Letters to the editor

Focus Readers, February 2014

Who will pay for heritage?

I am compelled to write to bring some clarity to the issues raised in this article. There are several errors in fact including the notion that the National Historic site designation of the Binning House gives it protection. Unfortunately, this designation carries no protection; it is a ceremonial commemoration only.

This article is a good example of “cherry-picking” – the selection of examples that fit the thesis with no mention of those who do not. There is no mention of Langley Heritage Society that currently manages 8 buildings and assisted in the restoration of 7 more in conjunction with the Greater Vancouver Regional District. It is the most successful non-profit society operating heritage sites in BC, perhaps in all of Canada.

The provincial government still owns several heritage properties that have been “devolved” with various degrees of success but is still responsible for maintenance and other costs. So to say that the “provincial government(s) got out of the heritage business decades ago” is false and misleading.

The examples of “privatized repurposing” cited in the article have no real relevance to the argument. Butchart’s Gardens has always been run by the family and has been built up over the years – it has never been publicly owned. Craigdarroch Castle is run by a non-profit society while The Hudson is most definitely a for-profit enterprise.

With regard to Heritage Canada The National Trust, it is a national, membership based organization and registered charity established in 1973 by the Government of Canada. The organization is dedicated to promoting the conservation, understanding and appreciation of our nation’s heritage buildings, historic places and cultural landscapes. It was not established to hold properties for a long time so is not relevant to the discussion on TLC’s heritage properties.

With regard to Ross Bay Villa, I understand that Ms Penn was on the board of TLC when the decision to purchase Ross Bay Villa was made. If it was a good decision then, why the 180 degree turnaround now? The volunteers working there have invested thousands of hours of time and much of their own money in ensuring that the house is maintained. Quite frankly, TLC has shown little interest in the property for years and at the official opening last year sent a token person as their representative, rather than board members. TLC membership has not been consulted on this and that in fact in the survey results presented at the AGM in November 2012, 65 percent of the respondents had rated Historic Properties as a high priority (for protection).

Ms Penn also conveniently forgets that the Heritage Building Foundation of the Hallmark Society advanced $50,000 to TLC as a loan that was to be repaid “when funds become available.” This money is an unsecured loan bearing no interest (the funds were earning 7.5 percent at the time of the loan being made) so the society has been deprived of both the use of the money and the potential interest income. That is a lot of “trust” which is the basis on which the loan was made and demonstrates that the non-profit community has definitely put its money where its mouth is.

Heritage properties cannot be discarded on a whim when circumstances change. They are the visible symbols of our collective past. To disregard our past is to jeopardize our future. Without heritage sites, tourism in Victoria would flounder and many jobs would be lost. It is crucial that all bodies work together to ensure that sufficient evidence of our past remains to educate both locals and tourists.

In the spirit of disclosure and to give my credentials, I am the current British Columbia Governor for the Heritage Canada Foundation, a member of the Board of Heritage BC (and was president for two terms some years ago), a member of the New Zealand National Trust, a past-president of the Hallmark Heritage Society (and an active volunteer for almost 40 years), past chair of the Heritage Building Foundation of the Hallmark Society, and one of the authors of the first book on Ross Bay Villa. I have also worked at the Villa as a volunteer. Since 2001, I have worked as a heritage professional and was a founding member of the British Columbia Association of Heritage Professionals and past-president of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals.

I have a personal stake in the future of Ross Bay Villa and will do just about anything to ensure it survives and is financially viable. I might not go as far as Ms Penn with her “Lady Godiva” horse ride, but I am committed to action.

Helen Edwards, BA, BCAHP, CAHP


Briony Penn responds: I wish I still had the naive optimism of my Lady Godiva days, when TLC hoped that the private sector would step into the void of  conservation after government abandoned these responsibilities. Edwards points to this problem herself when she notes that the national heritage designation doesn't provide protection. TLC is the unfortunate early messenger for a looming crisis and Heritage Canada National Trust Chair Natalie Bull has reiterated her support for raising awareness that this is an international problem. Most of Helen Edwards’ remarks I couldn't agree with more, including her plea to save Ross Bay Villa’ my great great grandfather's portrait is hanging in the exhibit. But I’m a realist on heritage. I’ve personally saved a designated heritage house from the wrecker's ball by moving it and have spent four years as a volunteer trying to find a financial solution to the debt that TLC incurred saving a large inventory of these heritage properties. We need a national debate and the question I reiterate is: Who pays for heritage?


