Canadian government cautions visitors to Russia for Sochi Olympics

(Contributed photo)
(Contributed photo)

After recent attacks and threats in Russia, the government of Canada issued a travel advisory cautioning Canadians travelling to Sochi.

But according to Norman Pereira, professor emeritus of Russian studies at Dalhousie University, Sochi does not necessarily hold any more danger than other cities.

He explained that there are always safety issues at high-profile events.

“When you have a lot of people confined in spaces, it attracts all kinds of attention,” he said. “So yes, I think there are security risks in attending these events, whether they are in Sochi or Beijing or in Australia or Mimic, Germany.”

The travel advisory issued by the Canadian government said, “special security arrangements will be in place at Olympic venues and other sensitive areas.”

Pereira explained that the Russian government has also taken intensive actions to try to avoid the threat of an attack.

“You might find the government and police presence to be oppressive,” he said.

“They’re everywhere. Whether or not it’s overkill or whether or not it’s necessary, I can’t judge. But I don’t think travelling to Sochi is dangerous for Canadians would be my opinion.”

Russia’s anti-gay legislation has also been a source of controversy in the pre-election period.

Rowan Meredith, a third-year Slavic studies student at the University of Victoria, who recently wrote a research paper on the current situation of LGBT rights in Russia, explained that she directly experienced the movement that now shapes the anti-gay legislation while living in Russia.

“I was living [in St. Petersburg] when the anti-gay legislation was passed. I definitely noticed that I didn’t feel particularly safe after, where beforehand I felt perfectly at ease,” Meredith said.

She said that countries are willingly sending openly gay athletes and representatives to make a statement and wouldn’t if “they didn’t have a plan in place to make them feel secure.”

While Meredith believes that issues surround the Olympics being in a place such as Sochi, it’s difficult to predict how they will unfold.

“I think that you should be advising caution at any point when you’re going into any country where the laws and regulations are different than Canada,” she said.

Dana Francoeur, a graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University, also spent a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg during the summer. She did not travel to Sochi, but her experience was a positive one with little deterrence.

“Personally, Russia was a great experience for me and I enjoyed it immensely,” she said. “People are sometimes afraid of Russia because of the whole Soviet Union vibes but it wasn’t like that.”

Francoeur still advises Canadians travelling to Sochi for the upcoming Olympics to exercise a degree of caution when travelling.

“I’d just recommend be aware of where you are, where you’re going and know the transit system if you’re taking it.”

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in the outside caucuses in the area around Sochi, Pereira said that there is a danger associated with attacks.

“I think there is reason to be concerned as a foreigner to Sochi for these games because there have been terrorist activities in the northern caucuses and in that area. Honestly, it’s dangerous,” Pereira said.

“But I think for the Olympic games, for the winter games, the Russian government has taken extreme security precautions.”

“I wouldn’t be worried about it if I were travelling there,” he also added.

Pereira insists that if Canadians do intend on travelling to Sochi for the Olympics that they go with an open mind to the culture and the circumstances that exist in the city.

He continued, explaining that travelers to Sochi should “go there with certain preconditions and feelings that you need to have certain things as you are accustomed to having them.”
“That makes the experience less enjoyable,” he said.

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