December 2013 edition

Truth and irreconciliation?

As I read the excellent and deeply moving article “Truth and irreconciliation?” by Katherine Palmer Gordon I felt angry, heart sick, and powerless. The very idea that victims of sexual abuse are forced to testify before government lawyers in a quasi-legal setting, and given points relating to the level of abuse is to me an indication of the heartlessness of the whole process. It makes me shudder to think of the type of people who could think up such a system.

And when I read about the federal government’s nutritional tests in which children were starved to study the effects of poor nutrition, it was too much, tears rolled down my cheeks.

I fully agree with Fred Robbins, chief of the Alkali Lake Band, who Katherine quoted as saying: “We need to recognize that things can’t end with the TRC process. We need to support the recommendations they have made. We need to carry on this momentum, or all this work will just get folded up by bureaucrats and put away on a shelf. And we need to do it together.”

The worst, most unconscionable thing we can do is to turn our backs.

Thank you Focus for publishing this article—I don’t know where else we would find this type of reporting.

Janice Henshaw


Many thanks to Katherine Palmer Gordon for her article on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was fortunate to attend a two-day Reconciliation Dialogue with Aboriginal Elders and Suzuki Elders in August organized by Chief Robert Joseph, and to have my heart broken by the stories I heard there and at the TRC hearings in Vancouver in September. I agree with Troy Sebastian that we need to “put pressure on the government to compel the state to re-imagine its relationships with indigenous peoples, lands and law.” And we also need to do some re-imagining ourselves, in our own hearts and minds. As Chief Robert Joseph told me: “Reconciliation begins with you and me.”

Pauline Le Bel


If the object of Focus using for its November cover a class photograph from St Joseph Mission near Williams Lake circa 1890 was to evoke feelings of sadness and revulsion it certainly worked with me. As a public school teacher for 35 years in BC I saw many class pictures over the years but none with such evident feelings of desperation and loneliness among the children as the scrutiny of this photograph reveals. Canada has little to be proud of in its treatment of minority peoples in its history and surely none more so than its mission to eradicate a culture so surely and so cruelly. The enlistment and willing cooperation of the Christian churches to do the deed makes it no less palatable for me. 

Ken Bailey


Scientists on sewage treatment

We are pleased to see continuing discussion in Focus of the local sewage treatment issue. The overriding impression we have of the CRD’s continuing plans for land-based secondary treatment, or suggestions by others for tertiary treatment, is that the allegedly scientific arguments put forward in support are very superficial. Protection of the marine environment is supposedly a primary goal, but nowhere can one find a detailed, quantitative, rational analysis of what the problems are with the present system and how the proposed schemes will fix them. The BC government’s order to the CRD in 2007 was largely based on the qualitative and inconclusive SETAC report. Similarly, the federal government’s “one size fits all” regulations are clearly inappropriate in failing to take account of differences in receiving environments and hence different impacts and risks. The CRD’s willing compliance is disappointing.

Before spending a billion dollars, it would seem sensible to answer questions such as 1) What are the present or potential problems with wastewater and other discharges into the local marine environment? 2) How serious are these problems? 3) What are the major sources of the problems? 4) Will a proposed remedy eliminate or even reduce the problems without creating bigger impacts? 5) Are there better solutions than the ones proposed? 6) Is addressing the problems a high priority for marine environmental protection?

Materials of concern such as heavy metals and pharmaceutical compounds are certainly present in the screened wastewater. However, rather than declaring them to be toxic or harmless, we really need a quantitative analysis of their concentrations and effects. Such an analysis has not been officially conducted. 

Many of us in the marine science community who have examined the issues, based on the excellent monitoring work of the CRD’s scientists together with consideration of local oceanographic conditions, have concluded that 1) in spite of some uncertainties, the impact of the present system is small, and 2) land-based secondary treatment in the Juan de Fuca Strait region is a low priority for marine environmental protection. 

Much greater benefits for the marine environment could be achieved for a fraction of the cost of the proposed scheme by focusing on more serious issues such as habitat loss, harmful invasive species, and making our local ecosystem more resilient to climate change and ocean acidification.

Jay Cullen, Chris Garrett,

Jack Littlepage, Rob Macdonald,

Tim Parsons, Tom Pedersen,

Vera Pospelova, Rick Thomson,

Diana Varela, Michael Whiticar

(The above are all current, former, or adjunct professors of marine science, Tim Parsons at UBC and the rest at UVic.)


