(November 8, 2012)
It’s been a good few weeks for the bullying industry.
According to a survey released last week by Insights West, a marketing research company, “23 per cent of parents” say their teens have been “cyber-bullied,” prompting Steve Mossop, president of Insights West, to announce that cyber-bullying “has reached a frightening level.”
The media pounced, and the survey, with its “frightening” statistics, headlined around British Columbia.
But wait. Those headlines failed to mention some key survey details. Only 90 of the 504 adults surveyed by Mossop and company had teens living at home, and thus, only 90 commented on teen bullying. Which means only 20 survey participants, out of 504, rang the “cyber-bullying” alarm.
But hey, why spoil a “frightening” survey.
The bullying industry, which includes media members, politicians and bureaucrats, lives on hyperbole because there’s no hard data to prove that bullying, in school hallways or Facebook streams, is on the rise.
Bullying “studies” rely, to varying degrees, on the ego of adolescents whose sense of justice fluctuates daily. And professional alarmists such as members of the Vancouver school district’s so-called Diversity Team, an anti-bullying thought squad, often carry their own baggage, political or otherwise, into their work.
What exactly constitutes bullying? A practical joke? An obnoxious text? A hallway snub? It’s a subjective thing. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, bullying is on the rise. What drives this epidemic?
Yes, the Internet provides an avenue unavailable to previous generations. The recent suicide death of B.C. teen Amanda Todd illustrates the problem online. But bullying, like all social problems, is a people problem, and today’s teens bear the brunt of a cultural tsunami, which began in earnest 40 years ago.
Let’s look at some real numbers.
According to Statistics Canada, from 1976 to 2010, the percentage of dual-income households with children rose from 43 to 60 per cent.
Subsequently, in 2002, the latest statistical year, 54 per cent of Canadian children aged six months to five years sat in child care, a 12 per cent increase from 1994 and an unknown leap (StatsCan didn’t have older numbers) from the early 1970s. The numbers are likely higher in B.C.'s Lower Mainland because, thanks to high housing costs, the percentage of households with two working parents is surely higher than the national average.
Meanwhile, in 2009 at least 202 Canadian teens aged 15 to 19 committed suicide, accounting for 23 per cent of all deaths within that age group, more than double the nine per cent rate in 1974.
To recap. Since the early ’70s, the popularity of childcare, and the teen suicide rate, rose in tandem. That doesn’t mean that child care leads to suicide, but surely those statistics deserve debate. Where’s the bullying industry on this issue? Where are those frightening headlines?
On Oct. 24, two weeks after Amanda Todd killed herself, the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, a small city east of Vancouver, staged an event called “Bullying: It Ends With You.” Hundreds showed up including Linda Reimer, a Coquitlam city councillor, who sits on a committee that deals with bullying and other issues.
Reimer, a former banker and mother of two, believes bullying is on the rise and points mainly to the Internet. But when asked about child care or the changing family unit, she shakes her head.
“We haven’t discussed the family unit,” she says. “It may be contributing but I certainly wouldn’t want to say, um, there’s many different factors, and that’s just one of them.”
No doubt Reimer means well. But her jumbled response is predictable.
Because, according to some people, to spotlight the growth of child care, and by extension, the exodus of women from the home, is to attack women’s rights and the status of folks like, well, Linda Reimer. Or Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus. Or many of the journalists in print and on TV. To suggest that children are better served by parents, not child care workers, is to pine for Leave it to Beaver. Which, of course, is ridiculous.
Subsequently, however, the issue gains little traction. And one of, if not the most, impactful societal shifts in the history of the western world, the flight of mothers from the home, remains a taboo subject. And the debate about bullying, teen suicide, teen sex, classroom behaviour, drugs, school violence and every other issue involving young people remains incomplete.
(Vancouver Courier, May 30, 2012)
Behind a chain-link fence on a dirt lot in Marpole, a southerly neighbourhood outside the consciousness of most Vancouverites, the earthly remains of two babies lay under a makeshift tent of blue and white tarpaulin. Nearby, a blue tarp, ruffled and less dignified, covers the remains of an unknown adult of undisclosed gender.
Outside the fence last Friday morning, four adults-one man, three women, in jeans and sweatshirts- kept vigil. On lawn chairs while eating McDonald's french fries. "I think there's a lot of precedent-setting stuff, here," said Cecilia Point, spokesperson for the Musqueam Indian Band. She may be right.
Point and others have remained on guard since January after an archeologist discovered the human remains. It was a mandated dig, paid for by property owners Fran and Gary Hackett who plan to build a 108-condo complex on what was once (long before the condo boom) a First Nations dumping ground. That makes it historic. And according to provincial regulation, if you want to develop historic land, you must first till the soil for artifacts. Unfortunately for the Hacketts, their archeologist struck bone.
