Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kamloops

Sunday, July 15, 2007

That Dorothy was right. There really is no place like home.

After spending 10 days in Ontario — two in Toronto, apparently the true centre of the universe in many a mind, and eight in London — it was so good to feel those plane tires touch down out at Fulton Field.

There are so many reasons Kamloops is a great place to live.

Ontario has my older kids, my grandson, some very dear friends — and yes, about 40 years’ worth of memories — but Kamloops has got everything beat.

Consider these:

I went to the University of Western Ontario to visit some friends there. Put a looney in the parking meter. Got 12 minutes.

Put another looney in. That took the time to 24 minutes.

It ended up costing $5 for slightly more than an hour to fit in a visit and quick turn around the old campus.

Went downtown for lunch with that friend from campus. We had to park about three blocks away from our destination, and walk. Got to the street and the cars just kept on whizzing by.

I know we were about to jaywalk, but heck, in Kamloops, cars stop for pedestrians waiting to cross the road just about anywhere.

In Kamloops, drivers don’t use turn signals. Now I realize many of you take umbrage at that statement, but the truth is you don’t.

In London — and moreso in Toronto — drivers don’t pay any attention to a single traffic indicator.

Red light? In Ontario, it apparently means speed up and run it.

Yellow light? Time to go very quickly and make sure there’s a jam of vehicles blocking every road.

Humidity — I had forgotten how humid it is there. We get heat here but it’s not the kind that makes you feel like you should carry a towel everywhere — if you dare to even go out of the house.

People are, for the most part, polite here in Kamloops. When my eldest son moved here a few years ago, he came home one day and said he couldn’t take it. People are too nice, he exclaimed, nothing like back home.

And he’s right. I bump into someone, I apologize.

We all pretty much do that. I can’t count the number of times I was almost bowled over in Ontario by people who were headed somewhere very quickly and determinedly.

Actually, they walked much the way they drove: Hurry up and wait, don’t give an inch and yell at anyone who gets in your way.

When I lived in London, the market downtown was a true farmers’ market. The same families were there with their wares for sale. You could wander around leisurely choosing produce, some handmade items and visit the neatest pet store in town.

The market now is upscale, trendy, fast, and filled with yuppie-food-to-be-nuked-quickly. The old farm families are nowhere to be seen. It’s crowded. Everyone was rushing. There were wrought-iron tables for two placed throughout and along the edge of the building were several restaurants and wine bars.

And not a fresh tomato to be seen, although I did find a place to buy a potato focaccia rosemary loaf of bread.

The downtown area itself is not even a shred of what it used to be. If anything, it looks like some of the rougher parts of Toronto and Vancouver. There was nothing along either side of the street that was interesting enough to make me stop. No Fratelli’s. Nothing at all like Mainstreet Clothing. No Eyes International. No Lavender Lingerie. Nothing at all like our own boutiquey, user-friendly downtown area.

City Lights Bookstore, the business that gave B.C.’s prince of pot Marc Emery an early boost into entrepreneurship, is still there though and still pretty much the way Marc left it decades ago.

Sure, it used to be home. And there was a time much earlier in my life when I couldn’t wait to get back to it.

But it’s not home now. It’s where some of my family lives, and where I’ll likely return to spoil them all and play with the grandson.

But it’s not Kamloops. This is a gem of a city, something we don’t realize until those wheels touch down on the runway.

Is it about public safety? Or about public persona?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

With the city putting a concerted effort into community safety, it’s time to ask the local RCMP some pointed questions.

First, what possible reason could there have been for such an overblown arrest of three people in the parking lot at Harold’s Restaurant?

And don’t call it a takedown.

Don’t buy into the inflammatory language the local RCMP use to justify some of their actions.

It’s like the edict they must never be photographed without their hats on — it’s all propaganda.

However, it’s probably instructive to take a look at the news release the local detachment issued about this arrest: “The Kamloops RCMP Detachment with the assistance of the emergency response team and the police helicopter executed a ‘high risk’ arrest of an adult male in the parking lot of Harold’s Restaurant . . . The arrest of the male, who is well known to police, is part of the ongoing investigation into the brazen daylight shooting that occurred on June 28... The investigation is far from being over at this point.”

Wow. I feel safe.

Why was this considered a “high-risk” arrest? Yes, the man taken into custody has been charged with attempted murder, but we don’t classify every murder attempt as requiring a “high-risk” arrest.

Why were almost two dozen officers required to take into custody one very bad dude and a couple of women (at least one of whom is facing prostitution-related charges) accompanying him?

Aren’t most daylight shootings “brazen?” And “the investigation is far from being over” — what does that mean?

Did the police even stop to think how terrified the customers would be in the restaurant — one that naturally attracts families — when all those concussion grenades started going off during this “high-risk” arrest? Did they apologize to the people who literally hit the floor, terrified?

