British Columbia

Activists interrupt Olympic torch relay

Hundreds of protesters interrupt the Olympic torch relay through downtown Victoria.
Hundreds of anti-Olympic activists marched through the rainy streets of Victoria on Friday, briefly disrupting the torch relay. ((CBC))

Hundreds of protesters interrupted the Olympic torch relay through downtown Victoria on Friday night.

As the torch and its entourage were heading toward a celebration at the B.C. legislature, it appeared they would be intercepted by a raucous demonstration of anti-Olympic activists.

Organizers and security forces quickly packed the torchbearers into vehicles and moved around the demonstration.

It's not certain if the flame remained lit during the unexpected detour.

Several hundred protesters had blocked Victoria city streets for hours and later demonstrated noisily during a celebratory stage show in the rain in front of the legislature.

'I'm so angry right now," one man told a CBC reporter at the celebration.

"I've got my kids here. They're both in sports. I volunteer in sports. But we've got to go home. We can't hear anything," he said.

"Thanks a lot for ruining our evening," another man shouted to the protesters as he and his family left the area.

No injuries or arrests were reported.

Relay began peacefully

Olympians Simon Whitfield and Catriona Le May Doan were the first of 12,000 runners who will carry the Olympic flame across Canada, beginning the 106-day, 45,000-kilometre relay leading to the opening of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver on Feb. 12.

The Olympic flame arrived at the steps of the legislature in Victoria around 10:30 a.m. PT after being carried in a traditional West Coast native dugout canoe by First Nations paddlers across the harbour and then up to the steps of the legislature by First Nations elders and chiefs. 

Olympic medallists Simon Whitfield and Catriona Le May Doan kicked off the Olympic torch relay in Victoria on Friday. ((CBC))

There was a moment of silence for former VANOC chairman Jack Poole, who led the efforts to bring the Games to Vancouver but died just hours after the Olympic flame was lit in Greece eight days ago. His wife, Darlene, then transferred the flame to the community cauldron on the steps of the legislature.

Doan and Whitfield lit a torch from the cauldron before taking the first steps of the relay.

Le May Doan, a three-time Olympic medal winner in speedskating, won two gold medals in the 500 metres at Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City in 2002. Whitfield, a double Olympic medal winner from Victoria, won gold in the triathlon in Sydney in 2000 and silver in Beijing in 2008.

Late arrival at airport

The Canadian Forces plane carrying the flame touched down at Victoria International Airport more than an hour late Friday, at around 8:45 a.m. PT.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson carried the flame off the plane and handed it off to two official First Nations fire keepers, who were greeted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell before heading into an airport hangar for some short speeches.

The flame arrived at the B.C. legislature after being carried in a traditional West Coast native dugout canoe by First Nations paddlers.

The flame was due to arrive at 7:15 a.m. aboard a Canadian Forces aircraft, after it was transferred from an Olympic torch into a glass lantern in Greece on Thursday for the trip overseas.

However, VANOC said the flight's takeoff was delayed and the plane encountered rough weather en route.

As a result, the speeches and ceremonies at the airport were shortened so the flame could still arrive at the legislature in downtown Victoria just after 10 a.m. for the official start of the Canadian leg of the relay.

After accepting the flame at the Victoria airport, Campbell also paid tribute to Jack Poole and said, "This is the beginning of what will be an incredible time for Canada."

First day's route

The torch is scheduled to be taken by bearers through the municipality of Esquimalt, up again to Sidney and to the district of Saanich before returning to Victoria.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson carries the flame off the plane after its arrival in Victoria. ((CBC))

From there, the relay will head up Vancouver Island over the weekend, and then up the coast of B.C. before heading north on its cross-Canada journey, before returning to Vancouver for the Games in February.

Along the way the torch will be carried by foot, plane, Olympic rowboat, surfers and Haida canoes as it passes through communities in every province and territory.

Thousands of people were on hand in the provincial capital for the arrival of the flame at the legislature including Olympic supporters, anti-Olympic protesters and a heavy security team of local police and RCMP.

"You'll see several officers from a variety of jurisdictions," said Sgt. Grant Hamilton of Victoria police.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell receives the Olympic flame. ((CBC))

Police were planning to build what authorities called "safe assembly zones," but the protesters said they didn't plan to stay put.

"We're going to get out there and we're going to go on a route that we've chosen, with stops that we've chosen, and follow our own agenda," Tamara Herman of a group called No 2010 Victoria said before the flame arrived.

"We're not going to be corralled into a corner," Herman said.

Police say that's fine, unless protests turn violent. A team of officers will surround the torch and torchbearers for the entire 3½-month relay.