It's the latest scene in Canada's longest running movie. We've seen it before. A desire to develop, an impassioned opposition. A convoluted process involving multiple levels of government. Big money, wild rhetoric. An eventual handshake betweens chiefs and cabinet ministers. Until the next deal goes down.
To everyone's credit, the protests, while sometimes illegal, rarely turn violent. Exceptions such as the Oka crisis in Quebec in 1990, when the Mohawk Nation stared down a golf course expansion, burn images into the public mind.
In Marpole, there's plenty of posturing. But here are the facts.
The Hackett family has owned and paid taxes on the property for 50 years. Despite the property's heritage status, city hall and the province approved the condo project, providing all requisite permits. After the archeological discovery, the province halted the project and the Musqueam tabled a complex land swap, which includes a Musqueam park on the site.
Negotiations hang in limbo, awaiting the province's next move. It's a murky situation with lots of backroom talks. Even the bones remain shrouded in mystery.
According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, the only evidence of Musqueam lineage is "based on context." History books and such. There's been no lab analysis, no carbon dating. The archeologist found the bones then ran for the phone. They remain untouched under blue tarpaulin.
"I know they'd be ancestors of ours because my great-grandfather used to live here and he lived to be around 100," said Point, sweeping her hand over the fenced-in property. "He told us about these people. It was passed down through our oral history that this was the front lines when other tribes came invading."
Invading tribes mean dead bodies. Moreover, nomadic members of many First Nations frequented dumping grounds (also known as middens) around the region. Europeans appeared on North America's west coast in the 1500s and finally reached the Pacific Northwest in the 18th century. Despite a misleading media narrative, no one knows who owns the Marpole bones. The Musqueam, the only Indian band with inhabited reserve land in Vancouver, have a strong case. But it's no slamdunk.
Meanwhile, according to Courier reporter Mike Howell, last Monday Mayor Gregor Robertson visited the site, greeted protestors and (literally) beat the drum of solidarity. Robertson later tweeted his support: "Honoured to support Musqueam nation to protect @cusnaum heritage site. B.C. gov't must enable land swap, respect ancestors."
Really? Just like that? Despite the many sensitivities involved (including the rights and expectations of a private land owner) and the potential for unrest, Robertson chooses sides. Cecilia Point vows to remain at the site "until we get our land back." Is that Robertson's position? What happens if the protest turns violent? How many tweets would it take to calm things down?
The appearance of politicians such as Robertson reinforces the obvious. Like other land disputes across Canada, the Marpole affair isn't about buried remains and arrowheads. Not really. The entire city of Vancouver sits on former First Nations land. It's about a lost culture and the realities of colonialism. No "interpretive park" in Marpole will restore Coast Salish supremacy in the New World. No cheap political stunt or mayoral tweet will rewind the hands of time.
But Point is right about one thing. It may be "precedent-setting." If consummated, a land swap marshalled by Victoria involving private property would establish a cottage industry for every First Nations land advisory board from Prophet River to Tsawwassen.
Back in Marpole, if you narrow your gaze to obscure the overpass and plug your ears to the traffic din, you can almost see the Musqueam, with their gillnets and deerskin, pulling salmon from the river under a bright yellow sun. But that's ancient history. Time immemorial. Sad but true. Buried and gone.
(Vancouver Courier, May 23, 2012)
On Canada Day weekend 2011, Courier operatives entered city hall and planted a hidden camera in the mayor’s office, collecting hours of video footage. The following scene involving Mayor Gregor Robertson and Mike Magee, Robertson’s chief of staff, took place Thursday, May 17.
Magee, bald and goateed, sits behind a large oak desk. On a nearby yellow beanbag chair, Robertson, wearing a grey suit, green tie and purple bicycle helmet, reads a book.
“Well, well, well.”
“Whatcha reading, G-man?”
“A book about wells. They’re all over the world. It’s fascinating.”
Magee rises, approaches Robertson, gently removes the book from his hands and studies the cover. “One Well: The story of Water on Earth. For Grades 4 to 6. Where’d you get this?”
Robertson’s desk intercom beeps and crackles. A nasal-voiced receptionist speaks. “Morning, G-man. Police Chief Chu on line two.
Robertson rolls off the beanbag and taps the intercom. “Hello Jimmy, what’s the good word?”
“Mr. Mayor, I just finished meeting with our street unit. Frankly sir, we’re very concerned. This Atira mess has many of my senior officers wondering what to do.”
Robertson furrows his brow. Magee makes a talking sign with his right hand.
“Yes, I understand. It’s a crucial issue that requires immediate attention. What exactly are you talking about?”
