Cheers and jeers to go around for 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007

It’s that time of the year when reporters and editors like to make lists.

You’ll see the Top 10 news stories, photos, the best cartoons — it’s not only the season for gift and resolution lists.

And this was going to be a list at first, one with the winners and losers of 2007 in Kamloops, but that just seems so arbitrary.

Because, you see, some people were both winners and losers.

So, instead, and in the spirit of the season — both days past and the days to come — herewith some cheers and jeers.

And the biggest hip-hip-hooray has to go to Mayor Terry Lake for surviving yet another year of potshots from his predecessor while making some pretty smart decisions and setting a tone for council that we haven’t seen for a while.

Some people might feel he deserves some jeers for his tough stand on water meters, but, from my perspective, it’s cheering all the way to finally have a mayor willing to do what we elected him to do and make a decision, rather than hiding behind a referendum.

And, while we’re passing out the cheers, hooray for Coun. Peter Milobar, too, for taking that extra step and saying the hybrid program council copped out and went for doesn’t go far enough.

Cheers to Coun. Tina Lange for showing that she may be a rookie, but she’s not afraid to speak out and speak up on issues that matter. While she’s a super advocate for the business sector, the moment she finally started to fit into her political shoes came when Lake cajoled her to speak before hundreds demonstrating in front of city hall against federal child-care cuts.

Lange spoke from her heart — and from her own life experience — and it was a moving moment.

However, Lange gets some jeers for that lame-brained statement that the core of Kamloops is on the South Shore. Not smart. Really dumb. There are people on the North Shore just looking for any reason to whip up the waves that divide this town into two — and that was one of them.

Cheers to our MP, Betty Hinton, for flying into Fulton Field and bringing with her millions of dollars for the airport expansion.

But jeers to Hinton’s inability to speak for herself on issues. If we’d wanted a parrot on election day, we would have gone to Petland and bought our own Stevie.

However, cheers to her decision to put her health first and step down from office when — please, someone tell me, when? — the next federal election is held.

Hinton’s family has always been her anchor, and I’m sure they’re going to enjoy having mom and grandma around with them.

Cheers to MLA Kevin Krueger for no reason other than he’s a great guy who at least speaks out and stands up for what he believes in. And, unlike some politicians in town, Krueger has never once declined to comment because he has disagreed with something I wrote about him.

He understands the game.

Cheers to the Blazers for finally dumping their prima dona, Keaton Ellerby, a boy with more talent than team spirit, it seems.

And cheers to Tom Gaglardi for putting his money where his mouth was, and buying the team.

Now, if only he could figure out how to get them to win again.

But maybe the Blazers’ playbook is with the bylaws of the Kamloops Minor Hockey Association, somewhere off in the netherworld, never to be referred to again.

Need we say any more about this group?

But mega-cheers to Ladd and Monica Maloski. In fact, make it a wave of applause.

Cheers to School District 73 for showing the creativity to go with the idea of schools of choice and mobile trailers to ensure everyone gets the education they want.

Arts, science, trades— some may call it elitist education, but if it helps make this world a better place for my kids and grandchild, I’m all for it.

Finally, cheers to everyone one of you out there who said a prayer, held out a hand, shed a tear for Zofia Cisowski and her late son, Robert Dziekanski.

You did good and showed that Kamloops looks after its own.

And that’s what it’s all about.

We need more Joey Jacks in this world

Friday, December 21, 2007

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Joey Jack has made me smile.

He makes me smile frequently whenever I see one of his posters that proclaim "War is Over — If You Want It. Happy Christmas from John & Yoko.”

Joey got the inspiration from a website that had the poster and encouraged people to print and display it throughout the holiday season.

They’re simple posters, black on white.

Their message is simple, too.

He’s made hundreds of them and they’re popping up on hydro poles, telephone poles, signposts, store windows, places you might not expect.

And it makes me smile for so many reasons.

First, it is satisfying to know the next generation still harbours the dreams that one day, there might actually be peace in someone’s lifetime.

