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Rob Wipond

By Rob Wipond, December 2015

A surprise government announcement could lead to the resolution of long-standing controversies about police secrecy.

The British Columbia provincial government has pledged to pass legislation to make the BC Association of Chiefs of Police and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police “public bodies.” The announcement came from Bette-Jo Hughes, Chief Information Officer and Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, speaking in mid-November to MLAs reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The amendment to FOIPPA could resolve many concerns about how the associations operate—concerns that Focus has been reporting since 2012. 

By Rob Wipond, October 2014

Victoria Police change policies on Mental Health Act arrests.

When arrested under the Mental Health Act, people will now be advised of their rights and allowed to make telephone calls “if reasonable and safe to do so,” according to new Victoria Police Department policies. Police will also leave written reports at the psychiatric hospital.

The changes came about after complaints by Gordon Stewart and Vince Geisler, and an article in Focus (see “An Overabundance of Caution,” December 2013). 

In Geisler’s case, a human resources manager fired him and then contacted police to express concern about his well-being. Geisler was surrounded at his home by heavily armed police officers. Even though Geisler was “calm and cooperative” according to police records, he was denied the right to contact a lawyer, taken to hospital, locked in seclusion, and drugged unconscious. He was released the following day. 

By Rob Wipond, May 2014

The unplugging of a Saanich School District database raises serious concerns about the BC government’s secret plans for students’ personal information—and for everyone’s BC Services Card information.

The BC Ministry of Education warned Saanich School District in March that it would cost the district millions of dollars to make their openStudent database properly integrated with the BC Services Card. Daunted, the school board immediately cancelled development of their in-house database for recording student information, abandoning the two years and $1.5 million they’d invested. 

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

Pharmaceutical companies have paid billions of dollars in fines in the US for giving bribes and kickbacks to doctors. Are their drug sales representatives behaving any differently in Victoria?

"Dinner and Yankee game with family. Talked about Paxil studies in children.” That note, written by a drug sales representative about his evening with a doctor and his family, was one of many records that forced GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to pay a $3 billion fine to the U.S. government in 2012.

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, June 2013

Thousands of Victorians affected

 

The international war raging between the titans of psychiatry and psychology may not seem like “local” news. However, tens of thousands of local citizens have been seriously injured and now desperately need caring attention.

By Rob Wipond, June 2013

Local surveillance round-up

After discovering that local police are conducting illegal mass surveillance through their automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) program, Focus tried to find out which other local public bodies are conducting video surveillance on the general public. So far, we’ve found nothing too worrying—except for schoolchildren in the western communities.

The City of Victoria is using ALPR cameras to monitor parking and issue tickets. They retain the images of illegally-parked cars for seven years, but their privacy impact assessment indicates that they only retain the data about law-abiding drivers for 12 hours. 

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

Former federal Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page exhorts Canadians to "wake up."

Parliamentary institutions that bolster Canadian democracy “are under attack right now like I’ve never seen them before in my 35 years of public service.” The warning had a particularly sharp sting coming from recently departed federal Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. Brought to UVic by the Green Party, Page was speaking to a packed lecture hall in April. No partisan firebrand, Page is just a lifelong bureaucrat and self-described “numbers guy” who became increasingly frustrated, then appalled, and then positively worried witnessing important national financial decisions being made “based on ideology alone” and without accountability to anyone.

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, February 2013

A new book provides a shocking analysis of environmental destruction and human rights abuses committed by Canadian mining companies abroad—and how we help them do it.

Chandu Claver was born in the small town of Tabuk in the mountainous Cordillera region of the Philippines, near a large copper mine at various times partially owned by Canadian interests. This is where he became a surgeon, got married, and wanted to raise his family. 

He never planned on being a refugee in Victoria.

By Rob Wipond, January 2013

The Privacy Commissioner has ruled on licence plate tracking, but our police and government seem unwilling to obey the law. Who will hold them to account?

Upon its release in November, the BC Privacy Commissioner’s report on the Victoria Police Department’s use of automatic licence plate recognition surveillance (ALPR) looked like an inspiring example of democratic checks and balances working to perfection. Unfortunately, it rapidly became a siren call for how wantonly our governments and police are ever more often tossing aside any pretences to following democratic principles or rule of law.

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, November 2012

An elderly woman, with the support of her family, has been struggling to avoid forced psychiatric treatment at the hands of Vancouver Island Health Authority doctors.

When I arrived at the prearranged location, Michelle met me at the door. “Sorry, I didn’t want to tell you on the phone,” she said. “Now we’re going to go to where Mia really is.”

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, July/August 2012

150 years ago, on August 2, 1862, the townsite of Fort Victoria was incorporated as the City of Victoria. But while Victorians get ready to don their party hats, a new book by Tom Swanky presents evidence that the circumstances surrounding that birth are nothing to celebrate.

By Rob Wipond, June 2012

Why we can no longer really know our own community.

I’d felt compelled to be present, to bear witness to this last stand. That’s why I’d attended a number of meetings alongside representatives from the Capital Regional District, municipalities of Victoria and Saanich, Camosun College, Vancouver Island Health Authority, and others helping bring together a report called Growing Prosperity in the Capital Region. 

