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By Briony Penn, September 2011

Two inquiries central to the health of coastal ecosystems are underway in Vancouver.

As Focus hits the street on August 30, schools of salmon researchers, fishers, First Nations, and advocates from all over British Columbia will be converging around the federal courthouse in Vancouver for the next stage of the Cohen Commission inquiry. They are coming to bear witness to the release of key evidence into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks in 2009. This month, testimony shifts to the highly-charged topics of the role disease and aquaculture played in the deaths. 

Concurrently, upriver at Simon Fraser University, an enquiry is being made into declining herring stocks—with another school of researchers, First Nations, fishers and herring advocates.

By Ross Crockford, September 2011

Can a hallucinogenic tea help people overcome addictions?

This medicine changed my life,” says Gabrielle. “It changed the way I experience life, every single day, for the better.”

A slim, enthusiastic woman, Gabrielle tells me in her Cedar Hill apartment that she’s been living with chronic pain since 1993. For years she managed the pain with exercise, and focused on her job as a municipal administrative assistant. But in 2008, the pain got so bad that she could barely get out of bed. She tried conventional therapy without success, took disability leave, and became dependent on prescription morphine.

By Rob Wipond, September 2011

Your backyard provides hope for the future.

We’re pretty conspicuous when we pull up in a little silver hatchback covered with children’s paintings of carrots, flowers, and slogans like “be cool, grow veggies,” sporting a roof rack piled with enough hay bales to practically tip us over. 

Nevertheless, it’s hard for me to shake the feeling we’re sneaking around like criminals. Surely we’re not supposed to be in other people’s backyards when they’re not home. Even if they said we could. 

So it’s a new way of experiencing my city as we pull weeds, lay compost, roll a seeder, and harvest strawberries, nasturtiums and lettuce in yards in Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay.

By Amy Reiswig, September 2011

Writer Gary Geddes’ most recent (of 40) books takes us to the heart of both justice and Africa.

A sunlit, partially glassed-in porch buzzed by rival hummingbirds looks out over the rising tide of Canoe Pass, what many call The Cut, between Thetis and Penelakut Islands. Here, political and humanist writer Gary Geddes shares stories of brutal atrocity as he discusses his most recent work Drink the Bitter Root: A Writer’s Search for Justice and Redemption in Africa (Douglas & McIntyre, September 2011). Geddes looks relaxed and peaceful against the greenery of the yard—this Thetis Island resting place he has come to after travel, in body and words, through five countries of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. But his book reveals searing stories he will ever carry with him, even in this small slice of paradise he now calls home.

By Christine Clark, September 2011

Drama, intensity and heartbreak spark the paintings of Frances Baskerville.

Frances Baskerville’s paintings are dark, restless and confused. The canvasses are almost always built up and broken apart with fragments of cloth, dried glue and sometimes plaster. There are often grid formations, drawn onto the canvas originally as a guide, but then painted over and redrawn as an overlay in chalk. The hundreds of brushstrokes look rapidly applied and sketchy; nothing is smooth; the paint moves in unusual directions. The finished images are essentially unfinished, there but not there, everything in motion—the figures, the paint, the canvas, moments between bodies caught, but barely, in the midst of a river of fast-moving mud. At least this is the lasting impression. 

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, September 2011

The constant interruptions of digital media are compromising our mental acuity and ability to concentrate.

Summer is my season for reading good books, but I must confess rather glumly that it never happened this year. The time-crunch epidemic is at least partially to blame—like everyone else, I seem to be caught in a perpetual flurry of stuff to do, fix, remember or be responsible for. Who even has time to stay focused anymore? Try as I might, my thinking invariably drifts to the jumble of task-bites cluttering my head. 

Maybe it’s hereditary: My mom recounts that when her kids were little, she found it tough to stay focused during her short daily meditation. “Give us this day our daily bread,” she remembers praying before the age of the microwave, which then segued into a mental note to take a loaf or two out of the freezer as soon as the meditation was done.

By Gene Miller, July 2011

Is a billion-dollar LRT for the Langford-Downtown corridor the best way to solve a $25 million problem?