It’s probably not going to be mine, but maybe my children might some day know a world without war

And if not then, perhaps my grandchildren.

Joey’s signs make me believe that could come true.

His signs make me smile because they transport me back to my own younger years, when we knew in our hearts that war is wrong — something many hearts don’t seem to realize now, especially in Ottawa — and that all it took was love.

Corny? Yup.

But back then, it was our theme song.

Joey’s signs make me smile because they remind me of all the incredible music that came from the mind of John Lennon.

More than the schmaltzy Do They Know It’s Christmas, it was Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War Is Over) song that resonated at the time and continues to do so today.

And every time I see one of Joey’s signs, all those memories and emotions and beliefs come tumbling back.

So for people — including some I consider to be friends — to decry Joey’s signs as littering is unbelievable.

Perhaps, to continue the Lennonisms, one could call it unimaginable.

Every day of every week of every year, it seems like these sign, hydro and telephone poles are being plastered with gaudy, often illegible, posters advertising this concert or that show or some other event that has a limited — if, indeed, existent — audience.

There’s never been an outcry in the media — at least that I can remember — excoriating these poster posters to stop the littering and clean up.

In fact, many of these signs remain in tatters, held on by super-industrial-style tape, apparently, until the Kamloops winds finally remove the last vestiges of them.

But poor Joey puts up a truly universal thought and he’s condemned, even before anyone bothers to ask if he plans to take them down once the season has finished.

(Which, by the way, Joey says he has always planned to do.)

Joey was told by one media outlet that he should respect the city and keep things tidy.

And that makes me smile, too, at the kind of thinking that would view the enthusiasm of a young man who wanted to bring some thoughts of peace to his community could be criticized for not keeping the city tidy.

If we’re going to talk tidy, let’s make everyone take down their posters within a time frame.

Let’s get the litter picked up at Riverside Park after all those events it hosts.

Let’s deal with the needle detritus found in many back alleys and roadways.

Let’s put out a hand to someone who needs uplifting.

It’s Christmas time, for heaven’s sake.

For some, it’s Hannukah. For others, it’s Kwanza, For Muslims, it’s the time of the hajj and its finale, Eid al-Adha.

Whatever your belief, it’s a time we think of peace.

And that means wishing war was really over.

This mom wishes boys wouldn’t always ‘be boys’

Friday, December 14, 2007

Benjamin Garrison Sprague was found dead last weekend in his fraternity house.

On Sunday morning, after a night of partying with him at a nearby house, Benjamin’s buddies awoke to find their friend’s body on a futon, still, cold — and polluted with alcohol.

Now I don’t know Benjamin, never would ever cross his path, given he lived in South Carolina, but his death upset me.

Benjamin was 18 — obviously old enough to know better but still young enough to want to party hearty till the break of dawn.

His grandfather was a state senator.

His mom and dad, Joel and Gaye Sprague, run their own engineering firm and Benjamin, a freshman, was studying the same discipline at Clemson University, following in his parents’ footsteps.

He played soccer on his high school team and centre for its football team.

A family friend said Benjamin was “the hub and the player that could pick the team up if they were down. He loved life.”

And now he’s dead.

He drank himself to a much-too-early grave.

After promising not to wade into the issue of underage drinking, to let it go and hope it just falls off the radar of other media, it’s impossible now.

Because of Benjamin.

And because of my own two boys, who once played minor hockey — thankfully, not in Kamloops.

I’m in a minority here at the office, it seems.

I just can’t buy the “boys will be boys” explanation others are giving for the fact a young hockey player got drunk at the home of the man everyone expects to set the tone for minor hockey in this city.

Let’s not get sidetracked by what the boy’s blood-alcohol level really was.

He was puking drunk.

I’ve been that way once, many years ago, as have many other Kamloopsians — and we know how that feels and how we got that way.

We felt like hell the next day and knew what we had done was wrong.

So why can’t we see that this situation is wrong as well?

I’ve debated this with the boss, the boss’s boss, others who share my little corner of the work world and it’s so obvious they don’t understand why I feel this way.

