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Amy Goodman Detained at Canadian Border, Questioned about Speech…and 2010 Olympics

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While traveling to Vancouver, Canada, to speak at the Vancouver Public Library at a benefit for community radio stations, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman and her two colleagues were detained by Canadian authorities. She was questioned extensively about the speech she intended to give, their car was gone through by armed border guards, and their papers and laptop computers were scoured. The armed interrogators were particularly interested in whether she would be speaking about the upcoming Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. [includes rush transcript]

Special thanks to vancouver.mediacoop.ca and submedia.tv

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, today we begin with a look at Canada’s attempts to stifle dissent, particularly when it comes to the Winter Olympic Games to be held in Vancouver next year.

Last week, I was detained by Canadian authorities while crossing the Canadian border. It was Thanksgiving. I was on my way, along with two of my colleagues, to speak at the Vancouver Public Library at a benefit for community radio stations, when Canadian border guards held us for over an hour and a half at the border.

Well, it was the top story of the CBC News in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Here’s the report on CBC on Wednesday.

    CBC NEWS ANCHOR: Are Canadian border guards trying to limit free speech? An American journalist is outraged by what happened to her on the way to Vancouver last night. She was detained and questioned about what she was planning to say about the Olympics. Our “Go Public” reporter, Kathy Tomlinson, has the exclusive top story.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: An award-winning US journalist, Amy Goodman is well known in alternative media circles.

    AMY GOODMAN: I didn’t know we needed to have even a visa coming into Canada.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: Here to promote a book.

    AMY GOODMAN: Clearly he wasn’t going to let us go.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: She wasn’t sure she’d get in.

    AMY GOODMAN: They took the passports and then said, “Pull over.”

    KATHY TOMLINSON: You were flagged right off the bat?

    AMY GOODMAN: Uh, yeah.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: Goodman was grilled at the Peace Arch border Wednesday, asked repeatedly what she’d be talking about.

    AMY GOODMAN: I said, because we have a big healthcare reform debate going on in the United States, we were looking at Tommy Douglas. But he still wanted to know what else I’d be talking about. And I said, “And I’ll be talking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    KATHY TOMLINSON: She says they were only interested in what she’d say about the Olympics.

    AMY GOODMAN: He made it clear by saying, “What about the Olympics?”

    And I said, “You mean when President Obama went to Copenhagen to push for the Olympics in Chicago?”

    He said, “No, I’m talking about the Olympics here in 2010.”

    I said, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.”

    And he was clearly incredulous that I was not going to be talking about the Olympics. He didn’t believe me.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: Goodman has been detained before at the US Republican Convention, arrested with dozens of others, covering protests outside.

    Here she says her car and laptop were searched.

    AMY GOODMAN: They took a photograph.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: Then she was issued this, which says she must leave Canada Friday.

    AMY GOODMAN: I said, “Is this routine?” He said, “This is what we’re doing.”

    KATHY TOMLINSON: The Canada Border Services Agency says it won’t talk about this, citing privacy.

    AMY GOODMAN: I felt under siege. I felt monitored and surveilled. I felt, as a journalist, violated.

    KATHY TOMLINSON: We wanted to ask the government if this is part of a broader initiative to question and perhaps restrict people with certain political views coming here around the Olympics. The Canada Border Services Agency didn’t respond to our request for an interview.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That report from Kathy Tomlinson of CBC.

But, Amy, Thanksgiving —- tell us more about exactly what happened when you were stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, it was really incredible. It was Wednesday, the evening before Thanksgiving, and we were headed to the Vancouver Public Library, driving up from Seattle. When we got to the border, I thought it was just going to be routine. We handed in our passports. They stopped for a minute, and they flagged us. They said, “Pull over.” And it’s pouring rain outside. We pulled the vehicle over. We had to get out and go into the facility.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you were there with Denis -—

AMY GOODMAN: With Denis Moynihan and with Chuck Scurich. We were on our Breaking the Sound Barrier tour. And while folks here were eating turkey, we thought we’d go “talk turkey” in Vancouver and talk about the columns in Breaking the Sound Barrier with Canadian listeners to Democracy Now! Three community radio stations in Vancouver run Democracy Now!

So, we pulled in, went into the border facility. It’s a large hangar-like space. And they start going through our car, but we’re now inside. And then the border patrol call me up to the counter. And the guard —-

JUAN GONZALEZ: And obviously, to cross into Canada, people don’t need visas, they just -—

AMY GOODMAN: No, that’s right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — need to show identification, basically.

