Spying laws are already tough enough

This week’s topic: Is suspicion alone enough reason to allow Canadian law enforcement and security services the right to spy on Canadians?

Never would I have thought that anyone could argue that bending democracy was essential to preserving it. But here we are, once again debating the issue of surveillance on Canadian citizens as a result of the recent tragic events Brent has referred to.

It was one of the founding fathers of the United States, former president James Madison ,who gets right to the heart of the matter in this line from one of his historical debates in 1787: “The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”

Madison – who was known as the father of the bill of rights – seemed to foreshadow a time when future governments would justify the erosion of rights and freedoms as a necessary means to protect the country from foreign threats. In the aftermath of the shooting in Ottawa and the fatal attack on two soldiers prior to it, the potential for this to occur is great.

Bill C-13 alone has been raising alarm bells because, although widely justified as a toolkit to tackle the issue of cyberbullying, the powers it gives law enforcement to obtain personal information without a warrant are likely to lead to “function creep.” Function creep is the term used to describe how law enforcement have a tendency to use legislation intended for one purpose, to investigate more intrusively in other areas.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

In combination with Bill C-44, questions are being asked as to whether or not some of this legislation is appropriate and whether or not it’s even needed. Justice Minister Peter MacKay conceded recently that there are already “robust” laws in place that law enforcement can use in cases like the attacks mentioned above. Human rights lawyer Paul Copeland has even argued the police already had the tools that could have, and should have stopped one of them…

Read the rest of this weeks column and vote, here: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/11/02/spying-laws-are-already-tough-enough

Posted in 24 hours Vancouver The Duel, BC Politics, Enbridge, Federal politics, Laila Yuile, The China Connection, The Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

What community is all about.


The Grove in Newton is one of those places that for many years, was nothing more than a place you had to pass through to get to somewhere else.

To get to the bus loop from the library or Newton Rec Centre, you went through ‘the grove’.

To get to Safeway from the bus loop, you went through ‘the grove’.

And funny enough, it wasn’t really ever a ‘place’ as much as it was something to endure at times, a haven for the lost, the disconnected, the unsavory, which in itself was a crime for the sheer beauty of the trees that make up this grove.

For years, as crime after crime after crime was committed in and around the grove and rec centre, it was my thought that the damn tree’s should just be cut down,such cover they provided to conceal and hide those intent on harming or robbing others.

And then the unthinkable happened and the spotlight was shining bright on Newton, the rec centre and the grove in a way that made dealing with the area unavoidable.

The brush was removed, the tree canopy raised, David Dalley appeared along with others and The Friends of The Grove started working their magic. 

The Newton Festival was moved out of the back alley ( we love Perry and Poonam!) and into the Rec Centre parking lot and The Friends of The Grove hosted fun and fantasy in the shade of the mighty trees.

There have been hammocks where friendships were forged, drums, music, hope. Tables painted and chairs for relaxing. For a while, there was a public piano that made sweet beautiful music played by strangers and sometimes people would dance… forgetting the place and time and just lived for a moment in the sound of laughter.

And as with all things where people are creating something new, and good, and CHANGE is happening, there are setbacks, and push-backs. Chairs were broken,and were fixed. The piano suffered an untimely incident but was soon replaced. A group of drunks harassed women and have been, it seems, stopped.

But The Friends of The Grove persevered, looking for solutions instead of condemnation. Dreamcatchers hung from the limbs of the trees caught not nightmares but the forsaken hopes and dreams of those whose lives took turns for the worse.

It was, in an imperfect way, perfect for how much humanity this one stand of trees has become the symbol for everything wrong, and everything right, about Newton. It has been an exercise in place making, at it’s worst and best.

Yet something always seemed to be missing though, in late evenings commuting back from Vancouver, or work though the Newton bus loop area. The grove was dark, unwelcoming under cover of darkness.

Many people worked to change that, and today The Friends of the Grove hosted their Tree Lighting ceremony as strings of lights that have been strategically strung between and around the trees were to be officially blessed and welcomed.

