I’m not sure if it’s safe to ask, but I have a question. It’s directed at “they,” that bunch in charge of Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching skaters whiz by, blades flashing across the ice, in pursuit of the puck, a world record or a triple Axel.

Basically, I’m happy the world’s greatest winter athletes will assemble here in Vancouver in approximately 200 days.

But if I was a sworn critic of the Games — and there are plenty — I’d have legitimate cause to protest. These Games are a mixed blessing: They cost at least $6 billion when all levels of government are pressed to pay for basics like health care, and they require immense patience from We The Rabble, as we are endlessly rerouted and otherwise inconvenienced in preparation for the events, which come and go over a mere two weeks.

Anyway, here’s the question: Why do we need “free-speech zones” at the 2010 Games?

Because that’s what we’re getting — areas set aside, close to event sites and the media centre, where lawful protest can take place.

I thought all of Canada was a “free-speech zone,” as in: “Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.” (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms)
So why is Vancouver Olympic Committee’s 2010 Integrated Security Unit (ISU) containing these fundamental freedoms into what the wags around here call “protest pens?”

What are they afraid of? And how will protest pens contain that threat, whatever it is?

If we have the right to free peaceful assembly, we should have that right in any public place, too bad if it’s in full view of TV cameras ready to beam that discontent around the world.

More and more, the real dark side of the 2010 Games is the atmosphere of fear and paranoia coming out of the Games’ ISU, which seems compelled to act like the KGB, pulling over Olympic protesters, demanding to see their “documents,” spying on protesters, installing omnipresent surveillance cameras and building these ridiculous protest pens, which will only serve to motivate protesters in full view of the world.

This is Vancouver, not Beijing, the birthplace of the protest pen.

There, question asked. I hope “they” are willing to cough up an honest answer and not just get it into their heads to pull me over for, um, further questioning.