Briony Penn makes it sound as if the current board of The Land Conservancy (TLC) has a brilliant new plan for heritage conservation. This is nonsense. TLC wants to sacrifice its heritage properties to pay its creditors. That became clear during the recent hearing in Vancouver over the disposition of the Binning House, which TLC received as a donation a few years ago, and which has since been used as an educational site and house museum in conjunction with the District of West Vancouver and the West Coast Modern Society (a non-profit organization interested in west coast modern architecture, of which the Binning House is a prime example). TLC is not interested in working with the municipality, the relevant non-profit society, or the University of British Columbia, where the architect and painter, BC Binning, taught. Instead, it wants to sell the house for the maximum possible return and keep the money for itself – or more accurately, for its many creditors, not least the enormously expensive lawyers, accountants, and land consultants it has recently been employing – despite the fact the original donor wanted the proceeds of any sale to go for scholarships at UBC, rather than for any other purpose. Ms Penn’s explanation of what the current directors of TLC are doing would be more credible if the directors had sought and received membership approval for the new direction that she and the others on the board had decided on. It would also have been more credible if there had been consultation with the wider heritage community, as well as specific consultations with groups associated with the properties that are now threatened with sale on the open market. In the case of Ross Bay Villa, a massive restoration project dependent on volunteer labour and government grants has just been completed, and now TLC wants to sell the house out from under the volunteers who have made it what it is (to say nothing of the taxpayers who supported their work). TLC’s claim on Ross Bay Villa, like its claim on the Binning House, is more like that of a rapacious landlord than of a public-spirited body interested in heritage preservation.

Warren Magnusson, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria


Briony Penn selects her facts very neatly. She washes her hands of the heritage buildings which TLC has acquired over the years, saying it’s now up to a judge to decide their future. TLC –she has recently concluded—cannot cope with heritage sites: “That,” she says grandly, “will be the challenge for others.”

But she neglects to mention that she was on the Board of TLC when it purchased the Ross Bay Villa in 1999 (and other heritage properties later), and heritage was then seen as central to TLC’s mandate. That board—her board—felt then they knew the answer to her question, “Who will pay for heritage?”

Since then, TLC has learnt some bitter lessons—about over-reaching, about relying on promises, and about changing economics. But is that reason enough to abandon those earlier values in favour of the easier-to-maintain “green space”? Is it reasonable, also, to repudiate the hundreds of volunteers who have sweated to improve these properties for TLC? Volunteers at the Ross Bay Villa have contributed at least 70,000 hours labour, much of it of the highest professional calibre; but now Ms Penn wants to ignore all that. 

She says she’s searched “the global commons”  for heritage success stories. Her conclusion: “privatized re-purposing.” Her examples are The Hudson, Butchart Gardens and Craigdarroch Castle, which in fact share virtually nothing in common. The Castle is NOT “privatized” in the commercial sense, but run by volunteers as a non-profit, while the Hudson can scarcely be labelled a non-profit, and is certainly not run by volunteers. And Butchart’s was created by the hard-work of its owners over decades –NOT done by volunteers or as a non-profit. There’s absolutely no parallel with the Ross Bay Villa.

Ms Penn even dismisses all Canadian cultural heritage, although all indicators suggest that that is exactly what makes the Victoria economy tick: Demolish the heritage, and you lose the tourists…and there goes much of Victoria’s livelihood.

Ms Penn challenges people to “think outside the box” instead of depending, for instance, on the traditional house museum model. But she fails to mention that this “box” can’t just be “re-purposed” into a cute little private house, given the huge dollars and hours invested in it: Apart from the fact that it has no insulation, no bathroom, no kitchen and no central-heating, this isn’t just about wood and stone: It’s about people.

The bald fact is, if TLC had not had the foresight and fortitude to step in and purchase the 1865 Ross Bay Villa, the house would have been immediately demolished, replaced by townhouses like its neighbours. It’s to the huge credit of the early TLC leaders that they saved this (and Abkhazi) for posterity. The society that runs it on behalf of TLC already has it on a solid financial footing, with two paying tenants virtually covering operating costs. Once the small mortgage is paid off, the property should be self-sustaining –no thanks to Ms Penn.

Nick Russell, PhD, Ross Bay Villa volunteer


Briony Penn knows the inside story on how TLC arrived at the crisis it faces today. Indeed, the preservation of our natural gems was undertaken with the best of intentions. What Penn doesn’t mention is the financial mismanagement and poor judgement that went along with some of the acquisitions. TLC had a dedicated staff as well as a very devoted following who donated year after year. Unfortunately, the executive mortgaged and remortgaged properties that had been secured in order to make further, often unwise acquisitions. They ran the show as if there were no limits, many times leaving both staff and bills unpaid. Donors lost confidence and fell away. 

Penn has numerous suggestions that are well-taken. I would add that if donors see the current regime carefully husbanding the monies entrusted to it, I expect donations will again come in. Beyond that, some heritage buildings will inevitably be sold and fund-raising will never end. But British Columbians care about our natural heritage. That hasn’t changed and the need to preserve treasures only increases. May we live to see TLC strong and vibrant again after its near-death experience.

Dorothy Field


Reading the January 2014 article by Briony Penn in your Focus magazine, I am beyond comprehension and understanding of her opinions.

