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Focus readers, June 2015

Thoughts on the need for respect

On the evening of April 13, 2015, at a Saanich Council meeting, Councillor Judy Brownoff took the chair and addressed the standing-room only crowd of residents (average age 55+) about the need for respect, before any member of the public had spoken. Indeed, we were subjected to a total of four such lectures during the evening. While I respect Councillor Brownoff’s right to her opinion, I would respectfully like to express a different one.

By David Broadland, June 2015

The spyware installed on Mayor-elect Richard Atwell’s computer was only one of three IT strategies that targeted him.

New evidence brought forward by current and former employees of the District of Saanich’s IT department may create additional pressure on BC’s Attorney General Suzanne Anton to investigate whether, on the direction of senior Saanich officials, the communications of Mayor Richard Atwell were wilfully intercepted. Section 184 of the Canadian Criminal Code provides for punishment of up to five years in prison for the “wilful” interception of private communications between parties unless at least one of the parties agrees to the interception. Atwell has said he was never informed by the District of the interception. Saanich has provided no proof he was.

Before getting to that new information, let me remind you of what we already know.

By Leslie Campbell, June 2015

Whistle blowers, citizen activists and persistent journalists are the antidote.

On May 15 I attended a stimulating talk by David Barsamian, the award-winning founder of Alternative Radio, now in its 29th year. Barsamian has also co-written a number of books with Noam Chomsky. 

Green leader MP Elizabeth May introduced Barsamian to the crowd of about 80 people at UVic’s SUB lounge.

He was speaking on “Media and Democracy”—and had lots to say on both subjects, mostly from a US perspective. From my perch as the editor of a local magazine, I tried to apply his analysis to the local scene.

Both Barsamian and Elizabeth May highlighted the continuing growing concentration of media ownership as a key to understanding everything else that’s wrong with media today.

By Judith Lavoie, June 2015

While Mike Hicks fears the Regional Sustainability Strategy’s teeth will bite his community, others say those teeth aren’t sharp enough.

There’s an unabashedly optimistic vision for 2038 stated in the draft Regional Sustainability Strategy of the Capital Regional District. It states: “We contribute to a healthier planet and create a thriving, sustainable economy that optimizes individual and community wellbeing. Direct, innovative action by the CRD and cooperation with others achieves transformational change by boldly: shifting to affordable, low carbon, energy-efficient lifestyles; expanding the local food supply; stewarding renewable resources; and achieving greater social equity.”

The devil is in the details, of course, but the draft RSS is described as the “road map for how we will work together to reach a shared vision for the region”—a statement begging for a smiley-face emoticon.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon

You’d think Fisheries and Oceans Canada would be on the side of wild salmon. Think again.

May 6, 2015 was a great day for wild salmon,” says Margot Venton, staff lawyer at Vancouver-based environmental legal group Ecojustice. It was a good day for Alexandra Morton, too: The biologist and the wild fish both scored a potentially significant victory in court. 

Two years earlier, Ecojustice had commenced legal action on her behalf against Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Marine Harvest Canada Inc in the Federal Court of Appeal, contesting the fish farm company’s DFO-issued licence to transfer young salmon smolts from its hatchery into open-water pens in the ocean. 

By Leslie Campbell, June 2015

Do articulated tug barges, each carrying millions of gallons of hydrocarbon fuels, pose a threat to our coast?

Ingmar Lee has a mission born of serious worry. The long-time environmental activist has been trying to raise awareness about the “articulated tug     barges” that transport various fossil fuels through the Inside Passage to Alaska.

From his home on Denny Island, near Bella Bella, Lee maintains a facebook page (10,000 Ton Tanker) where he posts regularly. It started a few years ago, he says, when he began noticing and then tracking (via the tugboat Nathan E. Stewart and its two 300-ft 10,000-ton capacity petroleum-tanker barges which run directly past Bella Bella, and on through BC’s protected Inside Passage and Great Bear Rainforest. 

By David Broadland, June 2015

The CRD is fighting to prevent release of a record that could show how badly it estimated one of the costs of sewage treatment.

Since an inquiry conducted by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner is a quasi-judicial process, I suppose I’m breaking some quasi-law by disclosing the contents of the CRD’s and Stantec’s submissions before an adjudication is made. Maybe I’m headed for quasi-jail, but the information that the CRD and Stantec are trying to keep out of the public eye is central to a rational, community-based decision on the sewage treatment question.

In 2009 the CRD contracted Stantec to provide engineering consulting services for the core area’s sewage treatment program.

By Gene Miller, June 2015

Amalgamation may destroy that which makes this place meaningful.

I suppose it’s not amalgamate’s fault that the word sounds a bit like a body process, sharing space with masturbate or suppurate. According to the best online sources, synonyms include consolidate and confederate, but also, somewhat obliquely, adulterate and denature. 

Remember denature.

Singing the praises of municipal amalgamation, advocates act as if they were rational scientists explaining weather to Hottentots: “As when a little cloud cuts off the fiery highway of the Sun” (apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson). And, somehow, anti-amalgamation—or pro-leave-things-as-they-are— types wind up seeming like luddites or dotty locals standing in the way of progress, blunderbusses at the ready, perversely clinging to some musty, inefficient but cherished model of municipal management.

By Briony Penn, June 2015

A sense of humour and humility are essential as settlers wade into the rich intertidal zone of decolonization.

The gathering of #1 seaweed, LEKES in the Coast Salish SENCOTEN language, is best done on a warm day in May when the tide is low and your heart is open to the possibility of wading into the intertidal zone of decolonization. It is a vital zone—messy and rich where land meets ocean, fresh water meets salt, settler meets indigenous, Western laws meet aboriginal title, and inundation follows dehydration every six hours. It is a zone in which you ask permission to enter, but are welcomed if you do. 