I was honoured to be able to take part in an intimate gathering of Newtons unsung heroes today. Blessings, prayers, poetry and quotes were offered and heard. Drums were played, hugs and tears were shared and maybe it was just me… but it seemed as though when the lights were lit, a weight lifted and the area felt lighter not just in illumination… but in spirit.

David Dalley and friends inspire me more than words can say. For those of us who concentrate on the politics, the corruption, the less than inspiring, people like David are like water after walking through a desert. When I thought the solution was to cut the tree’s down, David showed me the solution was in fact, to be found in the tree’s themselves.

There will be no more darkness in this space.

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

― Wendell Berry

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“You are so loved.”

A must read,best done with tissues handy. Beyond what happened,the unsung bravery and compassion of these people is quite overwhelmingly touching.

Props to the writer for such sensitivity in this gripping account.

“OTTAWA – Lawyer Barbara Winters was headed to a meeting Wednesday near her office at the Canada Revenue Agency when she passed the National War Memorial, stopping to snap a few pictures of the two honour guards standing soberly at attention.

Moments later, after passing by a Canada Post office at the corner of Elgin and Sparks streets, she heard four shots. For Winters, a former member of the Canadian Forces Naval Reserve, the sounds were unmistakable.

Turning, she saw people on Elgin Street ducking. She began to run — not towards safety, but towards the shots, and the wounded soldier lying at the foot of the memorial.

As Winters ran, she looked for — but couldn’t see — the two soldiers. Her mind went to the hit-and-run death in Quebec of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent two days earlier, and she instinctively knew the honour guards had been targeted.

As she reached the memorial, Winters saw four people bending over a fallen soldier. She dropped her purse and briefcase on the steps and began to help…”


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Tragedy in Ottawa


My thoughts and prayers are with the family of the soldier shot and killed this morning while on service in Ottawa this morning – my deepest condolences. http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/soldier-killed-at-national-war-memorial-identified-1.2065980?hootPostID=50a6907fb7f84ff0824b1d455587eb2c

My thoughts are also with all parliamentarians, staff, friends and colleagues who experienced this.

Let the resolve,strength and reason of Canadians as a country,guide us. And because I could not have said it better myself:



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Update: The Little Pop Up Soup Kitchen…that couldn’t

An update to the story I posted yesterday that warmed everyone’s hearts is developing.

In speaking with Erin Schulte just now, she said a member of the group received a phone call from Fraser Health this morning to contact them.

Erin did call back and spoke with a Fraser Health Inspector, Nimret Rai, who said a complaint was received about the food service and the group would have to stop serving food completely, unless it followed Fraser Health guidelines and was all prepared a Fraser Health approved facility.

Erin said she questioned if the complaint originated with the Whalley Legion, and was told no, it was the city bylaw department. When further questioned, she was told she would have to speak to the media department.

I’ll post further updates as they come in, but one thing I know is true, is that these are amazing people whose only intentions were not to create trouble or break any laws, they simply want to feed people who are hungry, good,wholesome, nutritious food.

In my view,it’s like sharing your lunch with a homeless person on a larger scale.  They don’t have the funds for a professional facility and all the required amendments ( if there is someone out there who can assist, please get in touch)

The bigger question to me is, if the city bylaw department has indeed filed the complaint as Erin Schulte was told, why did they tell Global last week they welcomed their work and would work with them to a solution?

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This week column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Changes unfairly target non-profits.

This week’s topic: Should proposed new rules be enacted allowing B.C. non-profit societies to be taken to court?

Make no mistake, the legislative changes to the Society Act proposed by the B.C. government are not about keeping registered societies accountable and transparent. The changes are yet another assault against the democratic rights of Canadians, and a sign the government has taken a lesson from the Stephen Harper playbook.