She was one of the original directors of the The Land Conservancy of BC and she would have been made fully aware of every and all financial obligations the TLC was undertaking over the years.

After 13 years of acquiring and saving many important heritage properties in BC, they are now in debt some $7.3 million owed to some 148 individuals, businesses and estates (included in the 148 are close to 80 former employees),

Although TLC has taken little interest in many of the projects, they now wish to dispose of some including Abkhazi Gardens and Ross Bay Villa, to pay off some of their debts.

To muddy the waters, Penn comments on the British Government’s dealing with Stonehenge, Dover Castle, etc. These are very different as the UK National Trust is different from anything in BC. The article goes on to talk about The Butchart Gardens and Royal Roads, both developed by and owned by wealthy families, and not comparable to Abkhazi and Ross Bay Villa.

Briony Penn should not have listened to "compelling stories" thirteen years ago and made sure she understood all the financial obligations.

Now TLC owes this big sum of funds and thousands of volunteer hours will be lost forever.

John C. S. Edwards


I was disappointed with Briony Penn’s article “Who Will Pay for Heritage”; disappointed with the lack of scholarship and disappointed that Ms Penn found it necessary to denigrate heritage structures in defence of recent decisions by the board of The Land Conservancy.  Boards are elected to make decisions. Ms Penn and her fellow TLC board members have made a decision to seek creditor protection and to cease protecting heritage structures. Reasonably, such action might anticipate criticism. Regardless, I would hope that the board deliberated sufficiently in reaching its decision and that the board could therefore stand behind its decision in the face of criticism without having to resort to cherry picking research and dismissing those who would promote the protection of our built heritage. 

It was not TLC that celebrated the official opening of Ross Bay Villa in August 2013. Ross Bay Villa was restored to the highest standards due to the many volunteers who have devoted over 13 years and thousands of volunteer hours and the supporting businesses and institutions who have contributed funding to the project.  In fact TLC has used its built heritage properties to borrow money to acquire other natural heritage sites. Ms Penn seems to have forgotten the passionate speech she made when she reminded the assembled that when there was effort to save Stonehenge, the naysayers said it would cost too much and wasn’t worth it.  She concluded by saying “But no one would question the value of saving Stonehenge today.” I agree.  I think at one time Ms Penn would have agreed with me that no one would question the value of saving Ross Bay Villa, or  Abkhazi Gardens for the benefit of future generations. It is disappointing that she no longer has the confidence and passion of her earlier entreaties for us to work together to save these important places.

Linda Carlson


It was upsetting to read a recent article regarding the legal tug of war over the heritage status of the Abkhazi Garden. Is the issue contentious? Perhaps! Nevertheless, it’s unnatural that The Land Conservancy of British Columbia would challenge the City’s decision to use protective measures including heritage designation to save the garden. 

This property, like other special places in the Capital Regional District, will always need friends. A champion to take a preservation stance even if opposition to the heritage designation comes exclusively from TLC (the same organization whose admirable work helped the community over a decade ago rescue the garden from developers) in the first place. 

The City might very likely have been severely criticized had it not taken a stance of some sort to ensure the Abkhazi Garden property remains intact and is preserved for future generations we will never meet. Still, if push comes to shove, is the City prepared to purchase the property versus spending taxpayer dollars to mount a legal campaign it might loose? Will TLC choose to go further into debt fighting for the right to sell bits of this community asset? 

I am a long-time supporter of the Abkhazi Garden and TLC in particular, and have no desire to chronicle the downslide of the organization. Neither do I want my tax dollars going to pay for a protracted court battle where the only winners will surely be the lawyers. If both parties believe the garden is worthy of saving, and it is, then they should be engaging in serious talks…preferably outside the court system.

Carmel Thomson


Dilemmas in local arts funding

Re: Chris Creighton-Kelly’s January column, the core cause for our almost total lack of monetary support for the arts is that our citizens regard them as “elitist” or “old fashioned” perhaps even “boring.” The media have a lot to answer for as they are almost totally interested in profit, hence endless advertising, dumbing down programmes resulting in a chronic dearth of interest in anything with serious art content of any kind whether visual, written or musical. However, the principal cause is public education (read government) or rather the lack thereof, in the field of art generally. When was the last time you heard of a class starting with the national anthem, or a hymn, or just a song? What’s happened to school choirs? When was the last time you heard of any history course in the first 10 years of education mentioning the great classical Renaissance painters, Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, or the “3 B” musical giants Bach, Beethoven or Brahms? What about architecture? Does any history teacher ever mention that most of the great cities of Europe destroyed in WW2, were rebuilt meticulously whether in Gothic, Baroque or Victorian style? How many young people have ever heard of Christopher Wren? Look at our beloved Victoria city centre, particularly the wonderful Harbour area, which is being ruined by the erection of hideous matchbox high rises forced upon us by relentless developers interested only in the bottom line, and which the City Council seems powerless to control.