AMY GOODMAN: You need your passport. And we were very surprised. It was almost empty, this whole hangar, so we were clearly singled out. And I go up to the counter, and the guard says, “I want your notes.”

I said, “My notes?”

He said, “The notes for the talk tonight.”

I was completely taken aback. I went out to the car, and I brought in the copy of Breaking the Sound Barrier. And I came in, and I said, “Well, this is my new book, and it’s a book of columns. So I actually read from the columns.”

He said, “I want the notes.”

I said, “Well, these you could think of as my notes.”

And he said, “What are you talking about?”

And I said, “Well, I actually start with the last column, which is a column” — as I was saying in this report to Kathy Tomlinson — “about Tommy Douglas.” Now, for people in the United States, he’s not as famous a name. But in Canada he’s considered the greatest Canadian. Tommy Douglas is the premier — was the premier of Saskatchewan who brought, who pioneered the Canadian national healthcare system. And interestingly, he’s the grandfather of the actor Kiefer Sutherland, right? Kiefer Sutherland’s mother is Shirley Douglas, the actress; his father, Donald Sutherland. But his grandfather was Tommy Douglas.

And so, I said, “I’ll be talking about Tommy Douglas.” Actually, we were at the Douglas border crossing.

And he said, “What else?”

I said, “What else? Well, global warming.”

“What else?” he said.

I said, “The global economic meltdown.”

“What else?” he said.

I said, “Well, I’ll also be talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“What else are you talking about?” he said. And —-

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, is it your sense that this was some rogue customs agent or that he had basically been alerted -—

AMY GOODMAN: No, he was there with another.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — and had gotten instructions to do this kind of questioning?

AMY GOODMAN: He was working with a group of customs agents, with the border guard. I mean, they’re armed. Another border guard now has the book, and he’s reading it. But they are also inputting everything I say. This border guard is handwriting all notes about what I say. And then the other border guard is going to the computer and inputting everything.

Then, they say, “What else?”

And I say, “That’s about it.”

And he says, “What about the Olympics?”

I said, “The Olympics? You mean, when President Obama went to Copenhagen to push for the Olympics to come to Chicago?”

And he said, “And you didn’t get them.”

I said, “I know we didn’t get them.”

He said, “No, I’m talking about the Olympics here in 2010, in Canada.”

I said, “No, I hadn’t planned to talk about the Olympics.

“You’re denying that you’re talking about the Olympics.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Did you even know there’s an Olympics in 2010 in Canada?

AMY GOODMAN: This was not my topic, right? This was — this is not so much news in the United States. I really didn’t know what he was referring to. And he kept pushing. He was clearly incredulous. And at my surprise, he disbelieved me even further. He clearly did not think I was telling the truth. He kept pushing, “You’re denying you’re talking about the Olympics?”

I said, “That wasn’t my plan for tonight.”

Now, of course, as the reporter had asked me, “And what if you said yes? What would have happened then?”

Anyway, he finally tells me to sit down. And they go out, and they comb through the car. I got very alarmed at what was happening, and I walked outside to where the guards were going through the car. One is on my colleague’s computer, as if it was his. You know, he’s just — the computer was set up, and he was going through it. They were rifling through the papers and everything. They told me to get back inside. I went back inside.

Finally they came in. We’re now over an hour and a half late to the talk. And they say for me to follow them into a back room. I go with them into a back room — the border guards — and they take my picture. They make four copies of the picture. They take Denis and Chuck’s pictures. Individually, one by one, they take us in the back, one by one.

And then they attached them to what they called a control document. I said, “I wasn’t aware we needed a visa.” And they said, “These are control documents.” And they stapled them into each of our passports. And I opened it, and it said — the control document — that we had to leave by Friday. We were coming in on Wednesday —- that we had to leave by Friday.

Then we were allowed to leave. We saw they had been through both of my colleagues’ computers, both Denis and Chuck’s computers. I don’t know if they had gone into mine. And they had gone through the car. And we eventually arrived an hour and a half late to the talks.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Amazing. Amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: To say the least, it was -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is from our friendly Canadian neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, this was, to say the least, extremely jarring. I felt completely violated, I mean, personally and professionally, you know, and for journalism overall, because this is not only a violation of freedom of the press — you know, the idea that, you know, the state is going into your papers, your documents, your sources, everything — 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 they’ll be questioned, they’ll be interrogated, this is a threat to the free flow of information. And that’s the public’s loss. That’s democracy’s loss.

