Saturday, October 25, 2008

Really stinky dirt

A few months ago, landscapers laid down some really stinky dirt around the Production Way/University Sky Train stop in Burnaby. It was mostly put down under an overhang where the rain couldn't get to it, and it smelled so bad for months it would make you gag while waiting for or getting off the bus. It is a uniform very dark brown in colour and smelled like a pig feedlot to me.

Now, the same kind of terrible-smelling dirt is being laid down around the VCC-Clark Skytrain station, at the foot of North China Park. I asked one of the workers what it was, and he said it was a mixture of cow manure and dirt. I said "that's not like any cow manure I ever smelled, smells like pig manure to me." He said "there's probably some of that in there, too. Also residue from mushroom farming." I said "mushroom farming, they use dangerous chemicals in that." He said "yes, when this stuff is dry you can set fire to it and it will blow up."

Now, he may have been exaggerating, but I really think someone from the new high-paid Translink Board should be made to come out there and actually walk around the Sky Train station for a change and get a whiff of it. Maybe they would change their dirt contractor.

I believe in recycling manure, but that smells strong enough to burn up anything alive. If you go look at the Production Way Sky Train station where it was laid down months ago, the smell has diminished but there's still nothing growing in it. That's not healthy dirt - something would be growing in good dirt by now. You can't just put stuff like that at full strength on the ground - you need it to be worked on by organisms, first bacteria and then after it loses some of its strength, by the right kind of worms.

There's some information about the use of worms to recycle manure from pig farms in this review of The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Worms.

Just this week, CBC's The National exposed illegal practices being done with recycling electronic waste from the Vancouver area. Wouldn't surprise me if this dirt we're seeing around the Sky Trains is also the result of some illegal recycling. If not illegal, the way it's being prepared should be illegal. Go walk by there and sniff if you don't believe me.

Sun. Nov. 9, Bus Riders Union Protest, Main St. Skytrain Station, 1-3 pm

Event: On Sunday, November 9th: Speak out against privatization!
What: Protest
Host: Vancouver Bus Riders Union
Start Time: Sunday, November 9 at 1:00pm
End Time: Sunday, November 9 at 3:00pm
Where: Main Street Skytrain Station

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:
(You have to be a Facebook user to log in to this, but you can apply for an account.)

I don't know what they're going to say, but I like the Bus Riders Union, it's a good concept and they work hard, both at the level of research and actually riding the buses and talking to folks.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Voting - good, bad, ugly

I voted for the first time in Canada in this month's federal election. Some of the good things compared to the US included that I had no problem registering at the polling place on election day, that lines were very short when I went, and that the ballot was paper and was very simple to read (big type!) and to mark (big X).

Not everyone had it as smooth as I did, however. One senior auntie was upset because her polling place had been moved from the one closest to her house to one farther away. Another was sent home from the polls to get something with her address on it before she could vote. Always before she had been able to just show up and vote. This time, she had heard she would need i.d., but she didn't realize she would have to show two i.d.'s, at least one with her address on it. She also was not permitted to use her Care Card as i.d. - something that was not published anywhere. As she has no driver's license, she was told to bring a bill from home with her name on it. If she didn't have any bills in her own name, would she have been able to vote?

For people without all that proper i.d., a registered voter who knows the person is supposed to be able vouch for them. But an auntie told me she was only permitted to vouch for one person - a second person she knew who had the same problem was turned away without being able to vote.*

The requirement to show i.d. with your address was reported to have disenfranchised many homeless people in Vancouver, and I expect someone in the anti-poverty field may try to take this to court. But in general, I think Canadians are fairly unsuspecting about election rigging and this could be an early sign of it crossing the border from the U.S. Purging voters of a particular political leaning has gone very far in the U.S. recently. Among the films that document this is Stealing America: Vote by Vote, a new feature-length release by award-winning California documentarian Dorothy Fadiman. You can view that entire 90-minute film online here:

STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote from Concentric Media on Vimeo.

Another disturbing sign in Canada was reported in a Canadian TV news program I saw in the last year or so, which explained that the Conservative Party maintains a large and sophisticated database that includes answers people on the voter rolls have given to questions about their political opinions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that homeless people are less likely than average to vote Conservative, but with such data it can be possible to target voter obstruction in a more sophisticated manner. Mt. Pleasant is in Libby Davies' Van East riding, and she won handily again.

Recently I interviewed the president of the Simon Fraser Student Society and we discussed the online voting system used for the first time in their last election. He pooh-pooed my concern that electronic voting is more subject to rigging than paper balloting, said voting electronically was modernization, and cited instances of known paper ballot rigging. I wish I had had this quote from the Fadiman film to tell him then: "It takes a long time to change 10,000 paper ballots by hand; it takes seconds to change 10,000 electronically."