There are over 120 symphony orchestras in Germany. The Berlin Philharmonic or State Opera each receive more government funding than the total contribution to all the arts than does the United States or Great Britain for their own institutions, It is a disgrace that our own McPherson Theatre is constantly struggling to survive financially. It is important to support native art, but even (perhaps especially) in a multi-cultural country such as ours, it must never be forgotten that there have to be some fundamental  major cultural components that  make up our Western culture, language being the most important, but not forgetting that all the arts are crucially important visual or otherwise. Apart from being our roots and the source of great pleasure, they are all that survive, when our culture has gone.

H.U.P. Edwards


Tough questions for Lisa Helps

I wish Lisa Helps the best of luck in her ambition to become Victoria’s next mayor. I voted for her in the last election and admire her achievements in the community. That being said, a couple of the comments she made in January’s edition of Focus struck me as problematic. I am skeptical of any politician who claims to be non-partisan or “post-ideological.” A cursory survey of recent history puts the lie to this idea: Phenomena as diverse as the global financial crisis, pipeline politics here in BC and the resurgence of extreme nationalism in Europe force a conclusion that rumors of the “end of history” are, to bastardize Twain’s quote, greatly exaggerated.  

For politicians, publicly supporting a party or ideology is the most transparent way of declaring their values and philosophy. Whether they admit it or not, politicians are still right, left or centre. The interests of capital, labour, and the environment tend to be at odds, and I want to know which side my leaders favour. 

I also take exception to Helps’ faith in private sector models for government administration. While there are limited points of convergence in technical aspects of public and private management, there are also many examples of corporate malfeasance in the world today. When capitalism went into crisis in 2008 and the North American auto industry threatened to implode, it was the state that stepped in to clean up the mess. This “socialist” intervention in the market likely saved us from a second great depression.

The post-modern muddling of left and right, public and private only serves the agenda of the powerful. The world as it exists is not driven by win-win solutions, synergies, or any other new age holistic b.s. To argue otherwise is to obscure the fundamental conflicts at the heart of our social system. 

Sasha Kvakic



I have an apartment on the twelfth floor of a high-rise at the top of Simcoe Street, and it faces West to include a vista that extends from the outer Wharf to the Inner Harbour. My pleasure comes in spending a lot of time appreciating the activity on the channel that connects the two.

The float planes and helicopters, the ferries, and right now, the dragon boat crews training.

What I very seldom see is a vessel of such a size as to require the raising of a bascule.

What earthly reason is there to cater to a boat repair facility which, with a little adjustment, could still continue if a well designed high-looped bridge was clamped to both sides? Such a bridge must surely withstand better an earthquake than something with delicate gearing.

Very little can now be salvaged but future Victorians won’t be paying for maintenance of a bascule. Perhaps we can recoup some of the $13 million acquired by one entrepreneur.

Dennis Parsons


Politics, poetry and popcorn

Monica Prendergast’s theatre column got off to an awkward start with its suggestion that Victorians who attended the Belfry’s play on homelessness, Home is a Beautiful Word, might be slumming. How is it "slumming" to want to know more about a problem that clearly is front of mind to any Victorian who goes downtown?

How was the play done at the "expense of the destitute" when they were invited to participate and indeed offered free tickets. Volunteers were also assigned to make sure they had a pleasant experience.

I find Prendergast’s approach patronizing and offensive to the regular audiences and to the Belfry and its sincere concern that it be a welcoming place for the marginalized.

By the time you read this, Home will have ended its run. It is not part of the subscription series so most likely it drew a new audience. And I bet they were moved...just as we "older, educated (her words)" regular theatre-goers were.

Finally any theatre historian should recall Ten Lost Years, an excellent "verbatim" Canadian play, based on the stories of Canadians who endured the Depression. This is hardly a new form.

Anne Moon


Cruise ship cost-benefit analysis

I was disappointed to see the letter from Dallas Gislason, of the Greater Victoria Development Agency. I believe Dallas should have disclosed his relationship to GVHA. He reports to the GVDA Board of Directors and Curtis Grad, CEO, GVHA is on that Board. Given that GVHA is the organization which benefits most from cruise-tourism, and the landlord responsible for emissions from activities on GVHA properties, the relationship should have been declared.

The James Bay Neighbourhood Society believes that facts, scientific evidence rather than political opinion, should form the basis of positions regarding important matters such as air shed pollution which affects the health and well-being of residents and our environment. 

It is so sad, and disrespectful to the public, when an organization which purports to respect the public interest uses its name to offer opinions which attempt to trivialize real pollution issues which have been proven by scientific evidence. 