I have the pleasure of introducing you to the exquisite Italian fashion model, Bianca Balti. Can you imagine your life if you were involved with her romantically? Or if you were her best friend, with benefits? Your life would be perfected, a dream, right? You would feel youthful, alive. You would always be happy. Could she be stupid and nasty? Could her appetites put a big hole in your bank account? Don’t be silly! Your very existence would be perfumed and your entire life would be a dance in the air. Days would be tropically warm, evenings molten. You would sail on rails of silk past the traffic gridlock on the Island Highway between Millstream and downtown.

Poof!

By Leslie Campbell, July 2011

Who’s next in line at the food bank?

Somehow it feels a little ridiculous stocking up on food at an overflowing Market on Yates on my way home from an interview at the Mustard Seed Food Bank. Not an hour earlier, on this glorious summer day, Brent Palmer, director of the Mustard Seed Food Bank, informed me there are thousands of people in Victoria who cannot afford any food, let alone the pricey, nutritious items I am buying with barely a blink.

Palmer, who began his adventures at Mustard Seed as a volunteer in 1984, says the central Victoria food bank is now servicing 7000-plus a month. In 2008 it was more like 5000 per month. He says, “I am expecting the months of July and August to be even higher. One of the reasons is children don’t have access to breakfast and lunch programs in the summer, so that always puts more of a strain on our food bank resources.”

By Amy Reiswig, July 2011

Climate scientist Andrew Weaver’s new book is an appeal, partly on ethical and moral grounds, to young people.

Summer has finally returned to Victoria, and as people run to the sun they should stop and think, not just about the weather but about our overall changing climate. Or so says one Victorian who more than most knows what a changing climate means for the future, locally and around the world. 

By Aaren Madden, July 2011

George Monbiot says environmentalists don’t have a clear vision of how to stop wrecking the planet. Elizabeth May says she does.

It just so happened that the day Elizabeth May became the first Green elected to parliament in Canada, the prominent UK environmentalist and writer George Monbiot wrote a column in which he argued that, as a movement, environmentalism is, well, lost. “None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess,” he laments in The Guardian piece titled, “The Lost World.” Calling for clarity and realistic discourse, he asked, “Where is the clear vision that can resist the planet-wrecking project?”

By Briony Penn, July 2011

China’s premier admits the massive Three Gorges Dam has created “urgent problems.” Is anybody at BC Hydro listening?

The premier of China, Wen Jiabo, recently made an official announcement that the Three Gorges dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, which has created a reservoir twice the length of Vancouver Island and displaced 1.3 million people, is experiencing “urgent problems.” Urgent on every front—dead water zones, pollution of drinking supplies, siltation, landslides, earthquakes, erosion, and drought. The project is also generating less power than it was designed for because of the danger of raising the reservoir to optimum levels; there’s been more displacement of residents, and massive destruction of the river ecosystems. 

By Linda Rogers, July 2011

Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s founder explains why the show must go on.

The Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre’s tiny office next door to the Conservatory of Music is, apart from a few other necessities, almost entirely furnished with gnawed pens and pencils

“Do you have rats?” 

“No,” Darcy, Blue Bridge’s Girl Friday laughs, “It’s Brian!”

Some of us smoke, some bite our nails, but Brian Richmond, whose long life in Canadian theatre includes chewing up a lot of scenery, also chews pencils. His mile-long resume includes many acting credits, his recent chairmanship of the UVic Theatre department, founding artistic director of Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre, artistic director of Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, Thunder Bay’s Magnus Theatre and Montreal’s Playwright’s Workshop. He has directed over 100 productions. 

By Christine Clark, July 2011

When it comes to finding the “meaning” of Blu Smith’s paintings, you’re on your own.

In her 1966 essay, "Against Interpretation," Susan Sontag wrote, “In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable.”

This may not be exactly the way Blu Smith responds to interpretation of his work, but he does tell a funny story about an early show of his abstract paintings. He remembers that several people were so overwhelmed by what they perceived as sexual content that a few of them were quite embarrassed. He laughingly suggests that their reaction had more to do with their own thought patterns than with his paintings. 