“Atira. The big social housing firm in the Downtown Eastside. Janice Abbott, that whole crew. They’re running brothels in their buildings. They announced it last week but they’ve been doing it for a while. Pimps hang around outside. Johns walk in and out. It’s like a giant turnstile.”
“I see. What’s the downside?”
“Mr. Mayor, it’s illegal to operate a brothel, even in Vancouver. The Criminal Code is very specific about that. I know your office works closely with Atira. I know Abbott is connected in Victoria. But this is too much.”
“I understand. Let me look into it. I’ll get back to you.”
Robertson taps his intercom, ending the call. “Whadya think, Mike?”
“Hmmm. This could hurt us. Most people don’t care about prostitution, but a government brothel sounds extreme. Pimps represent a tiny portion of our voting block. We’ll do some polling. In the meantime, let’s get the housing minister on the horn. Find out what the hell’s going on down there.”
Magee taps the intercom. “Betty, get Rich Coleman on the line.”
Moments later. “Hi, Mike, Rich Coleman here.”
“Hey, I’m calling about this Atira thing. The brothels. The mayor’s very concerned. Who OK’d this and how long has it been going on?”
“It’s a tough one, Mike. I’m not prepared to throw anybody under the bus.”
“Is it legal? We just talked to the police chief and he’s crapping bricks.”
“I just don’t have the answer. The actual act is not illegal, it’s the solicitation. We ask our providers to obey the law. But at the same time the rooms are their rooms.”
“Uh huh. OK, Rich, thanks anyway.”
Magee taps the intercom, ending the call. “Butthead. He doesn’t care. There aren’t any brothels in Fort Langley. After next election, he’ll be flipping pancakes for the Kinsmen. We gotta go to the top. Shayne Ramsay—the CEO of B.C. Housing. He controls the purse strings, he’s married to Janice Abbott. He’s the man.”
Robertson falls back onto the yellow beanbag. “I understand, Mike. I’ve got my finger of the pulse of the Downtown Eastside. I promised to end homelessness, for frick sakes. Who’s Janice Abbott?”
“She runs Atira.”
“What’s Atira? Think I missed that part.”
“Atira is the largest social housing firm in Vancouver. They get big money from B.C. Housing to operate all those hotels. You met Abbott at the Westin Bayshore fundraiser. She wiped mustard off your shirt.”
“Ah yes, Japadog. I can taste it now.”
Magee taps the intercom. “Betty, get me Shayne Ramsay on line two.”
“Sorry, Mike, Mr. Ramsay’s office does not accept incoming calls.”
“Dammit! I want Ramsay! The mayor’s pissed about this Atira thing.”
“Sorry, Mike, there’s nothing we can do.”
(Vancouver Courier, May 16, 2012)
Beware how you remove hope from another human being. A slight paraphrase of Oliver Wendell Holmes, former U.S. Supreme Court justice. A man whose legal scholarship was matched only by his respect for democracy.
Last week, democracy took a hit. A handful of unelected folks including Janice Abbott, CEO of the Atira social housing empire, announced a major policy change involving prostitution, a daily tragedy on Vancouver streets. It’s basically legal. And you’re paying for it.
Abbott’s Atira, home to taxpayer millions, and it’s junior partner RainCity Housing, have, for an unspecified period of time, operated de facto brothels in the Downtown Eastside. According to a press release, Abbott and friends authored a “study” involving “39 women” in two unnamed public housing projects, which offer “supportive guest policies” and “condoms” where “clients sign-in at the front desk.” Apparently, the study, five pages of scientific brilliance, bore fruit and “these models have now been extended to reach more sex workers across a number of housing programs in Vancouver.”
So there you have it. The debate is over. Our legislators can move on. Notify the Supreme Court, we don’t need them anymore. A handful of housing barons/activists/ideologues have declared prostitution legal in the Downtown Eastside—or at least within Abbott’s realm, which includes (at last count) 13 government-owned hotels.
Abbott and her study co-authors from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS refused to answer questions for this column. Such as: Why are the 39 women involved in prostitution? Is there an age limit? Do they have pimps? Would they rather receive help out of prostitution? Or women-only detox programs? Or police action against pimps and johns? Did you ask the women these questions? And if so, may we see the answers?
Not likely. Because this “study” is not about education but rather a tool in an ongoing campaign by so-called harm reduction advocates to legalize prostitution. It notes the “landmark decision by the Ontario Court of Appeal” that struck down Canadian prostitution laws.
Of course, that decision does not apply outside Ontario and the Criminal Code forbids the “owning, managing, leasing, occupying” of a brothel.
