Olympic 'Spirit Train' met with protesters in B.C.
Source: The Canadian Press
Published: September 23rd 2008

PORT MOODY, B.C. A cross-country rail trip aimed at boosting enthusiasm for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver was disrupted Sunday by noisy demonstrators protesting the Games' impact on the environment, the homeless and aboriginal rights.

About three dozen protesters attempted to drown out a ceremony marking the departure of the Canadian Pacific (TSX:CP) Spirit Train in Port Moody, east of Vancouver.

As protesters repeatedly yelled though bullhorns and banged pots, the band on a railcar stage turned up its volume to match the demonstrators' noise level.

Scuffles erupted as police officers tried to hold back protesters. One man was arrested and carried away by his arms and legs.

Sgt. Ken MacDonald of Port Moody Police said a man and a woman were arrested for assault. They were pulled from the banner-shaking crowd in front of the stage after a woman and her two children were surrounded.

Giving her name only as Gina, the woman said she was trying to take her four-year-old daughter, Parisa, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, to see the band when protesters closed in on them.

With several hundred people attending the event, the protest group yelled slogans about stolen native land and housing.

B.C Finance Minister Colin Hansen, whose portfolio includes provincial responsibility for the Games, played down the impact of the protest.

"I think this particular group have totally discredited themselves from their past antics," Hansen said. "They claim to be proponents of First Nations rights, yets they're shouting down an aboriginal band that's on the stage.

"The vast majority of First Nations in British Columbia are supporting the Olympics."

The train is staging a 10-city tour. Anti-Olympic activists have pledged to meet it at every stop.

A group calling itself the Olympic Resistance Network says the Olympics will displace Vancouver's homeless population, hurt the environment and perpetuate the "theft of indigenous land."

Group spokesman Garth Mullins said a lot of voices were being left out of the Spirit Train festivities.

"We're trying to join the discussion on what the Olympics are all about and the impacts they're going to have on the environment, especially on homelessness in Vancouver, on property values, on the incredible acceleration of development," he said.

The federal government has worked to counter such criticism, signing agreements worth billions of dollars with the four bands whose traditional territories are home to the Games.

James Moore, secretary of state for the 2010 Olympics who is seeking re-election for the Conservatives in Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, said he was disappointed by the protest and arrests.

"People can debate and have their disagreements - they have the right of free speech," he said. "Obviously, it's disappointing for the community.

"I don't think the protesters are doing themselves any favours. Our community doesn't need or deserve this."

The Spirit Train is scheduled to stop in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and four Ontario communities - Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Mississauga and Smiths Falls - before ending its journey in Montreal on Oct. 18.

The train will make a repeat journey in the fall of 2009, and possibly after the Games as part of a tour for medallists.

CP Rail paid somewhere between $3 million and $15 million to be the official rail freight services supplier to the 2010 Olympics.

CP spokesman Mike LoVecchio said the company repsects the right to protest, but the show will go on.

"The bottom line here is we've got a show to produce, we want to produce that show," LoVecchio said. "We want to bring the Olympics and the Olympic spirit to Canadians across Canada, and that's what we're looking to do."
 

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