CRD and BC Environment sponsored studies show that the 2012 sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels, after the installation of a local SO2 monitor and the successful implementation of the North American Emissions Control Area agreement, approached the 2006 levels. Although the worst years are over, the studies clearly indicate that cruise-ships in port contribute more to air shed pollution than all of the traffic and other emission sources at Topaz. The effect closer to the source (James Bay near Ogden Point) has been estimated to be up to five times the levels experienced at Topaz.

We are very thankful that the policy arm of Transport Canada intervened in the matter and ensured that the cruise industry would not be circumventing the intent of the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA) agreement while cruise ships are berthed in Victoria. SO2 levels are now much lower than in 2009/10. Levels dropped by about half once a SO2 monitor in James Bay was in place (2011). Levels dropped almost another half once the ECA implementation date passed (mid-2012). 

However, levels which may create health risks for those who are sensitive to SO2 still occur…  

The outstanding emissions issue, which also directly relates to GVHA, is aircraft emissions. Both helicopters and float-planes emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are harder to measure but more dangerous than SO2.

All of the issues are fixable—or at least controllable—if there is a will to do so.

Marg Gardiner, President, James Bay Neighbourhood Society


The growing problem

Part of the problem is the retail grocery stores. Yesterday I wanted to buy one English cucumber that was BC grown. They were only available in packages of two. Why would I buy two if I could only consume one in a week? If I wanted to buy only one I had to buy the Mexican one, which I refused. 

The produce assistant agreed with me and said he would only want one as he lived alone, and he couldn’t explain the reasoning or the packaging. 

However, we are very lucky, especially in summer and fall when we are able to support local organic farmers in this area. We do appreciate them!

MJ Jordan


A dying question

I read with interest Ross Crockford’s article on “doctor-assisted death”—or euthanasia. I was surprised that Mr Crockford’s article pretty much resembled similar articles in the mainstream press that fail to clearly and fully articulate the counter-argument proffered by disability activists (although the disability activist group Not Dead Yet was mentioned). This left readers with what I consider a biased account of this highly contentious issue. It’s important to be aware that by definition assisted suicide is a disability issue, one that starkly reminds us of how mainstream society values the lives of disabled people. At best all of us are temporarily able-bodied, and illness or accident tips us into living with disability. Journalists, including recently on the CBC, focus on the pathos of those who fear a difficult or painful death, or a death that may threaten a person’s dignity. But data from Oregon and Washington show that in 2010 the reasons for patients requesting assisted suicide were primarily (93.8 percent & 90 percent, respectively) based on loss of autonomy and decreasingly ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable, and lastly dignity, not physical pain and suffering. These reasons reflect societal and cultural perceptions that to live with disability is to live without autonomy, enjoyment and dignity. I know many disabled people, including myself, who would argue otherwise. Supreme Court Justice Iacobucci pointed out that “human dignity is harmed when individuals and groups are marginalized, ignored or devalued, and enhanced when laws recognize the full place of all individuals and groups in Canadian society.” 

People with disabilities are frequently subject to not only prejudice but mistreatment, loss of dignity and threatened autonomy at the hands of others, not the least being medical authorities who know “what’s best” for us. How on earth can any legislation or policy regarding assisted suicide be enacted equitably in the lives of people living with disabilities without considering coercion by medical professionals or family members, who may be under duress and in subtle, but effective ways convince a disabled person that they will be a burden? The debate about assisted suicide needs a healthy dose of education, self-reflection (and honesty) on the part of those in favour, with respect to the implicit rationale that perpetuates the discriminatory stereotype that it is better to be dead than disabled. 

Sally Kimpson

Ross Crockford replies: Thanks for the perspective. Readers need to know that disabled citizens hold a range of opinions about this important topic. Notably, an alliance of disabled citizens has filed arguments in the Carter case—now going to the Supreme Court of Canada—in favour of assisted dying. As the alliance has argued, the freedom to choose the time and circumstances of one’s death is actually “a step forward for the disability rights movement that is consistent with the principles of autonomy and self-determination.” 

Joe Arvay, the lawyer representing the BC Civil Liberties Association in Carter, is also disabled. As he told me, too often the arguments against assisted dying “[treat] the disabled as if they’re incapable of independent thought [and] hopelessly weak and fragile. They do a great disservice to the disabled themselves, who have every bit the same ability to resist a suggestion that they should die as anybody else.” I hope the writer agrees all points of view need to be heard in this debate.


An inconvenient probability

Gene Miller is no pessimist. He is a realist. I recently watched a documentary recalling the struggle, largely by the gay community in the US, to have governments, scientists and drug manufacturers listen to their pleas that resources be mustered to find a cure for a disease that was killing hundreds, then thousands and now millions of people worldwide. 

I was interested in what it takes politically to convince people of a self-evident truth. The cry of the AIDS activists of the 80s and 90s was powerful, loud and sustained until denial was no longer an option.

I would suggest that similar tactics to the activist organization Act Up—who used the slogan: “Denial = Death”—need to be globally deployed.

