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By Rob Wipond, May 2014

Internal RCMP investigation also underway

By Rob Wipond, April 2014

When it comes to complex international issues, does following the news increase or diminish our understanding?

I want to talk about something that’s difficult to talk about in person: Ukraine. But not the actual place or events surrounding it, which I know less than nothing about. (Emphasis on less, an issue I’ll return to shortly.) I want to discuss the local Victoria aspect of “Ukraine”— which is more influential over my own life.

It seems we’re talking, writing and posting online about Ukraine a lot more than we used to. We debate what’s happening there, who’s to blame, and even about what actions we should be taking: providing financial support, boycotting, brokering negotiations, sending troops, the whole gamut. 

By Rob Wipond, March 2014

Read deeper and BC Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin’s ruling in support of teachers against the provincial government is about much more than just our schools.

It seems appropriate that the late-January BC Supreme Court ruling won by the BC Teachers Federation has received attention in our news media. But there’s an undercurrent that permeates Justice Susan Griffin’s Reasons for Judgment that hasn’t been discussed nearly as much as it should be: Her very worrying evaluation of the state of our democracy.

By Rob Wipond, November 2013

Secret police chief association records provoke serious questions about lack of police oversight in this province.

As I read through hundreds of pages of records from two BC associations of chiefs of police, I discovered that a letter I had sent to the West Vancouver Police Department Chief Constable had been turned over to all of Canada’s major banks, Canada Border Services, CSIS, and the US Secret Service. This certainly made a mockery of my privacy rights. Yet I realized that much more than privacy was at stake. These previously secret records—a drop from a much vaster pool—painted a worrying picture of unchecked police powers.

By Rob Wipond, October 2013

When our governments are going rogue, who or what is going to hold them to account?

Lately I’ve been running into so much lack of legal accountability at the most fundamental operating levels of our public agencies, I don’t know where to turn to demand accountability. 

After investigating the BC Premier’s Office and its suspicious dearth of documents about major decisions, for example, the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner this year suggested that public employees should have a “duty to document.” But the Commissioner also mentioned that she did not have jurisdiction over the BC Document Disposal Act (DDA). That caught my attention even more. Who, I wondered, ensures that governments and public employees obey the law when they decide what records to permanently delete or shred? 

By Rob Wipond, September 2013

Doctors’ relationships with drug company representatives have changed, say knowledgeable readers. But for better or worse?

A recently-unemployed friend of mine went into a Victoria walk-in clinic in June complaining about unease he couldn’t explain, and walked out with enough free packets of the antidepressant Cipralex and the stimulant Ritalin to last for weeks. If he liked these drugs, the doctor said, he should come back and get prescriptions for more. “It all happened so fast, in less than five minutes,” my friend said with both fascination and wariness. 

By Rob Wipond, July/August 2013

Ruling on BC Police Chiefs contradictory and confusing.

In May, Acting Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists Jay Fedorak issued a decision that the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP) do not need to register as political lobby groups under BC’s Lobbyists Registration Act. Unfortunately, rather than providing clarity, Fedorak’s reasoning has merely fuelled questions swirling around the secretive activities of our police chiefs.

By Rob Wipond, July/August 2013

The data is being processed.

Last year we threw cold water on the Gorge Swimfest by reporting that only fecal bacteria safety levels were being tested. What about the industrial pollutants in the sediment, or flowing in through sewer outfalls? We discovered that no one was testing if those toxins were getting into swimming areas.

However, the Capital Regional District and Vancouver Island Health Authority have begun collaborating on broader testing.

“We have done more extensive and comprehensive water quality testing both in the fall of 2011 and the summer of 2012,” says the CRD’s Supervisor of Stormwater, Harbours and Watersheds Program, Dale Green.

By Rob Wipond, June 2013

Over 20 years, Bruce Saunders has built Movie Monday into one of Victoria’s most enduringly popular arts events.

 

The police looked uncomfortable the night they came to Movie Monday. We’d just watched Crisis Call, an absorbing, emotional documentary exploring often volatile, sometimes deadly encounters between Canadian police and people with severe mental health problems. After the film, host Bruce Saunders introduced us to two Greater Victoria police officers whom he’d invited to share their perspectives and answer audience questions. 

By Rob Wipond, May 2013

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Registrar of Lobbyists are hot on their association’s trail. But a former BC police chief and solicitor general doubts they’ll ever be caught.

There’s one thing the police tell you never to do when they want to question you, right? Run. Running makes you look even more suspicious. So why do British Columbia’s chiefs of police keep running from me? Fortunately, I’ve gained some high-profile help in this now year-long chase.