Well, we’re going to go right now to Canada, but we’re going to break first. And, by the way, folks, you may notice that we are in new studios here. We’re going to talk more, all about them on Wednesday. Quite remarkable, our new printing press studios, after eight years of the firehouse station, the wonderful place that we lived since the September 11th attacks. We were the closest national broadcast to Ground Zero. It was our home and hearth, our shelter in the storm. Well, we have now, thanks to the remarkable work of Karen Ranucci and Julie Crosby — our colleagues and commanders of our ship have steered us into this new printing press facility. It was the floor of an old printing press. The whole building was a graphics arts building. And now we turn that printing press into a new, twenty-first century digital facility. And we look forward to hosting people here when they come to New York in this new classroom for the next generation of independent journalists. And journalists have to work in multimedia formats, even those who have been working for years, but perhaps have never done radio, television, as well as print, or any other which way, any combination. This is a new era for Democracy Now!, and we welcome you all to the new Democracy Now!

But we’re going to go to break right now, and we’re going to stay in Vancouver to find out what are the rights of people on the border. But also, what was this obsession with the Canadian Olympics? What is this crackdown all about? This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to be back home in New York. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: For more on this story and to find out why Canadian authorities are so worried about the 2010 Olympics, we’re joined now on the telephone from Vancouver by two guests. Christopher Shaw is a professor of ophthalmology at University of British Columbia. He’s also a leading spokesperson for the No Games 2010 Coalition and 2010 Watch. He is the author of Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games. And David Eby is the executive director of British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you both to Democracy Now! David Eby, let’s begin with you. Can you explain this crackdown at the border? How typical is this? And this obsession with, well, first demanding notes of a talk and then not being satisfied until I would say that I was speaking about the Olympics?

DAVID EBY: Well, Amy, unfortunately, it’s quite common to see police forces, security forces in Vancouver in Canada targeting activists. What’s unique about your situation is that you, as far as I know, were not on the record on Canada’s 2010 Olympic Games, and the people who have been targeted, here at least, have spoken out in public at City Hall, in the media, about the Olympic Games. We have had Americans here who are in town, who are activists, who have been arrested and taken to the border because they are associating with anti-Olympic activists here in Canada. And so, it’s not surprising for me to hear that the Canadian Border Service Agency, which is part of the larger integrated security unit providing security for the Olympics, is interested in Olympic issues. What was surprising was somehow they tied you in with these Olympic issues and this crackdown against activists that’s happening here in Vancouver.

AMY GOODMAN: And this demand to know thought and speech?

DAVID EBY: Yeah, it’s interesting. We have a billion dollars being spent on security here. Protesters and activists have been identified as the number one security threat to the Olympic Games. And as a result, we actually have police visits happening to people as innocuous as — there’s a group of Cowichan women, First Nation women here, who knit Cowichan sweaters, and The Bay, which is a department store here, had a very similar design to Cowichan sweater designs, and they said they were going to wear their sweaters along the torch run as a protest, and they were also visited by the police. So, you don’t really need to be particularly a major security threat to be identified as a threat for these Olympic Games. In fact, basic dissent seems to be identified as a security threat.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what kind of general preparations is the government making for the Games? I understand there are efforts to remove the homeless from Vancouver. Could you talk about how the general population is being affected?

DAVID EBY: Yeah. We’ve been on the defensive, basically for the last year, defending rights and freedoms here in Vancouver from Olympic-related initiatives. We’ve got a new provincial law that allows the police to arrest the homeless who don’t report to the nearest homeless shelter when the police issue such a demand to them. We have our police department investing secretly in new equipment that we find out about only accidentally, like LRADs. This is the device that we saw used on protesters in Pittsburgh at the G20 there. A billion dollars is being spent on various pieces of equipment and personnel, and we have no idea what’s being purchased in terms of rubber bullets, tear gas, that kind of equipment.

In addition, we have new city bylaws being passed that restrict the content of people’s signs in a large area of the downtown core, dictating that signs either be licensed or the content of the signs be celebratory. And “celebratory” is actually a defined term in the bylaw. That’s a sign that increases the positive feelings or festive spirit around the Olympic Games.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Christopher Shaw, you’re a professor of opthalmology at the University of British Columbia. You have been a leading spokesperson against the Games. Could you talk to us about why your coalition is opposed and what’s been the reaction of the government to your efforts?