By Linda Rogers, July 2011

Rande Cook, Hamatsa dancer and, at 34, the youngest hereditary chief in the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, is showing his evolving commitment to formline painting and carving at the Alcheringa Gallery. 

Cook grew up in Alert Bay before heading to Victoria to attend Vic High. His grandfather Gus Matilpi introduced him to Kwakwaka’wakw design and the idea that through creating art Cook could help maintain and preserve his culture. Other early mentors include Willie Cook Jr, William Wasden Jr, and Beau Dick. 

Since January 2002, Cook has been exploring wood carving under John Livingston. He has also learned to bend traditional boxes from Bruce Alfred.

Though well-steeped in and adept at traditional designs, Cook is moving beyond the parameters of First Nations art forms that were threatened when the white-comers disapproved and misinterpreted their sacred art, to a more contemporary expression.

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, July 2011

Parents can call out for help during the turbulent years of raising teens.

Having last month assessed the media’s coverage of the horrific crimes committed against local teen Kimberly Proctor, it would be easy—no, tempting—to be done with the topic and move on. To some degree words in themselves are futile anyway, and a further million spent on worried introspection would still not lead to the enlightenment and resolve required to rid society of such wickedness once and for all.

By Leslie Campbell, June 2011

Is our drug-based paradigm for treating mental illness working?

On the first really nice spring evening this year, 300 people sat in St John the Divine Church Hall listening with rapt attention to a presentation by Robert Whitaker.

In April of this year, Whitaker received the prestigious Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for his book Anatomy of an Epidemic, and he came to Victoria to talk about what’s in that book. In a nutshell, Whitaker says long term studies show that outcomes among aggregates of people with various mental illnesses—depression, bipolar, schizophrenia—are significantly better when they avoid the very drugs we are told are their salvation.

By Linda Rogers and Leslie Campbell, June 2011

A lawyer has launched a civil suit against the City and five police officers.

In his sunny home office in Cordova Bay, lawyer Rajinder Sahota admits “I always wanted to be a lawyer and fight for justice.” Growing up in Esquimalt, where he played hockey with cops from the police station across the street, he never imagined he’d one day be trying to right what he believes is an injustice done by police to him and two friends.

Yet his studies have certainly prepared him: After graduating from UVic with degrees in commerce and law, he received a Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics where he focused his studies on international economic law, human rights, and the law on the use of force. 

By Yule Heibel, June 2011

Living over the store may seem quaintly old-fashioned, but it’s a direction that might keep downtown Victoria healthy.

Victoria City Council recently offered the business community an olive branch when it addressed the tax ratio of commercial to residential rates by voting to reduce marginally (very marginally) that ratio by 0.004 percent in favour of commercial rates. While the Chamber of Commerce responded with tepidly mumbled words of encouragement for council’s decision, the daily newspaper merely reported the other side of the coin: that residential property taxes will rise by 7 percent compared to 1.1 percent for businesses. 

By Gene Miller, June 2011

The political mess to the south of us first seeped across the border into Alberta and now threatens to flood the entire country.

I bring you important and extraordinary news: Superman is renouncing his US citizenship. 

I’m no storm crow and I’m not making this stuff up. Well, at least I’m not making this stuff up. It’s right there in Action Comics #900, in case you think I’m trying to trigger the whimpering demise of America the beacon of the free world. Says the Man of Steel—but wait, there he is speaking on his own behalf.

So, memo to the Manning Centre For Building Democracy which is planning some fringe events at the Conservative Party Convention in Ottawa, June 9-11, including one horrid, mossy clambake to review “cutting edge ideas and discussion on reforming Canada’s welfare state as well as removing barriers to environmental entrepreneurship”: It’s time to leave the Mesozoic behind.

By Amy Reiswig, June 2011

Jack Hodgins’ latest novel explores ageing and how it’s never too late to take new risks.

We have all been taught not to judge a book by its cover. But in the case of Jack Hodgins’ The Master of Happy Endings, it is actually an apt introduction to one of the book’s major ideas. For the jacket presents you with the title, in bold yellow on red, and then together in their own black circle “Jack Hodgins A Novel,” as if the author is the real read here. This strange arrangement reminds us that the real story, the true epic, is on the inside of each one of us.