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Canadian Border Services Agency Gives Olympic Critics a Boost

November 30, 2009

Last Wednesday, U.S. broadcaster and journalist did not even realize the Olympics were being held in Vancouver. Four days later, she broadcasted her interview with two of the guys that challenged Vancouver’s Olympic gag bylaws, Chris Shaw, UBC professor and author of Five Ring Circus and David Eby, executive director of the BC Civil Liberty Association. As she hinted, her interest was piqued after her well-publicized incident at the Canadian border.

Goodman was on her way to the Vancouver Public Library to promote her book, aptly titled Breaking the Silence, when she was detained, searched and given a control order to leave the country within 48 hours. Her 90-minute detention and search has been discussed all over the media, most notably for its baffling nature – the official who detained Goodman and her colleagues was principally concerned about whether she would speak about the 2010 Olympics.

Ironically, this incident gave Olympics critics a wider audience, a good deal of vindication for their complaint and will probably go a long way toward promoting Goodman’s latest work. Maybe she will take a page from the book of recently departed interviewer Studs Terkel and send the officers a check in appreciation of future sales. Sadly, the incident creates the impression that the Canadian government is intolerant of speech that is critical of the 2010 Olympics.

Should this incident shake Canadians’ faith in their democratic institution of freedom of speech, or should it be seen as an anomaly? After all, this CBSA, for all its recent bad press, is the same agency that turned back Fred Phelps’ mob and which regularly polices illegal dumping operations and drug trafficking. But for all the CBSA’s good works, a foreign journalist was apparently interrogated, searched and given a restriction for potentially speaking about a topic .

It is not clear whether the officer was overreacting to Goodman’s reputation as a left-wing firebrand, or if there is a mandate within the agency that specifically targets speech critical of the Olympics.

There has been no statement on the incident from the CBSA office.

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