Letters to the editor

Focus Readers, February 2015

Saanich spyware issue

On January 14 two conflicting press releases were issued regarding Saanich Mayor Atwell’s allegation of spyware software being installed on his work computer without his consent. The press release from Saanich claimed the installation is legal, but the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner suggests it violates privacy law.

The Saanich statement acknowledged that Spector360 software was purchased on November 21, 2014 (just after the municipal election while Mayor Leonard was apparently still responsible for the municipality).The software vendor says it is meant to “Deter, detect and detail harmful employee activity.” Basically it takes a picture of the computer screen every second and logs every keystroke.

The Saanich press release stated that Mayor Atwell’s consent was not obtained for this installation. Saanich also stated that the former CAO was authorized to see the data. All this happened before the CAO was let go around December 11.

Mayor Atwell says he discovered the spyware software on December 11. Since there was no consent for this monitoring, a request was made for an independent investigation. Despite the request for independence, the Saanich Police investigated the matter themselves and recently stated their opinion that it was legal.

Many people think this type of monitoring software is common in work places. But the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission issued a statement that clearly shows that covert monitoring at this level has not been found to be justified under the privacy law. It seems Mayor Atwell’s claim that this was illegal is possibly accurate.

If the monitoring actions prove to violate privacy law then what is the impact on the dismissal of the former CAO, who was ultimately responsible for the installation on the mayor’s computer?

Bryan Gilbert


Uncharted territory

I’m writing to thank you for the piece on Grace Islet by Katherine Palmer Gordon. I am so pleased to see such a thoughtful and substantive piece on this really complex issue.

I’ve been involved in this indirectly through an initiative to bring attention, and hopefully some direction, in developing a way forward through the tangle of diverse heritage needs and values. As director to the IPinCH project (www.sfu.ca//ipinch), I’ve been part of a group of concerned scholars who recently put out the “Declaration on the Safeguarding of Indigenous Burial Grounds as Sacred Sites and Cultural Landscapes,” which was developed to identify the issues playing out at Grace Islet and a number of other locales. Articles like Ms Gordon’s really help in explaining what’s at stake here, and how important it is to be proactive in seeking to resolve, and avoid, such situations. 

George Nicholas, SFU


Kinder Morgan’s fairy tale

Judith Lavoie’s interview with Robyn Allan certainly tells the people of Canada just who is looking out for their interests and it’s not the people we elect. Kinder Morgan claims they contribute vast amounts to the Canadian economy, when in fact they don’t. They are screwing us royally with the blessing of the people we elect.

Mr Kinder squeezes by on $1 a year salary, but collects $380 million in dividends from his companies. When are Canadians going to say “we have been screwed enough by these pillars of the community” and elect people who look out for our interests for a change?

Mike McSorley


The 90-minute solution

Gene Miller’s article leaves out an important alternative to the “crawl,” and that is building a Highway 1 west and east bus only lane from Highway 14 to Finlayson Street and then increasing the number and size of buses and vastly improving the frequency times during peak hours.

One may even find that by incorporating one of the two lanes on Highway 1 in each direction for transit and high occupancy vehicles (3-plus persons in one vehicle) during peak hours along with added larger buses and better frequencies, one could avoid high capital costs like an expensive LRT system and building more park-and-ride facilities.

If Minister Stone is considering spending $80-$100 million of borrowed money on one intersection, perhaps he could look at transit performance and costs not only to reduce congestion at one intersection but the entire 10 kilometres. Debt service costs for paying back the $100 million in capital spending would be $400,000 a month and it would do little to solve the problem. If the Province borrowed $100 million over 30 years, the interest alone would be $42 million. So in reality taxpayers will pay $142 million to “improve” one intersection. Does that sound like a good investment?

Victoria is suited for better transit infrastructure since many of its workers are concentrated in a compact area, unlike other cities such as Vancouver, which has a wildly different workplace demographic, and where spending billions on expensive urban rail infrastructure has done little to alleviate congestion or gridlock.

Phil Le Good


Voter suppression

Thanks to Briony Penn for the article “When voter suppression comes calling” in the December 2014 issue of Focus. Where has our democracy gone since Harper came on to the federal political scene?

