Letters to the editor, May 2014

Focus Readers, May 2014

Concern about political ad 

I write to you today to express my deep concern about a paid advertisement from CAIA Victoria which claims that Israel is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.” This is an outright lie which is propagated by, among others, the organization sponsoring the ads—which is devoted to dismantling Israel as a Jewish homeland. You can find a detailed and thoughtful discussion of “ethnic cleansing” at www.history.com/topics/ethnic-cleansing where it is defined as: the attempt to get rid of (through deportation, displacement or even mass killing) members of an unwanted ethnic group in order to establish an ethnically homogenous geographic area.

Israel can hardly be said to engage in ethnic cleansing when 20 percent of the citizens of Israel today are Arab Muslims who have full voting rights and their own political parties. They serve in the Israeli Parliament, Cabinet, and Supreme Court. They are active in all cultural and economic aspects of Israeli society. They have all fundamental civil liberties, and have more civil rights than Arabs living in any other Middle Eastern country. As well, many Arab Israelis have publically defended Israel against allegations of Israeli apartheid. For further information about Arab Israelis please see http://arabisraeliconflict.info/arab-israel-facts/fact-2-arab-israeli-ci...

On the other hand, most of Israel’s neighbouring Arab states have engaged in expulsions of their Jewish citizens in ways that much more closely resemble ethnic cleansing. Many of the people so expelled were descendents of Jews who had lived peaceably with their Arab neighbours for many hundred, or even a thousand, years. You can read a detailed analysis about how these expulsions were orchestrated among Arab nations at www.meforum.org/263/why-jews-fled-the-arab-countries.

The images used in the BDS ad have been taken out of context and used to demonize Israel and, by extension, anyone who supports the right of Israel to exist free of murderous attacks from hostile neighbours. In accepting this ad, you have given a forum to those who would increase anti-Semitism in Victoria by disguising it as “legitimate” criticism of a foreign government. Lies and gross distortions are not legitimate criticism. Demonization of one nation among all the nations of the Earth and, by extension, one people of all the peoples of the Earth, is anti-Semitism. This is not something that your magazine has supported in the past. I sincerely hope we will never see a repeat of this ad, or others like it, in the pages of Focus again.

Aaron Devor, President, Jewish Federation of Victoria & Vancouver Island Society


We subscribe to Focus because we appreciate your attention to truth and balanced reporting of all sides of a story. Think how surprised and dismayed we were to see the one-sided ad, “Israeli Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine Continues” on the lower portion of page 45 in the April issue. All cultural and arts organizations are in need of funds, but it should be beneath Focus to accept money for distributing hateful  propaganda on this complex matter.

Eric and Lee Adler


Congratulations on your decision to publish the ad on the history of the Palestinians. A lack of reporting has allowed Western countries to ignore the human suffering and the denial of political rights to the indigenous population of Palestine since 1948. The BDS movement is right: Non-violent pressure will liberate the Palestinian people and force Western countries to end Israel’s impunity when the country systematically breaks international law.

Martina Lauer


Publisher’s note: Thank you to the many people who wrote to express their concern about—or support for—the ad sponsored by CAIA. The advertisement is part of a campaign that has been controversial in Canada. Should we have published it? Independent Jewish Voices Canada, a national human rights organization that promotes a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine, argues that such expression ought not be censored. They state: “There is no other issue in Canada that is both censored and punished more than the issue of Palestine solidarity activism. Under the guise of the ‘New anti-Semitism’—which claims that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic—conservative Jewish organizations in Canada have been bullying the Canadian public into keeping quiet about Israel’s ongoing and systematic violations of international law. Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada believes that freedom of speech is a fundamental right and a cherished Canadian value, and that criticism of any state should not be deemed to fall outside of the realm of both freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”



Practising place-based economics

Thank you for your editorial in the April issue—I especially appreciated the information about Amazon.

The idea of preventing local dollars from leaving the community would keep these resources away from the vicissitudes and the treachery of big banks in distant places.

Perhaps it’s time for a local organization of businesses to look at the idea of a publicly-owned bank—in the tradition of the Bank of North Dakota—where the bank works for the public good or mutual good rather than for shareholders.

