Why We Love to Hate Ian Thow

Last year Ian Thow, vice-president of Victoria, BC’s local Berkshire Investment Group branch, skipped the country and left dozens of local creditors and investors in the lurch for tens of millions of dollars. While some had wealth to spare, it’s difficult not to feel for those who mortgaged away homes and retirement savings.

However, this April, Berkshire reached confidential settlements with a good number of Thow’s victims, and continues to negotiate.

So maybe we can finally speak more frankly, without feeling as if we’re salting open wounds with personal insults.

Were these investors really only “victims”? And what was the general public’s role in this massive scam that endured for years?

On one level, it’s open-and-shut: Thow apparently told these people he’d invest their money, and instead pocketed it. He’s a criminal; everyone else a victim. That’s the story as presented, anyway.

But examining public perceptions of this prominent man over the years reveals a more unsettling picture of the complicity of everyone else.

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What Was that Minister Thinking?

alienabduction3.jpgHas anyone else noticed that news reporters, more and more often, stop short of asking prominent people the obvious follow-up questions any reasonable person would ordinarily ask?

Examples abound, but one recent BC news story was especially frustrating, because the issue affected local journalists-making it all the more striking they never asked the obvious questions.

First, a recap.

In April, the Liberals introduced radical changes to BC’s freedom of information laws. They held no discussion of innocuously named Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), simply slipping the FOI revamping in amongst clarifications to clerical procedures under Land Title Act section 168.722 and grammar corrections to the Utilities Commission Act.

Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis poured his fury into a 4-page public letter (a letter since removed from the web, but Google thankfully made a rudimentary copy), protesting the amendments could drop an iron curtain of secrecy over the expanding public-private service sector. Other experts and opinion writers concurred, firing barrages of condemnation. Most suspected the government was surreptitiously and fascistically moving to prevent us from hearing any more about Maximus-MSP performance-target boondoggles, deadly forestry deregulation, or Olympics “not-really-the-Olympics-budget” budget over-runs.

For the government, Labour and Citizens Services Minister Michael de Jong repeatedly countered that the amendments, in fact, did the exact opposite.

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Are We Actually Helping Afghanistan?

In overseas wars with automatic weapons, helicopters and tanks, home fronts are as crucial as battlefields. Home-front foot soldiers like us provide the immense financing and social-emotional forces driving specialized armies.

Unfortunately, this means many here at home also embrace unquestioning obedience, as if lives depended on our ignoring complex questions and shooting first.­ It’s exemplified in recent columns defending our military’s role in Afghanistan being fired out by Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Keith Martin.

Martin’s won five elections and become one of this region’s most prominent politicians, while occasionally defying his parties and adopting humanitarian and environmental issues. He’s currently the federal Opposition Critic for International Cooperation.

So one expects his Afghanistan writings to exhibit some political sophistication. Instead, they’re typical of the dangerous, misinformed jingoism becoming common amongst us.

In one column, Martin recounts how a teacher educated girls, but the Taliban executed him. Ergo: We’re in Afghanistan defending women’s rights.

However, I emailed his article with questions to the oldest, most active Afghan women’s organization, renowned for defying the Taliban, the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan. Their response, from “Friba” (they still operate partly clandestinely), was lengthy and impassioned (read the entire text here).

RAWA sees Canadian troops, like U.S. troops, as extensions of the U.S. government, not as “friends” of Afghan women, writes Friba. Continue reading “Are We Actually Helping Afghanistan?” »

(still) Paving Paradise

The next casualty of the uncontrolled development destroying the Capital Region could be the rural Highlands. The public can see the importance of a broader vision—why can’t our politicians?

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It might have been just another business-as-usual meeting of the Capital Regional District board about urban development. But normal polite procedures cannot contain it, and the tension starts blowing through like whistles of steam.

“He’s lying,” a biting voice from the public seats whispers in my ear.

“She supports it because she’s subdividing,” says another person, pointing.

After Highlands mayor Mark Cardinal explains to other elected representatives from around the region on the CRD board that his proposal for mammoth development was endorsed by his council, two people behind me grumble muted protests. I’m startled to discover their both Highlands councillors.

“It’s the death of the Highlands,” proclaims another person loudly.

Highlands’ current council “did not vote on nor endorse” Cardinal’s proposal, councillor Jane Mendum clarifies to me later, adding stunning controversy to a plan already tangled in BC Supreme Court over allegations of inadequate public consultation.

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Slave Ships at Ogden Point?

They float into Victoria’s night glowing like fifteen-story Christmas trees. With visions of big-spending passengers on shore leave, businesses and politicians eagerly welcome cruise ships. This February, our local daily ran a full-page spread, including the 184-ship schedule, lauding the “great news” of the record-breaking coming year.

But a recent report sounds an alarming foghorn into our collective delirium about the modern ship industry.

The root problem is widely recognized: Today, over half of commercial ships register in nations like Liberia or Panama to enjoy relative freedom from taxes and environment, labour and safety regulations. Even our ex-Prime Minister, shipping magnate Paul Martin, does it.

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