Northern Voice 09 in Vancouver

February 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm | In northernvoice, vancouver | Comments Off on Northern Voice 09 in Vancouver

Really hate to do this, but here’s a plain-and-simple place-holder blog post: hey folks, I’m at Northern Voice 09 in Vancouver, and having a great time. Inundated with people and information, too, which is why I’m not blogging.

But – overall – having a great time.

Vancouver is marvelous – obviously a beneficiary of population growth. When I lived here in the eighties, there weren’t nearly as many people moving through here, keeping the place lubricated.

Having experienced Vancouver in the eighties makes me realize that the “build it and they will come” approach has to be a two-way street. You can’t build it if no one isn’t already there, but if you want people to be there, you have to build it, too.

Once you hit the right ratio, it’s like a perpetuum mobile.

Or a plant. Feed it right, give it water and light, and it does alright.

Canadian cities in a quagmire?

December 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm | In affordable_housing, canada, cities, housing, justice, social_critique, street_life, vancouver | Comments Off on Canadian cities in a quagmire?

We’re experiencing an exceptional cold weather spell in southwestern British Columbia, and last night a 47-year old homeless woman died in Vancouver.  She burned to death, trying to keep warm with a live fire; the police think her blankets must have caught fire. The story is all over the news of course, including here: Woman’s body discovered in burning shopping cart.  Like so many others, she kept her possessions – and at night, herself – in a shopping cart.  The cart, enclosed by blankets, became her pyre.  Unlike many people who are homeless, she was also a drug addict and shelter-resistant (someone who refuses to use shelters).

Regardless of where you stand on the issues surrounding homelessness, shelters, affordable housing, and what to do about people who are mentally ill or drug addicted, there’s one thing that struck me in the news item.  It showed once again that Canadian cities don’t have the autonomy they need, and that they will continue to face unique problems because of this lack.

I’ve written several times that it’s wrong that cities in Canada are “creatures of the Provinces” that don’t have real powers while simultaneously the senior levels of government have downloaded (or offloaded, the terms are used interchangeably) more and more responsibilities to them.  Trying to solve homelessness with the limited abilities to raise money that cities in Canada have is a huge challenge.  Compound this with problems posed by people who are seriously mentally ill or drug addicted, and you get a quagmire.

Quagmire, as in beyond “mere” crisis.

Tracey, the woman who died, was approached three times by Vancouver police and asked if she would come inside into a shelter.  She refused, and got quite angry by the third try, which took place around 12:30 a.m. Dec.19.  By 4:30, she had set herself alight.  What’s the city to do?

Here’s what the article says:

[Gregor] Robertson [Vancouver’s newly-elected mayor] is considering other ways to remove mentally ill people from the streets in life and death circumstances.

“We can’t literally let people die on our streets that can’t take care of themselves,” he said. “That’s immoral in my mind.”

One of the options is a program called “Code Blue,” where outreach workers can forcibly bring people inside if they’re believe to suffer from mental illness. It’s used in New York when temperatures dip below -9 C.

“It is something to look at,” says Rev. Bruce Curtiss of Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission. “If someone is out there and not in a capacity for whatever reason.”

A final decision could not be made by the city and would rest with B.C.’s provincial government. There’s concern a Canadian version of Code Blue would be unconstitutional.

“The issue there really is ‘are we barred by the charter of rights and freedom from implementing that particular system or is there some other approach that our government could use to help someone like this individual?'” said B.C. Solicitor General John Van Dongen.

Yes, and while the B.C. Solicitor General studies the problem and the city consults with its lawyers, more people will die.

Remember that Vancouver, alone among Canada’s cities (at least in the West) has a Charter of its own, and therefore more autonomy than other Canadian cities.  (It’s a unique fluke that Vancouver has a charter, as far as I understand it. Lucky Vancouver.)

But even Vancouver is hog-tied, if not by the Province (of which, even with a Charter, it is still a “creature”), but also by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which seems to have been concocted at a heady time when all freedoms (especially in the abstract …sorry, do I sound jaundiced?) seemed like a great idea and no one considered that cities would be the refuge of people who are homeless – a difficult enough situation in itself – but who might also pose extra challenges if they are in addition mentally incapacitated or drug addicted to the point where they will simply die on the street unless forced to survive (by being sheltered).

