1976 Montreal Olympics

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| Copyright Dominique Clément / Clément Consulting

In 1976, Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics, by far the largest international event held on Canadian soil. It was also the largest security operation in Canadian history. In the aftermath of the 1970 October Crisis, the state was determined to use extraordinary measures to police the games. A security detail of 17,224 was assigned to protect six thousand athletes. The operation included the army, five separate police forces, and at least six federal agencies, from harbour patrol to immigration. The federal government passed special immigration legislation, allowing the minister of immigration to deport anyone who might engage in violence during the Olympics. The statute was unusually brief: consisting of just one sentence, it gave the minister unfettered power to deport non-citizens, who had no right to appeal. Even by global standards, the scope of security at the Montreal Olympics was impressive – and vastly disproportionate to the threat. Not only was there no incident of note, but the crime rate in Montreal dropped by more than 20 percent during the games.

The Ligue des droits de l’homme (LDH) played a major role in helping citizens cope with the impact of the Olympics. The group focused its efforts on two issues in particular. The first was a response to the housing shortage caused by the massive surge in visitors to the city and skyrocketing rental costs. Acquisitive landlords who wished to profit from the games evicted their low-income tenants, raising rents by an average of 20 percent and creating a housing crisis in the city. In one press release, the LDH estimated that there was a shortage of 25,000 living units during the Olympics. In conjunction with the United Way, it set up a call centre to inform renters of their rights and attempted to help them find temporary lodging during the games. Within just two months, Operation Housing-Crisis had received 560 calls from angry residents, 200 of which came from the elderly, welfare recipients, and single parents. Sixty-eight percent of callers were frustrated with the government agency that was responsible for housing (only two had actually managed to speak to someone at the agency’s number).

The second issue in which the LDH intervened was the firing of several individuals by the committee that organized the games (Comité Organisateur des Jeux Olympiques), an incident that caused a minor stir. The employees, who received no explanation for their termination, were simply dismissed (the RCMP had labelled them security risks). However, it soon became clear that they had been fired because of their political opinions, a direct violation of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. François Cyr and Sylvie Cameron were militant members of the Revolutionary Marxist Group; Carol Cohen was an organizer for the Young Socialists; and Stuart Russell was a militant for the Young Socialists, the Ligue socialiste ouvrière, and the Comité Homosexuel Anti-Répression. When the LDH called for an investigation, the Human Rights Commission initially refused its request because certain parts of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms were not yet operative. Eventually, however, after continued pressure from the LDH, the commission did attempt to investigate, only to be rebuffed by the federal solicitor general, Francis Fox, who cited reasons of national security and used the broad discretionary powers of his office to refuse to provide information on the RCMP.

Expecting that organized crime would attempt to capitalize on the games, the RCMP fielded a strong police presence in hopes of frustrating its efforts. At the same time, prisoners in Montreal found it more difficult to get conditional or temporary releases during the games; homeless people were quietly removed from the streets and given longer sentences than usual; residential neighbourhoods of racial minorities became the target of police interrogation and harassment; and many tourists found it hard to enter the country or were turned away at the border for not having enough money or having too much to be considered a tourist. Moreover, the police were selective in their arrests. They detained Iranian students who were legally distributing tracts that condemned the shah of Iran, but left untouched other Iranians who were demonstrating at the Soviet embassy and burning a Soviet flag.

Further Reading

Dominique Clément. “The Transformation of Security Planning for the Olympics: the 1976 Montreal Games.” Terrorism and Political Violence 27, 2 (2015): 1-25

Phil Boyle, Dominique Clément and Kevin Haggerty. “Iterations of Olympic Security: Montreal and Vancouver.” Security Dialogue 46, 2 (2015): 109-125.

Cottrell, Robert C. “The Legacy of Munich 1972: Terrorism, Security and the Olympic Games.” In The Legacy of the Olympic Games, 1984-2000, ed. M. de Moragas, C. Kennett, and N. Puig, 309-13. Lausanne: International Olympic Committee, 2003.

Howell, Paul Charles. The Montreal Olympics: An Insider’s View of Organizing a Self-Financing Games. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

Ludwig, Jack. Five Ring Circus: The Montreal Olympics. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1976.

Pei, Dongguang. “A Question of Names: The Solution to the ‘Two Chinas’ Issue in Modern Olympic History: The Final Phase, 1971-1984.” In Cultural Imperialism in Action: Critiques in the Global Olympic Trust, ed. Nigel B. Crowther, Robert K. Barney, and Michael K. Heine, 19-31. London: International Centre for Olympic Studies, 2006.

Smith, G. Davidson. “Canada’s Counter-Terrorism Experience.” Terrorism and Political Violence (Great Britain) 5, 1 (1993): 83-105.

Whitson, David. “Olympic Hosting in Canada.” Olympika 14, 1 (2005): 29-46.

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