CHRISTOPHER SHAW: Well, the coalition is opposed to the Games across a broad spectrum of issues. The first is the enormous cost. The costs have been really rather extraordinary. They’re probably topping $6 billion now. It could go much higher. And we were promised it was going to be much lower. So this is not atypical for Olympic Games. They tend to go much higher. And Chicago is actually really lucky they dodged a bullet, because they would be — they would be on the hook for something probably like fifteen, twenty billion dollars when everything was said and done. So, we unfortunately didn’t dodge the bullet, so vast costs. As David mentioned, there’s the impact on the poor and the homeless. There have been concerted efforts to move the homeless along, get them out of the way of the television cameras in the advance of the Games. Massive environmental destruction in various places around Vancouver leading up the Games, something like 100,000 trees cut down, much of it old growth. Three-point-five megatons of carbon dioxide associated with Games activities and habitat destruction. Lack of transparency across the board. It’s almost impossible to find out what the various levels of government and the organizing committee are actually up to, how they’re spending the money, how they’re making their decisions.

And there’s a real lack of democracy. And, you know, you’re up here in Canada for this show, or at least with David and me being on, and you might call it “Democracy Sometimes.” Democracy sometimes works in Canada, and sometimes it doesn’t. And the civil liberties really becomes the final piece of the equation, because civil liberties usually take a hit for Olympic Games. Olympic organizers have become increasingly terrified of protests or anything that would disturb the IOC. So, as David mentioned, the city has attempted to pass a major bylaw to the city charter that would allow them to essentially stifle dissent in the city, unless you’re going to celebrate. You’re certainly not going to dissent.

We seem to have been able to overturn much of that by a lawsuit that David’s organization, the BC Civil Liberties Organization, was able to bring in. But we’re still facing the so-called Assistance to Shelter Act, the one that would allow homeless to be taken against their will to shelters. And the province has come in with a provincial bill that basically strengthens the city’s ability to impose fines on signs they consider to be ambush marketing.

So, kind of across the board we’ve seen a lot of the negative aspects of the Olympics that have played out in other cities come to the fore in Vancouver. And right now the authorities here are terrified of protest. That has become their number-one threat. And they just don’t want to see any embarrassment for the different levels of government. They don’t want to see it on the national news. So what happened to Amy is probably — probably going to be increasingly the pattern that we’re going to see at the border. Many Americans that we know want to come up and join us in protests, it may be very hard for them to get across the border. And I would suggest that if Amy had actually admitted that she was actually going to talk about the Games, which I know she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have gotten across the border at all.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Chris Shaw, one other question in terms of the history of prior cities. Real estate developers and big mega-projects have always benefited from these games. Is that happening there, as well, that the real estate industry is being one of the prime beneficiaries?

CHRISTOPHER SHAW: Yes, it is. They’ve done very well. They basically got everything they had wanted the decade earlier. Essentially all of their wishes came true, and it came true at taxpayers’ expense. This is a great way of delivering mega-projects that the developers can’t finance on their own and can’t find investors to go for, but they can get the taxpayers to pay for it if they slap the Olympics on. And so, yes, they’ve done quite well

AMY GOODMAN: Is there any words of warning, David Eby, in terms of journalists coming into Canada to cover these Games? Is this a concern they won’t be able to do stories before, if they are concerned about getting in, stories that might be critical of the Olympics, the kind of chilling effect this has on the coverage of what’s going to be taking place in 2010?

DAVID EBY: Well, we’re certainly very concerned about your story, Amy, and not — we have protections here, as well, for freedom of the press or free expression guarantees, as you do there in the United States, and it was totally inappropriate that our Canadian Border Services Agency would be harassing journalists in this manner. We believe it’s inappropriate they’re harassing nonviolent activists in this manner, as well. And the chilling effect goes across the full spectrum of anyone who may wish to report on or criticize the Olympic Games, to discourage them from engaging in such activities. You know, when you cross the border, you have a very reduced expectation of privacy. And in fact, we have a case in Canada that says that it’s OK for the border officials to go through your laptop as if they were searching through a piece of your luggage, or something along those lines. We disagree with the finding of that decision. And in particular, we disagree with it in terms of its application against journalists who may be coming to Canada either to speak or report or investigate stories. Completely inappropriate conduct.

AMY GOODMAN: David Eby, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, and Chris Shaw, professor of ophthalmology at University of British Columbia, leading spokesperson for the No Games 2010 Coalition and the 2010 Watch. Book, Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games. Thank you so much for being with us from Vancouver.

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