It is true, as pointed out in Mr Miller’s column, that it is our human nature not to do anything until the “something” has already happened. Well folks, time to wake up. It has already happened. Witness, the global extreme weather causing nuclear disaster, flooding, famine and much death.

Now is the time to start shouting and screaming at the top of our lungs. Civil disobedience kind of gets transformed into self-defense when we realize that protests, blockades, “acting up” is really just trying to save our lives before not the dark bits on that NASA nighttime image are ablaze in light but before the entire world is dark because the “Sproing” has already happened. There ain’t no more Earth to heal.

Charles Joerin


Kudos to Gene Miller for keeping that ole compass pointed to the “true north of catastrophe.”

While over in aisle 6 there is a loud, distracting scuffle over whether global warming and climate change are real, over at the till the politico-corporate complex is heisting the entirety of the planet’s natural resources and leaving a dying, brutalized Earthly ecosystem in its wake. Acute global eco-destruction is undeniable.

Being aware of what is going on on Planet E and enjoying a sunset or any other rosy delight are not mutually exclusive. We are all co-creators of the world reality, both disorderly and enchanting. And there are some pretty disturbing scenarios out there. That. Won’t. Go. Away.

I think it was Sogyal Rinpoche in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying who wrote: “You do not actually become a Buddha; you simply cease, slowly, to be deluded.” Not that we are all trying to be Buddhas.  But likely the wind is blowing us in that direction anyway.

Jo Phillips


I agree with Gene Miller’s characterization of his writing. Maybe a sense of perspective would improve the taste of his sandwich. In my lifetime global catastrophe has been forecast many times. The culprits included population growth, exhaustion of petroleum reserves, fatal shortage of metals and minerals, strontium 90 poisoning, acid rain, nuclear winter, the ozone hole and a new ice age. I’ve probably forgotten a few. 

What these previous forecasts really prove is the total inadequacy of computer climate and resource models and the stout persistence of apocalyptic fantasies. We are now supposed to believe that a slight increase in a trace atmospheric gas (carbon dioxide, aka plant food), heralds the end of civilization as we know it. There’s precious little evidence to support any such scenario, but the thrill of doom is apparently irresistible.

Planetary destruction will eventually occur since the sun is scheduled to explode in about 5 billion years. Before then a super volcano, asteroid collision or solar storm may claim us. No amount of recycling, backyard gardening or hand wringing will avert these perils. However, any realistic appraisal of the situation would suggest that waves lapping at the chestnut trees on Pandora Street must rank among the least of our concerns. 

Jim O’Hare


Mr Miller, don’t you dare listen to any of your so called friends who would have you parse your pugnacity differently. Your polyphonic polemics are pure poetry, you condemn and cajole with such panache! If some would suggest that your column is “like eating a crap sandwich,” at least you are making the crap palatable by serving in some very fine bread!

I revel in the way that you are the jester reminding the royalty they are naked; the commoner that they are not uncommon; and all of us that we are, or at least should be, responsible for our daily lives and choices.

You don’t knead a simple dough of vulgar (sic) wheat, you spice and massage so much into it that the message tastes nothing like scat, more like Kopi Luwak, which has at least bean (sic) there! A fine cup of conversation to swirl around in one’s craw.

Please keep up the fine work, and don’t succumb to the PC / respectful workplace /beige bleatings; hammer on with your fine mighty sword.

Brad Cunnin


Reflections on the inside

I was interested to read Amy Reiswig’s article in the December 2013 issue of Focus magazine concerning Stephen Reid.

It seems that Mr Reid is once again the darling of local literary circles. I have not yet read his book but intend to do so one day out of curiosity when I can access it for free. I refuse to pay money to a man for capitalizing upon his criminal, antisocial behaviour, no matter how eloquently he couches it.

Ms Reiswig speaks of rehabilitation, a very important goal, admittedly. Having worked in the criminal justice system myself for over 30 years I am aware that while we should never, ever lose sight of that goal, the stark reality is that not everyone can be successfully rehabilitated. Given the amount of time Mr Reid has spent in prison and the tremendous amount of trauma and emotional violence he has perpetrated upon his lengthy string of victims throughout an impressive criminal career one might wonder whether the talented Mr Reid might just be one of those. No amount of sad stories and pretty little words, however award-winning, can erase the fact that the only thing standing between Mr Reid and a couple of murder convictions from his last escapade is his lousy aim.

Do I feel sorry for the abused little boy he once was? Of course I do. But he has not been that little boy for many, many years. He’s now a man in his 60s. He is obviously an intelligent man, speaking of “accountability, self-knowledge and insight.” It’s long past the time when he needed to step up to the plate, put his money where his mouth is and quit terrorizing the innocent people who must endure his outrageous behaviour in their community if he is honestly sincere. He’s had half a century to get to it. On the topic of restorative justice I wonder whether he has ever bothered to make an effort of any kind to initiate a reconciliation with Officer Trudeau or the female bystander he could have easily killed during his drug-fuelled rampage in 1999.