CRD not playing by the rules

It is interesting to note that the recently formed Core Area Wastewater Treatment Program Commission has followed in the footsteps of the CRD committee on wastewater. They routinely adjourn their meetings to in camera, denying the public access to the discussion. They use section 90 of the Community Charter to do this and this is clearly stated in the minutes. However, it should be pointed out that they are not a municipal body, they are not municipal employees, they were not elected to office, they have not sworn the appropriate oath, and as such they are not permitted to do this. Shouldn’t they and the CRD directors who supported this action step down for being in contempt? The Charter is quite clear in this respect and so are the consequences.

Tony Rose


The deer question

According to Nabrhraj Spogliarich (Focus November 2013) “Lyme disease is not a significant problem in BC and deer are not directly responsible for transmitting the infection to humans.”

Wrong on the first count: All of southern BC is endemic for Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks. People are being infected locally by ticks attaching in their backyards, while hiking on trails or playing in long grass, or after their pet carries one inside. 

People are rarely diagnosed with Lyme because doctors are told to rely on a flawed test that doesn’t find it—but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it. In the past few months I’ve met young people with Lyme acquired in the Wilkinson Valley and in Uplands Park. Gardeners here are at high risk because Lyme disease and co-infections are circulating in our yards.

Spogliarich is right when he says deer don’t directly infect humans, because they don’t carry Lyme and they don’t bite people. But deer are the blood-meal of choice for adult ticks, and a rising deer presence supports expanding tick populations. Larvae and nymphal ticks, often too small to be seen, acquire and transmit Lyme and other diseases when feeding on deer mice and other small rodents.

Many of us live in disturbed suburban environments in which the overabundance of deer, mice, rats and other small mammals guarantee we are sharing an ecology with ticks. These ticks are increasingly disease-carrying and the failure to prevent contact can mean a life of debilitation and suffering.

One other wrinkle here on the Pacific flyway is that songbirds are continually flying in new populations of ticks, numbers of which carry disease and can set up new reservoirs in our parks and back yards. This is not a problem we can be naive about or trifle with, no matter how we feel about the deer.

David Cubberley

BC Director, CanLyme


Economics as if people and the planet mattered

Thank you for mentioning the November 29 to December 5 festival of ideas called “Living the New Economy” at the Roundhouse at Bayview Place. I look forward to attending at least some of it. What is needed from every one of us is more humane treatment of each other and more responsible treatment of our planet. 

A long term view is essential—both back at history and toward the future. To that end, every article in the November issue was pertinent and thought provoking. Your writers are clear and courageous. My education is ongoing!

Julie Graham


A rehearsal for real life

Having just attended the William Head On Stage play Fractured Fables, the points made in Chris Creighton-Kelly’s October article—about how “Community theatre transforms us and reinforces our connectedness”—most certainly ring true. Lina de Guevera’s “need to tell my own story” and the value of community theatre as expressed by Paula Jardine are certainly the essence of the theatre at William Head Institution. The community of inmates and the theatre professionals from Victoria have a long history of expressing diversity and building creative skills. This year the fables were written from the experience of the inmates/actors. Many have expressed what a transformative experience it is for them. As Paula says “people are often amazed at what they can do, at what they did not know about themselves.” The community from outside are invited to participate in a circle after the play where many restorative values are expressed.

Joanna Wilkinson


Tough questions

I reacted strongly to John Ducker’s comments in the October issue interview by Stephen Andrew, on the harmful effect of having mayors serve on police boards. I have written at least twice to the responsible authorities in BC suggesting that they should remove the provision in the Police Act which appoints mayors as chairs of such boards. (And have got exactly the responses to be expected when a citizen makes helpful suggestions to the powers that be.)

In my experience on a Police Services Board in Ontario, as member and later chair, it was very clear that proper civilian oversight of police services—which is the whole point of having police boards—doesn’t happen when a mayor is on the board. It’s appropriate and necessary to have one councillor or more on a municipality’s police board to provide formal liaison between municipal council and board. But regardless of any particular mayor’s personal merits, that council representative must not be the mayor if the board is to function well. 

The problem with mayors is that they are political figures (much more so than councillors) and are universally regarded as power figures (while councillors are not). Every police board is already dealing with a strong power figure, the police chief. The interactions of a police chief and the chair of the police board, whether they happen to be collegial or antagonistic or anywhere in between, are vitally important to the proper functioning of the whole board. If the chair is a mayor there is a very strong risk that the two power centres coalesce leaving the other board members out. To have one mayor on a board disrupts proper functioning; to have two is guaranteeing disaster. The provincial government really should have known better.

My experience in Ontario was in a small rural municipality in a situation of forced municipal amalgamation (Mike Harris days) where we also had to take on management of our own police force for the first time. For financial reasons the Ontario Provincial Police on contract became our police force and the local OPP Commander became our police chief. A lot of adjustment took place on all sides, and very peaceably I should add.

