September 18, 2009 / 10:10 PM / 8 years ago

Protests expected at 2010 Games torch relay

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Some protests are likely during the torch run leading up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but that will not take away from it success, organizers said on Friday.

Some anti-Olympics and Native rights activists have warned they may disrupt the torch relay that will begin October 30, in Victoria, British Columbia, and cover 45,000 km (29,250 miles) as it crisscrosses Canada.

“I think you would have to be naive to think that we aren’t going to, from time to time along the route, see people express themselves. That’s a Canadian tradition,” said John Furlong, the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s chief executive.

Furlong said some 50,000 people are expected to watch the torch run start in Victoria, and he predicted it will be an overwhelming success.

“People need to respect that this is a time for celebration, for families and children,” he said.

Unlike the torch relay for the Beijing Summer Olympics, which was an international event and became the focus of repeated protests, organizers of the 2010 Games decided to limit the run to just Canada.

But the route will also take the relay through more than 100 aboriginal communities, which have historically suffered the country’s worst rates poverty and social problems.

One of the most vocal anti-Olympic groups has charged the entire 2010 Games are being held on “stolen Native land” -- a claim dismissed by aboriginal groups that are part of the Olympic organizing effort.

Concern over a backlash to the torch run is believed to be part of the reason one corporate sponsor asked former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine to advise on increasing Native participation in the event.

Civil liberties groups have complained that security rules designed to protect the torch relay and competition events could quash legitimate political protests.

VANOC is not against free speech, but how officials respond will be decided on a case-by-case basis, just as they would at any other major sporting event, said Dave Cobb, VANOC’s deputy chief executive.

“If somebody has some slogan on a T-shirt it is very unlikely to get our attention. I think if you’ve got a big group of people holding up signs, obstructing the view or distracting athletes, then it is something we would look at more,” Cobb said.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association said this week that despite VANOC’s reassurances, it plans to use “legal observer teams” to monitor security forces for potential civil rights violations.

($1=$1.07 Canadian)

Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson

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