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Wikileaks on Vancouver

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Canadians 'sensitive' over Olympic security, sovereignty during Vancouver Games: WikiLeaks

VANCOUVER — In the lead up to this year's Olympic Winter Games, Canadian officials were "sensitive" to the issue of sovereignty and repeatedly told their American counterparts that Canada was in charge of security, according to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable posted Tuesday on the website of the British newspaper, The Guardian.

American diplomats also noted that while Canadians were doing an "excellent" job of preparing security measures for the Games, they were also feeling the "pinch" from cost overruns and lack of personnel, and that investigators were even having to push aside drug investigations to focus on Olympic security — a claim the RCMP denies.

The cable is one of thousands that have been released to select media outlets in recent weeks by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, prompting a heated debate around the world about whether the information deluge represents a milestone in government transparency or poses a threat to foreign diplomacy.

The cable dealing with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games was sent by the U.S. consulate in Vancouver in February 2009, a year before the international sporting event began. The cable noted that with the Games being held less than 50 kilometres from the U.S. border, there were "numerous areas" where security was a "shared responsibility."

But Canadians "are sensitive to the issues of sovereignty," American diplomats wrote, "and we have been reminded repeatedly that they are responsible for the overall security of the Games."

U.S. diplomats observed that the global economic crisis and demands of post-9/11 security were proving to be "huge challenges" to organizers.

Finances are "looming large over Games' security," they wrote. "Original estimates of C$175 million have now ballooned to a figure somewhere between C$400 million and C$1 billion."

In the end, security costs ended up totalling about $850 million, according to a report tabled in Ottawa this month.

Beyond monetary costs, the cable went on to say that the Games could also result in "significant reductions in policing activity and investigations nationwide."

"A DEA agent was told by one of his RCMP counterparts that by September, all regional drug agents could be working on Olympics, with no investigations ongoing until March 2010. Already, the RCMP has all but stopped marijuana-related investigations."

But RCMP spokesman Const. Michael McLaughlin said Tuesday it is "absolutely false" to suggest that marijuana or other drug investigations were stopped because of the Games. "We were still working on current investigations, still taking new cases, still answering the phones, and still working on overtime when required."

McLaughlin said while the force contributed "significant resources and personnel" to the Games, investigators continued to probe serious crimes, including drug and organized crime cases.

"There were some serious investigations started and even concluded during the lead up to and during the Olympics," he said. "We were careful to make sure files were still on our radar and priorities were dealt with."

Besides security, the missive by American diplomats also touched on the brewing controversy surrounding the "true" costs of the Games. The cable referred to "expensive" infrastructure projects, such as a $600-million upgrade to the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler and a new $2-billion transit line.

"Critics like to lump these costs in with the more direct Olympics costs, emphasizing an overwhelming burden placed on the B.C. and Canadian taxpayer," the cable noted.

U.S. diplomats also wrote that critics were having a "field day" with financial problems related to the $700-million Olympic Village.

The primary financial backer of the project announced it could not deliver on the final $458 million in capital to complete the project, prompting the city to get special provincial authority to seek loans to complete the project.

Despite the financial issues, "optimism over the event remains strong," the Americans wrote, adding that Games organizers had shown "remarkable financial astuteness" and all competition venues were completed or would be completed "on time and within budget."

The cable also noted that Canadian Olympic officials were very anxious to know whether U.S. President Barack Obama and his family would be attending the Games.

"The President is immensely popular in Canada and given the Games' proximity to the U.S., there are high expectations that the President and his family will make an appearance," U.S. diplomats wrote.

But Obama was a no-show; he sent Vice-President Joe Biden instead.

Vancouver Sun

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