At the conclusion of this film is a segment showing that the US state of New Mexico recently passed a law mandating a return to paper ballots statewide - the reason being, that with paper you have something to re-count. With electronic voting, the answer is only blowing in the wind.

*Votes cast in 2008 in Van East were 41,369, with 270 being rejected ballots. In 2006 there were 42,494 ballots cast, with 200 being rejected ballots. In 2006, Libby Davies (NDP) won by 56.6%; in 2008, by 54.4%. This proves nothing, aside from the fact that it doesn't contradict a hypothesis that vote totals may have been diminished this year by people being turned away from the polls.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Surround City Hall for Housing Saturday Oct. 18

Forwarded release from Stand for Housing:

Will you take one hour on Saturday, October 18 at 1:00 to surround our city hall?

A Call for Action
Oct 18 1-2 pm
This is a finale of a week long vigil and fast to end homelessness at City Hall
& Homeless Awareness Week (Oct 13-18)

Homeless action week has been amazing - a five day vigil and fast at city hall will culminate with our joint Vancouver wide housing stand on Saturday, Oct. 18.
Now we need a very large crowd to pressure the new city council. This action has widespread support from churches, unions and community groups but we need bodies on the street to demonstrate our determination to end homelessness and create affordable homes in Vancouver.

Please join us!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Analysis of Libby Davies' Work on Prostitution Issues and the Controversy Surrounding It

Many of the aunties in our Vancouver East riding support Libby Davies of the NDP to be returned to Parliament, but some of the aunties have been saying they are concerned about her views on prostitution. An auntie who has been volunteering with Davies' campaign inquired about this and sends some information about what Davies' position is and has been.

In 2002, Libby made a Speech in Parliament: Time to Review Canada's Solicitation Laws She was supporting her private members motion to create a parliamentary committee to review solitication laws. She includes the fact that if women get a criminal record that makes it harder for them to leave prostitution. In 2003, Libby released a press statement saying all parties had agreed that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights should review federal laws around solicitation, with a view to "recommend changes that would reduce the dangers facing sex trade workers and ensure safer and healthy communities." The report that came out in December 2006 is called THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE: A STUDY OF CANADA’S CRIMINAL PROSTITUTION LAWS. Libby discussed it in a January 2007 press release.

The government's 139-page report is interesting, among other reasons, because it shows that three parties in Parliament agreed that prostitution be viewed as a public health issue, while the Conservative party's dissenting section stated prostitution should be viewed as violence against women. This language, that prostitution is violence against women, is also used by the feminists who support abolition of prostitution; but clearly the Conservatives do not support the feminists' recommendations for a remedy, which includes a guaranteed livable income, housing, drug rehab availability, and other social services.

According to the auntie who volunteers on her campaign, Libby supports decriminalization but not legalization of prostitution, she wishes to reduce harm to women who are involved in the sex trade and reduce barriers to their being able to exit. The auntie said that even those who had some quarrels with Libby's position on prostitution would get farther towards their own goals keeping Libby, who is honest, works hard on the issue, and really cares about the prostituted women [even if she calls them "sex workers"]. She also said that Libby's positions are her own and not necessarily the same as those of the NDP platform. [I did not find prostitution mentioned in the NDP's platform, but here are sections of their platform on Women: Moving Forward on Equality and Building Strong Communities.]

Here are Libby's own words about prostitution from the 2007 release:

I will continue to call for law reform, immediate support for exit strategies, and the need for a public inquiry, to ensure that necessary changes are made at all levels of government, to best protect the rights and safety of sex workers and affected communities.

Current laws around prostitution make street level sex workers vulnerable to selective law enforcement as well as exploitation and violence. Survival sex workers are often poor and drug dependent, and are reluctant to seek protection under the law.

Cuts in social programs and spending, together with increasing poverty, particularly over the past decade, have forced more women into survival sex trade.

The Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights recently completed its report on prostitution laws, The Challenge of Change: a Study of Canada's Criminal Prostitution Laws. ... The report outlines the failure of the criminal code to protect sex workers and local communities. When sex workers are displaced to isolated areas as a result of the communicating law, they face greater risk for harm and death and become easier targets for predators.

There was near unanimous agreement from witnesses heard at the committee that the current status and regime of law enforcement pertaining to prostitution is unworkable, contradictory and unacceptable. It has created an environment of marginalization and violence, with negative impacts on both sex workers and affected local communities.