Prostitution is inherently violent and degrading, dominated by criminals, pimps and drug dealers. In the Downtown Eastside, hotels are prostitution hotspots. To offer hotels as safe havens for women, no matter what “supportive guest policies” you install, is like offering sauna shelters to burn victims.
“If a date goes bad you’re going to get hurt some way,” says Crystal Mane, at the corner of East Hastings and Dunlevy. “Maybe not your body or your face, but some way.”
Mane has walked East Hastings on and off since 1997. Her pale skin and steel blue eyes glow between dyed-red hair and red lipstick, which struggles to conceal sores around her mouth. She doesn’t live in an Atira building, and she didn’t hear last week’s announcement, but she isn’t surprised. “I’ve never had much of a problem at the front desk anywhere. If you don’t live there you can pay them or give an excuse, whatever.”
Mane’s not ready to kick her crack habit so “there’s no sense looking for detox.” But if she was in charge, that’s where she put public money.
“You can’t get well down here… I have friends who have nice places, like bachelor apartments, and they still work the streets. I had a friend die last month—she overdosed. Pretty sad.”
After talking to women like Mane, you wonder what planet women like Amelia Ridgway, manager of RainCity Housing, live on.
Last week—via press release, of course—Ridgway talked about women and their “right to govern their own bodies”—a slogan copied and pasted from the legalization handbook.
Well, Ms. Ridgway, women also own the right to live outside an evil industry run by men for men. With drug debts. Head shavings. Disease-ridden scumbags. Crystal Mane’s perspective on “choice” and “liberation” likely varies wildly from whatever textbook you’ve ingested.
Fortunately, there are solutions, namely the Nordic model, a set of policies targeting the demand side of prostitution (pimps and johns). When adopted in 1999, the Nordic model virtually emptied Sweden of prostitution. Countries such as Norway and Iceland adopted similar methods with similar success. Of course, this approach requires investment in law enforcement, exit services and drug rehabilitation programs. Yet in Vancouver, we dump millions into a dysfunctional social housing/harm reduction scheme, which drives the poverty cycle.
Take Atira, for instance. Under Abbott’s control, during a four-year period beginning in 2007, Atira received at least $21,400,000 from B.C. Housing. (Incidentally, in June 2010 Abbott married Shayne Ramsay, CEO of B.C. Housing, which doles out money to Atira and other social housing firms.)
Last September, thanks to a $1,443,600 mortgage secured by B.C. Housing, Atira opened a social housing project exclusively for teenage girls (aged 16 to 19) in the old International Inn at 120 Jackson, drawing outrage from aboriginal and women’s’ groups.
Abbott, and others like her in the Downtown Eastside, exploit a growing disconnect between our democratic process and policies on the ground.
No one voted, or more importantly, had the opportunity to vote, for brothels. Or free crack pipes. Or prescription heroin. These policies exist in a nebula, free from democratic accountability. Oversight is left to the organizers, usually ideological bedfellows. Success and failure determined by, in the case of brothels, Janice Abbott, a housing provider.
When asked about last week’s brothel announcement, Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing, seemed blindsided although he’s “not prepared to throw anybody under the bus on this one."
Beware how you remove hope from another human being. It can be done quickly with lethal results. Prostituted women often own tragic histories of abuse and neglect. They’re vulnerable to quick fixes with little hope of long-term gain. Is there anything more hopeless, more disappointing to the soul, than “supportive guest policies” ordered like room service in a government hotel? That solution could last forever.
(Vancouver Courier, May 9, 2012)
Vancouver is the inversion capital of Canada. What Nietzsche called transvaluation blooms in full colour, where the absurd is reasonable, the perverse now sacred.
For example. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, better known as VANDU, headquartered at 380 East Hasting in the Downtown Eastside.
To identify the majority of neighbourhood residents with VANDU is ignorant. To confuse VANDU with other activists is to diminish all activism. To call VANDU radical is to libel radicals worldwide. According to VANDU’s “manifesto for a Drug User Liberation Movement” available online, people have the “right to obtain, prepare, and ingest drugs… to deal with psychological trauma or physical pain, or for pleasure or fun.”
This philosophy, enablement on steroids, undermines the basic tenets of drug rehabilitation in a neighbourhood steeped in crack, heroin and crystal meth.
Despite claims of bloated membership, VANDU is mainly Ann Livingston, longtime leader, whose handful of acolytes elbow and intimidate around the Downtown Eastside. Last month at city hall, a VANDU-led mob stormed council chambers to protest an East Hastings condo development called Sequel 138. According to a VANDU statement, the development will cause “disruption and displacement of drug markets” in the neighbourhood.
A rogue group, you say. Unaffiliated, without backing from any reputable source. Think again.
