Quit catering to the NSBIA

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I'm not doing a column for the paper this week but, if I was, it would be asking Mayor Terry Lake and some of the councillors when they're going to stop thinking all their decisions on issues affecting the North Shore must go through the North Shore Business Improvement Association first.
This is the same group that threw a major hissy whyen the SHOP program was taken over by the AIDS Society of Kamloops, and relocated to its Tranquille Road offices.
And, before its GM, Peter Mutrie, hops on the phone and calls to berate me, I know the NSBIA board has learned from that fiasco, has discovered the Tranquille Market is not sex-trade worker central and that ASK is running a good program that is helping people who desperately need a hand up.
A bunch of unionists with Local 7819 of the United Steelworkers want to install showers, washers and dryers at the ASK building for street people and the marginalized to use
Some of the showers will be designed for handicapped people.
This is a good thing. These unionists deserve commendation and a heartly thank you for doing what many won't do — offering that hand up.
All they needed was some bureaucratic requirements waived and the work can get started.
Instead, the mayor decides this should be run by the NSBIA. And Coun. Joe Leong agrees.
It's another example of how the mayor seems to want to placate business at the expense of the marginalized.
There was absolutely no logical reason at all to run this by Mutrie and his board. The union is committing up to $15,000. It needs some permit fees waived and approvals through City Hall sped up so it can get the work done.
It was a no-brainer and thankfully, Coun. Tina Lange spoke up, spoke logically and, in the end, council unanimously pased her motion to do what the union's rep, Robert Boyce, had requested.
There are times when different organizations needs to be consulted on issues that council must address. There are many issues when the public itself must be consulted.
But showers and washing machines?

Literacy is all about laughs, tears and life

Friday, January 25, 2008

Many years ago, children’s author Robert Munsch was scheduled to appear in my hometown.

The boss at the time glanced around at the motley crew of lifestyle/entertainment reporters in the department — which included a couple of women and three men near retirement, a confirmed bachelor, a couple of newbies fresh out of journalism school, some former sports reporters reassigned after the last set of buyouts — and me.

“Dale, you’re a mom. You interview this Munsch guy.”

And so, at the appointed day and time, the man whose books were at that time part of the regular bedtime ritual, telephoned.

“Got a question for you first,” he said. “You a mom?”


“Why do they always make me talk to the parents?” he said, likely to no one in particular, but a sentence that didn’t really leave me thinking he was going to be warm to the interview.

But he was. He was exactly the kind of person I thought he would be, a kind, quick-to-chuckle, witty, smart, approachable and yet humble man who happened to have an incredible gift for writing stories that entertained children, but didn’t drive parents nuts after the 20th consecutive night of reading them.

He talked of his family, his eight siblings, his studies to become a Catholic priest.

And he talked about how, while on a student-teaching placement (he’d given up on the priesthood, spent some time working in day care and had gone back to school), he found himself in charge of circle time.

And that’s where Mortimer was born. It came out of Munsch’s head, engaged the youngsters, then went back into his head, not to come out again as a book for another 12 years.

But Munsch was hooked on the power of storytelling, especially how it would work when it was quiet time for his young charges at the day care.

He’d sit and tell stories and they’d lie down and listen.

Before they knew it, the story was done and they were napping.

The thing of it was, Munsch wasn’t writing these stories down.

He was just telling them.

It was a truly memorable interview, as was his performance the following week when, with just a stool to sit on and absolutely no realization the young girl he’d chosen from the audience for his next story happened to be mine, he had my daughter next to him as he told yet another story he was working on in his head.

That’s how he does it, he said.

He tells the stories to the toughest audiences he faces and, if the kids laugh, he knows it’s a winner.

In this case, he told a story called Something Special, about a mom whose daughter accidentally ended up for sale at the grocery store.

It was funny. Even for us moms.

Probably not for the same reason the kids were laughing.

But that’s Munsch’s gift — he can make us all laugh.

He can also make us all cry.

It’s his gift, one he shares not only in print but as the honourary chair of Family Literacy Day in Canada.

He knows the value of words in children’s lives.

Last year, when I agreed to take part in the first Family Literacy Day here in Kamloops, one of the organizers, Merlene Sibley, asked what book I wanted to read.

I dropped a big hint that The Paperbag Princess would be a super choice. It’s the ultimate women’s lib book, to my mind.

But no, I get I’ll Love You Forever — a book I have read to all five children more times than I remember, virtually every time ending in tears.

It’s that kind of book.

And they don’t give me one that I can hold in my lap, keeping the head down should tears erupt.

No, I get the super-sized-needs-a-second-person-to-hold-it-up book.

But, just as Munsch discovered when he told stories to auditoriums full of children and their parents, magic arrived at the Old Courthouse — where the Family Literacy Day will be held again this year, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow — and this tiny group of youngsters slid up closer and closer to the chair Sibley had positioned for all the volunteer readers to use.

They saw the name — oooh, it’s Robert Munsch —— and they saw the title — oh, it’s the sad one — and they prepared to listen.