Sex workers are fearful to report violence, assault and coercion because of their illegal status. Their poor relationship with law enforcement authorities, contributes to the danger they face. Better training of law enforcement agencies is needed.

I believe the federal government must come to terms with the contradictions and impossibility of the status quo, and engage in a process of law reform that will lead to the decriminalization of laws pertaining to prostitution and focus criminal sanctions on harmful situations.

It is also critical for all levels of government to immediately improve the safety of sex workers and assist them to exit the sex trade if they are not there by choice, by providing significant resources for poverty alleviation and income support, education and training, and treatment for addictions.

In February 2002, I called on the Mayor of Vancouver, as Chair of the Vancouver Police Board, to support an inquiry into the police investigation of the missing women to determine what happened. This public inquiry still needs to happen.

In March 2008, the Workless Party hosted a forum titled "Should Prostitution Be Legalised Before the 2010 Olympics," organized and moderated by Carly Teng. This was recorded and produced as streaming video by Working TV. Among the participants, pretty much all wanted to remove the criminal penalty on women for "communicating" - i.e., offering to exchange sex for money - but there was a strong division over whether the johns, or purchasers of sex, should be criminalized (a.k.a. The Swedish Model - a law passed in Sweden in 1999 and emulated by a number of other countries, including Korea and Norway). It is significant that the success of Sweden's law has depended heavily on Sweden's survivable welfare rates and other supports to exiting both prostitution and drug addiction.

On legalization - which is not advocated by Davies - A recent report by Deutsche Welle, picked up by the Women's UN Report Network, is titled Europe Reconsiders Prostitution as Sex Trafficking Booms . Basically, legalized prostitution in Europe is creating a market and a cover for forced trafficking of women for sexual purposes.

Just as a footnote - from the same article:

In Britain, where paid sex is legal but prostitutes aren't allowed to solicit in public [like in Canada], a group of Labour MPs have advocated for replacing criminal penalties for street prostitutes with mandatory counseling programs to get them out of the business. "We don't criminalize people who sell kidneys, we criminalize the buyer," Labour MP Fiona MacTaggart told Reuters news agency.

I hasten to add that "mandatory counseling" is not part of Libby Davies' position, nor that of either the decriminalization or the abolition segments of Vancouver's activists on this issue.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Is someone poisoning animals?

A neighbour says that she found her kitten dead with no apparent marks on her and blood coming out of her mouth. She thinks the kitten was poisoned. Both she and I have noticed a decrease in the number of squirrels in the neighbourhood. She wonders if someone puts out poison to kill squirrels and perhaps other animals are eating it as well. Reply if you know anything about this firsthand.

There has also been a theft of a small, curly black poodle in the neighbourhood. The owner of the dog has had it for 11 years and is putting up reward notices. She said the dog was picked up while it was urinating by a telephone pole a few feet away from her, and carried away by someone. A man who has a similar, but younger dog, told me a young, heavyset woman in her 20s picked up his dog while they were in Sahalli park and started to walk away with it.

John Graham case thrown out - back to grand jury

According to Doc Yip, our neighbour John Graham, a Canadian first nations man who was extradited to the US to stand trial, is getting another chance. The judge in South Dakota threw out his indictment, because of errors in it. So now, it goes back to the Grand Jury - a panel of citizens who review the evidence and decide if there is enough of it to hold a trial. Doc says that the evidence is extremely shaky - basically the coerced statement of one man who appears drunk in the videotaped statement. She says the police were putting words in that man's mouth and he was just agreeing. So, it's possible Graham could be freed without a trial.

Bad planning for contracted paving

A private contracting company is tearing up the brand new sidewalk on Great Northen Way, to the west of the VCC parking lot and across from the VCC Clark skytrain station. They say they are doing that to build a wider sidewalk. I have to question 1) why, if the City wanted a wider sidewalk there, they did't build it in the first place, and 2) why widen the sidewalk on that side of the street? Where it may need to be widened is between the Skytrain and the nearby Great Northern Way Campus. There is virtually no traffic on foot or bicycle on the side of the street where they are building, and they are narrowing the amount of nice green grass growing along there.

Who makes these decisions, and whom do they ask about actual conditions?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Working TV online

I just want to pay tribute to the work of Working TV in Vancouver, headed by Julius Fisher. Sometimes you can see their work on Shaw Cable channel 4, but you can watch all kinds of local events on their website, plus I just found some really good short video news clips of theirs on Facebook, including the Stand for Housing, the launch of the Walk for Justice, etc.

If anybody knows how to make direct video links that would play through a blog, please teach me!