I had my first experience as a scrutineer for Libby Davies in the June 2004 elections. When I went to the orientation meeting at the NDP office in East Vancouver I was amazed and bewildered when one of the instructions was that we would be there on Election Day, in our designated polling stations, to advocate for Libby’s voters. My thought was that this was Canada, not a country coming out of a dictatorship.

Well, much to my surprise, on Election Day I came to understand the instructions. This was one of the first elections where voters were allowed to vote with a sworn affidavit verifying their residence as a temporary shelter. The voting station was on East Hastings and there were numerous voters in this category. What ensued was a systematic attempt to persecute and question each of these voters by the scrutineer from the new Conservative party of Canada, clearly contravening the Election Canada regulations. I was reporting this to the Elections Canada Polling Captain and it was also necessary to call on assistance from Libby’s lawyer who finally was forced to stay at the station to control the illegal and unscrupulous behaviour.

Libby Davies won with another overwhelming majority in East Vancouver and, sadly, Libby is finishing her exemplary career in politics this year.

There were other incidents where my presence was called on to help ensure that a democratic process was respected and followed. What a wake-up call for me. As Briony’s article describes, the unscrupulous behaviour has gone far beyond expectations in our beloved Canadian democracy. It is time to recover our tradition of fair elections.

Doreen McConachie


Federal election demands action

Over the holidays, I read Michael Harris’ Party of One, with its detailed description of Stephen Harper’s commitment to changing Canada so we will no longer recognize it. Harper’s done a phenomenal job as he takes steps to destroy what most of us most love and admire about Canada, and what many of us fear we will not live to see again: thoughtful, reasoned debate, bi- or tri-partisan approaches to our challenges, support for scientific inquiry and legislation that reflects such research, openness and transparency, and a spirit of collaboration that allows our best minds to contribute to an enlightened future for Canada.

Growing up in the US, one of my strongest early memories is a an afternoon barbecue on my parents’ lawn, friends relaxing on the grass, one man playing his guitar, a perfect summer day. Then the mood darkened as someone mentioned Senator Joe McCarthy. My parents and their friends knew people who’d been ruined by McCarthy’s red scare smear tactics. Their fear was palpable. It had a profound effect on me. Fortunately for the US, McCarthy was taken down when he went after the US Army and the army’s lawyer spoke these words: “Have you no sense of decency?” 

I re-experience my parents’ dread as we Canadians watch Harper’s war on the environment, First Nations, women, veterans, access to information, and our role as peace keepers. I could go on.

We live in a time of depression and despair, but I know, having seen McCarthy toppled, that sooner or later Harper’s appalling reign will end—but only if and when we put our backs into it. Later isn’t an option. We are losing so much so fast. We must commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to see the end of Harper, his corporate cronies, and their ilk. 

That may mean each of us urging the Liberals and the NDP to cooperate—not merge, just cooperate. This one time. So far, both Mulcair and Trudeau seem to imagine themselves triumphant, each riding in on his white charger, party flag flying. To both of them I can only say: Enough of your arrogance. Put Canada first. 

It may mean working our butts off to get the vote out: writing all our friends in Conservative ridings across the country, making sure they buddy up with people to get their friends to the polls. It may mean being on the ground making it easier for those who often don’t make it to the polls—the homeless, students, the frail elderly—those whom Harper would prefer not to vote. It may mean absolute vigilance so that at the first sign of dirty tricks, we’re on it and in the streets if that’s what it takes. It may mean being ready for a snap election if that’s what Harper pulls.

It is Canada that’s at stake as Harper turns us into a petrostate. He is the prince of fossil thinking which is no thinking at all. All support goes to mining every one of our resources as fast as we can and selling them off raw and unrefined at fire sale prices. To China. That same China he used to shy away from because of their appalling human rights record. None of this is in Canada’s interest or the world’s interest. Canada used to receive world praise for our commitment to reasoned and sober second thought. We have now become a rogue state. Thank you, Mr Harper.

