(This column was published in the North Shore News on Oct. 16, 2002)


Security no longer simple on Royal tours

 By Leo Knight

"With Captain Owen Nolan not traveling to Vancouver and resting his sore back after playing in San Jose Saturday night, Mike Ricci has been designated by Sharks Head Coach Darryl Sutter to take the ceremonial face-off with the Queen of England Sunday night." - San Jose Sharks media release


Twenty six years ago, I experienced my first royal visit with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II coming to Canada to participate in a ceremonial role in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Those were the Games that bore witness to little Nadia's perfect "10" in gymnastics, and not just once.


They were a coming out party for Canada in many ways. Greg Joy's outstanding performance in the high jump stands out in my mind. But also for Canadian law enforcement and national security forces.


And, they were also the first Games after the terrible events of the Munich Olympics, when Palestinian terrorists climbed a perimeter fence of the athlete's village on the morning of Sept. 5, 1972. They worked their way into the residence housing the Israeli team. Heavily armed, they overtook the young sportsmen and teased the world with their very lives, demanding the immediate release of over 200 so-called "political prisoners" held by Israel. The day ended with 11 Israeli athletes dead, the culmination of the first terrorist attack to be broadcast live to the watching world.


The Games, such as they were, did not carry the effect of the politics of the day in the host country. Nor were they viewed as the prime political stage they are now and have been since John Carlos and friends raised their fist in a Black Power salute on the podium to the strains of the Star Spangled Banner in Mexico City in 1968.


The Palestinian terrorists led by Abu Daoud (as admitted in his autobiography Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist) forever changed the way security was done for these International events.


For the Montreal Games, Queen Elizabeth, in her role as Queen of Canada, was front and centre at many events throughout the Olympiad. Her security, with the Munich Games fresh in our minds coupled with the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, was exceptionally tight. In an earlier day, she travelled with a security complement similar to that of our Prime Minister. That was then.


Last week when she was in Vancouver, her security was at as high a level as can be made in this country, short of declaring martial law. Manhole covers on her motorcade route were welded tight. Mailboxes removed. Police all along her travel route at specified intervals. Nothing left to chance.


Part of that process is to try and ensure everyone who comes into contact with the Queen is vetted thoroughly by the RCMP and CSIS to avoid any unpleasant situations. This does not necessarily mean violent, threatening situations, just "unpleasant."


Much of Her Majesty's trip to Canada has been boiled down to last Sunday night when she dropped the puck at an exhibition game between the San Jose Sharks and our very own Vancouver Canucks. It seemed the defining moment of her Golden Jubilee tour.


But I couldn't help but notice that the hockey players engaged in the ceremonial faceoff were an odd mix for that all-so-important photograph. No problem with Canucks' captain Markus Naslund. A finer example of a pro-athlete role model for kids you'd be hard-pressed to find.


No, across from him was the - hmmm, how to say this delicately - not terribly attractive (a peewee team could take shelter from a winter storm under the shadow cast by his proboscis) Mike Ricci for the Sharks. On his chest, the big "C" indicating he was the captain of his team. Now, Ricci was selected the Sexiest Athlete in Denver in 1997, but I think that had a lot more to do with his playboy off-ice image and "Wild Thing" on-ice image.


But, wait a minute, isn't Owen Nolan the captain of the Sharks? Indeed, he was the day before in a game played in the Shark Tank in San Jose. And so he was on opening day.


So what gives? Why Ricci and not Nolan?


According to the team, on both Friday and Saturday, Nolan was resting a bad back. Wait, they said that on Friday and he played Saturday in San Jose. They repeated the statement on Saturday prior to the team heading to Vancouver.


Very puzzling.


A friend of mine involved with the security of the Royal visit suggested this has little to do with a "bad back." Nolan, who was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland to a Catholic family, has some issues with the Queen, shall we say. Issues to do, perhaps, with the incarceration of a relative or two for IRA-related matters.


In fact, I'm told that Nolan simply refused to take part in any ceremony with the monarch of a country that has held his homeland in "chains" for 800 years. Perhaps Nolan himself didn't want his photo plastered all over the British media in a pose with the Queen. His own relations in West Belfast might not have thought too kindly about that.


Now, that may be true or it may not be the case. It is also possible that security forces doing background investigations of those specified to be in close contact with the Queen discovered the Republican links to Nolan and began the process to "minimize" any risk for something "unpleasant," such as a front page photo in a British tab with an embarrassing headline.


Nothing, it seems, is ever simple anymore. Not even showcasing our national game or paying tribute to the 50th anniversary in the reign of our Queen.






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