School trustees need to get back into classroom

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There was a moment during the school board’s meeting with the Beattie School of the Arts community this week that encapsulated so many realities.

Students had started off the presentation to the trustees who are considering changes to the school by performing a play they wrote about how welcoming the school is to others.

Superintendent Terry Sullivan thanked them at the end, noting how unique the scene had been.

Later on, a dad stood up to clarify something for the people sitting at the front of the gym, charged with making difficult decisions about our schools.

He noted that what Sullivan had found unique is a reality that is commonplace for the parents and students who make up this school of choice.

We’re used to seeing kids dancing and singing in the hallways.

We’ve watched our kids learn about the digestive system by creating and acting out a play that follows the travels of a burger from mouth to — well, you know where it ends up.

But it points to a reality I’m sure the trustees are having difficulty grappling with — they really don’t know what actually happens in our schools.

Sure, they know teachers teach, students learn, administrators do whatever it is they do.

They see reports showing percentages of students who graduate, drop out, get suspended or expelled.

They calculate how much it costs to keep the lights on, the floors clean, the shelves filled and the parking lots shovelled.

They may even remember what it was like when they were in school.

But they don’t really know what its like now.

They don’t get to see the magic that happens in a school like Beattie, where everyone is accepted because they are unique.

Where teachers are truly engaged in the learning process because they’re not limited to working strictly from the textbook.

Where the high school band gets to play the theme from 007 movies instead of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Trustees have mentioned after other meetings they’ve had with schools that they’ve learned a lot about what goes on in those classrooms, too, so our experience at Beattie is not unique.

You can see the same sort of disconnect with who they represent in the decision earlier this week by city councillors to not hold evening meetings.

The reasons given ranged from ridiculous — Coun. Marg Spina asserting that if someone wanted to be at council, they’d find a way — to insulting — gee, we can watch it later on cable TV.

But the reality is council is supposed to be easily accessible to the public and that simply doesn’t happen when it meets in the afternoon.

Perhaps this disconnect comes format the fact our council is made up of only one true 9-to-5 working stiff — Nancy Bepple — with the others business owners or retirees.

While the process the school board has been going through is onerous — by the time the reconfiguration is complete, there will have been about 30 public meetings — it has perhaps been good because it not only gave parents a chance to spotlight their schools, it gave the board the chance to truly see what it is that is accomplished every day.

At Beattie, that means students whose learning is infused with the arts.

Who learn in a way that is different from the other secondary schools.

Who mentor the younger students and don’t think twice about sharing a stage with them.

The presentation from the Beattie community — the majority of whom want to see the board follow through on its original commitment to create a K-12 school of the arts in one building — was well-orchestrated.

Parents took the microphone and extolled the virtues of the school and its learning style.

But, in the end, it was the students who made the true point through song and dance (based on how a virus attacks a cell), visual art (an interpretation of an Irish poem) and the play that started it all off.

And that’s so appropriate because, when they sit around the horseshoe in December and early next year, trustees need to remember just who they really represent.

Music must still make meals

Monday, November 23, 2009

The generosity of Kamloops residents continues to amaze me.

Last year, at the suggestion of Joey Jack and encouraged by Danie Pouliotte, some of us got together to create Music Makes Meals (MMM), a fundraiser for the Kamloops Food Bank.

Teri Willey, one of the owners of the Blue Grotto, lent us her place for the night.

Danie, Joey, Kira Gosselin, Paul Filek, Henry Small and Perry Tucker, among others — all amazing entertainers who have graced plenty of stages in Kamloops — donated their services and a couple hundred people helped raise money and stock the shelves at the agency.

We did it again earlier this year, moving it to the Colombo Lodge — and now we’re headed back to the Grotto for our third MMM.

Putting it together was beyond easy, simply because this is a community of incredible, caring people.

Teri offered the Grotto before we could ask for it and she’s working with us now to finalize a date next spring for our fourth one.

The first one contacted was Dodie Goldney of Scully and the Mulders. Our December MMM was this band’s first gig together and, as someone who has only known Dodie as an incredible woman and social activist, it was stunning to see what a talented singer and guitarist she is.

Roxanne Hall has agreed to open the show — largely because she’s taking a break from her own job at Grinders that night in order to kick our evening off on an incredible note.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard Roxanne sing and her agreement to do this — no offence to the rest of you, please — just made my day.

Art Pruce didn’t even hesitate when he was asked to join us that night. He was asked and he’s in, bringing the stage presence and musicianship that has led to his nomination for several B.C. Country Music Association awards, including album and songwriter of the year, roots artist of the year and male vocalist of the year.

There were plenty of other bands that were keen on joining our little gig — Blackdog Blue, Bombshella, Devin and Kevin, even triple B.C. Interior Music Award winner Andrew Allen — but the date conflicted with other shows they were doing.

That’s why we’re trying to firm up a spring date, to give these guys a chance to put us into their books now.

Danie Cade, who performed at our MMM earlier this year, responded to her invitation by offering her services as a volunteer.

We’re busy lining up some raffle or silent auction items, like we had at the last two MMMs and, in short order, it’s all come together.

So now it’s just a matter of filling the place on Nov. 26 — and that’s where the rest of you come in.

There’s something inherently wrong with having to go out and raise money and food just to ensure people get enough to eat.

It’s a common refrain from me these days, but it’s just as true now — it’s 2009, people, so why is this still happening?

In October, our food bank helped 3,131 of our own people.

Eighty of those were younger than one year of age, 179 aren’t even in school yet, 485 are between the ages of six and 18 and 120 of them are seniors, those folks who have given their time and are supposed to be enjoying their golden years.

We’re heading into Christmas, the time of year when those dozens of volunteers who help keep the food bank running, along with the staff there, are even more determined than ever to ensure everyone has a decent meal on the table.

You might remember it was about this time last year that the agency was actually wondering if it would have to shut down because the shelves were basically bare.

Since then, the food bank’s lost the support of Canada Post in its annual citywide food drive — which the various Rotary clubs thankfully took on.

It’s now lost the support of the B.C. Lottery Corporation for the CP Holiday Train that helps fill the shelves this season.

MMM is just one of many small fundraisers people hold throughout the year for the food bank and, like the others, we try to keep the cost and request for food donations as reasonable as possible.

So, for $10 and three cans of beans or three boxes of Kraft Dinner, you can spend the night listening to some of the best homegrown music in town — and maybe help us all move one day closer to the time when food banks are irrelevant in society

No, I am not a feminist — I am a person

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"I am woman, hear me roar,
In numbers too big to ignore,
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend,
‘cause I’ve heard it all before,
And I’ve been down there on the floor,
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again."

