Legal Observing is a way of volunteering for the Olympics that fits with my values and feels useful. My son told me about the program when I expressed my ambivalence about the games. Our training stressed our neutral role, and reminded me of my first experience in contribution through witnessing.
In November 1969, I was part of a busload of Toronto university students at the Moratorium in Washington DC protesting the war in Vietnam. The organizers needed volunteers from the protesters to maintain the proportionate number of “marshals” required by their parade permit. So, along with many of the Canadians, I stopped marching and became a peacekeeper. Wikipedia reports that “a quarter of a million demonstrators were led by Pete Seeger in singing John Lennon’s new song ‘Give Peace a Chance’.” I was there in the front row, though my back was turned to the celebrities. I stood in the human chain around the stage, facing the crowd. In my role as buffer, I felt like I was living the lyrics.
The civil liberties issues are different with the Olympics, but I am glad that, by becoming a Legal Observer, I have found a way of situating myself to the games. Through visibility and record-keeping, I hope I can help maintain a safe space for the articulation of differing points of view.
A month ago, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Pivot Legal Society teamed up to announce their Legal Observer Program, a watchdog group established to observe and document legal issues that arise during the Games, such as infringements of rights to free speech and assembly, unreasonable searches and seizures, and other problematic interactions between residents and law enforcement.
The program is now well underway. So far, two training sessions have trained dozens of prospective Legal Observers, giving them the skills they’ll need to act as Observers.
More training sessions will be held in the coming months, with the next public sessions will be held on November 22 and December 6, both at 2:30 p, and at the Britannia Community Centre on Commercial Drive. If you’d like to sign up, email Shannon at the BCCLA: firstname.lastname@example.org