Contrary to my partner’s assertions, it’s not just environmental groups who are alarmed — I’ve been contacted by people from small community groups who advocate for good stewardship in city planning who are worried as well. If they speak out against irresponsible developments and municipal policy in favour of responsible and sustainable planning, would heavy-handed developers with deep pockets take them to court for “acting against the public’s interest?”

As with most onerous legislation, the devil is in the details, and how the proposed wording is interpreted and used by the courts in any litigation. How will the court determine who is an appropriate person to act in the public’s interest? How will the public’s interest be defined? And why is it even necessary to enact Section 99 in the first place, when there is nothing to prevent anyone from suing a society right now?

I’ve already heard from a party who is a member of a society that has been entrenched in litigation that appears to be a SLAPP suit — a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. SLAPP suits are an insult to everything Lady Justice stands for, and are increasingly being used to legally silence community groups, organizations and individuals who speak out.

Read Brent Stafford’s columnhere.

This kind of legislation signals the BC Liberals’ intention to encourage these kind of pesky lawsuits with motives that are anything but altruistic. The courts in this province are already so back-logged that people facing DUI charges have walked free because their right to a speedy trial has been infringed upon. Yet the same government that has over the years cut access to legal services, legal aid and other supports, is now enabling vexatious actions that waste the court’s time…


Read the rest of this weeks column, vote and comment at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/10/19/changes-unfairly-target-non-profits

And in case you missed it, head to the main page and scroll down to read about the Little Pop-up Soup Kitchen that could!

Posted in 24 hours Vancouver The Duel, BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Enbridge, Laila Yuile, The Environment | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Life on 135A street, or, The little Pop-up Soup Kitchen that could

Compassion is not just feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation. Frequently people think compassion and love are merely sentimental. No! They are very demanding. If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action!”
Desmond Tutu

The story last week that bylaw officers from the city of Surrey had told a group of volunteers who have been running a pop up soup kitchen on 135A street every other Sunday they weren’t welcome anymore, left many with a bad taste in their mouths, including myself.  http://globalnews.ca/news/1617246/organizers-of-surrey-soup-kitchen-given-the-cold-shoulder-over-thanksgiving-weekend/

I’m ashamed that I only recently discovered this little strip of Surrey after being told about it by a reader, who said what was happening on King George in Whalley was nothing in comparison to what happens a block away.

Hidden from public view, the people of 135A street left an impression on me the first time I travelled the short couple of blocks that is essentially Surrey’s smaller DTES. As you turn off 108th avenue and head south, the first thing you see is a stunningly beautiful Ukrainian church to the right. Pristine and respected, it stands sentinel as though watching over those that call the sidewalks home, despite the appearances all have been abandoned by any higher power.

People are everywhere among these streets.

There is a small tent city in one empty lot at the end of that strip of 135A, and the sidewalks have a tent or two as well. A drive around the area that also houses the BC Lions facility, a recreational centre and the Legion will show you the harsh realities of many peoples lives – sleeping under trees, plastic bags housing all their worldly possessions… it’s a reality many don’t want to-or can’t- confront.

The juxtaposition between this world and the architectural jewel of Central City rising in the sky mere blocks away, is stark.

I contacted Erin Schulte, the organizer of Pop up Soup Kitchen, to commend her on her work following the Global story. She invited me down today and so I arrived with a case of apples knowing they provide good pocket food to carry along in ones bag or  jacket when the food is gone.

I went looking for answers, but left with my heart full of emotions from the experience, the people I met and those who shared some of their stories.

Some were homeless, some were not.

Some were clearly and admittedly struggling with addictions, but many were not.

I met a former rampie who used to work at Vancouver airport, a former construction worker who was injured and left on disability ( not a workplace accident). They shared some stories with me and I look forward to more. The conversation was quick,witty and full of insight, peppered with a heaping dose of reality.

