Friday, January 22, 2010

Good news: Johns are just normal guys

"A new study out of Simon Fraser University concludes that people who buy sex are no more prone to violence than anyone else.

Fewer than two per cent of the 1,000 respondents who took part in SFU sociologist Chris Atchison's study reported ever having hit, hurt, raped or robbed the person they bought sex from."

That's the start of a column in the Times Colonist on the sex trade by Jody Paterson. Definitely worth a read here.

The comments are also great. The range of attitudes toward prostitution is enormous. And the generally civil tone is impressive.

Olympic fever? More like a collective headache

Until now, I've figured that once the Olympics started British Columbians would probably get caught up in the whole experience.

All the excitement would outweigh the doubts about costs and benefits. We'd cheer the athletes and be dazzled by the venues and maybe even head down to one of those Spirit Squares.

Now I'm not so sure.

It could still happen. I lived in Montreal in 1976 and wasn't much interested in the Games - until they started. Then I lined up for tickets to European handball, watched the bicycle racers flash by on the highway and was amazed at city streets crowded with thousands of people from around the world.

But that was then.

Now the Games are about ridiculous security and huge prices for tickets and protecting sponsors' commercial interests.

And they are arriving in a recession, as government cuts support for children and seniors.

The latest polls suggest British Columbians aren't keen. Angus Reid Public Opinion found that 73 per cent of Canadians thought the Games would be good for British Columbia. But only 50 per cent of British Columbians thought the Games would be good for the province. And almost one-third thought the impact would be "mostly negative."

British Columbians were twice as likely to support organized protests against the Games. Again, almost one-third supported the demonstrations against the Games.

An earlier Ekos poll suggested one reason. It found 48 per cent of Canadians thought too much taxpayers' money had been spent on the Games.

In B.C., 68 per cent thought they were paying too high a price.

There are political repercussions to all this. Federally, Stephen Harper is hoping that Canadians will forget about his decision to shut down Parliament and feel great about Canada's medals.

Provincially, Gordon Campbell and the Liberals have promised great benefits - billions and billions - to communities throughout the province.

People, based on the polls, aren't buying it. Which could make for a grumpy public at an inopportune time. The gold medal hockey game and the closing ceremonies will be held Feb. 28, a Sunday about five weeks away. And two days later, the provincial government will present a very nasty budget.

The government limited most spending in its September "update" budget.

But the big cuts start this year. Spending reductions are planned in 13 of 20 ministries.

Education spending is slated to go up less than one per cent, Support for children and families is frozen. Agencies and non-profits in communities across B.C. are being told provincial funding is being cut or eliminated.

And while the health budget is to rise 4.7 per cent, the actual increase will be $216 million less than it was this year. (And cuts could be deeper than planned, based on the gloomy tone being taken by Finance Minister Colin Hansen.)

The nature of British Columbia society is being changed significantly and the role of government rewritten.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is a bad thing that the change is being made by stealth, without public support or even discussion.

Campbell denied the need for any change in the election campaign. B.C. would run a small deficit and wouldn't cut health or education services, he promised. But the deficit went from $495 million to $2.8 billion. And now the cuts are coming.

The Games were supposed to make it a little easier for people to take the cuts. Optimism about better times ahead, pride about our role and all that.

It doesn't look that way right now. Instead, they might make people more riled about all that Olympic spending followed immediately by cuts to services.

I hope we get into the Games. We've spent the money; why not enjoy the party, be good hosts, hope governments make the most of the economic opportunity and sort things out once the athletes have gone home.

Footnote: Perhaps part of the problem is that there was so little real public discussion about the Games bid. Then-premier Glen Clark set it all in motion on May 1, 1998, committing $150,000 to an effort to win the right to be the Canadian bidder. The process has just rolled on since then.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lots of words, little action on family violence

The government's lame response to domestic violence this week offered two lessons.

First, despite all the rhetoric about considering the issue of critical importance, it's not a priority.

Second, the spending constraints are so tight right now that even supposedly important issues can't win anything beyond a token funding commitment.

Solicitor General Kash Heed promised action on domestic violence last year, after a coroner's inquiry heard evidence of stumbles, miscommunication and policy shortcomings that led to five deaths in Oak Bay. Peter Lee killed his son, spouse and her parents before taking his own life.

The press release this week said Heed was "taking immediate action to protect victims of domestic violence." It was headlined "Domestic violence action plan launched."

But there wasn't much action. The government will provide some $25,000 and push for the creation of a domestic violence unit in the capital region. That's useful, but Victoria police urged the measure in 2007, in the weeks after the deaths. That's hardly "immediate action."

Heed promised to "establish a uniform policy" for domestic violence investigations. It's surprising that was not already in place and more surprising that work is only starting now.

And he said the government will "take steps" to ensure domestic violence cases are reported properly in police databases so service providers with access to the files will have the information. Again, surely that should have been done years ago.

As well, Heed promised studies.

The coroner's service will review all the domestic violence deaths since 1994 - likely about 150 - to see what can be learned.

The Solicitor General's Ministry will work on a checklist of factors that might indicate a domestic violence suspect is at high risk of causing harm. It will also come up with a standard set of bail conditions for high-risk offenders.

And a committee with representatives from several ministries will "develop cross-agency domestic violence policies" that set out roles of everyone involved.

All very nice.

But five people, including a little boy, died in September 2007. Peter Lee killed them.

Within weeks, it was clear that the tragedy might have been prevented. The system for dealing with domestic violence was inadequate in a number of fundamental ways.

By last September, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond had completed her review and made "urgent" recommendations for action. (Four months later, the Ministry of Children and Families has not even responded to the report.)

And in December the inquest jury made 14 recommendations aimed at preventing similar cases and improving support and protection for victims.

The government's response - including this week's announcements by Heed - failed to address at least half of the recommendations.

No government is going to prevent every case of family violence. People do bad things.

But that's not what this is about.

These deaths were preventable. And the failures and breakdowns weren't the result of human error or a one-off series of unfortunate events. The system for dealing with domestic violence is deeply flawed.

Lee's wife, Sunny Park, had warned police that he would kill her and her son after he crashed their car into a tree in what she said was an effort to hurt or kill her. She described past abuse. Lee had a history of violence; police had urged that he not be released on bail. But he was.

Park, a Korean immigrant with limited English skills, received no effective help or support. Measures to help keep her safe weren't in place.

And they all died.

Concerns about the province's inadequate programs to deal with domestic violence have been expressed for years.

And while the government has expressed great sympathy for victims, when faced with the opportunity to make changes, it failed to act.

Five deaths, two reports and Heed came up with $25,000, promises of future policy changes and studies.

It's not much of a legacy for Christian Lee, just six years old when he was stabbed to death.

Footnote: Why the inaction? At the inquest, Robert Gillen, an assistant deputy minister in the Attorney General's Ministry, testified the government could do a better job of keeping people safe. But domestic violence is not a funding priority, he said. "There's no sense pretending we can afford a Cadillac when we're lucky to get a used Ford," he told the jury.