In a nutshell, I agree that there is nothing wrong with reading Mr Reid’s books. Just remember that all his flowery talk of insight and eloquent observations of prison existence don’t mean that as an already “wounded” community we should ever be foolish enough to let our guard down and turn our backs to him again once he’s released. Insight into his drug problem does not necessarily translate to a reliable commitment to refrain from use in the future. It would be naïve to forget that fact while we are busy patting him on the back for his recent accomplishments. 

Kathleen Worth


Newspaper’s “Responsible Energy” ad mislead readers

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers ran another full page colour ad in the Times Colonist on November 27 but no where does it say that it’s a paid advertisement. These ads are being run across the country and according to the Times-Colonist’s editor-in-chief, there’s no requirement to label them as advertising. In fact, the space was purchased on the condition that the TC add nothing to the page provided by the ad agency, other than the folio line with the page number and date.

The ad features several well-written articles, a smart looking layout, a photo and even a graph! It could easily be mistaken for unbiased or investigative reporting.

One of the articles, entitled “Water Management In The Oil Sands,” states that 80 percent of the water is recycled. In very fine print, we find the source is the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. For a more accurate perspective, check out David Schindler’s research on the subject and then look at images of the tar sands tailings ponds—now 176 square kilometres and growing.

By using misleading information in a misleading format, Big Oil shows once again that they are master spin-doctors with an answer for everything, except for the inevitable! 

Dave Secco


Overabundance of caution

Thanks to Rob Wipond and Focus Magazine for the article about mental health services.

I was first institutionalized in another province during the 1990s. My family had instigated it because they were concerned about me. I was a vulnerable young woman, depressed because I was poor and unemployed, but I wasn’t suicidal. A doctor and two male police officers forced their way into my apartment, handcuffed me, and strapped me to a bed in an ambulance even though I wasn’t physically resisting. I was held in hospital for two months. They told me I was a failure, said I had no insight into my mental condition, and would never be able to function without their drug therapy.

A few years later I was working on my second undergrad degree from UVic. In an act of rebelliousness amidst my poverty, one month I refused to pay my rent. Two male police officers were allowed into my rented room and I was handcuffed and taken to the Eric Martin psychiatric hospital. 

From the Eric Martin I wrote: “They claim they’re concerned about my mental health, so they’ve locked me in a tiny, four-sided, cement room with a bed and a glass of apple juice until morning when, they claim, I’ll be further assessed. They ordered me to change into pajamas in preparation for my interview. What kind of a doctor is this, who requests that his patients be forcibly removed from the quiet of their home and dressed in pajamas before he’s able to talk with them?”

Eventually the doctor arrived, asked a few questions, and when I refused his medications three large people suggested it was in my interest to take them voluntarily. After 24 hours they took me to a locked ward and after a week I was moved into the larger facility where they held me for a month.

They had pulled my previous hospital records and kept changing my diagnosis, as if struggling to find a label that would fit. I didn’t, and still today don’t, express symptoms. If I did, I’d accept their medications. But their drugs left my brain feeling heavy and dull, it was difficult to think clearly. 

It took all my inner strength, and help from friends, to get out of there. During both incarcerations I had to fight for a hearing, but each time a panel eventually overruled the doctors and released me. And both times they let me out onto the streets with absolutely no help to find housing or get my life back together. A few years ago I requested my file from Reic Martin and was shocked to see a lot of misinformation and some damning lies. 

I lived on welfare for a time—in those days you could actually survive on it—and got my life back together. I finished that second degree, established a small business, am respected in the community, and live a reasonably contented life without the use of any pharmaceuticals. 

Two decades later I still have trust issues because of those experiences. An intimate relationship is unthinkable. My family relations are strained. Some of my family have chosen to side with the doctors, despite how well I’ve done over the years, possibly because it’s so difficult for them to ever realize that their decision to hospitalize me wasn’t a good one.

The fear and anxiety I experienced during and after each hospitalization is indescribable. I wasn’t suicidal before I went in, but I certainly was afterwards. I wonder how many other important stories of this kind never get reported because they are considered “old news” by the time the victims are able to speak out? 

While in the hospital I became afraid that with all their powers they could be killing people undetected. How many of their patients ultimately die from the dangerous side effects of these psychiatric drugs, while the coroner’s service glosses over it?

I’d like to share my story openly, I’d like to publish my journal. Hearing others’ stories has certainly helped me to learn I’m not alone. But I fear the stigmatization, the judgment, the impact on my personal life. Even after all these years.

Thanks again for providing a safe place for this truth to be told.

