Unmasking Vancouver’s Olympic Legacy: Poverty Cleansing the Downtown Eastside by Public Policy

As nice smiling Canadians wave their maple leafs and commodified aboriginal logos in anticipation of the 2010 Winter Olympics, poor people are getting fucked over in Vancouver.  And no one seems to care.


Despite all the promises to the contrary, Vancouver‘s Olympic Games have failed to be sustainable.  Instead, slick public relations by VANOC and support from Vancouver‘s tight-knit corporate media sector have masked a public policy imperative to drive out seniors, income assistance recipients and those suffering from mental illness and addiction from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.   Policing, private security and property flipping have been the rules of the game.  With more security on its way and the property frenzy continuing, Vancouver City Hall is not acting adequately to set up barriers to displacement.


This idea of ‘fixing’ the neighbourhood means the permanent displacement of the long term low income community that has called this neighbourhood home for decades. 


It’s Expo 86 all over again — just slower and carried out over more years.


The deafening silence in this city from the academic community, labour unions, elected leaders, the Board of Trade and even most non-profit societies is not only pathetic, but an unfortunate characteristic of this passive, intellectually dead city that lacks compassion.  This is a city where people talk about progressive politics and social change, but don’t really do anything about it.


Everyone’s getting in on the orgy.


Unfortunately, half the city is smoking pot or dancing like an idiot at the Folk Festival to focus long enough to do anything about it.


Vancouver‘s politics rides on its reputation while the reality is that the majority of people vote for the provincial Liberals and the NPA who condone these policies.  Neither grassroots groups, civil society or progressive political parties have met the challenge effectively.     


What is really offensive is that most people in this city want it to happen, but refuse to take responsibility for their views.  This kind of arms-length poverty cleansing while engaging in the public relations of brotherhood, internationalism and peace that the Olympics evoke is disturbing and disappointing. 


But it’s an accurate snapshot of contemporary Vancouver culture – shallow, narcissistic, naively earnest and smug. 


The equation of global capital, local greed driven by civic elites and an uncriticial corporate media is a dangerous thing.


But none of this should come as a surprise.  Vancouverites tend to be most comfortable when they are pathetic and mediocre.


The orgy of lies that has preceded this blunt politics of displacement only confirms the limitations of the middling nature of the Canadian public sphere.  Our collective propensity as citizens to flag wave and want to only hear CBC versions of goodness and appropriateness means that we only hear what we want to hear.  Canadians will choose naivete over truth, as long as it sounds better and no one will raise their voice.


It, unfortunately, makes for an uninteresting political culture and masks the blunt, unforgiving reality of displacement to appease real estate and tourism interests.



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