By Rob Wipond, May 2013

An update on Mia following her narrow escape from involuntary electroshock therapy

Eight months after an independent tribunal ordered her released from hospital, the Vancouver Island Health Authority is still pursuing a Saanich woman. Focus previously reported on 82-year-old Mia (“The Case for Electroshocking Mia,” November 2012), whom VIHA senior geriatric psychiatrist Dr Michael Cooper had slotted for electro-convulsive shock therapy against the wishes of her and her family. Last July, an official inquiry determined Mia needn’t be forcibly treated for depression nor even hospitalized; however, almost immediately VIHA representatives began calling, coming by the family home, and demanding that Mia check in with them. Mia, her granddaughter Michelle and grandson-in-law Russel and their children fled the city.

By Rob Wipond, April 2013

Greater Victoria candidates in the BC provincial election speak out on how to correct growing democratic deficits.

For years we at Focus have been observing an erosion of democratic processes and participatory public engagement at all levels of government. In our opinion, this is worsening government decision-making with respect to many of the challenges we’re facing as a society. And we know we’re not alone.

By Rob Wipond, March 2013

There’s growing local interest in land trusts as a way to tackle housing costs and reshape our communities.

 

"It’s not a housing strategy, it’s about land reform,” said Michael Lewis. The declaration felt rousing, as if we were in an impoverished part of Latin America rather than a comfortable University of Victoria meeting room. Lewis was leading a discussion with representatives from Vancity, Victoria and Esquimalt municipal governments, the Capital Regional District, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, and local non-profits and other groups searching for solutions to this region’s housing affordability crisis. And though no decisions were reached, there was general agreement that Lewis’ research report (funded by Vancity) and innovative proposal to build a regional Community Land Trust (CLT) to support multi-owner homes merited further discussions.

By Rob Wipond, December 2012

Effective activism takes dedicated volunteers who, even in the face of open hostility from authority and fellow citizens, can be relentlessly optimistic—often for years at a time—about the potential to make change happen. How do die-hard activists keep despair at bay?

I’ve been receiving more emails lately from people saying one of my articles made them feel despairing. One asked, “How do you keep going?”

Let’s see: In recent months, I’ve written about government corruption, genocide, toxic waste, police chiefs breaking laws, forced electroshock of our elderly… All right, I get the point.

By Rob Wipond, September 2012

Safety pronouncements for the waterway relate strictly to fecal coliform—but what about industrial chemicals?

My sense of place spins like I’m in a celebratory party version of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Wow, I’m splashing in a Bermuda bay amidst California beach boys and Hawaiian dancing girls! No, my mind reminds me as I flutter about in warm ocean waters below a fervent August sun: This is downtown Victoria, British Columbia, and I just dove into the Gorge inlet. 

It shouldn’t be so unexpected and disorienting. The Gorge’s shallow waters can take two months to turn over during dry summers, and so hover above a balmy 20 degrees celsius. But decades of unregulated pollution from industrial, sewage, boating, and urban sources transformed the once-popular swimming area into a liquid dump peppered with designated contaminated sites concentrated with lead, mercury, hydrocarbons, PCBs and more. 

By Rob Wipond, October 2011

Paul Grignon has struck a popular nerve with his cartoon exposé of a financial system that’s exacerbating our public debt spiral and hastening descent into environmental destruction.

By now most of us have heard about at least a few of the local people who’ve “made it big” in the world of online viral videos. Victoria writer Andrew Struthers’ two-minute spoof based on the Canadian Wildlife Service’s “Hinterland Who’s Who” commercials, “Spiders on Drugs,” is the undisputed champion, currently nearing 30 million views on YouTube. More typically, other area folk have garnered tens or hundreds of thousands of hits for a beautiful folk song, a recording of a police assault downtown, and one of the biggest lip-sync gatherings in the world (I don’t know of any popular videos of local babies or pets doing especially adorable things, but there are likely a few of those, too).

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 Rob Wipond, May 2011

Award-winning science writer and author of "Anatomy of an Epidemic" comes to Victoria to discuss North America’s skyrocketing psychiatric drug use.

Why has the number of people who are severely disabled by mental illness in North America tripled in the last 20 years? Why are we experiencing a mental health epidemic of such proportions that over a thousand more of us are falling ill every single day? 

These are the questions that launch Robert Whitaker’s new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic. And the answers he unearths turn out to be even more provocative and disturbing than the questions themselves.

By Rob Wipond, April 2011

Our general belief that jobs are created by businesses needs a little refinement.

When Mayor Dean Fortin began proposing a gradual reduction of the business tax rate in Victoria relative to the residential rate, he argued it would help protect and create jobs. In resounding endorsement, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business agreed it would help companies “hire more staff.” A feature in the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Business Matters magazine, “Local Government’s Role in Business Prosperity,” similarly endorsed this idea. 

When federal finance minister Jim Flaherty announced the Conservatives’ latest corporate tax cuts, he explained that this would allow Canadian businesses to “create jobs.” 