Since 1999, VANDU has fed from the public trough.
Last year, Vancouver Coastal Health, your public health authority, gave VANDU $250,000 and another $250,000 in 2012, not including $40,913 for VANDU’s participation in VCH’s crack pipe giveaway program. Why VANDU needs $40,913 to hand out crack pipes remains a mystery.
Funding from city hall ($20,000 last year, $20,000 this year) pales in comparison. But here’s the kicker. Since 2006, VANDU headquarters on East Hastings has operated without permits, a prerequisite for any business, non-profit or hotdog stand in the city.
According to documents obtained by the Courier through Freedom of Information legislation, in February 2007 “after receiving complaints from area residents,” city staff ordered VANDU to apply for a development permit. VANDU sought and received a 60-day reprieve, which expired on June 13, 2007. Since then, nothing.
Well, almost nothing.
Email transcripts from early 2012 (also obtained through FOI) include conversations between Livingston and Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer. Livingston complains about “vending” bylaw enforcement in the Downtown Eastside, Reimer says it’s “frustrating to hear it’s still happening.” Nothing about VANDU’s outstanding permit situation.
Incidentally, according to the Province newspaper, during last month’s VANDU-led protest at city hall, Reimer brokered a “30-minute informal information session” for protesters to speak even though Sequel 138 wasn’t on the agenda. Next election, Reimer should run a pro-VANDU campaign so voters understand where her sympathies lie.
Seventeen additional pages of VANDU-related email transcripts—four involving Mayor Gregor Robertson—are redacted, deemed off limits to public eyes.
Back on East Hastings, Manzoor Hussain, an immigrant from Pakistan, stands behind the counter at S.Amen Foods, a small convenience store next door to VANDU. Tall and burly with a black tuft of hair, Hussain points to the business licence hanging on his wall. He renews it yearly—$327 in 2012. Mention VANDU to Hussain, then stand back. “I complain so many times to the [VANDU] management,” he says, all hands and gestures. “It’s one thing after another.”
To swell its ranks, VANDU offers $3 stipends to supporters who line up outside Hussain’s store, creating a human barrier for his customers. During one incident, Hussain’s front window was smashed. It cost him $600 to replace it. “I have to follow the rules, but they get away with anything they want. Why?”
Why, indeed. City hall won’t say.
But consider this. According to a spokesperson from the city’s development services department, during any permit application process, city staff must consider the applicant’s “impact on potential neighbours.” Most probably, any honest analysis of VANDU’s impact on the 300 block of East Hastings would result in a permit denial, probable court case and eventual eviction.
Apparently, that just won’t do. When it comes to city permits, your friendly neighbourhood pro-dope lobbyists need not apply.
(Vancouver Courier, May 3, 2012)
Sometime between the years 180 and 192AD, Commodus, Roman Emperor and beard-loving dude, built the Temple of Marcus Aurelius, an homage to his late father and predecessor, on a patch of Roman real estate now home to the Piazza Colonna.
It was standard fare for the times. A giant project constructed by slaves, paid for by taxpayers.
Last Saturday afternoon in Vancouver, Constance Barnes, chair of the park board, announced completion of Emery Barnes Park near Seymour and Davie, ending a three-phase construction process that began in 2003.
The mayor was there, perma-smile on stun. So was Rolly Lumbala, B.C. Lions fullback and admirer of Emery Barnes, who played for the Lions in the 1960s before winning election to B.C.’s provincial legislature, eventually becoming that body’s first black speaker. He died in 1998.
The park, replete with water fountain and bubbling streams, boasts an off-leash dog park, playground and chessboard tables. According to the park board, Emery Barnes Park cost $5.5 million not including future maintenance. Most of the heavy lifting, including a $3.8 million expansion in 2010, took place after daughter Constance was elected to the park board in 2008 as a member of Vision Vancouver.
Constance can’t take credit for the millions allocated to Emery Barnes Park. That was a joint effort by the park board—the same park board that in 2010 threatened to close public washrooms due to budget woes. But she lobbied for this for years. A touchy subject, to say the least.
“She was not involved in any budget decisions for the project,” said Jason Watson, park board spokesperson, during an interview with the Courier. “Commissioners don’t approve any individual line items for budget.”
So park board commissioners don’t have input on park board budget details?
“They do approve the overall budget plan… but again, most of this money was allocated before she became elected.”
Every news report about Saturday’s event joined in the celebration, where the acting chief of one of Vancouver’s three branches of municipal government christened a multi-million dollar public park in her father’s name.
The Vancouver Sun’s slobbering dispatch bordered on satire: “A plaque noting Emery Barnes’ contributions to society was also unveiled Saturday, the first of its kind to be installed in Vancouver parks to educate people about park namesakes. Barnes beamed with pride. ‘Hi dad,’ she said, admiring the plaque, then added: ‘It’s like he is smiling at us.’”
