Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Sex workers after Pickton, and something I wish the media would quit doing

Another excellent story by Sarah Petrescu in the Times Colonist on cuts to services for sex workers in Victoria, despite all the findings of the Pickton Inquiry.
It’s worth reading. 
PEERS, which provides a range of outreach and other services to sex workers and those exiting the trade, has been forced to slash services and close a daytime drop-in centre and employment readiness programs. 
The problem is that the program was largely funded under a provincial government employment contract. The government wanted fewer contracts, with more controls, so it opted to award the main job program contracts to a few big players, which in turn subcontract with organizations like PEERS.
But the one-size-fits-all contract simply doesn’t work for groups - like sex workers - who need more than a brush-up on resumé writing before they’re ready to get a job. More support, more flexibility are needed. But the results are worth it, for the clients and the community.  (Disclosure: My partner was PEERS’ Executive director for three years.)
So what does the government say?
The Times Colonist story included this paragraph.
In a statement Tuesday, Social Development Minister Don McRae said sex workers would still have access to employment programs. “PEERS was a sub-contractor of the contracted service providers in Victoria, who have confirmed that there will be no disruption to services as a result of PEERS withdrawing its employment-related programs,” McRae said. He did not explain how such services would be provided.”
That’s false. PEERS programs are being cut and disrupted. Other agencies are not ready and able to provide job training to groups with challenges.
Politicians, corporations, individuals - they’re all being coached to avoid interviews, where they might have top answer questions, and issue written statements. 
The statements are self-serving, uninformative and deny the public real answers.
And tactic only works because the media plays along. 
The solution is simple. The media should just say no when offered an email response and report the government or organization would not provide the minister or anyone to answer questions. (If additional email answers are needed to provide technical information or detail, that's fine.)
McRae is the minister responsible, and taxpayers pay him some $150,000 a year to do the job. When there is a matter of public interest, he should be willing to answer questions and justify the government’s approach.
Come on media. Just say no to written non-answers.

Victoria police were quoted in the story.
"Officers might feel the effects of PEERS’s reductions in service, “as the [sex] workers may not be as well-informed, cared for and supported, potentially leaving them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse,” said Det. Sgt. Todd Wellman, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit.
He said PEERS acts as a conduit between sex trade workers and police, building a sense of trust. “With them, we’ve helped build a safe place for sex trade workers to report crimes.”
In a recent example, police knew that a sex trade worker, who was the victim of an aggravated assault, was hesitant to report it. PEERS encouraged the woman to come forward.
“PEERS supported the worker through the process and we actually conducted our interview at PEERS, whereas we would likely not have obtained a statement from the victim [otherwise] as she was not comfortable attending the police station,” Wellman said."
So there'a s a question for McRae. Police believe the cuts increase the risk of exploitation and abuse.
Why does McRae believe they are wrong?

Monday, September 02, 2013

The luxury of turning on a tap and getting clear, cold water

Safely back in Copan Ruinas after two weeks in Canada and the northwest U.S., and still thinking about differences between the countries.
Life is generally better in North America. Schools, health care, government, income, equality - everything works better, I told anyone in the north who asked. 
But then I usually warned them, too loudly, that they had to fight to make sure things stayed that way. 
Practically, water figured in two of the best things about being back in Canada. I could stick a glass under any tap and drink clean water, impossible in Honduras.
And I could flush toilet paper away, instead of placing tidily folded - I think of it as bathroom origami - offerings in a plastic bag, to be bundled up for garbage day.
Access to drinkable water is important. We buy bottled water, five gallons for $1, which I carry back from the little farm supply store on the next block. (So far, I estimate that I have lugged a little more than three tonnes of water into the house.) 
But most people can’t afford water, or can’t get the bottles up the trails into their villages. Many drink iffy water, accepting the various sicknesses that brings. (Another reason that about 29 per cent of Honduran children under five are stunted - significantly too short for their age.)
Partly, of course, that’s because Honduras is just too poor and the government too broke to pay for working water systems. Why it’s so poor, and the government so broke, is a whole other question. Corruption, inefficiency, tax evasion, dependency, failed policies - you can make a long list of problems. (Foreigners do help with water projects, especially in rural communities. But 50 per cent fail within five years, according to an engineer speaking at the Conference on Honduras last year.)
Almost anyone in Canada can turn on a tap and get drinkable water because we decided to make that a priority. We decided to tax people based on what they could pay, hire competent staff and build water systems that served everyone. (Almost everyone - First Nations’ communities have dismal water services, and there are hundreds of B.C. communities on boil-water advisories at any time.)
People pay for water, but it’s affordable and available in their homes.
Not everyone in Canada thinks that approach is right. The less-government crew - or at least the extremists - would argue that the whole process of supplying water should be left to the private sector and the market. Those who can pay will get water. Those who can’t.... I suppose they will develop an understanding of life in Honduras.