By Rob Wipond, March 2011

Métissage creates a stirring view of our shared oppression.

 

It was a very unusual way of discussing power and discrimination. And it left me thinking we should be doing it more.

After lunch in a lounge for about a hundred people during the University of Victoria’s recent Diversity Conference, we prepared to hear actors recount true experiences of an anonymous UVic female custodian, Aboriginal technical worker, black office worker and student, and female sessional instructor. 

During introductory remarks, the co-directors, theatre PhD candidate Will Weigler and educational psychology instructor Catherine Etmanski, explained that the project had hatched out of a growing awareness that UVic’s own challenges in achieving a healthy, diverse workplace for its non-faculty staff are rarely openly discussed.

By Rob Wipond, February 2011

How can we lift ourselves out of the despair our politicians too often inspire?

Former minister George Abbott introduced his campaign for the BC Liberal leadership by promising to give disengaged voters more say. “It’s how government makes their decisions that is just as important to people as what those decisions are,” he explained to a reporter.

I dropped my head into my hands. A string of exasperating political proclamations like this began the new year, each one hitting me more personally, until I didn’t know how to stop my descent into bitter cynicism.

Abbott’s 18-point plan for leading our government, entitled “The People are Coming,” included “promoting public participation in government decisions,” restoring regular legislature sittings, and championing “proactive disclosure of government information.” 

by Rob Wipond, January 2011

Gordon Campbell’s reorganization of our resource ministries is costly, chaotic and destructive.

One of Gordon Campbell’s last major acts as BC Premier, a government reorganization, is old news. However, unless reversed by a new leader, the devastating consequences will be unfolding for years, from Peace River forests through bureaucratic halls to Victoria shores.

The decisions affected nearly every ministry, and thousands of civil servants. But the most significant changes hit our important resource ministries, where many of the highest-level decision-making branches and powers governing lands, mining, agriculture, energy, forests, fish and wildlife, water and the environment were moved to a new Natural Resource Operations (NRO) super-ministry. 

By Rob Wipond, December 2010

Parliamentary committee members witness a dramatic confrontation over elder care.

Local MP Denise Savoie invited two representatives from the federal Parliamentary Committee on Palliative and Compassionate Care to hear Vancouver and Victoria speakers in November. Developing recommendations on elder care, assisted suicide and abuse, the committee’s half-day session before 40 people at James Bay New Horizons broke down in a bizarre, foreboding fashion. 

by Rob Wipond, November 2010

A public inquiry is revealing how BC’s Attorney General is letting BC’s legal system plunge into disarray and widespread injustice.

Let’s throw judges, Crown prosecutors and stenographers off the taxpayer gravy-train. Victims of crimes can pay the thousands of dollars per hour necessary to take criminals to court.

Sound like an unfair, unjust and, well, hugely stupid suggestion? Then is it really conversely acceptable to stop funding criminal defence lawyers?

This question was asked repeatedly during the Public Commission on Legal Aid in Victoria in October. The province-wide Commission was launched by the Canadian Bar Association, Law Society, and other legal organizations after years of growing public concern. By day’s end, it was clear BC’s justice system is in alarming trouble.

by Rob Wipond, October 2010

Between rocks and hard places, flexibility is desperately needed.

I taught yoga at the prison for five years. If you’ve ever taken yoga, you know it’s common in the first class for instructors to ask if anyone has had any major injuries or surgeries during their lives. It’s a safety protocol, so the instructor can provide extra guidance to vulnerable students. Typically, two people in 20 mention a car accident or appendectomy.

My first day teaching at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre, though, was different. 

“I broke my hand when I punched a guy a few weeks back,” explained one inmate. He followed that with an incredible childhood tale of an abusive father, run-down truck, and backyard scrap heap. “My feet were crushed.” 

by Rob Wipond, August 2010

While journalists help the Liberals drum up hysteria, health spending has actually remained relatively stable for decades.

It was one of those articles that makes me think, “Wow, I’ve been so stupid.” I love reading those.

We’ve all heard alarms about health care gobbling 40 percent of BC’s provincial budget. Our Liberal government asserts that, at current growth rates, health care will be mainlining 100 percent of BC’s budget by 2040. You can’t help but start screaming with the expanding mob, “More cuts! De-fund Viagra! Privatize! Unplug the elderly!”

by Rob Wipond, July 2010

Is the world becoming greener, or does it just seem that way?

You’ve heard of “green-washing,” where companies make their products sound more ecologically friendly than they are. Well, I keep seeing something more insidious: green-tinted glasses.

Green-washing is propaganda; it’s easy to spot and dispel. Like ads BP runs about its commitment to environmental responsibility, while the largest, most unprepared-for oil spill in North American history spreads from their Gulf of Mexico well.