Please read Party of One. Harris fills in facts and background so that it’s impossible to stay complacent. As a child, the fear that entered my blood stream silenced me for decades. Then something shifted. It’s time we all make that shift. After 44 years in Canada I know we Canadians are polite. We prefer to see the glass half full, to do things quietly. But if we don’t make our voices heard now and in the months to come, we are committing future generations to a world changed in ways that cause me to shudder. As it stands now we are the only ones who can ride to our rescue. And we must. Act. Put Canada first. 

Dorothy Field


The question for the majority of Canadians this year is: How can the NDP, the Liberals, or the Greens, individually, or in some kind of collaboration, defeat Harper’s Tories?

If Canadians truly understand and fear what having the voting process undermined and spoiled means, then everyone who is eligible to vote should, and will. Throughout and across Canada, there must be a determined organized effort to get voters to their (proper) voting places.

Great, now that you’re at your polling place, for whom do you vote? Ah. With the centre-left split among three parties, the chances of Harper forming a minority government, at the very least, is very real once again.

So how do you convince the three parties to cooperate?

The breathtakingly inept, over-his-head Justin Trudeau clearly believes he’s been “chosen” to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mulcair has many personal and party slights to overcome, particularly with the Liberals. 

Elizabeth May is on a crusade to build the Green Party, and knows exactly how each party stands on every issue and policy, which she perceives as vast differences.

2015, according to Chinese astrology, is the year of the Wood Sheep or Ram. The negative aspect is to be like a sheep, no individual thoughts or questions, stick with the group. The positive aspect is community and cooperation. Let’s hope that politically, Canada chooses the latter. But we’d better get organizing quickly. With the Duffy trial on the horizon, rumours abound that Harper may call an early election.

Helene Harrison


Island boil water alert predicted by Penn

As Briony Penn predicted in “A flood just waiting to happen” (Focus, May 2012), the Comox Valley was once again devastated by overflowing rivers filled with mud and silt in mid-December. Only this time around it was much worse and the City of Courtenay still remains on a boil water alert.

City of Courtenay CAO David Allen and his staff looked into what may have caused the flood and the ongoing water turbidity. All the drainages flowing into Comox Lake have been stripped bare of timber, allowing massive sediment and mud flows into the lake, the source of our community’s drinking water.

How is it that the forest lands above us have been allowed to be liquidated over the past 18 years, especially throughout TimberWest’s Oyster River Division? It has been a perfect storm of two incredibly toxic public policies, one provincial and one federal.

After the Liberals came to power in 2003 the Private Managed Forest Land Act was quickly passed. Big corporate interests owning private timberlands became the foxes in charge of the chicken house, with virtually no accountability to any government agency. This was confirmed by a source within the Ministry of Forests who stated that they’ve had no oversight of these privately-owned timberlands since the 1990s.

To compound this disastrous provincial policy, in the late 1990s Ottawa gave a green light to resource companies to turn themselves into income trusts. What was the result? 

TimberWest had the best of intentions back in 1994 when it signed a sustainability agreement stating it would maintain an annual cut of 400,000 cubic metres for the next 10 years on the Oyster River Division claim. But within 10 years of becoming an income trust (according to a local source closely connected to our logging community) it found itself having to triple this figure to 1.2 million cubic metres a year in order to maximize profits and meet its obligations of a payout of $1.08 per unit (8 percent return on average) to its unit holders. What happened? It seems the forest company quickly discovered it wasn’t able to harvest the volume of wood per hectare originally projected and was forced to massively increase their cut.

Some are now claiming that, since 2000, Canada has become No. 1 in the world for loss of intact forest landscapes. What makes this incredibly depressing is that our provincial public servant pension plans were, and may still be, heavily invested in TimberWest, if not Island Timberlands, the other big private timberlands’ owner here on eastern Vancouver Island. I would ask retired public servants to look into this and, if it is indeed true, urge their investment plan advisors to divest of all these toxic holdings. [Read more about this in Penn’s “Retirees on the rampage” (Focus, January 2013) and “Pensions on trial” (Focus, November 2011) which can be found at focusonline.ca.]

To see evidence of what has “gone down” on privately-owned timberlands along the east coast of Vancouver Island over the past 15 years, try googling: “University of Maryland Global Forest Change.”

Rick James, Sandwick, BC