Oh, and don’t forget: Canadian cities are supposed to “solve” all this downloaded misery with 8-cents from every dollar that Canadians pay in taxes, and with property and business taxes they collect from the folks in their municipality. They can’t float bonds and they can’t collect income or consumption taxes.

Quagmire.

Connect the dots: two articles by Miro Cernetig and Bob Ransford that should be read together

March 24, 2008 at 10:16 pm | In addiction, affordable_housing, canada, cities, crime, homelessness, housing, justice, leadership, local_not_global, social_critique, street_life, taxes, urbanism, vancouver, victoria | 1 Comment

The Vancouver Sun published two articles, nearly back-to-back, which make a lot of sense when read in conjunction: on March 22, we read Bob Ransford’s As cities become more complex, our taxes keep rising and on March 24 we read Milo Cernetig’s Approach to social woes a moral failure by all three main B.C. parties.

These two articles have to be comprehended together. One (Ransford’s) wants people to understand the economics of taxation that underlie municipal finance, while the other (Cernetig’s) wants people to understand how a certain kind of underfunding has produced the horrible social problems we see in our (BC) cities today. Cernetig references Vancouver, but Victoria has similar problems.

I have for some months now picked up on the criticisms of municipal infrastructure funding in Canada — even going so far as to publish a short piece on Vibrant Victoria on Dec.3/07, Victoria’s Choice: to be or not to be …is not the question. The gist of Ransford’s article elaborates on the theme I also addressed in my piece: cities (in my opinion, Canadian cities especially, although Ransford argues that it’s a Western/ First World global problem) are too dependent on single sources of income, primarily property taxes, while so-called senior levels of government (state or provincial, and federal) receive funding from many diverse sources of income: consumption taxes, income taxes, and so on. At the same time, cities are in the front line of having to provide services on every level.

This is lunacy, especially when you take into account the fact that cities generate most of a nation’s economic activity and wealth, and that they also will typically attract the largest populations of people dependent on what is collectively referred to as “services”: supported housing, addiction treatment, food banks, welfare, etc. Poor people come to cities because this is where the services are. Very often, they are in a city’s downtown, which is why you’ll find neighbourhoods in downtowns that become magnets for the visibly needy.

The problem is that these services are underfunded or even non-existent, some having once been funded by one of the two senior levels of government, but now having been off- or downloaded to municipalities.

And there we are, connecting the dots.

The Feds “downloaded” to the Provinces those services that used to be Federally-funded. The Provinces in turn have downloaded Provincially-funded services to the municipalities.

And, …well, the municipalities have no one to download to …except us. And that, in a nutshell, is my argument: citizens — people who live in cities — are shouldering the downloaded costs of all the stuff that all the other levels of government, including the municipalities, used to handle. Beggars on the streets; addicts shooting up in broad daylight; mentally ill people freaking out on corners; homeless people in every nook and cranny of public and private spaces; human feces on the sidewalks and in doorways; used needles in parks and on sidewalks; drug deals transacted openly on downtown streets… The list goes on.

The police refer to the mentally ill who openly use illegal drugs and defecate on the street and sleep in doorways as their “clients.” It seems to have gone by the board that the police shouldn’t be dealing with people on that end of the spectrum of social disorder in the first place — the police should be dealing with criminals and with law enforcement. When the people on that end of the spectrum engage in criminal activity — and they do, because they steal to stay alive and to feed their addictions — the police act like social workers …because that’s the role that has been downloaded to them, too.

Criminals exploit this.

My neighbours, who came home at 11pm on a recent weekend night to find that their basement door had been kicked in by thieves while they were away, thieves who robbed them of various items and who apparently fled just as the family returned home, had to wait for over 12 hours before the police could come over. And why was that? Perhaps they were too busy taking care of “clients”…

We — citizens — are the bottom of the food chain in this story. We — citizens — are the last link to off- or download to. We — citizens — are supposed to feel guilty if we don’t express or display the appropriate level of compassion toward the marginalized. But the citizen might ask herself, “Whatever happened to the idea that I pay my taxes, and that they pay for services intended to ameliorate these conditions?” The citizen still pays her taxes — and pays and pays and pays, if she lives in Canada — and the senior levels of government boast of surpluses. The municipalities, meanwhile, relying almost solely on the property taxes she and the many other citizens in the urban area pay, find themselves shouldering the cost of upgrading ancient infrastructure (sewage, roads, parks, recreation centres, etc.), plus the cost of “helping” the growing pool of service seekers.