Yeah, right.
Helen Reddy may have sang those words 37 years ago, but just how far have women really come?
What would the Famous Five — Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nelly McClung, Louise McKinny and Irene Parlby — have to say today, eight decades after they fought and fought and kept on fighting to have all women declared persons?
How would these valiant trailblazers feel if they knew that, in this new century, when women get to vote and fight in wars, we still have people like Carrie Prejean, the controversial U.S. beauty queen, fighting with pageant organizers about paying to have her boobs pumped up.
She’s not fighting about whether it should happen. Oh no, those organizers agreed she needed bigger breasts to be competitive in their pageant.
Didn’t we start fighting back in the 1960s against this kind of objectifying?
How would these incredible women feel if they knew that, in this new century, when women get to sit in the Senate and on councils and school boards, we still have people like Mayumi Heene ignore police advice to seek protection in a women’s shelter after they saw the balloon boy’s mom had broken blood vessels in her eye and abrasions on her face?
She’s standing by her man, instead, a father and husband who is under investigation for putting his own ego and absurd beliefs ahead of the safety of his family.
How would these early feminists feel if they knew Canada is being led by a man who considers women to be a left-wing fringe group?
Dozens of women gathered on Oct. 23rd here in Kamloops to reassure themselves strides have been made as a celebratory breakfast is held to mark the anniversary of Person’s Day.
They listened to Mary Eberts, a co-founder of the Legal Education and Action Fund for Women, speak at the Plaza Heritage Hotel at the event, co-sponsored by LEAF, the Elizabeth Fry Society and the Thompson Rivers University Student Union’s women’s collective.
Eberts has said Canadian women have “a special historical relationship to the Constitution, as we had to fight so hard for so long to be included in even its minimal provisions.
“Let us not stop now.”
Inspiring words, but I wonder what is wrong with a society that, almost a century after the fight began, is still fighting for these basic recognitions and still has within its midst women who embrace beliefs that minimize them as persons?
My friend Shirley Sanderson says education is the key. It’s why today’s breakfast has a reduced ticket price ($25) for students and why she’s delighted the TRU women’s group is involved.
It’s why she gets involved in things like the breakfast, because she believes it’s important to look at the past and honour our elders who laid the groundwork to make a better future.
Earlier this month, the Famous Five were declared honorary senators at the suggestion of veteran journalist Catherine Ford.
It’s a worthy tribute but, in reality, it will do little to further their cause.
I’ve always thought the solution to this inability to move forward comes from the need to characterize women who stand up for themselves as feminists.
This was hammered home for me many years ago when, while working at another newspaper in Ontario and being interviewed for a more-senior job there, the manager asking the questions — a woman — told me to forget it because, as a wife and mother, I wasn’t a feminist.
At the time, those words made me angry. Today, I realize she was right.
I’m not a feminist.
I’m a wife, a mother, a grandmother.
And I’m a person.

And now, comments that were posted on to the column (I thought I'd try adding these things once in a while):

12GaugePump 16 hours ago
Some people just have no sense of humour.....and to Mrs. Bass, you are a feminist and also a socialist who never passes up a chance to bash a conservative.

smokit 1 day ago 1 person liked this.
With men running the world, (and jokes like Grouchy makes), it's a true case of "The Tail wagging the dog" if you get my drift...

Grouchy1 1 day ago in reply to smokit
Sorry smokit, I just couldn't help myself, lol.

Grouchy1 2 days ago
I think you have gone a little far about the Prime Minister. The other example is truly extreme and should not happen in todays society. Other than that I think that women have come a long way, just look at businesses with women in charge,and women starting more and more of their own businesses all the time. And just as an aside, more than a mouthfull is a waste. LOL.

BobbyDuck 2 days ago
Oh, I think you're also a feminist, dbass. One thing people seem to forget, as long as we have males and females on this planet, the battle of the sexes will ALWAYS be a contentious issue..

Maybe moms should be given health-care portfolio

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Right smack dab on the H1N1 link posted online by the Interior Health Authority are the following words:

“See a health-care provider if your symptoms become worse, but call ahead of time to let them know you have a fever and/or a cough. You can call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, 24 hours a day/seven days a week if you have more questions or if feeling ill.”

In fact, on the IHA home page is a highlighted box directing people to find out more about the swine flu that is supposedly a worldwide pandemic.

So, let me tell you about my attempt to find out if my son, who had been sick for several days with some of the symptoms listed on the IHA website as indicative of swine flu, might actually have the headline-creating disease.

Mindful of how contagious it is, I first called our family doctor’s office.

“Appointments. Please hold.”

I held. A while later: “Hello, how can I help you?”

I told her I’d like to run my son’s symptoms by the nurse to see if I should bring him in to see the doctor.

She transferred me.

“Nurse’s station. Please hold.”

I held. Another while later, someone picked up the phone and said: “You’re still on hold? Just a minute.”

The phone rang again.

Another woman answered.

She didn’t identify herself or what part of the clinic she was in, but demanded to know how I’d gotten her number and who had transferred me.

Sorry, I don’t know. I’m in telephone hell, apparently.

She asked who my doctor was, then transferred me again.

I held. And held. And held some more. And then I gave up.

On to the IHA office in Kamloops.

I asked to speak to a public-health nurse, again explaining I simply wanted to talk about my son’s symptoms because he had some, but not all, of the ones listed on the IHA website.

“Sorry, but all the nurses are in a meeting on swine flu.”


“But you can call 811 and the nurses there can help you.”

Now that’s a good idea. Should have thought of it myself.

Punch in 811 and get a woman who asks the purpose of my call.

I tell her: “I just want to see if the symptoms my son has could mean he’s contagious.”

She gets all the relevant information — my name, stuff like that. It’s all starting to sound promising.

She tells me she’ll transfer me to a nurse who will ask the same questions, but that’s standard.

Okeydokey. Transferred to the nurse, I tell her I just want to ask about my son’s symptoms. He’s been sick for days, he has many of the ones listed for swine flu, but they could just as easily be a regular flu.

“Where is your son?”

I tell her he’s in bed, asleep, trying to get better.

But here are his symptoms.

She stops me. She can’t help me. My son has to call them. She can’t diagnose him without talking to him.

Don’t want a diagnosis, I protest. Just want to know if this list of symptoms I’m going to repeat to you should be causing me some concern.

Nope, she won’t talk to me about it. She goes on to say my son’s symptoms may have changed and she needs him to talk to her.

Now this is frustrating.

The IHA site says they’ll answer general questions and my general question is: “Are these symptoms — dizziness, aching, fever, some minor breathing issues — indicative of a possible swine flu case? I need to know so I can decide the best treatment for my son.”

But she won’t answer it. Instead, she tells me to take him to the emergency room.

“If he’s contagious, isn’t that a really dumb thing to do?” I ask her.

I decide to try the health unit one more time and finally get an answer — from the woman who answers the switchboard.

I tell her how frustrating my experience has been trying to get an answer and she relates that she had a similar experience. She took her daughter to a walk-in clinic, marched up to the counter and said those three little words: Maybe swine flu.

Masks were slapped on, they were taken into an examination room and saw a doctor pronto.

It figures.

Ask the health-care system for help it says it will give — given there’s this pandemic — and get the runaround.

You want the answer — talk to another mom.

Kamloops This Week - The problem is, Campbell and Polak just don?t get it

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kamloops This Week - The problem is, Campbell and Polak just don?t get it

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Kamloops This Week - Insulting parent political folly

Friday, September 18, 2009

Kamloops This Week - Insulting parent political folly

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Welcome to the Tournament (and Cultural) Capital of Canada

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Well, I’m back.

