Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We too walk past those who need our help

Two-year-old Wang Yue wanders into a Guangdong street and is knocked down by a van that speeds on. Eighteen people pass here as she lies in the street without stopping to help. She cries, laying in her own blood. At last, a peasant woman picks her up off the street. She died Friday.
The horrible scene, captured on closed-circuit TV and seen by millions, has sparked a global discussion. Why are people in today’s China so indifferent to a child in pain, crying, bloody, in the street? How can they turn away from suffering? Has the rush for economic success drained people of humanity?
Last week in B.C., John Gaffney finally got out of hospital, after five months. He wasn’t sick. Community Living B.C. didn’t want to pay for a group home for Gaffney, who is 46 and has Down syndrome and dementia. His parents didn’t think he would be safe in the home share CLBC proposed. So he stayed in hospital. (That wouldn’t happen to someone without a disability.)
Gaffney is a symbol. It’s clear that CLBC has lost its way. The focus has shifted from supporting adults with mental handicaps in living full lives, to dealing with “urgent health and safety needs,” as the corporation said in seeking more funding. The government has shuffled ministers, fired the CEO and offered a series of changing stories about what’s going on.
But until last week, no one in government acknowledged the people being forced from group homes they had shared for years, or the clients who lost every support when they turned 19.
They walked around those people.
With good excuses, I’m sure. Deficits and finite resources and other priorities. Some of the people who walked and rode past Wang Yue probably had good excuses too.
Then Liberal MLAs Randy Hawes and John Van Dongen joined families and advocates and the opposition in saying the government was failing people who really needed support. But the indifference to their plight lasted at least a year, as threats to health and safety and quality of life grew.
Last week in B.C., the missing women’s inquiry was getting underway in Vancouver. The first witnesses were testifying about how Robert Pickton could kill women for years without being apprehended.
There are lots of reasons. But fundamentally, Pickton and many others could prey on the women because we — governments, police and most of us — choose to make it easy. We walked around them, as people in that Guangdong market walked around Wang Yue’s broken body.
Consider the evidence in just the first few days of inquiry. A majority of Vancouver street-level sex trade workers reported suffering beatings, rape and other violence, testified Kate Shannon, a public health researcher and a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of B.C. Most never reported the attacks to police, because if they did officers would sometimes pick up them late at night, detain them and then drop off in some distant part of the city to find their own way home. Others feared harassment, arrest or theft by officers.
The desire to avoid police also meant workers took greater risks, like getting into a car without assessing the danger or ignoring lists of dangerous potential clients.
John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminology professor who researches prostitution, said public and police pressure forced sex workers into darker and more dangerous neighbourhoods, where they were easier prey.
Catherine Astin, a nurse who worked on the Downtown Eastside, said she and colleagues noticed women were disappearing. But they didn’t go to the police.
Police and frontline workers shouldn’t be singled out.
Prostitution is legal in Canada. But the government, on our behalf, has passed laws that increase the danger for workers. Communication for the purposes of prostitution is illegal, forcing women into the shadows and preventing them from screening clients.
Living off the avails of prostitution is illegal, so women cannot band together in a safe location and hire their own security.
Everyone knew those laws, and the way they were being selectively enforced, put women at risk, led to them being beaten and killed. No one cared enough to do anything about it. Lowman testified predators found it easy to justify violence against people that society had signalled were disposable.
Maybe we wouldn’t walk past a child lying in the street. But we’re certainly prepared to turn away from others whose suffering is just as real.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cover-up fears as taxpayers pay $30 million to mining company

The provincial government’s $30-million payout to Boss Power Corp. stinks.
Taxpayers are paying compensation to the company because the government bungled its ban on uranium mining
The last-minute settlement suggests the government paid a premium so damaging evidence wouldn’t be heard in court.
And there is every reason to believe politicians ordered government managers to break the law and penalized a manager who tried to do the right thing.
Boss Power had the rights to the Blizzard claim, a uranium deposit about 50 kms southeast of Kelowna. The company could expect fierce opposition to any mine, but a seven-year moratorium on uranium mining lapsed in 1987. The company planned to press on with the project.
In 2007, Kevin Krueger, then the junior minister mines, confirmed the government had no policy or regulations prohibiting uranium development, although he acknowledged public opposition.
In 2008, that changed. The government issued a news released headlined “Government confirms position on uranium development.”
It set out a new approach. Uranium mining wasn’t part of the province’s plans, Krueger said.
Boss Power sued. The company had staked its claim, spent money on developing the deposits and said it had been encouraged by the government.
The ban took away its rights and the government should pay compensation, the company said.
The government’s statement of defence was revealing. It said the ban only applied to new projects. Boss was free to go ahead.
But 10 months later, the government brought a blanket, retroactive ban. The lawsuit went ahead.
Meanwhile, the government, according to the its own court filings, was breaking the law.
Boss Power applied in 2008, before the ban, to do exploratory work on its claim. The law requires the chief inspector of mines, then Doug Sweeney, to assess the application on its merits.
But the then-deputy minister, Greg Reimer, and assistant deputy minister John Cavanagh ordered Sweeney to ignore the application. They had asked the Attorney General’s Ministry for an opinion on whether it was legal.
It wasn’t, they were told, according to the government’s admissions in the legal case.
Then they repeated the order that Sweeney not fulfill his statutory duty.
Sweeney had legal and ethical concerns. He was relieved of his responsibilities for the file, and the marching orders went to more compliant officials. Sweeney ultimately left government, and says his family, career and reputation were damaged by the affair. (Cavanagh disputes the accuracy of the government’s admissions.)
These facts emerged as Boss Power’s case moved through the courts.
When Boss found out what had happened behind the scenes, it added a charge of “misfeasance of public office” to the lawsuit.
Basically, that alleged the government abused its power, which would givethe company a claim to additional compensation.
All this was set to come out in court if the case went ahead. The officials would have testified, and had to answer questions about whether politicians ordered them to break the law.
Until the government came up with $30 million of your money, plus more to cover Boss Power’s legal costs, to end the case.
Which inevitably brings to mind the decision to cover $6 million in legal costs for Dave Basi and Bob Virk to head off the revelation of potentially damaging evidence in that case.
The NDP raised the issue in question period Monday, but got no answers.
So we don’t know who gave the order to ignore the company’s application, or why the Attorney General Ministry’s legal opinion was ignored. We don’t know how much the settlement costs rose because of the government’s abuse of power.
We do know that a government that can’t find money to meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities can come up with $30 million to keep potentially damaging evidence from being heard in court.
Footnote: The government issued a news release on the settlement late on Oct. 19, the day the shipbuilding contracts were dominating the news. If it was an attempt to hide the news, it failed miserably.
The other interesting question is whether this would be an issue, or if there would be ban, if the deposits were in the north, not the Okanagan.