As the torch for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic games approaches Vancouver after being carried across Canada, the torch for a parallel games arrived yesterday. It was the torch for the 2010 Poverty Olympics, carried from city to city across British Columbia. It’s arrival was cheered by about 500 people packed into the Japanese Hall on Vancouver’s

Downtown Eastside for the opening of the Poverty Olympics

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The poverty Olympics, organized by left wing activists, parodied the spending of over $6 billion tax dollars for the 2010 Winter Olympics, money they believe could have been spent to eliminate homeless, build affordable housing, and raise welfare rates.One of two MCs on the stage, Gena Thompson, dressed in a “Chewy the Rat” costume, said,“Money the government could use to reduce poverty and homelessness is being squandered at a 3-ring circus.”

The Poverty Olympics mascots were Chewy the Rat, Itchy the Bedbug, and Creepy the Cockroach, rodents often found in hotel rooms rented by low income people on the Downtown Eastside. Thompson, who is a Board member at the Carnegie Community Centre in Vancouver’s low income Downtown Eastside, said, in her role as Chewy the Rat, that she was grateful for “lots of substandard housing where landlords don’t make us move out.”

The second MC, “Itchy the Bedbug” played by Robert Sarti, a retired reporter for the Vancouver Sun newspaper and former Carnegie Centre Board member, said that in contrast to the budget of billions for the Winter Olympics, the Poverty Olympicshad a budget of seven dollars.  He was joking: the Poverty Olympics programme contained acknowledgement of support from organizations such as the BC Teachers Federation, Hospital Employees Union, and the BC Nurses Union.

Games played by actors on stage at the Poverty Olympics included the Broken Promise Slalom, performed by the Carnegie Community Action Project, a group which has for years been complaining about the failure of government to keep their promise to provide additional affordable housing as a legacy of the Olympics.  The Olympic Village, where athletes will be temporarily housed, was originally promised as a source of some units of affordable housing but financial bungling resulting in a price tag of over a billion dollars have all but nixed that possibility.

The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee [VANOC], condo developers, landlords, and conservative politicians were vilified at the Poverty Olympics. In a hockey game, the VANOC Predators competed with the Pigeon Park Eagles. Players had names like Wayne Corporatsky, Guy La Flat Broke, Alexander Eviction, Mario La Media, and Johnny Weasel Furlong (John Furlong is the head of VANOC).  The referee in the game was wearing “Coleman” sign (see above photo), a reference to BC Solicitor General Rich Coleman who has been accused of allowing police to encroach on civil liberties of Downtown Eastside residents to make the city more Olympics-friendly.

The Poverty Olympics were not defeatist though. In Wrestling for the Community, children of activists on the Downtown Eastside were wrestled to the ground by a condo developer with little black devil’s ears, but in the end, they fought back and pinned him to the ground.

In addition to housing and welfare rates being issues at the Poverty Olympics, issues from surveillance cameras to native land claims were touched upon. Itchy the Bedbug mentioned that nine hundred surveillance cameras have been installed on the Downtown Eastside for the Olympics.  “Do you think they’ll bother taking them down after the Olympics?”, Chewy the Rat asked him.  And speaker after speaker thanked the Squamish nation for allowing this event to be held on their territory. These themes were evident in a parody of Canada’s National Anthem, “Oh Canada”, sung by the Carnegie choir at both the opening and closing of the Poverty Olympics:

Oh Canada
Our home on Native land.
A billion for security,
Instead of building homes.
Olympic spending has gone sky high
While thousands sleep outside.
From far and wide
Oh Canada

Invite the world to see
A quarter million souls,
Poor and freezing cold.
Oh Canada, where is e-q-ual-i-ty?
Oh Canada, we are ashamed of thee. 

The organizers outlined in the Poverty Olympics program just how they would have preferred the $6 billion be spent:

$2.5B    Raise welfare by 50% for 5 years
$1B       End the barriers that keep people in need from getting welfare for 5 years
$2.5B    AND build 12,720 new units of good social housing

To ensure that civil liberties were respected the BC Civil Liberties Association sent approximately 1o “Legal Observers” to the event, all wearing orange t-shirts.  “Free speech is alive on the Downtown Eastside”, Sarti announced at the beginning of the event.   He didn’t mention that both he and Thompson, as Board members of Carnegie, were involved in stripping a homeless man on the Downtown Eastside of his civil liberties.  William Simpson was banned from entering the Carnegie building or attending Board meetings almost immediately after he managed to get himself elected to the Board of Carnegie in June 2007. Simpson was accused of being linked to a blog exposing Carnegie for allegedly frequently locking doors to services they were funded to provide to the poor.  Sarti twice chased Simpson across an upstairs lobby at Carnegie in front of witnesses, taunting, “Tattle tale Queen of the Carnegie.” Simpson remains barred and Thompson remains on the Board of Carnegie.

Cockroach cake (in above photo) and coffee were served following the event.

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