Party not protest in 2010, Torch relay planners pray

Let's party, not protest in 2010, torch relay planners say


May 13, 2008

VANCOUVER -- Undeterred by threats of torch-relay protests, organizers are urging communities to party, party, party when the Olympic flame passes by on its epic journey across the country in 2010.

"It's going to be the biggest continual celebration this country has ever seen," torch relay director Jim Richards vowed yesterday, as he disclosed that 200 Canadian municipalities have been chosen to stage flamboyant public events marking the flame's arrival in their region.

The identity of those selected will not be unveiled until the fall, but letters inviting them to take part are already winding their way to the local mayors and councils, Mr. Richards said.

"They have a right to say no. This is just the start of a dialogue, but it's our work with the communities that will make the torch relay a success."

For each of the relay's 100 days, chosen communities will stage evening and noon-hour torch-related celebrations lasting several hours, with logistical and some financial assistance from the organizing committee of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (VANOC).

Content of the celebrations will be up to the municipalities, Mr. Richards said, adding that he hopes the galas will highlight local culture.

All told, 1,000 Canadian communities will be included in the flame's 35,000-kilometre journey.

The event is billed by organizers as the longest torch relay within the boundaries of a single country in Olympic history.

The A-list of 200 locations consists of larger "population centres" that will draw people from around the region to celebrate the torch's arrival there, Mr. Richards explained.

"Until now, we've just been working on the route. ... That's why this is so exciting. We are out of the planning, and into the building. It's real now."

Statements by some Canadian native leaders that they may stage protests along the torch relay have caused tremors among VANOC officials, who have been hoping for a journey free of the chaos that disrupted several international stops of the relay for this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

"Protests may occur, but our goal is to inspire, to get out and engage the public in our vision that these will be Canada's Games," Mr. Richards said.

There was no immediate word on whether the procession of the Olympic torch, currently travelling through China to rapturous crowds, would be delayed in deference to the devastating earthquake that struck areas of Sichuan province.

The torch is now in the east coastal province of Fuzhou, after its triumphal trek to the top of Mount Everest. It is not scheduled to hit Sichuan for another month.

Human-rights organizations continue to accuse China of escalating its crackdown against activists during the torch relay.

Sichuanese Chen Daojun was detained last week on suspicion of "inciting subversion of state power," likely connected to Internet postings in support of Tibetan rights and opposition to the Beijing Olympics.

"There is an intensified effort to silence dissent," PEN International said in a statement, noting that Mr. Chen is the second dissident writer arrested in China in the past week.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Corp. of B.C. announced yesterday that 100,000 British Columbians have now forked out an extra $35 for special Winter Olympics licence plates since they went on sale a year ago.

"These are tremendous sales results," said Jeff Schulz, marketing vice-president of the publicly owned auto insurance service. "They indicated that British Columbians are proud supporters of the Games."

ICBC generally sells about 800,000 new plates a year for the regular price of $18.

The extra money goes to VANOC, as part of the corporation's official sponsorship deal with the Olympics.