But there are no provincial mental hospitals anymore, there is no affordable housing or supportive housing being built by the province or the feds, and all the damage that accrues from this out-casting has been downloaded to Joe and Jane Schmuck, i.e., you and me Citizen Jim and Citizen Jill.

That’s the dot.

Let me just present a couple of extract from the above-mentioned articles. Here’s Ransford:

Am I getting value for dollar for the property taxes I pay to local government? Politicians and bureaucrats at city hall would argue that I am getting more for my dollar than I ever have. Despite the fact that the number of employees at my city hall has grown faster than the rate of local population growth, the people that work there will tell you they are doing much more with fewer resources.

The fact is that cities across the country have become much more complex organizations than they were in the past and they have taken on more and more responsibilities. The federal and provincial governments have downloaded a long list of responsibilities on municipal governments. They have also stopped doing things that they once did as governments and the municipalities have stepped in and taken over where a need had to be met.

Social or non-market housing is a good example. Providing housing for the truly needy used to be almost the sole responsibility of the federal government. They started backing out of this area in the late 1980s and have next to no involvement today in funding what most are identifying is a desperate social need in our urban centres
(…)

The role of municipal governments has evolved. No longer do you look to your municipality merely to fix the potholes in the road in front of your house or to build and maintain the pipes that dispose of the sewage when you flush your toilet..

As Ransford points out (on page 2 of the article), a key problem here is aging populations:

The concept of a tax tied to the value of your home is beginning to make less practical sense with an aging urban population that will soon be dominated by retirees on fixed retirement incomes with all of their equity tied up in relatively expensive homes.

There’s only one kind of civic taxpayer and one source of civic revenue. There is a looming danger that taxpayer will soon no longer be able to fund the full cost of what it takes to run a city.

I would further add to Ransford’s excellent summing-up that Victoria’s troubles are uniquely compounded by our balkanized political system, which splits Victoria into many separate un-amalgamated municipalities (the Capital Regional District, which is all of Victoria, is 13 municipalities, each with its own mayor and council, fire chief, police department, and so on). At the same time, the City of Victoria holds the region’s downtown, the place where everyone comes for services — social services that range from food banks, charities, needle “exchanges,” and plain old week-end partying — many of which require policing and various levels of clean-up. Who pays? The City of Victoria, not the surrounding municipalities, which merely take advantage of what the City offers.

Let’s look at Milo Cernetig’s article now. He gets a gold star (in my book) for slamming all the BC provincial parties — too often and for too long, the problems we’re facing have been presented in partisan terms: it’s the BC Liberals’ fault (note to non-BC readers: the BC Liberals are sort of neo-conservative, and have little in common with the Federal Liberals); or it’s the NDP’s fault, and so on. Yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah.

Forget about it. That partisan shit has to stop, because it’s obvious that none of the parties have covered themselves in glory here, and that whole partisan shtick is old beyond words.

Here are some excerpts from Cernetig’s piece:

…here’s the fast-rewind of the amazing arc of policy blunders — given to us by a melange of Social Credit, New Democratic and Liberal governments — that I tried to explain.

First, imagine progressively shrinking the province’s major psychiatric hospital, Riverview, to save money. Then, in a cruel twist, offer no safe harbour for many of those psychiatric patients, who politicians told us would benefit from being “deinstitutionalized” and put back into society.

Instead, let large numbers of these truly desperate souls fend for themselves on our streets. Let them line up for a room in those bedbug-infested flophouses our health inspectors, for reasons that mystify, somehow allow to stay open. While we’re at it, we’ll also slow down the construction of new social housing, too, since it’s too expensive.

(…)
So now we’ve got all these lost souls begging and wandering the city’s downtown, often in a schizophrenic or crystal meth haze.

But we really haven’t done much about it. We’re not good at the tough job of distinguishing between vagrants (who should be moved on by the cops), or chronic criminals (who should be put in jail by judges) and the truly sick (who should be taken to shelters or hospitals by good beat cops, if we had enough of them).

Nope. We somehow got used to the sight of people sprawled on sidewalks and inside the doorways of the world’s “most livable” city.