By Amy Reiswig, June 2015

A visual and literary homage to Tod Inlet, its history, nature, and people.

Here in the capital region we hear a lot about land value. Whether it’s changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, provincial government surplus asset sales, or residential real estate, the conversation often revolves around what land is worth—dollars paid, dollars made. But as Brentwood Bay artist Gwen Curry shows in her new book about the natural and cultural history of Tod Inlet, some of our land’s greatest value lies precisely in qualities that cannot be measured or monetized. 

By Aaren Madden, June 2015

Legacy’s new exhibition illustrates a formative time in Victoria’s modern art history.

During the 1960s, Victoria was a place of particularly rich artistic ferment. This notion is at the core of a group exhibition on now at the University of Victoria Legacy Art Gallery Downtown. Called “Making a Scene,” the exhibition considers just that: how the social and cultural circumstances locally, nationally and internationally brought about a particular mix of people, opportunities and ideas in this place at that time. This fusion coalesced into an atmosphere that nurtured creativity, support and mentorship, and individual creative expression. Not to mention, some truly unforgettable parties.

By Mollie Kaye, June 2015

Ensemble Laude presents two concerts in June, displaying the power of choral music.

It is a palpable experience, being in a choir of human voices. For the singers and their audience, the harmonies and overtones zinging around the room create a kind of echo chamber of “good vibrations.” Apparently choral singing is better for your heart and lungs than yoga, if the medical researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden have it right.

Elizabeth MacIsaac, founder and artistic director of the 40-voice Ensemble Laude women’s choir, says they definitely do. “You’d think being in a choir would be yet another fatigue, but it’s not. It’s something that rejuvenates and reenergizes people.” The immersion in the sound, she says, brings health and healing. “Tons of oxygen is going into your body, abdominal muscles are being stimulated, endorphins released, so many good things.”

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, June 2015

Despite federal neglect of environmental issues like climate change, local youth are taking meaningful action.

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the recent federal budget was what it once again didn’t offer for the environment and for young people. No surprise about the environment—that porch light went off when the current group and their lobbyists moved into the big house several years ago. 

As for our youth, well, they were alluded to only once on Budget Day, not in the document but in a careless comment made afterwards by the finance minister in response to concerns that increased tax-free savings opportunities (for those who can afford them) would dent the public coffers for years to come. 

Focus Readers, May 2015

Petrostate clampdown

Activist Ruth Miller is not too far off the mark when, in Judith Lavoie’s April article, she compares Harper and the Conservative government’s behaviour to Hitler’s and his Nazis.

Bill C-51, combined with C-13, C-44 and C-639, will allow the Conservatives, and successive governments, to ignore the Canadian Constitution and Charter rights, and they will have the right to bypass the courts on all surveillance decisions. The passage of these bills effectively legalizes a totalitarian dictatorship not unlike that found in East Germany before reunification and in Germany under Hitler.

If Harper is allowed to continue with his plan to disrupt and criminalize dissent, democracy in Canada will cease to exist. Voting will become more of a sham than it already is.

By Leslie Campbell, May 2015

It’s political will—not ideas—that we’ve been missing in reducing homelessness.

In 2007 a documentary film came out that portrays a highly effective way to help homeless addicts recover and become productive citizens. I was able to view this film, called Finding Normal, at Our Place on April 21, compliments of Movie Monday and the filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. (The previous night they screened his newer film Alien Boy, about a man who was beaten to death by members of the Portland Police.) 

City of Victoria officials should see both films, but Finding Normal may be especially inspirational as they work to carry out their strategic plan commitment to “bold and innovative” leadership.

By David Broadland, May 2015

Did Saanich staff conspire to spy on the newly-elected mayor?

Following release of BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report on the controversial installation of employee monitoring software on 13 District of Saanich computers—including incoming Mayor Richard Atwell’s—many Saanich citizens expressed frustration that Denham had left fundamental questions unanswered: Did Saanich managers conspire to spy on Atwell? If so, who ordered the spying? And who, they asked, will now determine what actually happened?

Saanich Council’s decision on April 13 to turn further investigation of the matter over to Interim CAO Andy Laidlaw did nothing to allay concern that these questions would be left unanswered. 

By Judith Lavoie, May 2015

With legal costs already over $1 million, the traumatized community continues its fight against a contaminated soil dump.

As Shawnigan Lake residents prepare to fight yet another battle over provincially-approved plans to dump and treat contaminated soil in a quarry above the lake that provides the area’s drinking water, there’s a community-wide sense of disillusionment and systemic betrayal. “I feel that what went wrong are the government processes and rules and regulations,” said Victoria Robson, Shawnigan Residents Association director.

By Briony Penn, May 2015

A scientific communicator takes on big oil and its so-called regulator.

When the Burrard oil spill started seeping onto English Bay beaches in April, the backstory of the oil industry’s corresponding rising share prices was already in the blogosphere. Kinder Morgan (Trans Mountain) owns half of Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), a company that has a monopoly on cleaning up spills on the coast. Lori Waters, a scientific communicator in rural Saanich, was connecting the dots for her blog followers in graphic detail. 

By Derry McDonell, May 2015

Former BC Premier Mike Harcourt tells a pro-amalgamation crowd that citizens will have to lead the way.

If the 75 percent of Greater Victoria residents who voted in favour of making changes to the governance structure of the region last November actually want it to happen, they had better get involved and be prepared to drive the process forward themselves. That was the frank advice of former BC Premier Mike Harcourt, speaking to a meeting organized by Amalgamation Yes on April 21. About 75 people attended.

“Don’t wait for the politicians to do something,” said Harcourt. “If you do, nothing will happen.”

The politicians are too invested in the status quo, he explained. “They are worried about their mayor’s perks and planning director’s salaries.”