By Rob Wipond, May 2012

Our seniors care system is operating with a severe lack of standards. So what happens when the BC Ministry of Health gets into the cross hairs of a former Canadian Forces court martials judge?

By Rob Wipond, April 2012

Ombudsperson, BCCLA and Greens criticize BC’s draconian laws.

I WAS READING THE CORONER'S REPORT on Kathleen Palamarek and something didn’t seem right. I’d been following her story since 2006. This was a diminutive, timid, 88-year-old nursing home resident with dementia and a heart condition, who’d been somewhat controversially diagnosed with dementia-related psychosis. She’d died of a heart attack. The coroner had found the antipsychotic olanzapine in her body. 

By Rob Wipond March 2012

Documents suggest BC Solicitors General and the RCMP have been misleading the public for years.

"THERE'S NOTHING, in my view, to be alarmed about,” said Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham. He was speaking at February’s Reboot Privacy and Security Conference in Victoria, to 200 privacy experts, academics, and government and corporate executives from around North America, including Alberta Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton and BC Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Graham was on a panel with Christopher Parsons, a UVic PhD candidate in political science and surveillance studies. Parsons was presenting findings from research done by him, me and tech expert and civil rights advocate Kevin McArthur into Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (findings first revealed in February’s Focus, “Hidden Surveillance”). 

By Rob Wipond, February 2012

Not many people know that local police and the RCMP have already begun building a massive public traffic surveillance system. And no one knows how they’re going to use it.

The A News reporter and Nanaimo constable interwove: “amazing,” “blown away,” “overwhelming.” “This will revolutionize the way we police,” proclaimed Vancouver police in The Province.

Both media and police across North America have engaged in such trumpeting about Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR). The RCMP and BC government piloted ALPR in 2006 and have expanded it rapidly. BC now has 42 police cruisers equipped with the technology, including one with the Victoria Police Department (VicPD), one in Saanich, and two in our regional Integrated Road Safety Unit.  

By Rob Wipond, January 2012

On January 31, a panel of local experts will talk about new ways to ensure your savings, RRSPs, and investment dollars help strengthen our community sustainability and resilience. We offer a preview of some of the ideas they’ll address.

During her presentation at the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria’s recent annual general meeting, economic development expert Nicole Chaland brought out a perspective-shifting number: $360 million. 

That’s how much Greater Victoria residents invested last year in Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs)—enough to effectively double last year’s growth in Greater Victoria’s entire gross domestic product. Yet instead of boosting our economy or helping improve our community, most of that enormous wealth of ours was simply drained away into globalized mutual funds.

By Rob Wipond, December 2011

There are some compelling ideas for how to make our community more economically resilient in the face of climate change, rising fuel costs, and global financial meltdowns, but our civic leadership is so far conducting business as usual. That can put a passionately concerned local journalist in some uncomfortable positions, and raise some provocative questions about the role of news media in a time of crisis.

It’s raining radical change! Hallelujah! That’s how I felt reading some of the introductory sections of the City of Victoria’s new Economic Development Strategy. I read about revamping our local economy to grapple with “the impact of economic growth on the world’s ecology,” “climate change,” “increased energy costs,” and the ”rollercoaster ride” of the global financial system. 

Amen, it’s about time! 

By Rob Wipond, November 2011

Resistance to BC Hydro’s smart meters still seems strong, but it’s hard to tell who’s winning.

A BC Hydro rep gave a presentation at a recent meeting about energy conservation initiatives. Unbidden, he began by letting us know, “One thing we’re not going to discuss today is smart meters.” 

Since I was filling in for a friend and not there “as journalist,” I won’t disclose details. Suffice to say the meeting was filled with people very supportive of energy conservation.

When the BC Hydro rep inadvertently mentioned smart meters some minutes later, he interrupted himself: “Let’s not go there.” 

When his PowerPoint slide about smart meters popped up, he jumped to the next slide. He wasn’t even going to try to make the case for them to this knowledgeable group.

By Rob Wipond, October 2011

Stantec makes off with the money in what looks like a nation-wide practice of producing copied-and-pasted assessments.

The year-long development of the Greater Victoria School District’s strategic facilities plan may have been an utter waste of time, resources and taxpayer dollars. And now, practically everyone involved is hoping and praying that’s exactly what it was—because the alternative would be much worse.

Either way, the consulting firm Stantec is plucking untold sums from school district coffers through what looks like a questionable BC-wide or even national practice.

“It’s about a billion-dollar corporation that appears to have taken advantage of the good will of a vulnerable school district that’s already stretched to its limits,” summarizes David Bratzer, a Victoria police constable who’s been following school issues and is running for a trustee position this fall. 

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

Smart meters won’t endanger health or privacy, and will conserve energy, reduce theft, and produce cost savings. Or so BC Hydro tells us. But is there a hidden agenda driving what may be a billion-dollar boondoggle?

