of false and arguably unnecessary nationalism, the Olympic Games has its fair share of detractors.

Furthermore, these lobbyists are currently coming to the forefront of local and national media coverage, as well as water cooler banter, given the fact that for the first time since the Winter Games were held in Calgary in 1988, Canada will be hosting this spectacular event next month. For better or for worse, the Olympic Games undoubtedly generates discussion.

And in light of events that took place on Dec. 28, the city of Guelph is attracting considerable attention across the country, with much of it negative.

During the Guelph leg of the cross-country torch relay, torch-bearer Cortney Hansen was allegedly knocked down by a protester, when anti-Olympic activists – many of which who belonged to a group called the Olympic Resistance Network – clashed with police.

Bearing slogans such as, “No Olympics on stolen native land!” and “Homes, not games!” the protesters seemed initially peaceful, distributing pamphlets outlining their arguments to the crowd of approximately 1000 observers, as the famed Olympic symbol made its way through the downtown core.

What followed this largely progressive demonstration is still under investigation, but has nevertheless cast a dark shadow over the Royal City.

Authorities are still trying to determine what exactly caused Hansen to fall – an officer’s foot or a protester’s malice – however, regardless of the outcome, this issue reflects poorly on the city of Guelph.

Similar protests have occurred across Canada during the torch trek, yet the Wyndham St. fiasco was the first such physical confrontation. Whether it was a group of overzealous and disobedient protesters, or the excessive overreactions of some overwhelmed officers, Guelph has attracted national attention for all the wrong reasons.

Two women associated with the resistance group have been charged with assault, while the protesters allege that the only violence that occurred was when an RCMP officer punched a protester. Witness accounts remain convoluted and contradictory, however, it is difficult to look at this as anything other than a black eye for Guelph’s renowned activist culture at a time when the community was in the national spotlight.

With the investigation ongoing and conclusions still lacking, it would be too subjective to pass judgment at this point on which story is true and what actually happened on the cold December morning. Regardless of the outcome, however, the entire event is a shame. Confusion notwithstanding, other communities read this story and are left with a sour taste in their mouth about what Guelph stands for.

Peaceful resistance and activism have been shining features on which the city has been able to hang its hat for several decades. Gwen Jacob’s 1991 topless stroll through downtown Guelph comes to mind when one recalls a progressive and non-violent example of the city’s activist culture. Sadly, the Olympic resistance will not achieve such reverence and admiration.

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