Been missing from this page for a few weeks, thanks to various vacations (mine and co-workers’), but I’ve been storing up a bunch of random observations about life in Kamloops.

First, yes, I know we’re the Tournament Capital of Canada.

Heck, one of our previous managing editors — the ever-joking Gord Kurenoff — wasn’t kidding at all when he told me to pen a column against the project to run with his opus praising all things sport.

Great, take the least-popular position possible. Thank you, Gord.

But there’s this great other side of the city, one I’ve known about but have been able to see in all of its intricacies in recent weeks, one that makes me think we should call ourselves the Creative Capital of Canada.

Consider this: A group of about 18 young men and women, none of them much older than mid-teens, gathers in the Pavilion Theatre on a Monday morning.

Some know each other from school or other activities but, for the most part, they’re not much more than strangers.

Two weeks later, they’re performing The Wizard of Oz in that same theatre, nary missing a cue or movement — almost like they’d been in rehearsals for months, not having about nine days to learn the script and the blocking en route to performing like a seasoned troupe.

Maybe I’m a bit biased here, since my youngest was one of the performers, but having grown up immersed in theatre and performing, I know how incredible this feat was for them and their instructors, the amazing Terri Runnels, Stephen Sawka, Jennifer Jones and Alison Clow, who was there to assist, but ended up taking on the guiding role of the narrator in the performances.

They’ll be doing it again — albeit somewhat adapted to find the reduced timeframe — on Saturday at the Children’s Art Festival at 3 p.m. in Riverside Park. Head on down and check it out. You’ll be amazed, too.

Having taken over the entertainment coverage here at KTW, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the people who fuel the creative core of the city.

It’s one thing to sit in the audience and soak up their genius; truly another to talk to them on a day-to-day basis.

There are some amazing people who work behind the scenes to ensure we have our art, our theatre, our music, to ensure our burgeoning creative souls have a place to make that first step out into public appreciation.

Some of them toil under some truly arduous circumstances. I think of all the staff at Western Canada Theatre has endured — and continues to grapple with — and marvel at how its dedication doesn’t wane in the face of true adversity.

Over at the Kamloops Art Gallery, they went through their own stress when executive director Jann Bailey went for a doctor’s appointment — and was not back to work for months, faced with the fight of — and for — her life as she battled leukemia.

The people who keep the gallery buzzing were painfully aware of it every day, but it didn’t affect the quality of work they provided for all of us.

And there are the ones you don’t hear about very often.

Last weekend, I went to the farewell concert by my dear friend, Danie Pouliotte.

I met Danie at the encouragement of Martin Comtois, the man who tried to keep the Ashcroft Opera House alive and well. Danie had been working for him on an internship and he knew she had talent people needed to hear about.

KTW photographer Dave Eagles and I met this shy young woman down at Riverside Park, talked to her, shot some photos, wrote a feature — and I figured that was it.

Then Danie popped up a few months later with the idea of holding a fundraiser for the Kamloops Food Bank. I helped her, Joey Jack and Kira Haug put it together and watched a still-timid Danie open the show for us.

You should see her now.

The musical community in Kamloops has been like an incubator for this woman, helping her develop her talent to the point that I have no doubt she’ll be successful following her dreams when she moves to Vancouver later this month.

There are so many more people out there who continue to do their part to keep the arts and entertainment community in this city alive.

It’s not an easy job, particularly in these times of government cutbacks, fewer donations and increased costs.

But it’s just as vital to Kamloops as all those sports events — so take the time to get out and support them.

Kamloops — how do I love thee? Let me count the ways

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ten years ago, a small advertisement in the Globe and Mail caught my eye.

The timing was fortuitous. I’d left a 25-year career at a large daily newspaper in Ontario, only to discover that working for the federal government was not the relaxing, normal, peaceful gig I thought it would be.

My husband, having also left an equally long career covering Parliament, was finding his own post-journalism job in communications at the University of Western Ontario was also not the relaxing, normal, peaceful gig he anticipated.

And there it was, an ad seeking applications for a job teaching journalism at some place called University College of the Cariboo in some community called Kamloops.

“Here, apply for this,” I suggested over dinner. “At least you’ll get a trip to B.C. out of it.”

A couple of months later, we had a massive moving van crammed with all the things a family of seven accumulates through the years — including the 34 boxes of Alan’s books — and were heading west.

Now, for a girl who had never been further west — in Canada — than Thunder Bay and who had lived for her four-plus decades in the same city, this was one emotion-filled trip.
I was leaving behind my mother and my father died just a couple of weeks before we left — a move that, at the time, had me convinced was calculated to stop us from heading to what he derided as a “pulp-mill” town.

I also had to say goodbye to a huge group of incredible friends, including Catherine, my oldest and dearest friend.

And so we drove west.

Alan takes great delight in telling people of my first reaction to the Rockies.

I cried.

Thank god he was driving because I couldn’t do much more than gaze and weep. It’s one thing to know they exist, but quite another to see them.

We beat the moving van to Kamloops — I spent countless hours learning to say it with the emphasis on the first syllable — found the house we had rented unseen over the Internet, had our introduction to the glorious pizzas Panago makes, bunked the first night on the floor in sleeping bags and set out the next day to learn more about the place we were now calling home.

That was the day I declared that, in a previous life, I must have lived in Kamloops because everything about the city just felt right.

Felt familiar.

Felt like home.

Felt like a great place for the kids to grow up.

I mentioned this to a friend recently, who gave me her patented “you are so strange” look and announced she had no idea why I would feel that way. How could I possibly think Kamloops is an incredible place in which to live?

I’m chalking that ridiculous statement up to the fact she’s about the same age as my daughter and finds the idea of pondering retirement complete unfathomable.

But there are so many reasons to love Kamloops. Here are just a few:

Music in the Park. The Farmers’ Market. The Thompson River. The hills that can be seen from almost any place in the city. Riverside Park. The way people just stop if you look like you’re trying to cross the road. Western Canada Theatre. The way people are so willing to help others.

The list of incredible people I’ve met in the past decade would be too long for this space, but each of them makes Kamloops a wonderful place to live.

Now, before some of you e-mail writers start warming up the keyboard, there are downsides to Kamloops as well, but their impact is insignificant — and often inspirational, especially when it’s time to come up with another column idea.

I still go back to London every year to see the grandchildren and check in on the ones who’ve flown the Kamloops nest. I hang out with Catherine, who delights in driving me around the city that has grown exponentially since we left. But, after about a week of gridlock, flat horizons, way too much rain and people who seem to be on a constant caffeine kick, it’s time to come home.

And that’s here. Can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Rural schools are the heart of what defines B.C.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thirty Canadian geese swam up to the dock today.

A baby duck jumped onto Alan’s kayak.

And, when I went to buy newspapers — it’s an addiction, what can I say? — and bread, the lady behind the cash register remembered me.

This is rural B.C. It’s what we all brag about when we talk to our friends and relatives back East.

It’s what we talk about when we explain why this is God’s country.

