Category Archives: Society

On the Road, 2008 — A Meditation

The car’s gas gauge swings from full to empty. In a city, you can at least get a sense you’re accomplishing numerous tangible things on a tank of gas: shopping, commuting, running errands, going to the gym. On this flat interstate thruway, however, hours pass and little changes. I know from signposts I’m advancing towards a destination, but only exhaust-tinted snow and skeletons of trees line this grey march.

My hometown of Victoria, BC is a plane ride behind me, yet what’s happening seems so consummately local. Indeed, every reader everywhere, I imagine, has experienced it. Travelling this way for business or pleasure is a deeply integrated part of the fabric of our communities. It’s one of those routines that’s rarely newsworthy in itself, yet influences our political policies on trade, transit, taxes, the Olympics budget and Middle East wars. Continue reading

In Praise of Impolite Protests

Enough. I’ve become completely sick of hearing people say, “those demonstrators hurt their own cause when they…” broke the law, shouted too loudly, acted outrageously, left a mess, didn’t shower beforehand…

Now I have to rant (loudly, of course) about it.

Have you heard these types of comment before, too? It seems every news report, opinion column or letter to the editor about any unusual public protest always includes some witness, journalist or political opponent sagely pointing out how terribly improper it all was.

Those people doing a tree-sit to prevent a parkway near Bear Mountain were littering the forest!

Those activists blocking traffic made me late — they certainly won’t get my support any more!

Those students were blocking the pathway to the military recruiters — how disrespectful!

It’s like we’re all a bunch of snooty-nosed, delicate folk who find it insufferable when the filthy chimney-sweep walks through our tea party.

Here’s a 9-1-1 to the snoots: There’s a war going on out there. People are dying in our streets. People are dying from pollutants. Our soldiers are killing people. There’s nothing polite about any of that and, if you’re going to fight it, chances are, you might occasionally have to be a bit impolite yourself. Continue reading

The Facts about Tasers — and the Lies

Police adore Tasers. Medical researchers and coroners have become cozy with the manufacturer. Taser International has been threatening legal action against Canadian media. Whose claims can we trust?

Shortly after the horrifying, videotaped death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport tore through our public consciousness, another frightening thing happened. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police leaped up and gave Tasers a ringing public endorsement.

It was the most crass act the association could have committed, reminiscent of how the National Rifle Association parachutes gun proponents into the post-mortems of mass shootings.

“Forgive us if we sound biased,” announced association president Gord Tomlinson to the press.

But should we forgive them?

Well, there is one crucial aspect to the police side of this story that’s so far been underdiscussed. Continue reading

Will Task Force’s Plan Assault the Homeless?

Victoria’s 40-person Mayor’s Task Force on mental illness, addictions and homelessness didn’t include anyone identifying as a mental health system user, a substance user, or homeless. Though the Task Force conducted focus groups with street people and service users, none were around when the final action plan was being formed. That’s too bad because, if they’d been present, just about any street person would’ve warned that the plan, for all its good intentions, was flirting with disaster.

Instead, only the respectful principle of involving these people in decision-making sprouted up in the Task Force reports like totem poles on the legislature lawn.

“Street-involved people can and should play an important role in the development and implementation of programs…”.

“Participation of those with mental illness in reforming and improving the mental health system… must include meaningful involvement, democratic decision making…”

But street people weren’t actually in the planning meetings to protest, when the Task Force paternalistically chose to implement “Assertive Community Treatment” (ACT), a notorious program of social control recently instigated throughout Ontario.

Continue reading

Our City’s Invisible Dictator

I live in a light world, mainly in the mind. Many today do. From managers and bureaucrats to programmers, accountants, tellers and reporters, a growing percentage work primarily with electronic gadgetry and communications tools, processing nothing more physically burdensome than ideas and information.

It’s a comfortable place, but over time we become dangerously detached from reality. We tend to gradually lose our sense of the heavy impacts our predominantly indoor, cerebral lifestyles are actually having on the outside physical world. Our intelligence becomes unbalanced.

I’m reminded of this every time I buy groceries. Halfway home my shoulders and arms will be stiff and sore. I’ll become astonished by the sheer weight, the pure poundage of pears, apples and bananas, potatoes, carrots and cabbage, cheese and soy milk, canned tomatoes and packages of noodles required to maintain my consumption for just a few weeks. My buoyant life of the mind places extremely hefty demands on innumerable workers, and on the world.

Last month, having to move for the second time in a year literally brought home how gigantic, heavy and physically imposing even my own relatively frugal, cerebral lifestyle really is. Continue reading