Everyone was exceptionally polite and incredibly grateful for the hot nutritious food on the very long tables set up.2014-10-19 001 This isn’t the typical, very basic kind of soup kitchen fare being served by far.Erin has a policy that she wouldn’t serve anything she wouldn’t serve her own family and you can see the tremendous effort everyone put into presenting food that is not only nutritious, but beautiful as well.

Salads, roasted meat, casseroles, the aromas were not only satisfying for the stomach but food for the soul as well. Gloves are worn for service, hair is kept back, everyone wears a name tag and clearly the volunteers are all loved by the locals. many who have become regulars.

2014-10-19 002This fellow simply couldn’t stand anymore, and flopped  down on the grass, I stood in line to bring him his food, another volunteer gave him a blanket. People take care of each other here. He and his companion sat and ate together – she was most gracious to everyone, although as hard as I tried, I never saw her eyes because she never looked up.

Soft spoken, there was defeat in her rounded shoulders, a tentativeness about her that one finds with those who have learned being quiet means no harassment, no abuse. Both ate slowly, savouring every bite.

This touching scene was repeated all over the empty lot where Erin and her team now set  up.

2014-10-19 003I talked with these gentlemen for a bit, Girard is in the middle with his fork in the air. He lived in Prince George for a while years ago which resulted in a lively conversation about prairie chickens and the war plane left abandoned in a lake up there- that’s an entirely separate blog post!

Girard unfortunately has no bottom teeth and was terribly sad he couldn’t eat an apple so I promised  next time that I would bring some already cut up for him and others in a similar situation. When you have good teeth,you often forget there are many who don’t have the same luxury. Just thinking about Girard makes me smile now. Simply click on the photos below to see them in a larger format.

I don’t have all the solutions for homelessness and poverty: some people make choices in life that lead down this path, many do not. I met some of both today. What I do know is  that feeding people without judgement of choice or circumstance isn’t a bad thing – it’s the right thing.

I learned who the local dealers were, driving fairly nice cars – one showed up to eat- and what’s not working in the area.It’s a tough place where a lot of violence still happens. I have been told by several people that bylaw officers have been moving some street people’s possessions and moving them along, ‘sweeping’ the area-hardly a solution to what ails this area.

I talked to a young guy the same age as my eldest son-21- who’s into hard drugs. He told me he see’s people start to walk down this street and then turn around because they are afraid.

“Of what?” I ask.

“Ha.Reality. They don’t want to see this.”  Truer words were never spoken, but let me share this:I never once felt unsafe in the midst of all these street people during this food service, in fact I was embraced as all the long time volunteers clearly are.

They are loved. There was no feeling of despair immediately evident- this bi-weekly meal, served by those whose compassion spurred them to action- is an act of community, of coming together, of being able to simply do something for someone else because you can.

And by the grace of something wonderful, the storm held off and the sun shone and at least for a while everyone had full stomachs, warm companionship and a dry place to sit and relax. I would say upwards of a hundred people were served today.

Some people,when confronted with a difficult reality, turn and run in the face of such overwhelming obstacles. Others do what they can, with what they have.

This is what they look like.

2014-10-19 006

* Everything served is either paid for by the volunteers themselves or donated. They are looking for a couple pop-up tents to shelter the food with fall and winter weather coming. There is a go fund me page that hasn’t been utilized much but would greatly help offset costs  http://www.gofundme.com/9qc7ks

Volunteers and donations of good, nutritious food are always welcome, Erin Schulte can be contacted via their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/695846520466061/

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“Christy Clark would do well to remember that Canada is a free nation…”

Late last week I was contacted by a new member of a local community association here in Surrey, who expressed great concern over this Tyee blog post: http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2014/09/29/Non-Profit-Attack-Petition/

Her concern of course,is that the potential for these proposed changes to be used to silence any group expressing concerns or opposition to, well, anything,  is very real.

In the nick of time, Sandy Garossino has posted excellent commentary that really gets to the ominous heart of the matter:

“B.C.’s Christy Clark government is proposing to overhaul the Societies Act, and they’ve distributed a snoozer of a White Paper to let you know all about it.