Strange. Yet stranger still was the silence from critics in the media and opposing political parties. Perhaps everyone loves the park. Perhaps they just don’t care. Or perhaps because the Barnes family is black they ignore the park’s family ties, lest they be called racist. Imagine, for a moment, school board chair Patti Bacchus helping name a school in similar familial fashion. Or the mayor cutting a ribbon on The Robertson Family Bike Lane. Many would cry foul, and rightly so.
During his three-decade tenure in Victoria, Emery Barnes advocated for the poor, drawing on the poverty and bigotry of his New Orleans childhood. He brought a valuable perspective to a predominantly white institution and spoke eloquently about the responsibilities of government. “We must govern more realistically,” he said, during a 1987 interview with the Parliamentary Review, “in relation to the poverty line.”
Flash forward two decades. The park board, chaired by his daughter, spends $5.5 million on bubbling water and outdoor chessboards while public pools and rinks close forever. Wonder what Mr. Barnes would think about that.
Back in Rome, the Temple of Marcus Aurelius stood for centuries before it collapsed. We understand why Commodus built it. He loved his dad. But with all due respect to Emery Barnes, may he rest in peace, elected officials dedicating public monuments to dead relatives seems a little too old school for 2012.
(Vancouver Courier, April 25, 2012)
To paraphrase Fidel Castro, revolution is a death match between the future and the past.
These days, old Fidel, king of the green fatigues and unblinking eyes, rarely surfaces, retired to his Punto Cero estate. But his sentiment remains sound.
Revolutions, by nature, eliminate one way to make way for another. The victorious, always virtuous, set the course. And collateral damage, often in human form, gets swept away.
A revolution landed at 12th and Cambie in 2008 with the election of Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver majority, and gained momentum in 2011 when Robertson trounced NPA mayoral challenger Suzanne Anton by more than 18,000 votes.
Robertson—suit-wearing cyclist, climate change alarmist, former Tides Canada director—is Vancouver’s first eco-mayor. Alongside Vision Coun. Andrea Reimer, an enviro-star in her own right, Robertson aims to “green” Vancouver in his image.
Last July, council approved the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, the blueprint for his administration, which among other things, targets cars, mankind’s carbon-spewing nemesis. According to the 162-page plan, parking is passé and policy must “affect people’s finances in positive and negative ways.” Only then will we develop an environmental conscience.
So last week, when council transferred $1 million from the “parking sites reserve,” which funds parking lot construction, into the new “greenest city fund,” few gasped. What, exactly, the “greenest city fund” will fund remains to be seen. But it’s another victory for the revolution. “I’m quite pleased,” said Reimer, from her seat in council chambers, “to see that money re-purposed for a future that will serve the needs of Vancouverites a little better than it might as parking spots.”
Well, not all Vancouverites. “Green” parking policies favour the fit—the very young, lame or elderly notwithstanding.
Ann den Hertog arrived in Vancouver in 1973. A Dutch immigrant, she marvelled at Canada’s “wide open spaces” and fell in love with Stanley Park. “It’s so beautiful especially when the sun shines,” she said, while scanning English Bay last Friday from a concrete perch above Third Beach. “We used to come here and walk the park all the time.”
Now 84, Ann, although short and spry, doesn’t walk the park like she used to. Husband Bill stays close to home and the two-bus trip from their Kitsilano address takes almost an hour. Parking rate hikes (a total of $1 per hour over the past three years) discourage many seniors. And last week, the Vision-dominated park board, a puppet division of the Vision council, eliminated off-season rates in Stanley Park, increasing per-hour parking fees to $3 year round. “I think a lot of seniors will be prevented from coming here,” said Ann, “if they can’t afford to drive.”
The war on parking, and by extension, parkers, is citywide. In 2010, council upped rates and expanded meter zones, increasing 2011 parking revenues by $4.8 million. Total on-street parking revenue (all those pesky meters) eclipsed $39 million, which doesn’t include more than $28 million generated from city-owned lots. Incidentally, city councillors receive exemption decals for free parking virtually anywhere in the city.
Don’t conflate Robertson with the rest of us who want clean air and fresh water. Who doesn’t want that? We should steward the environment, God’s gift to humanity, with great care.
But Robertson is an extremist. It’s Earth first, people second. His vision of parking-starved streets and bike lanes reeks of social Darwinism. At times, like his 2010 trip to China, he sounds downright dictatorial, questioning “how worthwhile democracy is” in combating “the biggest crisis in the history of our species.”