More than Cambie Street or Robson Street or the proximity to Washington state, it is the grandeur outside the 604 exchange that truly describes what British Columbia is.

And it’s why talk of closing schools in rural areas of the Kamloops area is simply wrong.

Rural B.C. isn’t the same as Vancouver or Victoria. It’s not even the same as Kamloops. It’s those communities where everyone knows everyone else. Where they nod their heads as they drive past you. Where they tell you to have a great day and you get the feeling they really mean it.

It’s where their schools are more than just a collection of classrooms. They’re as much a part of the hub of the community as those halls and arenas that host the local artisans with their craft fairs and the tiny-tot hockey teams every winter.

Take away a rural community’s school and you’ve killed much of its heart.

You’ve taken away yet another reason why these pioneers — and that’s what they are, even today — choose to live the tough life that defines much of rural British Columbia. You might as well close their legion, shut down the mom-and-pop grocery store and roll up the streets.

Closing their schools is more than just a smack upside the face. It’s a death blow -- and these are people who do not deserve that kid of treatment.

Which is not to say School District 73 isn’t facing tough times and has some tough decisions to make. But let’s be honest. Close a neighbourhood school in Kamloops and all those affected families will simply have to learn to become part of some other school community.

We’ve done it with our children who, because we have chosen to send them not to our neighbourhood elementary, but to Beattie School of the Arts, have had to learn to become part of a community created from throughout Kamloops.

It’s hasn’t been that difficult. If the guys want to go visit with some school chums, they have to take a slightly longer bus ride. They don’t have to ask us to drive them to another city.

Close the school in Pinantan, Heffley, Westwold or Savona and you’re forcing the children to leave their home community and ride on a bus for a ridiculously long time to attend a school whose community can never really be their own.

What is most galling is that all it takes is a majority of the board to enact these cold, callous decisions. And that same majority doesn’t have to rely on the rural vote to be re-elected.

Can’t you picture it? It’s so simple.

The Kamloops trustees — a majority — shut down the rural schools. They don’t lose a lot of votes in the city because, heck, they didn’t do much in Kamloops. The few rural trustees rage and rail and condemn — a surefire way to guarantee re-election next time we go to the polls.

Nobody loses — except those who live in Pinantan, Westwold, Heffley, Savona and all those other communities that really define what British Columbia is.

May Henry be the last to perish on the cold city streets

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Henry Leland never had an easy life.

He was kicked out of his band at Squilax when he was just a teen — albeit one who was already headed down the path that would take him to the streets of Kamloops.

His mother was beaten to death in Vancouver.

He was estranged from his father, who died just before Henry’s frozen body was found out front of the Knights Inn, snow piled around him.

No one had noticed.

The anonymity of the street life may have been Henry’s legacy at one point but, thanks to the AIDS Society of Kamloops, his name now defines what was once called the Whistler Inn.

And, it’s hoped, the other part of his legacy is that, as social agencies strive to provide housing for those who are hard to house, Henry may be the last street person to die.

Tina Baptiste loves the sentiment, but doesn’t expect that reality.

As someone who thought of Henry as a brother — and who fought for him when he wasn’t strong enough to apply for a disability pension and the other fundamental cogs in our province’s unravelling social-safety net — Tina has seen too many friends die.

And they’re all her friends, the street family, as she describes those who many Kamloopsians try so desperately to not see as they walk downtown.

“He was just so lost,” Tina says of Henry.

“It’s been so hard to let Henry go.”

Tina has spent years working with people like Henry.

She took an advocacy course years ago with Skylark Disraeli — and then headed out to help.

As with Henry, she’s helped members of her street family get the benefits they should be receiving.

She’s learned how to keep smiling in social-assistance offices, even when she wants to scream at the wait — which can go on for hours.

Today, she’s hoping to see changes come with the opening and occupancy of Henry Leland House, a building that — despite massive cost overruns to deal with a building constructed at a time when the rules weren’t so rigid — is filling a gap.

ASK executive director Bob Hughes agrees.

In fact, he’s been adamant the times we’ve talked about this program — and yes, we’ve had pleasant and not-so-pleasant conversations about it — that Henry is going to be the last person in Kamloops to die on the streets because he had no home.

Last winter, with just the rumour of another homeless person being found frozen to death, Hughes was desperately trying to find out the facts because it’s his mission to provide housing for the hard-to-house.

He’s not the only one.

No matter how you feel about the Victory Inn or Georgian Court, you have to agree the John Howard Society — and, in particular, its CEO, Dawn Hyrcan — has led the way in building low-income housing.

Despite losing a crucial Interior Health Authority contract, Tim Larose and the New Life Mission are doing everything they can to continue to provide even more needed housing for women.

The Kamloops branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has its Emerald House, which provides housing for women.

Interior Community Services probably owns more housing it uses for its clients than most Kamloopsians know.

The agency for which I volunteer — Kamloops Society for Community Living is also heavily invested in providing housing, but for disabled adults.

These are just some of the organizations that quietly, determinedly, persevere in their goal to get our brothers and sisters, our sons and our parents off the street or ensure they never end up here.

Henry Leland House is the newest one on the block, so to speak, but one has to hope it won’t be the last.

Because, although we all desperately want to believe it, it’s unlikely Henry will be the last person to die in the cold on the streets of Kamloops.

Tigger prompts power naps from those being questioned

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This is a column about Tigger.

Tigger doesn’t look all that impressive — like most house cats, he’s kinda furry, knows exactly which visitor is allergic and truly doesn’t care all that much about anything other than his world.

But this unimposing little pet has managed to do something high-priced lobbyists, determined politicians and, yes, even pushy reporters, have never been able to do.

Tigger has shut up a whole lot of bureaucrats.

The communications folks for the provincial ministry of housing won’t talk about Tigger.

Neither will their counterparts at B.C. Housing.

Locally, the executive director of one of the larger social agencies in Kamloops doesn’t want to talk about Tigger.

But Roy Sim does.

Roy loves Tigger. They’ve been buddies, roomies for years now.

When Roy sits down at night to watch some TV, Tigger’s right there with him, quietly mewing.

Tigger went with Roy when he and all the other people living at the former Whistler Inn were evicted after B.C. Housing bought it and handed it over to the AIDS Society of Kamloops to run as project to provide housing for the hard-to-house.

Roy says he thinks it’s a great project and he’s all for it.

Sure, he fought the eviction but did so because, as he puts it, “that’s been my home for years.”

Tigger went with Roy when he found temporary lodging and the two of them have remained together, waiting for the construction at the downtown building to be complete so they can go home.

Except Tigger’s not welcome.

Roy is, but there’s now a no-pets-allowed policy at the facility.

And, like most pet owners, this is simply wrong to Roy.

As he puts it, he’s a senior and having his cat gives him a reason to get up some mornings.

It gives him someone to look after, to feed, to care for, to talk to when there’s no one else around to listen.

Roy knows the research.

He knows countless studies done over decades have shown having a pet is good for seniors — and, at 68 and living off a couple of pensions, Roy reluctantly agrees that yes, he’s officially a senior.