With a true publicly-owned bank, depositors’ money could be kept in the region, circulated and re-circulated, invested in local infrastructure projects (like those mentioned by Dave Secco in his letter in the March issue of Focus), lent to local businesses at preferred rates, and made available as loans to local students.

Is a true publicly-owned bank for this region an idea whose time has come?

C. W. Taylor



Sound economic decisions require sound numbers

Andrew Weaver’s article on the benefits of exporting LNG hit the nail on the head. Christy Clark’s figures are pie in the sky. The figures she quotes are pulled out of the air to benefit the companies that want BC’s natural gas—not the taxpayers who will be on the hook when the promises don’t materialize. 

Christy Clark also states that BC’s LNG will replace the coal BC is now exporting to Asia. This is not true. The LNG will be used in existing plants in Asia and will have zero effect on the coal footprint.

With the number of countries exporting LNG, count on a race to the bottom price wise. The people of BC will be the big losers. 

Mike McSorley



Secrets within secrets

After reading the articles on the blue bridge replacement and the sewage treatment contracts, I write to congratulate you on picking up the torch thrown away by Monday Magazine. Keep it up!

Geoff Stagg



Gettin’ there

Gene Miller’s column on Shivon Robinsong was a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to a visionary community leader. Shivon has demonstrated over and over that everyone can sing. She promises the “musically wounded” who were told earlier in their lives to be silent and move their lips, that they, too, can find the joy of singing together. She has demonstrated to thousands of people how singing builds bonds in a community. Her commitment to using music to build a better world is a great gift to Victoria.

Mary-Wynne Ashford



Breaking down democracy one meeting at a time

Thank-you for covering the sewage saga, aka Sewage Circus. David Broadland’s comments on how Mr Kalynchuk and Stantec have directed the entire process, while keeping the CALWM committee directors in the dark, is right on the money. My community was in for the fight of a lifetime to prove Mr Kalynchuk wrong when he told us that Haro Woods was the only site for the sewage plant in spite of the backlash from the public and environmental concerns.

I had no idea that getting involved with the process, trying to keep our local concerns of the flawed process on the radar, would dominate my life for eight years. Things were off the track and our elected officials were being railroaded, along with taxpayers.

Mr Broadland’s article prompted me to reread the journals of minutes I kept from every CALWM meeting since 2007. The pattern of manipulation of information jumps out from the pages. Reading the Focus article brought back many memories of the seven-year battle to save Haro Woods from the CRD’s plan and expose the corruption and manipulation of the process—which has been anything but transparent. The entire process continues to move ahead with total disregard for the will of the people and there is still no meaningful consultation.

Thanks for finally getting the story straight and for proving investigative journalism is not dead. I continue to have faith that the corruption that has taken over our regional sewage project will come to an abrupt halt, the politicians will wake up, and the residents of the Capital Regional District will finally get a project that we can afford that will take us safely into the 21st century. Taxpayers can no longer afford to float a bad plan that leaves the region financially bankrupt with nothing to show for the millions spent to date.

D. M. Dickson, Friend of Haro Woods



Jellyfish, anyone?

Judith Lavoie’s article about changing marine eco systems is just another nail in the coffin of our sixth extinction now irreversibly under way. Previous extinctions such as the Toba super volcano and various meteorites millions of years ago did their damage relatively fast—days rather than the decades ours will endure.

The list of contributors to our demise includes exponential population growth, depletion of food and water supplies, global warming, and many others we and the companies involved would rather not think about.

The oceans are the most convenient place to dump unwanted excesses, whether intentional or accidental. Plastics started their intrusion into our lives in the 1920s with nylon being one of the first recognized commercial products popular during the 1939-1945 war. Whatever the volume was then, it is now estimated at an annual production rate of 300 million tons world-wide with a large percentage used by the food industry.

Plastics have become an unwanted part of our oceans. Sand on our beaches will reveal minute particles of it. Stomachs of cetaceans, seabirds and sea life have shown a high intake of it, its deadly chemicals being absorbed into their bodies. The food of our Inuit population is comprised mostly from the oceans. Their poor health may well be a direct result of plastic contamination of the food they ingest. 

Plastic Ocean, researched and written by Charles Moore with Cassandra Phillips, reveals more about our oceans, such as the plastic floating islands in the North Pacific and much more detail about this unchecked danger to our environment.

