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Life after the Olympics for BCCLA legal observers

The legal observer program put into place by the BC Civil Liberties Association to watchdog police and security during the 2010 Olympics may continue after the games.

On Feb. 16, The Tyee learned from legal observer and BCCLA board member Jacob Hunter that the BCCLA is considering extending the volunteer-powered program.

David Eby, executive director of the BCCLA, confirmed that possibility today.

"The program has had a major impact in terms of how police have reacted to demonstrations during the Olympic period," said Eby.

"We would like that impact to continue to ensure that free speech is protected."

He said the BCCLA board will spend time evaluating the program once the Olympics are over and decide what purposes it could serve for Vancouver in the future.

According to Eby, it is likely that legal observers will continue to observe popular demonstrations if it is given a second life. He said the BCCLA has already been probing organizers of the annual 420 pro-pot rally about observing police presence at this year's April 20 rally.

Eby also mentioned that there is also a possibility that the program could become a "cop-watch" program that would monitor everyday interactions between police and Downtown Eastside residents.

However, going ahead with these plans would require partnership with Pivot Legal and volunteers who are willing to devote their time, said Eby.

VPD Const. Lindsey Houghton said he believes that despite a gap in legal observer coverage at last Saturday's violent 2010 Heart Attack demonstration, the BCCLA have helped Vancouver police maintain public transparency throughout the games.

The orange legal observer T-shirts are distinct and have solidified a readily identifiable presence for the BCCLA and its observers during the Games, said Houghton.

"I think they've found that their initial role may have morphed into that of ambassadors for the city," Houghton said optimistically.

"The only people that you could mistake them with is fans of Holland."

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