He knows owning a pet can help lower blood pressure and depression.

That can lead to better health and fewer doctors’ appointments.

Pets can foster friendships.

There’s nothing that will bond people quicker than sharing stories about their animals.

Roy knows countless organizations that work with seniors, with people who have disabilities and addictions all use pets in therapy.

So, Roy can’t figure out why he can’t go home with his pet.

So far, the only answer he’s been able to get is that it’s because pets aren’t allowed anymore.

I can’t get any answers. Requests for explanation to the government are now being ignored. Requests to the AIDS Society have recently just led to complaints about my writing on this issue.

Roy has even suggested a compromise that sure seems like a good idea. Since he’s just going back home, let him keep his pet.

For those moving into the building, who will be working to overcome substance-abuse and mental-health issues, acknowledge the role pets can provide in therapy.

Let them earn the right to have a pet for themselves, Roy says.

Sure makes sense to me.

Movie nights in the common room and barbecues out in the parking lot will all help with building community and helping people interact with society again — but there’s nothing like having a cat curl up beside you to remind you that you’re not alone.

And that’s not too much for a senior to ask for, is it?

Raring for referendums? Great, let’s dissolve council

Monday, June 22, 2009

So here’s an idea.

Let’s just do away with city council.

Who needs it anyway? All councillors do is sit around and talk and read reports and talk some more and read some more reports.

How hard can that be?

The rest of us out here can certainly take on that job.

Need to make a decision? Let’s hold referenda. We can do one every week if we have to.

Let the people speak.

Problem is, that’s exactly what the people do — theoretically — on election day.

We pick the people we think can best run the city.

Every three years, if we like what they’ve done, we can vote for them again, if they’re running.

If we’re not happy with them, we can collectively vote them out — or at least have the satisfaction of knowing with our X we’ve expressed our view.

That’s the way the system works and it’s the reason why all this nonsense about water meters needs to stop.

We elected this council.

The councillors have read the reports. They’ve asked the questions.

They’ve considered the issue.

I’m sure many have asked their friends, family — perhaps even total strangers — for feedback on the issue. And they’ve made the decision the city needs to have water meters.

Most of the debate has centred around one of two concepts:

We can teach people to conserve and didn’t we already say no to this once?

The education-awareness argument doesn’t need much comment.

Of course we can launch a campaign to do this.

Some people will listen; others won’t. That’s the way it’s always been and likely will remain for years to come.

People buy into concepts or they don’t.

The argument that concerns me the most is this “listen to the people.”

“The people” today are different from “the people” who voted on the water-meter referendum years ago.

The time in which they voted was a different one. We weren’t as aware as we are now about the city’s water consumption, its cost, the consequences of not controlling its use — all those issues we now face.

And the time we are in now is not going to be much like the one our children will see when they reach voting age.

We can’t keep running back to the general population for a “vote.”

It just won’t work. It might be democracy in its purest form, but if you think we have voter apathy now, just imagine how engaged people would become if, on every major issue, we had to hold a referendum.

Now there’s a cost you won’t want to see added to the property-tax calculations.

The real reason the “we already said no” argument is being raised is because, yes, some people already said no.

It’s a convenient argument for those who still want to say no.

But here’s the bottom line: We use too much water.

We know it and yet many of us continue to use too much water — so much for that awareness and education choice.

Meters will force us to realize how much water we use and require us to pay for it.

Basic economics here: Use little, pay little. Use more, pay more.

And here’s the principle we’re in danger of losing if we cave in to those naysayers and pander to their calls for public referenda: We make our civic leaders obsolete.

We don’t need them.

We can decide.

I’m not sure who would be the one picking the “big” issues that require the public to make the decision.

Maybe we could hold a referendum to choose.

In the meantime, these are the folks we chose to make those decisions needed to run Kamloops.

Let’s let them do it.

The last Sunday

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Our last Sunday edition was published today.
It's got an awesome front; Chris Foulds put some of the best Sunday fronts we've done in recent history below the mast, with a series of sundae cups in reduced levels of holding ice cream above the mast.
Some of the people I work with questioned this, saying the Sunday paper might come back.
It might, but I'm not expecting that to happen.
There's even a rumour out there about more possible changes in the publishing arena in Kamloops, which is further proof -- if it turns out to be something more than a rumour -- the industry I've grown up with and in is changing dramatically.
Some day, I think we're going to miss printed newspapers, like we're now starting to miss the purity of vinyl records.
They're coming back, slowly, as we continue to look backwards while we're running forwards.
Fridays were always what I called my day from hell; massive push to get everything done by 5 p.m., the staff just getting over having put out the Friday paper and faced with a quick turnaround to get stories and photos all in.
I can't remember the number of Friday nights it was just me, the editor and Dave Eagles still finishing things off at 5:30 p.m. -- and sometimes later.
It will be nice to get out of work on Fridays at a normal hour.
It's just going to take some time to get used to.


Friday, June 5, 2009

But Monday isn't going to be much better.
It's been a tough week at KTW. We've killed our Sunday paper for reasons that, to the true-believer reporter types some of us are, make no logical sense.
Economic sense, maybe, but to go another day without something tangible, something you can hold in your hands that tells you what's going on -- it's sad to think that reality is disposable in today's world.
It was interesting sitting in on a meeting between the kids in the newsroom and the publisher today. They're so gung-ho; angry at the death in the family we're living with, but they still believe and they want so much to find ways to connect with people and tell share the stories they write.
they want to figure out ways to dive readers to our online presence at They want to engage readers in an online forum. They want to have a dialogue with you, to share ideas, to ferret out the stories you want to tell.
They're willing to use just about any medium that will work and, if the publisher goes along with some of their ideas, you're about to see some truly innovative ways to interact with the KTW reporting staff.
For me, though, it's been a roller-coaster ride.
As i sat bemoaning at home bemoaning the decision I feel is truly wrong, I remembered a day about 27 years ago when, while sitting at home on a medical leave, I got a call from the editor of the metropolitan daily I called home for 25 years.
Believe it or not, he told me, the publisher (who owned the paper, one of the last true, great, independent newspaper publishers) was killing our evening edition.
It was the end of the industry, many of my colleagues said. How could we continue with no evening paper?
Funny thing is we did. We had our morning paper and the five other editions that we sent out at night to our regions. We just didn't have our city evening edition.
We got letters to the editor but, in the end, we learned how to rethink to package our paper for morning deliver and our readers learned how to communicate with us to ensure the news they wanted continued to be covered.
It was an instructive lesson to remember.
They were good old days, they're slowing leaving but there's always tomorrow.
We can dread it or embrace it.
Working with the kids who share our newsroom, it seems I've got no choice.

We can teach our children well — without ‘white noise’

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Disclaimer: I have five children so, obviously, I like kids.

I find them fascinating, annoying, incredible, exasperating and awe-inspiring — particularly as they go through those real terrible twos — the double digits of teenage years.

My teenage years were far from conventional — at the time.