They laughed when they wanted to, repeated the aging mother’s refrain each time and some of them even laughed at the end, when they saw those tears in their mom’s eyes.

That’s the beauty of words. It’s the value of words. It’s why literacy is so very important not only to children, but to everyone.

It’s about more than just letters strung together to make words that are strung together to make sentences.

It’s about laughter. It’s about tears.

It’s about life.

Find some time tomorrow to go to the Old Courthouse and share some of those laughs and tears with the wonderful people who are volunteering for Family Literacy Day.

You’ll learn something about life, as well.


All she’s asking for is a little respect (and a lyric book)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I’ve got a new theme song. Well, it’s not really new — in fact, it’s marking its 40th anniversary today.

But it’s new to me. Never really had a theme song before.

The words are still relevant and will be sung to my family both here and in Ontario until they start to show me the respect I’m due.

Yes, much to the dismay of my tribe of children, Aretha’s going to be glued into the CD player, the remote will be in my hand, the power will always be on and the minute they start in, well, can’t you hear her now?

“All I’m askin’ is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit) . . “

There are oh, so many reasons.

Let’s start with a simple one that happened in October.

My daughter called. She and two of her brothers live in Ontario.

She asked what I was up to, the kind of casual conversation mothers have with their adult children.

I told her I was getting ready to go to a fashion show.

‘You’re what?”

A fashion show. You know, where women sit around and look at clothes.

“A. Fashion. Show. Right.

“You know, mom, that’s where people go who actually get fashion. And I mean from this century, not the ‘60s. I mean, really, mom, you haven’t been in fashion since grandma dressed you.”

She then started this uncontrollable laughter, broken only by gasped words that she had to go call her brothers. They needed a good laugh too, apparently.

I love that girl. I really do. I remind myself of that often.

Moms bake at Christmas.

It’s written somewhere, probably in snow, but it’s a truism.

My mother baked at Christmas.

Heck, she made her own fruitcake, shortbreads, some sort of fruit bread twisted into a truly fascinating knot, as well as another 20 dozen squares, all featuring red, green or white somethings somewhere.

My grandmother baked at Christmas. I think she may have started the fruitcake obsession and she had the neatest metal cookie cutters.

I remember shaking those green and red sprinkly things on cookie after cookie after cookie.

You get the picture.

So, I don’t bake at Christmas.

But this year, for reasons that escape me, I signed up for the office cookie exchange.

And, the night before the cookies were due, naturally, it was time to bake. But first things first. Does anyone know where the mixer is?

“With the iron?” my beloved suggested.

“What’s a mixer?” the teenager asked. “Have you ever used one before?”

One simple glare cleared the room quickly, with the three of them heading off “before you burn the kitchen down.”

I’m not sure which one of them said it. But I love them. I really do.

I remind myself of that often.

Apparently, the entire world knows how to play poker as well, including my teenager.

I don’t. Let’s just say that the next time we play Rummoli, Aretha’s gonna be the soundtrack.

But the ultimate — the one that continually galls me because one can only be humiliated so much before one starts to wonder — happens every single Thursday night at 9 p.m.

And, even though it is exposing me to communitywide ridicule, I’m including it because perhaps saying the words out loud will make them go away — or, at the very least, remove that one truth my beloved holds over me from his own control and share it with others.

You see, several years ago, when the original CSI first aired, my sweetie was singing along with the theme song. He’s a major Who fan and, well, I think we were watching it just for the song.

These days, I know we are.

Because, in a rare moment of complete, total and utter trust of my one true love, I expressed amazement at the words to that song.

Apparently the lyrics are: “Who are you? Who, who? Who, who?”

From the time Roger Daltrey first sang those words, I thought he was singing “Blue water, blue blue, blue blue.”

Yes, I know, that meant the song didn’t make much sense. But then few of you out there probably also thought Paul Brandt was singing “My heart has a disco beat,” did you?

So, every Thursday night, after the crime is committed, my hubby gets that look, the one that says, “Of course I’m gonna sing it. I’m gonna sing about the blue water.”

And then he laughs. Every week.

So that’s why I’ve got a new theme song. And I know what the words are. I downloaded them.

And I’ll be singing them a lot for a while.


Health Canada reveals its ignorance on sexuality

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In Canada in 2006, five people died each week waiting for an organ transplant.

Another 471 that year were taken off waitlists because they were either too sick by then to receive a transplant, had chosen to be removed or had improved and no longer needed one.

The year before, the Ontario government created a panel to develop recommendations to increase the number of organ donations in the province.

At one time, that province even considered a law that would require all its drivers to make a choice on being an organ donor before renewing either their driver’s licence or health cards.

All this because our country has one of the lowest organ-donation rates in the industrialized world.

We have 14 donors per million people — do the math, that’s an abysmal figure.

In Spain, there are 31 donors for every million people.

And the reality is that there are thousands of Canadians waiting for transplants right now, some of them so sick that their chance of receiving one is unlikely.

And now, for reasons which defy logic, Health Canada has decided to apply truly heinous stereotypes and ban sexually active gay men from being potential donors.