Last month, in only the second papal visit to Cuba, Pope Benedict met with Fidel Castro after mass in Havana’s Revolution Square where the pontiff called for an “open and renewed society” in that communist country.
Expect no revival at city hall. During “opening prayer” before an April 2011 council meeting, former COPE councillor David Cadman projected a planet Earth image onto a screen while New Age music filled a darkened council chambers. Perhaps a little old time religion, pondering nothing earthly minded, might soften the hard green hearts of the eco-elite.
Can I get an amen?
(Vancouver Courier, April 18, 2012)
Trafalgar, they used to call it. A patch of urban plain between West 16th Avenue and King Edward in Arbutus Ridge on Vancouver’s West Side. Prime real estate in a beautiful city. And ground zero of the investor invasion.
A stroll through Trafalgar begins innocently. Rows of parallel streets. White sidewalks. Green lawns. Blue sky, if you’re lucky. Far enough from downtown, the neighbourhood rests in quiet. Too quiet. You soon notice you’re alone among rows of big-box homes, all peaks and eaves, with ornamental hedges stirring in the wind. It’s like a giant film set for a Hollywood blockbuster about a deadly strain of bacteria. Only the goldfish survived.
According to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, last year the average price of a detached home on the West Side rose 20.7 per cent to $1.99 million, continuing a trend of yearly spikes.
Several factors contribute to the boom including foreign investment from China. Unlike other precincts around the world, British Columbia has no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate. Anyone from anywhere can buy on your street and mothball their investment in perpetuity.
Look no further than the Trafalgar area, perhaps the most striking example of investor decay in the city. It’s no longer a community, it’s a commodity. A pocket of land bought and tilled by speculators. Down went the old stucco bungalows, once the neighbourhood’s signature home, up went dozens of “developer specials”—two and three-storey monstrosities that often sit empty, windows shuttered, for months. Sometimes years.
It didn’t used to be this way.
Colin grew up in the neighbourhood, at Trafalgar elementary and Prince of Wales secondary. He remembers streets bustling with life. Kids on bikes. Barbecues and burning leaves. Now a 38-year-old investment adviser, he lives in a rented bungalow not far from his childhood home. While the street names remain the same, the neighbourhood is unrecognizable. “It’s really unbelievable. It’s eerie, I just shake my head.”
Last Friday, Colin took me on a Trafalgar tour. Street after street with many vacant homes. He pointed as we walked. “That’s empty. That one. That one. The whole side of this street almost.”
Colin, not his real name, wishes to remain anonymous, fearing backlash and smears.
You see, as illustrated two weeks ago in the Courier, if you dare note the ethnicity intrinsic to foreign real estate investment in Vancouver, you court charges of bigotry from industry benefactors.
Of course, local realtors and developers have no problem racially profiling potential buyers. For example. Sutton West Coast Realty orchestrates Vancouver home auctions in Shanghai and West Side bus tours for Chinese investors.
Yet Larry Beasley, retired Vancouver city planner and former vice-president of Aquilini Developments, a major industry player, says it’s “racist” to suggest Chinese foreign buyers drive up prices. Politically correct moralizing from Beasley, who also served as “special planning adviser” for royal dictators in the United Arab Emirates, a country that jails homosexuals for being gay.
Back in Trafalgar, bilingual “For Sale” signs in English and Mandarin dot front lawns. During our afternoon stroll, we happened upon a grey, two-storey with white-trimmed peaks. The front door was wide open. A young Asian man appeared in the foyer.
“Is this an open house?”
“No,” he said, in broken English. “We show to private buyers.”
“How much? What’s the price?”
“Three point eight nine million.”
That’s typical of Trafalgar and other sections of Arbutus Ridge, probably the most overpriced neighbourhood in the city. It’s a market within a market with baffling trends. According to Colin, several Trafalgar homes seem to exist solely for “sale” yet never get occupied. “These three places in a row,” he says, near West 21st and Yew. “No one’s ever lived there but [For Sale] signs go up for a few weeks then go away for few weeks. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s a murky Monopoly game. Thanks to strict regulation in China, Chinese real estate investors look off-shore for capital gains. Our wild open market attracts investors from everywhere, warping the local supply and demand equation, helping push middle class residents out to the suburbs or into crushing debt.
Premier Christy “Families First” Clark, a committed globalist, won’t restrict foreign ownership in B.C. Mayor Gregor Robertson, who slobbered over Beijing during a 2010 “trade mission” to China, won’t reform the tax code to accommodate the new normal. Which means foreign real estate investors pay the same rate (4.2 per cent) as local homeowners, not the business rate (18 per cent) they should.
