Vancouver poet denounces VANOC 'muzzle'

Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran has announced he will not participate in the 2010 Cultural Olympiad because of rules that he claims muzzle artists.

Vancouver poet laureate Brad Cran has announced he will not participate in the Cultural Olympiad accompanying the 2010 Games because of rules he claims muzzle artists.

Cran is referring to the contract that artists must sign before participating in the cultural celebrations commissioned by VANOC, the 2010 Olympic organizing committee.

The contract includes this clause: "The artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC, the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC."

Native artist told to sign contract or leave

A First Nations artist who has criticized the aboriginal licensing program for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics has been told he must sign a contract permitting VANOC to approve all his communications.

Shain Jackson, the Vancouver artisan behind Spirit Works, has been told he will be removed from the Olympic Artisan Village, which will be visited by thousands of visitors, if he does not comply.

The contract demands he submit for approval any "publications, press releases, website copy or collateral material" that mentions the 2010 Winter Olympics, he said on Thursday.

Jackson has asked VANOC to stop using the label "authentic aboriginal products" on items made overseas and merchandised by non-Aboriginal companies.

Cran is the author of Hope in the Shadows, about Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and the poetry collection The Good Life, editor of anthology Hammer & Tongs and a contributor to Geist. He was named Vancouver poet laureate in May.

He says VANOC invited him to read poetry at literary events during the Cultural Olympiad, but he did not believe they would enjoy the only Olympic poem he has created, In Praise of Female Athletes Who Were Told No: For the 14 female ski jumpers petitioning to be included in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Receives email support

Cran declined the invitation, arguing the rules as set out interfere with freedom of speech.

"It says that artists who are participating are not allowed to criticize VANOC, the Olympics or any sponsors," he told CBC News on Wednesday.

"And this is something that, for instance, wasn't in the Cultural Olympiad in Salt Lake City. It's all sort of added up to the fact that there was a perfect storm of things that wouldn't allow my participation."

In a letter made public Thursday, Burke Taylor, vice-president for culture and celebration programs at VANOC, said the committee respects the integrity of artists and their work and has no intention of suppressing artistic expression.

The intent of the disputed clause is "to reasonably ensure that the integrity of our partners is respected, as without the support of such partners the Cultural Olympiad would not be possible," he wrote in the letter sent to all artists participating in the Olympiad.

"The Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad encourages bold artistic statements. We have always made room for critical discourse, intelligent debate and informed discussion within the selected works, and will continue to do so."

Meanwhile, Cran made his opposition clear in a blog this week called "Notes on a World Class City: Why I have declined to participate in the Olympic Celebrations."

That blog has earned him a flood of support in literary circles, including more than 150 emails of support.

'Unjust attack,' poet alleges

In it, he writes that the "muzzle clause" is alien to Vancouver's free-spirited approach to art and activism.

"I do find this to be an unjust attack on free speech, but more importantly it shows that VANOC is misrepresenting Vancouver," he wrote.

"Vancouver is the most politically progressive city in North America, with a strong history of political activism which most Vancouverites are proud of. Rather than finding a way to celebrate these important attributes VANOC has gone the other way and tried to suppress them."

He also denounced the harassment of Amy Goodman, the U.S. journalist stopped at the border and grilled on whether she would speak against the Olympics on her trip to Vancouver.

Cran told CBC News he is not against the Olympics, but he is uncomfortable with VANOC's approach in 2010.