Growing up in the 1960s, I lived in a family where “good girls” didn’t wear slacks to school, didn’t listen to rock ‘n’ roll (Sonny and Cher were “singing from hunger” in my father’s eyes), where you had to be aware of current events to survive dinner-time conversation and where girls really should always learn shorthand, just in case our silly job dreams didn’t pan out — which, of course, my father was sure they wouldn’t.

To cross him was to incur the kind of wrath that today gets you a visit from social services.

So I find it truly amazing to watch as my brood goes through their teenaged years. Three have successfully passed this necessary rite; two are making their way through it.

I learn from each of them daily — and it’s why I can’t understand why there are so many in Kamloops who view teenagers as aliens, strange creatures to fear, who must be controlled.

This thought came coursing back to the forefront of my thoughts recently for several reasons.

First, there was a former Kamloops RCMP officer talking on the radio about an incident in his new detachment.

This same officer is one I had some heated words with one day a few years ago when he confronted my then-teenaged oldest son as he got off the bus down at the old Thompson Park Mall.

James had his skateboard with him; he took it with him everywhere, as teenagers often do.

He knew he wasn’t supposed to use it on the streets, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t always heed that dictum.

But, on this day, he was just getting off the bus to catch the next one to get to his job on the North Shore, when this officer stopped him, told him skateboards weren’t allowed downtown and then snapped the board in half across his knee.

When we “chatted” about it, the officer said James had been seen in the company of a known drug dealer.

I asked what that meant. He told me James had got off the bus behind this bad guy. Nope, they didn’t talk. They just happened to be in the same space, which was enough for this cop to label my teenaged son.

My second-youngest, barely into his teens, experienced similar age profiling recently.

He and his buddies all wear purple bandanas.

Apparently, in a couple of parents’ minds, that means they’re in a gang.

It was enough of an issue that the principal and vice-principal of his school asked the guys to stop wearing their bandanas, all the while acknowledging these parents are so wrong to stereotype a group of boys that way.

In Liam’s mind, it’s as bad as the situation the teen boy faced one day when he wore a pink T-shirt to school — the stereotyping he was subjected to became a national anti-homophobic movement.

And, finally, there’s rookie Coun. Marg Spina, who has fuelled the local anti-teen movement with her truly ridiculous idea that proprietors of places where teenagers gather should play some sort of “white-noise” frequency that will apparently only be heard by teenaged ears and incite them to find some other place to hang out.

Apparently, she thinks there’s some sort of frequency emitter out there that can be tuned to some modulation that only teenaged ears can hear — and it’s strong enough to drive them away.

News flash! Teenagers gather together. They hang out. They’ve done it through the generations. Spina probably did it herself.

And, at least when they’re gathered in a public place, we know where they are and what they’re doing.

If they’re a nuisance, the business owner should be the one to move them on. If they don’t, it’s a policing problem, not a councillor’s issue.

There’s really no need for this “white-noise” idea — for the teenagers or from Spina’s mouth.

Campbell’s carbon tax needs to go — and here’s why

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I’ve pretty much had it with David Suzuki continually spouting off about the carbon tax in this province.

Now he’s waded into the election campaign, declaring he won’t vote for the NDP — long the party of favour for environmentalists — because its leader, Carole James, has declared she will axe the tax if elected.

James has never impressed me as premier material and her political speeches have often sounded tried and tired, but on this one, she’s right.

The tax needs to go — and here’s why.

There is more to British Columbia than Metro Vancouver and Victoria.

Not everyone lives a healthy hike from the nearest SkyTrain stop.

I’ve looked all over Kamloops and I just can’t find one anywhere.

Not everyone can bike to work. I know I can’t for many reasons.

It’s a good 17 kilometres from my house to work and, to be honest, I couldn’t bike that far if there was a motor attached to the two wheels.

Besides, bikes don’t come with sidecars for two teenagers, who I drive in to the city for school every day.

Yes, they could take the bus, but that means a two-hour ride there — and another two-hour ride back home — and I just don’t think those four hours sitting in a diesel-powered, exhaust-spewing bus going both ways is a good idea.

It would be 20 hours a week on a bus; think of it as spending half your work week perched precariously on those bench seats, trying not to slide off as the bus lurches from stop to stop.

Some will point to the recent Statistics Canada report that says people in Vancouver have longer commutes than those of us who live outside the centre of all things British Columbian — but that ignores the fact that there, they at least have options.

The final reason is that, in my job — as in many of your jobs — a car is essential.

I worked with a reporter who refused to learn to drive, taking cabs to all of his assignments. Never could figure out where he got all the money to pay for that, because it’s not an expense most publishers will approve.

I can’t afford one of those fancy hybrid-electric-100-miles-to-the-gallon vehicles Suzuki and so many other environmentalists now drive.

If I could, I’d certainly buy one because those fill-ups at the PetroCan pumps every week are expensive.

But my income isn’t in the six figures — or even five big ones.

A friend suggested I sell my house and its two acres out on the edge of the city and buy something downtown, where the boys wouldn’t have to spend so long on the bus and I could bike to work.

I’m hoping he was joking because, as committed as I am to doing what I can to save the world, nothing is going to pry me away from my own hunk of heaven, a place where I can sit out back, look at the hills and the river and enjoy tranquility and silence.

Not sure the last time those two were found in the hustle and bustle of downtown Kamloops.

I think James has actually got it right with her cap-and-trade proposal, which would see the biggest polluters in the province — I’m pretty sure Domtar has more emissions than my little Buick, the husband’s Ford and our high-efficiency furnace combined.

(Although I have to admit it’s disconcerting to see James now promoting something she dumped on heavily when the Liberals brought in legislation to create this very system. But then, it is election time, when political posturing and compromise are apparently required behaviours.)

I do the best I can to preserve the environment, as most of you likely do. I compost, recycle, reuse, repair, try to buy locally and organically, avoid drive-thrus on the rare occasions I go to a fast-food restaurant and don’t spray my fruit trees with pesticides.

And, for doing all of this, I get the pleasure of watching the cost of many of the essentials of my life going up, courtesy of this tax — and I’ve yet to see any of those touted tax cuts that are supposed to offset it all for me — and for most of you, too.

Ask Liberals if they agree with charging kids to use bus

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If there was ever a reason to not vote for the Liberals next month, it comes courtesy of Shirley Bond.

The woman who once sat as a trustee on a school board in Prince George — where 4,500 students ride buses 11,500 kilometres in total every day on 64 regular and 13 custom routes — now says parents should pay to send their kids to school by bus.

Perhaps this is yet another initiative by her government to cut down on school-bus emissions.

After all, if the buses aren’t rolling, they aren't spewing exhaust.

This is the same government that has allocated $1.1 million for special filters to be retrofitted on buses to reduce those noxious fumes.

This is the same government that has introduced an experiment in Kelowna with a hybrid electric school bus – at a cost of about $50,000 more than a regular diesel-fuelled bus.

They seem to know the buses are bad for health, but don’t understand how vital they are for education.

And now, just to hammer it home, School District 73 trustee Annette Glover, chairwoman of the finance and planning committee for SD73, has said the committee is prepared to recommend transportation fees in September if the province doesn’t come up with more money to cover the shortfall — although her press release doesn’t say how much will be charged.