Two weeks ago, Eugen Klein, president of the Vancouver Real Estate Board, told the Courier that off-shore buyers account for only three per cent of house sales. Rubbish. Because foreigners often use local addresses (their lawyer’s office, for example) when registering with the provincial land title office, no one knows how many off-shore investors own homes in Vancouver. Yet Klein’s “three per cent” defence raises questions he’d likely rather avoid.
What percentage. Mr. Klein, of foreign investment is acceptable in Vancouver’s real estate market? Ten per cent? Twenty per cent? If 50 per cent of Vancouver was owned by foreigners, would that be OK with you? Where do the interests of your global industry and our city diverge? How deep doth thy zeal for globalization run?
No, they want this conversation to go away. Shut it up before folks get wise. If you’re troubled by dead neighbourhoods shuttered by foreign investment, you’re a racist dog stuck in 1923. Get back to your rented bungalow. You’ll be hearing from us soon.
(Vancouver Courier, April 11, 2013)
Segregation, for the children.
Despite tribal instincts, modern western sensibilities lean towards integration, to the point of homogenization. Whatever the medium, the message is clear. We’re one big happy family. But life is full of surprises.
The Vancouver School Board, home to the Diversity Team, fountain of many colours, where social engineers like board chair Patti Bacchus come to practice, wants to segregate aboriginal children in a “aboriginal choice” school. Odd, really, because in 2011 the board’s revised “Multicultural and Anti-racism Policy” crossed out race as a social construct, arbitrarily and with extreme prejudice. In the words of Diversity Team chief Lisa Pedrini, “Although science has proven the notion of races and racial differences to be false, the belief… is perpetuated despite evidence to the contrary.” Yet here we are, back to separate but equal.
The aboriginal experience occupies a curious place in the white liberal mind, which bears the weight of historical injustice. As aboriginal communities across Canada wallow in poverty and dysfunction, the white majority, colonists incarnate, remain guilty by association. And no remedy, no matter the cost, is unworthy of reflection.
So when Jo-Ann Archibald, associate dean for indigenous education at UBC, beat the segregationist drum in Vancouver public schools, Bacchus and friends fell in line.
In the United States, de facto segregation defines many inner-city schools, with dreary results.
For example, due to white flight and demographics, the Washington, D.C. school district is predominantly black. According to the U.S. Department of Education, D.C. spends $18,000 per student each school year, one of the highest averages in the country, yet ranks near the bottom of virtually every national achievement category.
Statistically, D.C. (123 public schools, 46,191 students) and Vancouver (110 for 55,994) share similar school traits. Like D.C., Vancouver boasts high per-pupil funding ($6,784) compared to nearby districts. The graduation rate for one D.C. school, Anacostia High, a one-time stop on Michelle Obama’s 2009 “motivational” tour, hovers around 37 per cent, close to the aboriginal graduation rate (32 per cent) in Vancouver.
More broadly, both communities—Canadian First Nations, black America—struggle with dysfunction. Rampant teen pregnancy, single-parent homes, widespread drug and alcohol abuse, poverty and high crime rates. To help, American charter schools, wildly popular in D.C., bus black kids out of brokenness to a better, safer education.
In Vancouver, all schools are safe and well-funded. And yet, with no evidence of future success, the school board wants to segregate aboriginal kids. Prince George launched an aboriginal school in 2010, too early to gauge success or failure. Like the Vancouver proposal, it’s open to students of all backgrounds—a caveat meant to deflect criticism.
According to the Vancouver School Board website, public meetings staged last year by Archibald demonstrated “clearly that stakeholders in aboriginal education believe a school is required which will honour aboriginal values, perspectives and philosophy.”
But wait. That’s already happening. The district employs aboriginal curriculum consultants and an aboriginal district administrator. Fully staffed aboriginal “resource rooms” operate in many schools alongside First Nations leadership training, culture and language programs. Two courses—B.C. First Nations Studies 12 and English 12 First Peoples—spotlight the aboriginal experience. Compared to all other groups, aboriginal students are richly served.
However, despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, their impact remains limited compared to influences at home.
Finally, the school board last month completed a survey of Vancouver parents. Out of 304 survey respondents, 59 (37 aboriginal, 22 non-aboriginal) said they’d send their child to an aboriginal school while 146 (11 aboriginal, 135 non-aboriginal) said “no.” Ninety-six respondents (31 aboriginal, 65 non-aboriginal) said “maybe” with three undecided.
To recap, 19 per cent said “yes” to an aboriginal school in Vancouver. According to the survey summary, some “no” respondents decried this “form of segregation.”
Which explains why the survey, touted by Bacchus and friends before, was buried after. No website posting. No press release. Exposed only by a formal request from the Courier.
The aboriginal proposal will be discussed Wednesday at school board.