If you’ve dozed off already, WAKE UP, because there’s a massive zinger quietly planted deep inside. You can do something about it — more on that at the end of this post. But unmentioned in any preamble or executive summary, Section 99 allows any person (including corporations) to take any registered society to court that they believe is acting contrary to the public interest — whatever that is.

Here it is:

Complaints by public

99 (1) A person whom the court considers to be an appropriate person to make an
application under this section may apply to the court for an order under this
section on the grounds that a society

(b) is carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.

In other words, environmental non-profit groups better watch their step because they’re in the cross-hairs. Premier Clark is handing the legal hammer to Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, ExxonMobil, Koch, Encana, Chevron, Sinopec, Suncor and the entire B.C. LNG sector to tie non-profits up in court for years.

Section 99 looks like Clark’s close advisor Gwyn Morgan drafted it up during half-time at last year’s Grey Cup. Not a single competent lawyer within the Ministry of Justice could say with a straight face that it’s constitutional. The clear intent is to silence and intimidate Canadian conservation and environmental non-profits with the threat of litigation. And if mere threat doesn’t work, this legislation enables the corporate sector to bludgeon them into lawsuit bankruptcy.

This proposal is one of the most ill-conceived and draconian initiatives to see the light of day in a modern democracy, and reveals the extent of Clark’s captivity by the oil and gas lobby. (And one more reason B.C. political leaders should be prevented from funding their election campaigns at the Petroleum Club in Calgary).

But as policy, it’s also breathtakingly stupid. As if B.C. doesn’t already have the mother of all court backlogs to cope with, the Clark government now proposes to fill up the system with disgruntled parents taking out their beefs in court against a minor hockey association or local elementary school PAC (parent advisory council). It will be open season on abortion clinics, LGBTQ organizations, and mosques. Don’t think for a minute that won’t happen.

The real backdrop, of course, is that the Harper government has been on a tear against environmentalists for years, muzzling our scientists and attempting to discredit Canadian environmental NGOs…”

Read the rest of this post here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sandy-garossino/bc-societies-act-christy-clark_b_5973568.html

Then fire off your email comments on what you think of this draconian proposal right away, because the public consultation period on this ends Wednesday October 15th. Yes, that’s right,it’s been open for comment since August.

Here is the link:  http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/pld/fcsp/society_act_discussion.htm

Wake up and smell the coffee my friends.

** and if you still have the stomach for it after that, Sean Holman has an excellent read to follow up with this morning. http://seanholman.com/2014/10/13/scientists-arent-the-only-ones-silenced/

Posted in BC Liberals, BC NDP, BC Politics, Enbridge, Federal politics, Laila Yuile, The China Connection, The Environment | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Don’t wait to enjoy the china.

Growing up in the seventies, my mother had a large china cabinet in the dining room of our house, filled with fine china, I think by the name of Royal something.

The massive buffet and hutch was the caretaker of all things rarely used but apparently required, I suspect on the demands of such magazines like Good Housekeeping,  or Woman’s Day, both of which were regulars in our house. I think those magazines were my mom’s escape from the demands of living in Cariboo country and I never did get the point of investing so much time and effort into having all this china, only to have it sit in the cabinet 98% of the year. My family hunted, fished, grew our own food and hauled wood to keep us warm in winter. Why we needed china, I don’t know.

My mom said that one day it would be all mine and quite appalled at the thought as a teen, I declined. I just didn’t get it, or the importance of it to her at the time.

To this day, I still use the same set of dishes for eating regardless of occasion. The first piece of china I’ve ever owned just came to me recently as a parting gift at a neighbours 76th birthday in the form of a stunning tea-cup with royal blue designs. I don’t have matching serving platters and gravy boats, and what you’ll see in this house is a hodge podge of eclectic items from the thrift store and things bought on end of season discount from the grocery store.

And I’m quite happy about this,much to the amusement of some female friends who are decorating mavens. It works, it’s still very beautiful and I like it. But let me tell you why.