It’s interesting, though, that a co-worker mentioned his dad agrees it’s a “get over it” issue while his mom is truly dismayed at the lack of supervision provided at the home of Kamloops Minor Hockey Association president Stan Burton when his son and other hockey players got together to party.

I’m with her.

Because I’m a mom.

I’m a mom who has been at the rink at 5 a.m., freezing but proudly watching my guys out there on the ice, practising what is apparently the greatest sport in the country.

I’m a mom who has also been up at 11 p.m., at another rink, watching my guys play the game I just don’t get and haven’t since Bobby Orr hung up his skates.

I’m a mom who wants to know where her children are going if they go out with buddies — yes, even when they were teenagers.

And if they went to parties, I wanted assurances a parent would be present to monitor what happened.

Because I am a mom.

Not naive, but ever-hopeful I can continue to protect my kids from the evils of the world as long as I have to.

Gaye Sprague is likely wishing today she could have protected her son a bit longer.

She’s probably wondering what she might have done wrong, what she could have changed, how she could have kept the evils away for one more day from her not-quite-a-man.

The party at Burton’s house didn’t result in a dead athlete.

But because we’re moms, we always worry that it could have.

Especially when we read about Gaye Sprague’s son.

Boys will be boys?


And wishing they wouldn’t be?

That’s a mom thing.

The long journey home

Saturday, December 8, 2007

East or west, home is best.
It's a simple phrase, one of several on a yellow piece of paper taped to the kitchen wall of Zofia Cisowski's home. She made the list weeks ago to help her son, Robert Dziekanski, learn English when he arrived from their native Poland.
Tomorrow, Zofia is going home, a trip that will take her through the Vancouver Airport where her son died in October.
It's a trip she originally had looked forward to, "but now, I am so scared."
Fear is an emotion she lives with now. She's afraid to go to sleep because "everything comes back to me."
She's afraid to watch television because she never knows when snippets of the videotape made of her son's last minutes before he was tasered at the airport and died will be shown.
"I've stopped watching the news. It just makes me more sick," she said.
She's afraid to be alone — and the Polish community in Kamloops has rallied around her, supporting her and just being with her as she tries to get through every day "without my son. I don't have my son. It is so hard."
The trip tomorrow was paid for by a local businessman who wants to remain anonymous. However, he told KTW he had to do something for Zofia after meeting her at a celebration of Robert's life last month. He's also arranged for concierge service from start to finish for the trip because he can't imagine her flying without support.
The Vancouver Airport Authority has also arranged for tickets to Poland, but Zofia said she's not sure she'll take advantage of this.
"I feel no good if they pay for me," she said.
When asked about returning home, she started to cry. The last time she was in Poland was earlier this year, when she visited Robert to make final arrangements for his immigration to Canada. The Polish construction worker was coming to Kamloops to start a new life with his mother.
Her two brothers are waiting for her, as are her nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives.
She knows she will cry when she gets there, as will her brothers.
"We will cry together, I know. They loved Robert."
Half of Robert's ashes will be buried in Poland, but she won't take them there until later in 2008, after a headstone has been prepared and she has had time to face the reality of the burial. The other half will be buried in Kamloops.
Zofia said she can't express how much she appreciates the support she has received from her community, her church and Kamloops.
More than 300 thank you letters have been written and signed by her. In the lettes, she writes that "while I am vising my family and friends in Poland, I will certainly tell them how kind-hearted and compassionate" everyone has been to her.
That is the message she wants to convey, said friend Barbara Wells. Zofia and those supporting her have been overwhelmed by the reaction to Robert's death.
"I take her out for lunch, people recognize her and they pay for our lunch," Wells said.
"When she goes to Poland she is going to tell people how kindly she was treated in Kamloops, how amazed she is by it all."
Adam Szpak spoke of a man who attended a human-rights forum last week at Thompson Rivers University, an event called in the wake of Robert's death. The man was so disturbed by the story of the immigrant's death that he called a local Polish priest to find out how to get "real Polish food" for Zofia.
The man ended up going through a Vancouver distributor — but he got Zofia her authentic food.
There have been cards from children, pictures from students, messages from so many people Zofia has never met.
Carmelle Lean, a local woman, did a painting of Robert and gave it to Zofia last month.
This support, Zofia said, has helped ease the desolation she has felt since spending hours at the airport, desperately looking for her son while he remained in the secured immigration area, unable to speak English and get help.
That is something the airport authority doesn't want to see happen again. On Friday, authority officials announced $1.4 million in changes to the international area, including 24-hour staffing at customer-care kiosks in the area, access to up to 20 languages through a translation service, multilingual signs with pictograms, and creation of new public-safety officers skilled in negotiations and non-physical intervention.
Emergency services will also be improved.