The reason? It’s too risky.

And why is it too risky?

Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? It must be because they’re gay.

And that, of course, makes them a much higher risk than, for argument’s sake, a single guy who likes to play the field.

Or a woman recovering from a breakup by rebounding again — and again and again.

It’s all about that nasty word — S E X — and we all know that gay men, well, they just can’t control themselves, can they?

But wait a minute.

Maybe that skirt-chasing Lothario might stop and wonder if he’s any different than a non-monogamous gay man? Does that make him high-risk, too?

Who’s to know?

All these Health Canada officials have done is muddy up water that doctors had been managing to keep clear by applying their own ways to discourage potential donors they knew to be unsuitable while accepting those they knew would be fine.

Dr. Gary Levy, the head of the country’s largest organ-transplant program, said earlier this week that he’s already heard from people who think they can’t donate based on the declarations from Health Canada.

“Leave it to the professionals to determine whether these organs can be used safely and if they’re good,” he said.

Levy went on to point out that “if someone has 62 partners, whether its heterosexual or homosexual, there still is a risk.”

At a time when the country is so far behind others in organ donors, and just as tardy in seeing its population even sign the forms needed designating themselves potential donors, why this federal agency would issue such a dumb statement, interfering in an area that has been doing the best it can with people in charge of it who can actually make these life-and-death decisions, is inexplicable.

Maybe then we wouldn’t see — as we do now in B.C. — these kinds of waits for transplants:

* kidney (deceased adult): 60.28 months, and there are currently 240 people in B.C. waiting for one;

* kidney (deceased pediatric): 3.89 months;

* pancreas-kidney: 37.64 months, six are waiting now;

* liver: 4.79 months, with 19 waiting;

* heart: 4.63 months, with 5 waiting;

* lung (single and double): 5.31 months, with 20 waiting;

* pancreas islet: 34 months, with 20 waiting.

And it would be great to see Health Canada — rather than provincial governments and agencies that support those who need transplants — come up with something proactive to encourage all of us to fill out those transplant permission forms.

And then, when our time comes, let the doctors decide if there’s anything left of us that has survived each of our own lifestyles and can be passed on to let someone else have a lifestyle of their own.


Where were we all when we let Henry die?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Henry Leland froze to death last weekend.

It’s a tragedy for his family, his friends, his support network — and for all of us in Kamloops.

He lived on the streets — and he died on a street in Valleyview near the King’s Motor Inn.

He was only 42 years old.

The coroner’s office says there’s no obvious signs of trauma, of injury, of any other reason he died.

He was found in a sitting position, the snow piled around him. It’s possible, one friend said, people would have walked right by him as he froze to death in Kamloops.

Many people will mourn Henry. They will gather at a memorial service his friends are organizing to celebrate a life that was filled with turmoil, tragedy and yet reverberated with an undaunted sense of self.

As one of his friends put it when he passed on the news, it is a loss to the community.

Henry knew his lot in life hadn’t always been good but he didn’t hide from it.

He just accepted it for what it was, and did the best he could.

Unfortunately, for too many like Henry, that best just isn’t good enough without some help.

In Kamloops, there are myriad kind souls who reach out to provide assistance, from the street nurses to the social workers to all the agencies that try their best to patch together the social safety net that we have allowed to be ripped apart.

I had coffee with a friend earlier this week who is also watching her life fall apart because of a system that might look like it works on paper, but in practical terms, it really doesn’t for many.

My friend wants help.

She wants to feel safe.

She wants people to understand the horrific background she somehow survived but which led her, like Henry, to make some choices she wishes she could take back now.

She wants to get clean. She wants her life back, but she doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mould of dependent client that the system has been set up to serve.

She’s the square peg in the round hole.

It makes her unique and, to my mind, it makes her admirable because she’s got the strength to admit that she just isn’t like all the rest of us.

But it means it’s hard for her to find help.

She’s afraid she’ll die on the streets.

What do you say to someone when you hear that kind of fear?

How can you not feel outrage that a person froze to death in our city?

Our provincial government is sitting on a surplus.

Our federal government is sitting on an even bigger surplus.

Yet social agencies must rely on government handouts through contracts that must be renewed just frequently enough to keep these vital links teetering on the edge of insolvency.

And we know what happens if they speak out against the hands that feed them.

They’re a necessity, however, providing shelter and services and, sometimes, just a caring ear to listen to a life’s story none of us want to experience.

They have to be there for those we call the marginalized, even though by doing so, we strip away some of their humanity.

People like my friend who, at this point, has a temporary place to stay while we try to get her into a residential program to help her fight the demons that keep her brain on constant vibration.

Maybe she’s lucky, because she has friends — and the number is small, but its might is powerful — who are pulling for her, who are there for her and who tell her she will not be allowed to die on the streets.

Henry had friends, too, who did what they could to help him.

But somehow, we all let him down.

Each of us who allows the system to cast out those square pegs shares some of the blame.

Henry froze to death in our city. If that doesn’t make you stop and wonder what kind of society we have become, perhaps nothing will.