There it is: another dot: We somehow got used to the sight of people sprawled on sidewalks and inside the doorways of the world’s “most livable” city.

The “somehow” in that sentence is “downloading.” We have been worn down by senior levels of government absenting themselves from the business of governing (a big piece of which includes providing services in exchange for all the money we fork over), and in the British tradition (within which we exist here), we have taken it uncomplainingly up the rear end, “muddling through” and accepting it all as if it were an inevitability.

That’s why we put up with the sight of what Cernetig describes, put up with open drug use, criminal transactions in plain daylight, and lunatics on our streets. In the British tradition, we are, after all, but subjects of these governments, not its master. Just as every level has downloaded — until there’s no one left to download to except to you and me, so every level absolves itself of accountability, because of course there’s always a higher level to defer to. In the last instance, the senior levels can defer to “the Crown,” a cruel joke referencing Canadian impotence.

The emancipation of Canadian cities is a project so inextricably tied to emancipation from old ways of tutelage and subjugation that it will amount to a revolution if it is ever to happen.

Unfortunately, since there has never been a Canadian revolution, I don’t hold out much hope for the emancipation / empowerment of Canadian cities. Perhaps — counter to my current pessimism — we’ll eventually strike some sort of paternalistic bargain with the “higher” levels of government after all. Since they hold the power already, they might grok the problem and step up, if only to maintain their hold.

At this point, I almost don’t care as long as the downloading stops.

Photograph by Ian Lindsay, from Milo Cernetig’s article.

The caption reads “A homeless person sleeps on a Cordova Street sidewalk in February. Figures show that investing in social housing would save B.C. $211 million annually.”

Northern Voice 2008 — what a blast!

February 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm | In conference, northernvoice, nv08, social_networking, vancouver | Comments Off on Northern Voice 2008 — what a blast!

This afternoon I returned home from Northern Voice 2008, the 4th annual incarnation of this event. It was the first time I attended, and I had a great time. Learned a lot, met some terrific people, and experienced a really positive geek vibe — if that makes sense. I’ll post more later — probably tomorrow? — but right now I’m too exhausted. As soon as we (spouse & I) got off the ferry, we phoned the kids at home, ascertained that most of the food was gone, stopped at the supermarket on the way home to ransom a cow’s worth of milk and the millions of pounds of additional food required by growing teenagers, continued on our way, fixed lunch, walked the dog, made dinner, and now it’s time to clean up the kitchen and then collapse into bed. This is what we domestic professionals call being “back in harness.” Ha.ha. The drill continues tomorrow, and so on until …well, just watch birds trying to fledge their young. It gives a whole new meaning to going ragged at the edges.

Except I don’t see the birds in actual harness, but then I guess mine is invisible, too.

I did do a stupid thing after getting home — I spent over two hours going through over 60 pages of photos posted to Flickr that were tagged with nv08 and northernvoice. My god, people get busy with their cameras! My eyeballs hurt.

More later, on the actual conference and the great people. But now it’s off to the scullery…

On the road to Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Madness, one sleeping bag at a time…

August 1, 2007 at 10:23 pm | In 2010_olympics, arts, canada, copywrong, social_critique, vancouver | 10 Comments

Marianne Lepa, publisher of Arts News Canada (see my blog post from July 21), wrote in today’s by-subscription newsletter about Kimberly Baker, an artist who recently graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in Vancouver.

It’s a story of the ham-fisted 2010 Olympics/ Vancouver Organizing Committee’s approach to “copyright” and marketing rights, and it should shock the hell out of any sane person. I’ll quote from Marianne’s email (which is based on Baker’s article in Common Ground):

For her graduation project, [Kimberly Baker] created a poster that depicts a homeless man in a sleeping bag with his shopping cart beside him. The image is reproduced five times and placed just so, each sleeping bag is coloured in five vibrant shades. The title of the poster is “Vancouver 2010”.

Imagine Baker’s surprise when the printer told her that “2010” has been trademarked by the Olympic Organizing Committee and she was breaking the law by using the date on her poster.

“Sure enough, an investigation showed that Canada had passed Bill C-47, the Olympic and Paralympics Marks Act, legislation that provides the Vancouver Olympic organizers with extreme power over the symbols and language linked with the Olympics,” she writes in a commentary on Common Ground, found in our Opinion section today.

