During the Winter Games, 20 observer teams assembled by the Vancouver Organizing Committee will patrol streets and venues, seizing materials they find to violate the Olympic brand.

Following closely behind them, armed with video equipment, still cameras and notebooks, however, will be Olympic legal observer teams assembled by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, in partnership with the Pivot Legal Society.

David Eby, executive director of the BCCLA, said these watchers of the watchmen are needed to ensure the free speech and civil rights of Vancouverites are protected.

“Free speech is not a security risk,” he said. “The Olympic spirit will not be dampened by people standing outside the venue handing out leaflets that say Canada Should End the Seal Hunt.”

Am Johal, chair of the Impact on Communities Coalition, said VANOC’s teams are a violation of human rights.

“Vancouver will not be a free-speech zone during the Olympics due to these Orwellian laws,” he said.

Eby said he is also particularly concerned by reports that VANOC might be recruiting volunteers for its observer teams.

“Here we have untrained, or minimally trained, volunteers deciding what people are and aren’t allowed to say outside Olympic venues.”

According to documents obtained by the BCCLA through a freedom-of-information request, VANOC’s observing teams will be able to confiscate materials of a political, ethnic or religious nature, along with general anti-Olympic signs and banners.

Bill Cooper, director of commercial rights management for VANOC, told reporters the intention is not to prevent other messages but to protect the Olympic message. He did not immediately return phone calls.