Or was this just another one of what appear to be headline-grabbing moves by the police to show they’re tough on crime (also referred to as doing their job?)

Next, what was with that roust of sex-trade workers on the North Shore? Could it have been done in a manner that was less clear?

It’s a no-go zone. No, it’s a maybe-you-can-go zone. Then it’s a no-go zone and women are being rearrested for going there. Then it’s a you-can-go-there-for-treatment zone. What is it? Go or no-go? And what’s the point?

Does this not just move the women elsewhere?

The police don’t target the johns — but volunteer members of the safety patrol in that area don’t have any trouble identifying them, confronting them, taking down their identifying information and making them move on.

I’m told members of the RCMP have told city officials they learned from this high-profile roust and will do it better in the future.

One can only hope.

Through my work, I’ve talked to far too many people who have claimed they were mistreated by the local police. While I’m no so naive as to believe them all, some of them are highly credible people who are not “known to police.”

They’re very persuasive and, given what we’ve been learning from the inquest in Houston, it’s cause for concern about the mentality affecting police everywhere.

I raise these issues not because I’m some left-wing fanatic who is always dumping on the police.

Rather, it’s because, during a recent meeting with many city stakeholders, and the police, all talking about community safety, the group was told that the visibility of our local constabulary might start to diminish for a while.

Some calls for help might not warrant the attention of an officer for a significant period of time, if they’re deemed to not be emergencies. Instead, the local police are going to be focussing more on the undercover, the big scores, the “hot spots.”

They’re going to go for the big headlines, the “we’re tough on crime” moments, all the while ignoring that it’s the petty nuisance crimes most of us are subjected to, and they’re just as invasive and discomforting as the big crimes. In some ways, they’re more disturbing because they are the ones that really affect us.

I know the police provide a valuable service, one we must have. It’s not a job I’d want to do. But I worry when they start to alternate between secrecy and overblown.

And that’s what they seem to be doing these days.

Will we win gold in attracting homeless?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

News flash! The tall foreheads in the city of Vancouver — you know, the ones who really, really, really wanted to land the Olympics for 2010 — have started to realize they might not be able to rid the streets of those darn homeless people.

And boy, they want them gone when the world — and all that media — locks its eyes on the city for the duration of the event.

In fact, if there’s one good thing about Vancouver holding the Olympics, it’s that its government, and the provincial one above it, are at least trying to do something to alleviate the incomprehensible situation of the homeless and marginalized in one of this nation’s largest, most progressive cities.

Of course, they somehow have to come up with 3,200 new units of housing in the next four years.

That’s 800 a year, or 15 new units a week.

Anyone want to give odds on that happening?

It must be noted that, according to its own administrative report, issued June 28 by the City of Vancouver, since the city was awarded the games in 2003, only 176 low-income units for singles have been created.

Earlier this month, the city’s Community Services housing centre noted it was still meeting to come up with a way to integrate supportive housing into various neighbourhoods successfully.

Also key to the goal of eliminating homelessness before that torch is lit on Feb 12, 2010, is to see welfare rates increasing, but there’s been no sign from our own Claude Richmond, — the minister who can make that kind of a recommendation — doing so any time soon.

No one should be surprised by all of this, though, because, historically, the Olympic Games displace people, according to the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, a Geneva, Switzerland-based think tank.

In fact, the group reports, during the past 20 years, the Olympics have displaced more than two million people.

It’s expected 1.5 million will be displaced when Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Games.

The report says that in the run-up to 2010, Vancouver has lost 700 low-income housing units through conversion to tourist accommodations.

So where do you think many of these people will go? The road out of town leads to plenty of places, but most are still in that hallowed area that will either host or bask in the glory of the Olympics.

Which puts Kamloops on the map.

Ask anyone in the social-service sector here where the homeless will head when the spectacle they call the Olympics begins, and they’ll all tell you a large portion will come here. This won’t be during the summer months, when many could at least find a hunk of riverbank to lay claim to — until the local police roust them out — but in February, when they’ll be looking for housing, for places to eat, for ways to buy their drugs, for money to buy those drugs.

And I wonder if the city will be ready for it, or if our own tall foreheads are buying into the myth that the legacy of 2010 in Vancouver will be a new age for the homeless.

If they are, they’re deluding themselves and putting the rest of the city at risk.

If they’re not meeting now to begin the work that will be involved in dealing with this influx, there’s no way they’ll be ready to handle it.

Social-service agencies will be stretched to the limit.

Crime is bound to increase — and it will be that annoying crime that affects us all, the stolen cars, the break-ins at home, the personal goods that will be ripped off to be pawned or sold for some quick cash.

If the city thought it had a panhandler problem before, I can’t wait to see how it reacts to panhandling circa 2010.

The people behind the Vancouver Olympics are right about one thing: It’s time to do something about homelessness in this province.

It would just be nice to see all levels of government putting as much money and effort into winning that race as it is in achieving Olympic gold.