She went ahead and exhibited the poster anyway. It garnered enough attention that it earned a Vancouver Sun review, but unlike the other four works reviewed by the Sun, Baker’s poster wasn’t given a photograph.

“Had the Vancouver Sun been so intimidated about liability issues pertaining to any formation of ‘Vancouver 2010’ ,” she wonders, “that they wouldn’t print the image?”

Appropriating objects from our culture is necessary, Baker argues, “relevant issues become visible to a broader, public audience, challenging the notions of political authority, as a result.”

After learning that she may find herself in an expensive and protracted court case if she displayed the poster, Baker instead sought permission from VANOC to use the poster. It was granted, but for only limited applications. She met with Colin Jarvis, VANOC’s manager of Commercial Rights Management.

“When I met with Mr. Jarvis, he was very accommodating and open to answering all my questions. He assured me that VANOC’s position is that they are not interested in litigation with artists and that artists have a right to critique.

“When discussing my posters, Jarvis said that VANOC would not have a problem with them. However, if put them up on bill boards across the Downtown Eastside, there would be a problem because that action would be considered more in the light of my creating a ‘campaign’, as opposed to my displaying a work of art. So how do I know where the threshold is before I cross the boundary into creating allegedly illegal art?”

A link to Appropriation Art, a coalition of art professionals concerned for the protection of the artist to appropriate cultural objects in face of stiffening copyright legislation, can be found in our Blue Column under Advocacy Links.

Readers and local people might remember the equally outrageous attempts by the VANOC to force the Olympia Restaurant, in operation for over 15 years in Vancouver, to change its name. According to VANOC, its use of the name “Olympia” as well as the 5 Olympic rings under the name — which the restaurant had been using for 15 years — was suddenly a violation of copyright. Commenting on the absurdity of it all, Denny Hatch wrote in November 2005:

…forcing Alvand to change the name of his long-established restaurant seems gratuitously nasty. It means not only changing the sign, but also the menus, napkins and brochures, as well as spending money for public and customer awareness.

Further, it renders useless his entry in all the listings of Vancouver restaurants on the Internet and in printed materials all over the world.

Plus, in five years the whole thing will be over.

It just blows me away that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association or the Canadian Civil Liberties Union or the B.C. Civil Liberties Association haven’t started a … well, a civil liberties fight over this. Are there too many of them, are they too scattered (a federal association, a federal union, a provincial association — sheesh, is this necessary? are they effective?)?

For more on the question of VANOC’s overstepping of trademark & copyright (copywrong) claims, see the March 29, 2007 Vancouver Sun article, The law says don’t try to make money using these ‘Olympic’ words, by Jeff Lee (it’s spread over 4 webpages). On the last page, Lee lists words that, according to VANOC, may not be used.

“May not be used”: christ, it sounds like some cheap scare tactic at Hogwarts, doesn’t it? Here’s the list:

  • See You in Vancouver
  • See You in Whistler
  • See You in Beijing
  • Let the Dreams Begin
  • Friend
  • Sea To Sky
  • Top
  • 2010
  • ’10
  • We’re Next
  • Road to Beijing
  • Driven by Nature
  • Road to Vancouver
  • Road to Whistler
  • Driven by Dreams
  • Celebrate the Impossible
  • Vancouver ’10
  • Vancouver 2-10
  • Vancouver 2’10
  • Gold Medal
  • Game Plan
  • 2000
  • 2002
  • ’00
  • ’02
  • Host Country
  • Bid Booster
  • Bid Champion
  • Beijing and Beyond
  • I’m Backing the Bid
  • It’s Our Time To Shine
  • For The Fire Within
  • Voldemort

Ok, ok, I made the last one up. But the rest? Even J.K. Rowling couldn’t come up with something as absurd as this… If you think I’m kidding, Lee spells it out:

Here [the list, above] are SOME of the words that are claimed as official marks by the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games, its predecessor Vancouver Bid Corp., the Canadian Olympic Committee and its predecessor Canadian Olympic Association. All are still in force. Vanoc has ownership of these official marks as the rights-holder for the 2010 Winter Games. The COC also has some of these words under other marketing rights they haven’t given up to Vanoc but share in common.

This is so wrong it doesn’t copy. This is so hugely wrong, it can only be laughed at. Except it isn’t funny.

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