Name withheld by request


Hidden sewage treatment issues

The CRD continually treat the upcoming 800 million-dollar escapade although it’s cost were 8 million or maybe 80 million. I would urge readers to ask them a few questions. The main purpose of treating sewage is to protect health. The present system does that admirably. The contract will involve many injuries and an informed guess would be 30 will be permanently impaired; lost arm, wheel chair, anyone care? The operation of the plant also imposes continual health risks. Health-wise we will be going backwards. 

How much fuel will be used in the contract and how much pollution will have been caused in its generation and how much exhaust in it’s use? How much toxic gas is generated in making the tons of cement needed.? Pollution wise we will be going backwards. What is the impact on Georgia strait of the waste from Victoria compared with that from New Westminster, Vancouver and greater Seattle. An order of magnitude guess might be one hundred to one as we have no toxic waste. Lastly, what is the point of converting the nutrients which now discharge to the sea, probably to it’s benefit, into a sludge which despite all you read is a problem; that is what this plant will do.

J.E.Dew-Jones, P.Eng


Canada’s Serengeti

Just because some of the Great Bear Rain Forest has been reduced to the Great Bare Rain Forest does not mean we should write off the environment of BC’s west coast. The development of the oil sands should be controlled to reduce the environmental impact and allow for the development of better and cleaner technologies to process this product. Canada should also do the refining, to increase employment and other economic spinoffs. This would also result in products that are safer to transport, and easier to clean-up when a spill happens.

These refined products should be sold primarily in Canada to reduce the risks of ocean spills. Spills on land are easier to clean-up and have less impact on the environment. If tanker shipment becomes necessary it should be done from the safest harbours with state of the art clean-up facilities in place, not from a remote port on a coast notorious for storms.

Nothing in life will ever be 100 percent safe, but doing rapid development with crude technology, loosing jobs by selling unrefined DILBIT (diluted bitumen), and shipping this dangerous product from a risky and remote port only makes a bad situation worse.

Steen Petersen


The homeless at home

What I’ve found fascinating about living on the Gorge Waterway is how awe is juxtaposed with agony. Where the city’s homeless camp under the picturesque Selkirk trestle bridge like benign trolls, ignored by the expensively geared runners and bikers crossing above. And the tourists snap pictures from onboard charming water taxies that ply the estuary, passing by hotels that fell into ruin during the post 9/11 plague on tourism, and which are now being torn down or converted into low income housing.

I have a special affinity with the homeless; given the number of times as a single mom on a disability pension that the kids and I faced eviction living here. And of course right now as I am, a new senior just out of school, but not yet working, forced to scramble once again for a roof over my head.

In the soft, romantic fog of an early morning on Gorge Road, I have picked up needles on my way to the bus. That bus stop itself is a human landscape of local diversity. People struggling with their mental health, who are shaking, cold, uncared for and ill; wait alongside bundled up workers with fresh, wet hair and hot coffee; students hefting Dakine backpacks and ipads, and tourists with their baggage. We have become a blended family here on the Gorge.

After lovely, cooling swims in the dubious cleanliness of the river, I’ve been charmed by visits with passing kayakers, filled memory cards with breathtaking scenery—and been propositioned by belligerent, drunk men (both scruffy and well-healed), and chased by a man suffering a psychotic break. I no longer swim alone.

The Gorge area is changing, and is becoming symbolic of the struggle Victoria faces with admitting to its status as a Mecca to the homeless. Our weather attracts people who can’t afford to live inside, here or elsewhere in Canada. Homelessness is common here, and visible, with the desperate coming from far away to die in ever-increasing numbers under the boughs of our historic trees. Which doesn’t snug well with tourism.

Nationally, our strategies are not good for dealing with this problem in general. In Victoria, we house who we can, and those we can’t often fall prey to the barbaric practice of our welfare offices who put hungry, destitute people on a bus back to Alberta or Ontario, or whatever province they came from that didn’t look after them in the first place. Driven out by your weather, and wooed here by ours, victims of the strongest force known to humankind, the will to survive.

I hope I get out of my friend’s basement soon. My senior status has added my name to more subsidized housing lists, lists with wait times of up to two years. I could be couch surfing for awhile. In Victoria, this is a puritanical part of the process—resources, such as they are, are initiated only once you’re homeless, and are not preventative. I hope too, that I get to stay in the Gorge Waterway area. It’s beautiful and complex, and I love it like family. It has become home, and home is getting harder to find.

Jean Oliver


I read with great interest  (and horror) Briony Penn's article on “Bulldozing Burial Grounds,” Focus December, 2013. In the article Briony referred to the Pioneer Square Cemetery in Victoria. I was shocked to recently learn that $700,000 has been given to thisrehabilitation project which includes pioneer grave preservation, new walkways and lighting.

As a new comer to Salt Spring Island, I am sick to learn that one person’s ill-conceived home building plan is more important than the remains of First Nations elders. In an act of true reconciliation, the $700,000 spent on honouring the graves of pioneers would have been better spent on restoring justice to our First Nations peoples.

Jane McIntosh, Salt Spring Island