So here are some questions to ask Liberal candidates Kevin Krueger and Terry Lake, should you happen upon them on the election trail in the next few weeks.

Do they believe education is a basic right?

Do they believe government has an obligation to deliver education?

Are they prepared to develop some sort of tax credit for parents who can’t afford to pay for transportation but who will be topping up the tanks with that lovely, ever-increasing carbon tax the Liberals have imposed on us all?

And let’s all remember that tax is supposed to hit an extra 7.2 cents a litre in just three years.

You could ask the Gordon Campbell boys why they’ve spent millions and millions of dollars in their green push to make school buses belch less and are now willing to throw that all away for those of us who can’t afford the hybrids and electric cars to make that drive back and forth every day.

Ask them what they plan to do with the traffic congestion that will be created on neighbourhood streets as those parents who won’t be able to afford the extra $20 per child per month.

This would be the amount school boards are now being told to charge just for the privilege of ensuring your kids get the education they are legally required to receive.

By the way, if you believe that $20 figure, the Liberals have a bridge to sell you.

Glover notes in her release that request for reviews by the B.C. School Trustees Association have been met by Bond with “total disregard.”

Sure, it’s easy to be mad at the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and its ad campaign advocating so many things for the school system, but maybe we should also be angry with an arrogant government determined to download everything onto families.

It’s so convenient to just criticize teachers as whiners who want everything their way: smaller classes, more support for special-needs classes and greater understanding that when a school closes, it impacts a community.

In fact, it’s almost a mantra for some to dump on teachers as greedy, overpaid, underworked leeches — but I wouldn’t want their job.

Because anyone who thinks teachers only work from the moment the bell rings at 8:30 a.m. to the closing bell at 2:30 is sorely mistaken.

Just as is anyone who thinks the way to handle the funding crisis that is crippling our education system is to charge parents for transportation.

Kids are our future.

Does it make sense to put financial barriers in front of that future?

May election may just turn on some (or all) of these names

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here are some names to remember in the next 53 days: Patrick Kinsella, Bob Virk, David Basi, Kevin Mahoney, Gordon Wilson, Paul Ramsay, Helmut Giesbrecht and Gordon Campbell.

There’s a good reason to watch for news on this crew — they could very well cause a provincial election result that would have been unthinkable a year ago.

First, some context. Just three days after Christmas in 2003 — far enough back it’s likely Campbell and company might have been hoping we all forgot about it — there was a police raid on the legislature in Victoria.

Remember those clips on the TV news? Big, burly cops carrying boxes and boxes of documents out of the seat of government.

Less than a week later, Basi, a ministerial assistant to then-finance minister Colin Hansen, was fired and Virk, ministerial assistant to then-transporation minister Judith Reid, was suspended with pay.

Eventually, we all learned the raid had to do with Campbell’s decision to sell BC Rail to Canadian National in November 2003 for $1 billion.

In 2004, Virk and Basi were charged with breach of trust and fraud for allegedly leaking confidential information to lobbyists for one of the bidders for the rail company, a suitor that was unsuccessful. A third provincial civil servant, Aneal Basi, was also eventually charged.

Five years of virtual silence followed. The justice system was apparently working its way through the evidence, while Campbell and crew were likely delighted to make it through another provincial election without having to explain anything about the controversy.

But not anymore.

The trial that began last year is starting to make headlines as documents are being made public — and that’s where my list of names at the start of this column come into play.

Let’s start with Patrick Kinsella.

Before this case, he and his firm, Progressive Group, were just a major player in the provincial Liberal party, a go-to guy for the past 30 years.

Among Kinsella’s resume accomplishments was working for the Bermuda-based Accenture “to promote and educate the B.C. government of the value of outsourcing a number of key government services.”

You remember Accenture, don’t you? It’s the company that, for $1.45 billion, now runs a big part of BC Hydro.

Kinsella was also the brains behind Bill Bennett’s 1983 election victory over Dave Barrett, eventually crowing to students at Simon Fraser University about how he had manipulated the public and media to get the win.

Now, he’s being asked to explain what he did, exactly, as an advisor to the senior management team at BC Rail during the privatization process that warranted a payment of $297,000 between 2002 and 2005, an amount of money even Kevin Mahoney, then a BC Rail vice-president, asked about in an e-mail to another executive.

The documents filed with the court reveal the answer to have been Kinsella was being paid because he was “a backroom Liberal.”

So far, no answers about what kind of actual work Kinsella did, if the job went through the tendering process — since BC Rail was at the time a Crown corporation — or why he was continuing to be paid long after the utility was sold to Canadian National.

And how do Gordon Wilson, Paul Ramsay and Helmut Giesbrecht figure into this scenario?

Think Watergate.

Think dirty tricks.

Within the thousands and thousands of pages the court is dealing with in the trial are e-mails allegedly sent by these three, each former NDP cabinet ministers, crowing about how the BC Rail sale will cause staggering job losses and how their party could use it to their advantage.

The only problem is all three deny ever sending those e-mails.

Which brings us to Gordon Campbell, the man who usually loves those photo-ops and chances to talk about how great his government is.

He’s understandably quiet right now, using the convenient dodge that he can’t answer any questions because the matter is before the courts.

It’s political face at its finest, kind of like watching an old Road Runner cartoon. You know that bird is going to go as fast he can to try and outrun the train.

And you know he just won’t do it.

Nobody is above the law — especially those with a badge

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I remember being told at a very young age the police were my friends.
If I ever needed help, find a police officer. Call 911.

They were there to protect me.

That was a long time ago, and I wonder how many parents are still teaching their children the police are their friends.

I find myself spending more time explaining to my kids — young teenagers who are questioning all they see in the world around them — why the police who tasered Robert Dziekanski won’t be charged in his death.

I’ve had to listen to a senior RCMP officer in Kamloops tear a strip off me because I questioned the wisdom of assigning a couple of bulky cops, dressed in their “gang squad” leathers, to parade through local bars and look intimidating.

I’ve had to listen to a mother cry, distraught because she’d reported her teenaged daughter missing and, two days later, had yet to have an officer show up at her house to get some information.

I calmed a friend who had complained to the local RCMP about how it treated her son — only to have the officer who arrested the young man approach her in a store and take her picture with his cellphone.

He smirked and walked away.

I’ve had street friends complain about being continually harassed by local police, from just general rousting to one I found most distasteful, when an officer continually called a transgendered friend, who has chosen to be a woman, by her former male name.

Funny how it always seems to be the same cops they each name, privately, because they just don’t want to do anything to see the hassling and harassment notched up.

Such is the life of the marginalized in our society.

If you need any more examples, just consider the sudden death of Ian Bush up in Houston two years ago.

Do you think the Bush family continues to have any faith in their police — or the justice system?

There is something fundamentally wrong with the policing system in British Columbia — and it has to stop.

One of the first steps that should be taken is every single police detachment in the province should take a long, hard look at its members.

Listen to what they say.

Watch how they interact with others.

Maybe pay attention to public complaints about improper behaviour.

Perhaps that way, they could weed out the kind of police who might confront a newspaper carrier and throw out racial slurs.

