Protesters crossed 'moral line,' angry torchbearer says

Nick Dronsfield didn't ask to be a torchbearer.

But when the 17-year-old Belmont Secondary School student was told he'd been nominated, a rush of excitement carried him all the way to the moment Friday evening where he was to run past throngs of cheering supporters, a piece of Olympic history in his hand. But for him and nine other torchbearers, that moment of pride was hijacked by protesters determined to disrupt the relay.

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More than a dozen of Nick's family and friends stood rain-soaked but ready at Cook Street and Rockland Avenue where Nick -- who had planned to run his leg of the relay, despite relying on a wheelchair at times because of cerebral palsy -- was supposed to begin.

Nick was in a shuttle with several other torchbearers, the air thick with disappointment as they learned that a mob of 200 shouting protesters at that intersection had forced organizers to scrap 10 legs of the route.

"I'm very angry, to be totally honest," Nick said Saturday. "I agree with the right to protest. But when you interfere with a public event of this magnitude, there's a definite moral line that's crossed."

"The whole family was down there waiting for him," said Nick's father, David Dronsfield, his voice still tense with anger. "We were trying to chase the torch relay but we had no idea where it was going and we knew that Nicholas, if he got chance to run, would be running on some dark street with no one there to support him."

The 10 displaced torchbearers were brought to Mile Zero, where they stood on the grass and passed the flame from torch to torch.

"So they did get to light their torch, but if you ask me, it's a pretty weak substitution," David Dronsfield said.

It was just not the same, Nick said, a sentiment echoed by another torchbearer, Greg Garnett, who expressed his frustration in a letter to the Times Colonist. Garnett said he met a University of Victoria student named Mark, whose family -- more excited than he was -- came from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., to watch him carry the torch.

Several Times Colonist readers sent letters chiding the protesters for ruining a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Others asked why police let the dissidents run the show.

The huge contingent of police officers watched as the group blocked traffic in several major intersections and even threw marbles at the feet of horses used by the Vancouver police mounted squad.

Victoria police spokesman Sgt. Grant Hamilton said "restraint was the order of the day" Friday night, explaining that officers did what they could to keep the peace. There were no torch-related arrests in Victoria Friday, Hamilton said.

Nick was offered another chance to bear the flame and was expected to run a part of the relay through Nanaimo Saturday night. He's happy for that, even though several of the family members and friends who planned to cheer him on Friday night couldn't make it.

kderosa@tc.canwest.com

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