One exchange at BC Hydro’s tense public meeting in Victoria in March was emblematic of the debates about smart meters. Asked about the health dangers of smart meters’ wireless electromagnetic fields (EMF), BC Hydro consultant Dr John Blatherwick explained they’d rarely be transmitting, anyway: “Those things will be [operating] for one minute [per day] on average, up to a maximum of three [minutes].”

BC Hydro has said the same, but coming from a former Vancouver chief medical officer, this reassurance carried weight.

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, July 2011

There’s much to learn about BC’s laws and eldercare system from the last years of Kathleen Palamarek’s life in a local nursing home—especially from the battles that were fought in her name between her children, care providers and the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

It was a small but important epitaph for a much-loved woman. NDP West Kootenay MLA Katrine Conroy spoke in the provincial legislature in June in support of a public inquiry into the recent “suspicious death” of Kathleen Palamarek, an 88-year-old resident of Broadmead Lodge in Saanich.

By Rob Wipond, June 2011

Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request show nearly half of all seniors in long-term care in BC are being given antipsychotics like Risperdal, Zyprexa and Seroquel. That’s almost twice the average for the rest of Canada and amongst the highest rates found anywhere in the world. And even though Health Canada warns these drugs cause a doubling of death rates in the elderly, care workers admit they’re mainly being used as chemical restraints in the absence of adequate staffing and proper oversight.

"IT WILL RELAX YOU.” That’s the only explanation hospital staff gave when administering the antipsychotic medication to Carl. At least, that’s the only reason he recalls—soon he began experiencing “very strange cognitive feelings.”

“I’m a reasonably logical person,” he says, but suddenly he was in a “swimmy universe that didn’t make any sense.” 

By Rob Wipond, May 2011

A plethora of young groups are bringing extremely diverse people together to share knowledge, ideas and perspectives. Can getting us out of our silos lead to new types of collaboration, community building and social solutions?

I arrive at the Victoria Event Centre not knowing exactly what to expect at a “PechaKucha.” I leave a couple hours later having had a great time—but still not knowing exactly what I’ve experienced. However, I’m becoming increasingly sure it’s part of a growing local and international social movement of immense vitality, astonishing creative breadth, and intriguing political possibilities. 

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

A recent conference of municipal planners in Victoria revealed a surprising undercurrent of sustainability radicalism.

Fifteen minutes in, the discussion on “Engaging Your Community in Sustainability Initiatives” at a conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities took an unexpected turn. And suddenly, everyone became much more engaged. The Capital Regional District, currently trying to engage politicians and the public in its own Regional Sustainability Strategy (RSS), would do well to take note.

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

Hearings on Wi-Fi in classrooms discover large differences in the level of trust of information about health impacts.

It’s not often CBC radio host Gregor Craigie’s soothing voice puts someone on the defensive. But Craigie said he’d heard from many people complaining about the Greater Victoria School District’s (GVSD) decision to appease protesters by holding hearings about the health dangers of Wi-Fi. Since all the science shows Wi-Fi is safe, Craigie posed to school board chair Tom Ferris, “They wonder why [such hearings] would even be considered.”

Eventually, the elected official gave up portraying GVSD’s “investigation” as much more than political flak-catching. “The thinking is that if people don’t have an opportunity to air their views and get some sort of response,” Ferris answered, “then it’s something that may go on and continue to worry parents.”

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

Municipal engineers have a lot more power over city life and politics than most of us realize.

It’s an academic lecture about sidewalks. Could I have even dreamed up an event that sounded more inconsequentially mind-numbing? 

But on this cold, rainy, January night, the little Legacy Art Gallery and Café, as part of the University of Victoria’s “City Talks” lectures, has drawn nearly a hundred provincial and municipal bureaucrats, business owners, artists, developers, lawyers, students, urban gardeners, civil rights activists, anarchists... Why on Earth would all these people be so interested in sidewalks?

Within the hour the answer becomes clear, as Simon Fraser University’s Nicholas Blomley delivers a surprisingly riveting overview of the role of sidewalks in social control.

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, September 2010

Out of sight from parents and the general public, school teachers and administrators are waging an increasingly tense battle over children with special needs—and the outcome could influence the future of public education.

It’s discouraging. It’s depressing,” says Julia Christianson, a special education teacher at Cedar Hill Middle School. “I have many parents cry on my shoulder. And many times I ask myself, ‘What else can I do?’”

Now, like many teachers, Christianson is protesting publicly. And it’s not about pay, benefits, or holidays; it’s about “class size and composition.” Just a fuzzy phrase to outsiders, it’s gradually become a flashpoint for public education.

by Rob Wipond, August 25, 2010.

Why are reporters such dupes?

Canadian news media are leaping on this story of Russian fighters over our North that broke only hours ago -- it's already appearing in hundreds of outlets, according to Google News. And yet, I can virtually guarantee, it was completely staged.

Why are professional news reporters the first people to let themselves be used as dopey props in political propaganda operations? Like the TC's front-page pic of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff holding a baby last week. (What self-respecting news editor runs a picture of a politician holding a baby!?)

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.