Maybe they’d identify the ones who think that a badge and a gun — and let’s not forget the ever-present taser — give them permission to drive home drunk, put the boots to someone or throw an addict out into the frigid winter night to freeze to death.

The next step would be to quit moving these officers from detachment to detachment.

It’s an awful lot like the Catholic Church used to do with its pedophile priests, shunting them off to different parishes when their current flock started to get an idea something was wrong.

The location changes, but where’s the guarantee the behaviour, the attitude, change as well?

It isn’t easy being a police officer.

They put their lives on the line.

For that, they get to carry a gun and other weapons for protection.

It doesn’t give them the right to think they can flash their badge and be forgiven for their transgressions.

It doesn’t give them the right to shoot first and think later.

And it certainly doesn’t give them the right to think they’re above the law.

Remembering a light who guided many special children

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Note: I was honoured to have this column read at Anne's funeral. Even now, after having written it, read it many times and seen it published, it makes me cry to realize that such a vital light in our world has been extinguished. But every time I look at Sean, I see the child Anne saw, the one with the potential yet to be realized -- and I thank whoever it is up there for bringing this incredible woman into our lives.

The voyage through the world that is autism is much like visiting an unknown country.

Sure, there are guidebooks that can tell you what you may see, what landmarks you may encounter, some of the problems you’ll face as you travel through — but they are just words.

Reading about the chance you may encounter a bridge that’s difficult to cross as you travel isn’t the same as trying to make your way across the rickety connector.

And so it is that, when finding oneself in a strange land, we tend to look for a person, someone who has been there before and can help us savour the happy moments and prepare for the challenging ones.

In my voyage through autism, there have been several such guides, but none like Anne Simmons.

I met Anne as I’ve met all those who have been there as my youngest has worked his way from diagnosis of autism to confident high-school student.

Another of my “tour guides,” Patti Pernitsky, told me of the incredible Child Development Centre and how the staff there work with special-needs children. So, when Sean had outgrown Patti’s nursery school, we moved him to the CDC.

And we found Anne, a woman who, with a calm, even voice and an arm around my shoulders, assured me my youngest would be fine there.

I didn’t need to worry, Anne told me. She’d be there to help him learn.

It was scary. At that time, still a pre-schooler and challenged with communicating to others — including his family — Sean would struggle.

He’d become frustrated and angry and, as with many who live with autism, would shut down.

Sometimes, he’d lash out.

His play was solitary, choosing to get out the blocks or a puzzle and do them alongside someone rather than with one of his day-care mates.

As the days went by, I continued researching autism, reading about treatments, symptoms, characteristics — doing all those things parents do when their child has been given a diagnosis that is both foreign and frightening.

But, through it all, there was Anne.

She’d be there in the morning to give Sean a hug and help him get settled.

She’d be there when I came to pick him up, always with a positive story about how he had done that day.

She was there when he started interacting with other children.

Anne was there when my son started to play with his peers outside in the centre’s incredible yard.

She was there when I needed to understand how the theory I had been absorbing was being put into practice by my baby.

And this incredible woman was there when Sean, by now in kindergarten, made the monumental step of being able to take the HandiDart bus from Stuart Wood elementary each school day over to the CDC building for the afternoons.

She watched as he went from a five-year-old who needed the driver to help him off the bus to a confident student who could wave goodbye to his driver and get off himself, coming into the day care, heading to his cubby, putting his coat away and finding his room — and his friends.

Now, Anne didn’t do all this alone — no, there were so many other staff there who all played a part in helping Sean break through the isolation of autism and interact with his world.

And they each contributed to making him who he is today, a teenager who towers over his mother, who has chosen drama for a major, who is on a bowling team and — despite once being told by a specialist he would likely not talk — who rarely shuts up.

Through the years, I stayed in touch with Anne, showing her photos of my kid as he grew and progressed.

It wasn’t just politeness — I wanted her to see how the work she did with him at the beginning resonates even today.

My friend , Anne, unfortunately left us last Sunday.

And, while it’s almost a hackneyed phrase to say, in her case, it is true — she has left such a massive hole in the fabric of the CDC, its staff and families.

For more than three decades, she cared for children — really cared for them.

And I’m so fortunate that one of them was my son.

Even our AG knows the justice system is broken

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The province’s attorney general, Wally Oppal, wants all of us to start holding our judicial system accountable.

He wants us to let him know — as the top judge in B.C. — when we think all those legal beagles who work for him are doing things with which we don’t agree.

So, here’s my contribution to the list Oppal is no doubt creating about instances of justice delayed being justice denied.

Back on Aug. 22, 2008, KTW photographer Dave Eagles captured an altercation between retired RCMP officer Pete Backus and John Gibbons, a — at the time — wheelchair-occupying marginalized man living in a rooming house in downtown Kamloops.

Gibbons complained to police, who began an investigation.

That took months to complete, but a file eventually made its way over to Crown counsel’s office, a document one would assume would lay out all the evidence and would have the police recommendation about pursuing charges against either man.

And there it sits, still waiting for someone to take action — 160 days later.

People in this city have been arrested, tried, convicted and jailed in that time.

Everyone involved on the justice side, from the police to the lawyers, have all insisted the time lag isn’t to give one of their own — albeit a retired one — an easy ride.

They’re not moving slowly because of the “blue code.”

Nope, they have to look at the totality of the situation, not just the dozens and dozens of photographs Eagles took or the statements by the two KTW reporters who were also at the scene.

And that’s a good thing, because — as we’ve learned from the inquiry into the Robert Dziekanski death at Vancouver International Airport — we want our police to not act recklessly, not prejudge a situation, not not ask questions.

But, at the same time, the judicial side of our criminal-justice system knows there are problems.

They know people are losing faith in their ability to protect us.

They know we sigh, roll our eyes or perhaps even utter some expletives when someone with a lengthy record gets a slap-on-the-wrist sentence.

They know — because Oppal has told them — the court system in B.C. moves too slowly as lawyers play their delaying games, judges allow them to do it, accused people join in on the games sometimes and nothing happens.

In fact, some people accused of crimes have figured out it’s smart to stay in custody, drag the case out and then get that double credit for time already spent incarcerated if — when — they’re convicted.

For that matter, why is a day spent in jail waiting for a trial worth two days spent in prison after conviction?

I’ve never been able to understand that logic.

Lawyers out there, please feel free to explain it to me.

It’s not easy being a judge or lawyer.

It’s mind-boggling the amount of data they have to have in their grey cells, the swiftness with which their minds must operate, the way they work the system they’re dedicated to uphold as they make their cases.

But, as they do all this — as they make judgment calls on what to do or say and when to do or say it — the rest of us simply see a system that’s not moving.

We see situations like the one people in Langley have been dealing with as the same criminal — arrested and released over and over again — continued to break into their businesses and restaurants.

In fact, that specific statistic for the central Fraser Valley city saw an increase of 20 per cent, with 690 break-and-enters in businesses in 2008.

That’s almost two a day.

There’s something wrong here.

Even Oppal knows it.

I wonder how long he’ll take to fix it.