Robin Fells



My scary trip through Ukrainenews, Victoria

Rob Wipond’s consternation over the accuracy of reports strewn about concerning Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine serves to reinforce the wisdom behind that old bumper sticker urging us to “question everything!”

Richard Weatherill


Thank you for beginning a conversation about the “uncritical narrative” we accept as news by big media. Yes, without the serious research of independent news sources, such as Focus, “consuming news is often a fast way to end up knowing less rather than more,” and that is a very dangerous state of affairs for democracy.

However, for those endeavouring to find enlightenment, I would draw your attention to some excellent windows into the workings of these media monopolies. The recent documentary Shadows of Liberty by Canadian Jean-Philippe Tremblay was featured at the Toronto International Film Festival. Its trailer reads as follows: “In highly revealing stories, renowned journalists, activists and academics give insider accounts of a broken media system. Controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone. Tracing the story of media manipulation through the years, Shadows of Liberty poses a crucial question: Why have we let a handful of powerful corporations write the news? Media reform is urgent and freedom of the press is fundamental.”

Donald Gutstein is adjunct professor in the School of Communications at SFU and co-director of NewsWatch Canada. His blog is a wealth of information about Canadian media and the web of ownership and influence therein. His recent post “Follow the Money” highlights the wide sweep of conservative interests funded and promoted by the Aurea Foundation (aka Peter Munk), including $2 million to think tanks such as the C.D. Howe and Fraser Institutes, stalwart sources of studies that support the conservative agenda. 

It is incumbent on everyone who cares about democracy to seek out and support alternative independent news sources, for therein lies the only way to speak truth to power.

L. Taylor



Moving beyond tolerance

Mr Creighton-Kelly’s contention that aboriginal art is under-represented is not true. There are several notable examples in and around Victoria/South Vancouver Island and Vancouver, and exhibited by a variety of federal facilities:

1. Totem Park, including its longhouse, outside the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as well as extensive representation of aboriginal art in a large permanent exhibit of this facility.

2. Totems within the lobby of the Victoria Conference Centre.

3. Aboriginal art, including a totem in Victoria’s Centennial Square.

4. Another totem outside the main entrance of Victoria Police Headquarters.

5. The seven spindle whorl castings Signs of Lekwungen, throughout the Victoria harbour area.

6. The branding of Duncan as the City of Totems, with only this style of art in its historic downtown core.

7. The magnificent Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus, which showcases almost nothing but First Nations Art of the Northwest Coast.

8. The extensive and almost exclusive exhibition of BC aboriginal art throughout the Vancouver Airport.

9. Totem Park, a residence at UBC.

10. The Edmonton Planetarium done by a Metis architect.

11. The Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has a very large hall dedicated to a permanent exhibit of First Nations art. 

12. Bill’s Reid’s sculpture outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC.

Canadian aboriginals have, in fact, been getting their “fair share” of public commissions. Using a loose analogy of aboriginal art as a metaphor for racialization and racism is specious. Aboriginal art, particularly in BC, has hardly been trivialized, as Mr Creighton-Kelly contends.

Brad Atchison



To safeguard against tyranny

Kudos to Rob Wipond for his March 2014 article outlining the history of bargaining (or not) between the BCTF and Liberal government since 2002. I appreciated the accurate summary and applaud Rob for capturing the government’s unethical and odious behavior. Having taught full time throughout that period, I believed and still do, that the government was engaged in union busting tactics. It is a sad statement indeed that the Liberal government would rather delay justice further by appealing the latest BC Supreme Court decision rather than working toward a respectful relationship with the BCTF. A collective agreement based on such a relationship would go a long way to repairing the damage to public education over the past 12 years. 

Laurie Tighe



Ground Zero: Island Timberlands

[In her March 2014 column,] writer Briony Penn has written critically of Nanaimo-based forest owner Island Timberlands. Regrettably, as well as criticizing this one land owner, she also paints a generally unfair and biased picture of sustainable forestry operations on private land in British Columbia.

The Private Forest Landowners Association is a committed group of interior and coastal, small and large forest owners working together to promote responsible stewardship of private forest land, and we feel compelled to address some of the points made by Ms Penn in your publication’s March edition.