While waiting at the doctors years ago, flipping through a magazine, I came across a story that struck home for me completely. If memory serves me correctly, it was written by a woman whose mother was diagnosed with cancer, who went on to pass quite quickly.

Sadly,nearing the end of her life, she voiced regrets to her daughter that she had never let anyone use the china set she had collected for so many years. Fearing something would happen to it, she had steadfastly refused to use it for any event, preferring to save it for ‘that one special occasion’.

Well,that one very special occasion happened shortly after that conversation, and the china was finally used – at a large gathering of loved ones following her death, to celebrate her life.

The message is clear. Life is precious and unpredictable. Don’t wait to enjoy tomorrow, or next month, or next year, what you can enjoy today. Go ahead, collect fine china… but don’t let it sit in a cabinet unused. If you love it, if it gives you joy to see it, use it- don’t wait.

Funny enough when my parents divorced the all important china cabinet stayed with my dad in the home I grew up in, which tells me it really wasn’t all that important after all.

Now when family dinners are served here, the food generally stays in the kitchen,more often than not in the dish it was cooked in, and you serve yourself. Good luck on finding glasses that actually match. What matters to me is not the fanciness of the occasion, but the people and the feelings we share as we gather round the harvest table. I’ll decorate the table with colourful leaves gathered outside for free and ornamental gourds ( that’s a story in itself this year! ) but what matters is being together, not how pretty the plate we ate off was.

I try to live in the way of giving thanks for the small moments of gratitude that happen daily. Hot coffee and a warm house on a cold morning. Food to eat, a shower with scented body wash-a downright luxury to many. The smell of crisp leaves on a fall morning, to see the sun set and moon rise, how thankful I am to experience this. More than one pair of shoes, healthy family, lovely friends and colleagues. And after breaking my ankle recently, I’ve a whole new appreciation for our medical system and how minor of an issue this really is in comparison to the ailments of others.

In these ways, my life is rich, and I am thankful. Life is made up of the sum of the smaller parts and they add up to show you how very lucky you are, no matter how hard it may seem at times. Because someone, somewhere, would love to have the life you do.

I hope you have a safe, happy, warm long weekend. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


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This weeks column for 24Hrs Vancouver: Welfare rates are starvation rates

THIS WEEK’S TOPIC: Should the B.C. government raise welfare rates?

Most of you likely woke up in a nice, warm bed today, then headed off to a warm shower and a quick breakfast before work. You will probably have a good lunch and many of you will either stop at the grocery store tonight on the way home, or stop to pick up take-out food.

Your life is full of choices.

For thousands of British Columbian’s on social assistance — including many who read our weekly columns — choice isn’t an option, and sometimes eating isn’t either.

Hardest hit without a doubt are the single men and women who have to live on $610 a month while trying to get back on their feet.

Last week, Vancouver-based musician Bif Naked announced she will be taking part in this year’s Welfare Food Challenge. For one week, she’ll have to survive on whatever she can buy for $21.

According to Raise the Rates, after deducting rent, transit tickets, room deposit and laundry-hygiene funds from the $610 monthly payment, approximately $84 is left for food for the month, or $21 a week. It’s a pittance and nearly impossible to buy nutritious food, let alone enough of anything to keep your body properly sustained.

Read Brent Stafford’s column here.

Former MLA Jagrup Brar found this out in 2012 when he took the challenge and lived for 30 days on the single-person rate. He lost 26 pounds and discovered why it’s so hard to get off social assistance once you get on – people are dragged into a vicious cycle that’s nearly impossible to overcome.

Most people think they can get a job easily enough, then discover how hard it is without reliable access to food, showers, and finding clothes suitable for interviews. Just surviving day to day is a struggle insurmountable to some, which is why the cycle continues…

Read the rest of this week’s column, vote and comment at http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2014/10/05/welfare-rates-are-starvation-rates:I

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