Our mayor was not on our police board.  Neighbouring municipalities did appoint their mayors to their police boards, where as a matter of course (because of their power status) the mayors became the board chairs.  So I had a priceless opportunity to observe the functioning of police boards chaired by mayors and a police board chaired by a non-mayor. A fascinating study.

But I don’t see the BC government learning from the example of others.

Nancy Kenyon


My mom: bad for growth

The closing article in November by Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic twanged my sensibilities in so many ways! I enjoyed TDM’s musings on economic growth as the only means to prosperity. More funny than that sober thought was our household’s eerily similar drive to lower energy bills at home and in our 20-year-old Corolla. When you reuse, recycle and just don’t buy many things, you’re not contributing to GDP! Like TDM’s mom, I’d ask “Is that so bad?” Supporting the social and cultural pleasures of our lives and living a good life without all this focus on “things” seems the higher road to take. 

I loved the graphic of mom getting traction with her hiking poles too. I bet TDM’s mom actually uses those poles to propel her forward and to work out her arms. 

Keep up the thoughtful, sustainably-oriented articles for the folks who don’t just follow.

Dannie Carsen


Go Focus

For quite some time, I read Focus because I was so taken with the old-fashioned muckraking by Rob Wipond. Now another incentive to keep reading: Judith Lavoie. What an excellent piece on climate change, especially the thought-provoking exploration as to why most of us sidestep the issue, refusing to respond meaningfully to the impending crisis.

Barbara Bambiger


Open Letter to Premier Clark

CTV National News just reported that your office has announced a framework around which you propose to discuss with Alberta the implementation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

Premier Clark, I beg you to reconsider. I understand that you are under huge pressure from Ottawa and from Alberta to allow for this new pipeline and the so called “twinning” of the Kinder Morgan pipeline (a euphemism if ever there was one considering the proposed quadrupling of the oil that would flow through the “twinned” pipeline). Please consider the facts:

• BC would carry 100 percent of the marine risk and approximately 60 percent of the land risk associated with a spill yet would yield only a paltry annual commission on oils shipped through our province and virtually zero long term jobs.

• The financial impact of the inevitable spill would be catastrophic and would almost certainly wipe out any short term benefits from the pipeline commissions.

• Collectively both the fishery and eco-tourism industries far outstrip any net benefit possibly received from the commissions paid for oil access to our coast.

• BC is currently enjoying a boom in high tech investment yet the market for skilled workers is incredibly competitive. Quite obviously the allure of working in a world class city such as Victoria or Vancouver is bolstered by the potential employee’s access to pristine coastal and marine environments. An oil spill would seriously cripple the long term growth prospects of a burgeoning industry that stands to be an important long term part of the BC economy.

Of course, these economic arguments don’t even take into account that a strong majority of BC residents oppose the expansion of oil imports to the coast (by pipe or rail) and that almost all First Nations communities also oppose an expansion. 

They also completely overlook the very simple economics of the situation, namely that supply equals demand. Alberta does not lack for options to sell its oil; what it has is a glut of production. The oil sands could be a backbone of a strong Canadian economy for generations to come, yet the powers that reside in Ottawa and Alberta currently feel we need to rush to exploit this resource immediately, leading to the so called “discount” on the market price of tar sands oil. The simple solution to this discount would be to slow production, just as OPEC learned to do decades ago.

With today’s rush to exploit, we see a number of risks already manifesting themselves. They include the discounted selling price of the oil and the rising value of the loony compared with the US dollar as we become a “petro dollar” economy. 

This has the added negative effect of hollowing out our manufacturing sector as our exports become more costly, forcing us to become yet more reliant on oil exports. Of course, this rush also comes at a time when the rest of the world is collectively questioning our reliance on oil and seeking ways to curb, not increase, our green house gas emissions. In fact, despite his short comings, even your predecessor Gordon Campbell saw the need to look towards a greener future.

Premier Clark, expanding oil sand bitumen access to our coast is sheer folly. Marine accidents happen all too frequently in our unsettled waters. Witness the BC Ferry sinking; the tanker that ran aground at Stanley Park; the fishing trawler that hit HMCS Winnipeg; or, in a delicious twist of irony, Joe Oliver’s boat running aground while he was shown our so called world leading response to a marine oil spill.

There is a specific and well-grounded—if I can borrow the term—reason for the oil tanker moratorium on our coast. It is simply a matter of time until a spill occurs. Do you really wish to be the premier remembered as having ended this moratorium and having allowed this coast to be destroyed in the pursuit of short-term financial gains?

John Zimmerman