Ms Penn writes that “the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights…will assess the culpability of Canada and three corporations…in breaching human rights.” I hope in its assessment, the Commission will consider the fact that the non-governmental organization Freedom House’s 2014 report gives Canada the highest possible score when measured against the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

BC’s managed forest owners, including Island Timberlands, apply best practices for sustainable forest management on their private forest lands while strictly complying with tough legal requirements, including but not limited to the Species at Risk Act, the Private Managed Forest Land Act, the Wildlife Act, and the Heritage Conservation Act. 

Ms Penn does not mention that in addition to these legal requirements, private managed forest practices certified under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) are regularly audited by an independent, third-party certifier to ensure these forest lands are being well-managed for a range of environmental, social and economic values. Audit reports for SFI program participants are available at www.sfiprogram.org. SFI has progressively become an accepted standard across Canada and beyond. Indeed, in September 2011 under the Obama administration, the US Department of Agriculture categorically stated that “sustainability of forest products can be verified using any credible third-party rating system, such as SFI, FSC or ATFS certification.” 

Further, BC’s private managed forest operations are not endangering critical wildlife habitat for the Northern Goshawk or other species. In fact, Island Timberlands and other private forest owners manage habitat attributes for a plethora of wildlife and plant species of concern in their forest management planning and practices, supported by advice from qualified professionals. 

BC’s private forest landowners are committed to continuing engagement with local communities and responsible stewardship of their forest resources. 

Rod Bealing, Executive Director, Private Forest Landowners Association


Briony Penn responds: Instead of shooting the messenger, Mr Bealing might want to admit to the real enemy of sustainability for BC’s private land forestry, and that is cheap international supplies of wood fibre. Underpriced wood has created a race to the bottom—the bottom being scarred landscapes, impoverished biodiversity, abuses of human rights and a declining carbon sink. Bogus certification is part of that landscape. Cheap wood flooding the global market has scared our current government into gutting the laws that Mr Bealing refers to, and axing the budgets to administer them. In the last 10 years we have lost over 40,000 regulations covering our forests and water, so they are now laws in name only. Ideally Mr Bealing would help us understand how to create a race to the top: supporting more environmentally-responsible investment, bringing back a higher degree of trust and oversight to the process, encouraging government to create financial incentives and mechanisms for true sustainable forestry. 



Seniors Advocate not independent

As coordinator and volunteer advocate with a group of volunteer community advocates serving seniors in Greater Victoria, I am very unhappy with the recent patronage appointment of a seniors advocate by the Liberal government. Seniors groups across the province asked for an Independent Seniors Advocate who could work on behalf of seniors without government interference. This position, like our Independent Children & Youth Advocate, should be selected by a committee of the Legislature and report directly to the Legislature and not through the Ministry of Health.

Excellent work on behalf of seniors has been done by BC Ombudsperson Kim Carter and her staff, and her most recent report containing 176 important recommendations to improve healthcare for our most vulnerable seniors has been largely ignored by the current government. Advocacy and support for seniors is being provided by several non-profit community organizations in the CRD with very little government funding.

To create the position of seniors advocate within the Ministry of Health, at a salary of approximately $180,000 a year, when services to seniors are inadequate, is a waste of scarce tax dollars. The seniors of this province deserve much better and have earned the right to receive quality, appropriate health services, and, like our children and youth, require a strong independent advocate to speak out on their behalf.

Carol Pickup



Amalgamation: Is there a better way?

The mayor of View Royal might want to look at the Toronto amalgamation story more deeply before going to the barricades. In 1954 there were 13 municipalities in the region. That wasn’t working well for the cities or the region as they grew rapidly, so the the provincial government created an upper-tier government—Metro—and 13 lower-tier governments including the City of Toronto itself to share the government. In 1967, 13 municipalities became 6 through amalgamation. That worked well until 1998 when Premier Harris abolished the two-tier system and created a single-tier city government. Perhaps what Toronto accomplished from 1954 to 1998 is worth a closer look.

I urge the mayor to delve deeper. How well is government with 13 municipalities working here? How well is the regional district  model working? Time to ask the question: Is there a better way?

John Olson