Here’s hoping we don’t celebrate a 50th anniversary

Friday, December 7, 2007

Eighty-nine people picked up the phone and called the Kamloops Sexual Assault Centre (KSACC) during its last fiscal year.

Can you imagine the courage it took for them to do this?

They weren’t calling for a friend or family member — they were referring themselves to the agency.

They had reached the point where they knew they needed to get help.

And that’s just one statistic.

Another 25 people were referred by family or friends. Royal Inland Hospital sent 21.

By the time all the agencies and government ministries and concerned people were finished, the agency that has just celebrated its 25th year of existence had added 354 new clients.

That’s almost one a day because even the incredible, dedicate staff who keep KSACC alive have to have time to live their own lives.

Although the statistics from the agency’s first 20 months of operation aren’t as detailed as they are now, it’s obvious the staff was busy from the moment the office opened on Fourth Avenue.

During those months, the staff dealt with 1,112 instances of sexual assault on adults, 147 on children and another 44 from battering and harassment.

It was tough work then.

There were only six such centres in the province and Kamloops was described as having one of the highest incidences of rape in B.C.

Public awareness was targeted as essential to reducing child abuse.

As the agency grew, its services expanded to include a 24-hour crisis line (oops, it’s gone now, thanks to government cutbacks), a sexual assault response team program (also gone, thanks to cutbacks), counselling services for males over the age of 19 (also gone, thank you, Gordon Campbell), and victim services (not gone, just hit with a 25 per cent cut in financing.)

Through it all, a core group of women, surrounded by many volunteers, kept KSACC going, confronting the reality that sexual abuse continues to exist in the 21st century.

And it hasn’t been easy.

Consider these anecdotes, two of thousands the staff have experienced:

• A young mother finally managed to sneak away from her abusive husband to call the provincial 1-800 call-centre line instituted when rape crisis lines were shut down by the Liberal government.

Those lines aren’t staffed by counsellors, but by people with lists of places to make referrals. The woman, who suspected her children were being sexually abused, was required to remain anonymous and told to call KSACC the next morning — and it was two more months of abuse before she could sneak away to make that phone call.

• A 23-year-old man, about to become a father, had never received counselling for abuse he experienced from ages five to nine by an older male.

With the impending birth, his experiences were causing him emotional turmoil. He sought out counselling but, other than to pay for it and go on a waitlist, there was none available once KSACC had to shut down its adult male-counselling services.

A few years ago, KSACC’s agency co-ordinator Cynthia Davis, announced there would be no Take Back the Night event because her agency staff didn’t consider Kamloops safe enough for women to walk alone at night.

That caused quite the furor, with the right-wing side of local media condemning her for saying what many people today believe to be true. Even our transit exchange isn’t considered safe these days by many people.

In some ways, it’s unfortunate KSACC is marking a quarter-century. It would be so good if our society didn’t need agencies like it to exist.

But we do and, because of this, we owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of women — Connie Scanks, Grace Chronister, Ronolee Stevens, Linda Halliday, Gwen Gosgnach, Carol Reiter, Bev Munro . . . this list goes on.

Each of them has fought a fight most of us wouldn’t be able to address dispassionately.

For 25 years, they’ve been there to pick up the pieces when society’s ills shatter a soul.

Wouldn’t it be great if we don’t have to celebrate their 50th anniversary?