How’s your torch relay going now, Canada? Better than housing and health care reform?

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Jonathan Hayward/AP Photo/The Canadian Press
Men’s eight Olympic gold medalist teammate Kevin Light, right, passes on the Olympic Flame to the coxsain of the junior team during the Olympic Torch Relay in Victoria, B.C., on Friday.

The Associated Press

VICTORIA, British Columbia — Protesters forced the 2010 Vancouver Games torch relay to be diverted from its planned route Friday, hours after organizers kicked off what is supposed to be the longest domestic torch relay in Olympic history.

Several hundred protesters, angry that billions are being spent on the Olympics instead of housing and health care, blocked Victoria city streets for hours, preventing the torch from passing by Government House and forcing organizers to reroute.

Relay organizers attempted to drive the torchbearers around the demonstration. Instead, they were taken several miles away to Victoria’s waterfront. Then, more than a half-dozen participants lined up side-by-side along the road, where they passed the flame from torch to torch without running their segments.

The run resumed with a short relay to the day’s final stop, the provincial legislature.

Relay organizers said in a statement the rerouting was implemented “to ensure the safety of all participants.”

Over 106 days, the torch will stop in every Canadian province and territory leading to the lighting of the cauldron at BC Place. The games will be held from Feb. 12-28 in Vancouver and Whistler.

About 400 protesters earlier greeted the flame’s arrival by staging what they called a “five-ring circus” with a “Zombie March” — complete with costumes, drums and trombones — to the provincial legislature, where a concert was planned by Vancouver Games organizers to celebrate the completion of the Olympic flame’s first day on Canadian soil.

Tamara Herman, an organizer with the group No2010 Victoria, said whatever opponents’ specific objections to the Games, it all comes down to money.

“The reasons that we oppose the Games are very multifaceted. We oppose them because we see homelessness is a bigger priority than a two-week parade, we see health services is a bigger priority,” she told The Canadian Press. “Why have we decided to spend such an enormous amount of money on what is essentially a two-week party?”

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