Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Yesterday, one - and I must stress just one - of the major sources of grievance for Canada's indigenous peoples was addressed through the agreement in principle on residential schools. Indeed, it was quite a day for redress of all sorts (with the keyword being Indian albeit different usages thereof ) The Honourable Ann McLellan had also reached lightning conclusion to accept Bob Rae's Air Indian ruminations and hastily name him to fill the post of commissioner of inquiry, Bob had suggested (see for comment and links the immediately preceding entry below). But the busy Min also found time to announce Justice Frank Iacobucci's hard won deal for at-long-last compensation for Natives who'd been in the residential school system.

It would be much worse than a grouse to in any way detract from the legitimacy of this belated redress notwithstanding the ambient odour of the imminent federal election. This has been a long time coming. The residential school system, along with smallpox and the various laws that long existed to consign Canada's Original Peoples to the bottom of the social heap, left a tragic legacy in native communities, one that has echoed forward into the lives of today's youth in ways that many of them -like the rest of us - can hardly fathom. (Click here for the chapter on Residential Schools in the 1996 Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples)

What I do want to draw attention to first, however, was the concurrent refusal of the Minister to include an apology as part of the announcement. It's understandable if unattractive that while compensation negotiations are unfolding, a guilty party is hesitant to say its sorry for what it did. But are we not well past that now? Could our government not show a little more class and remorse than just to mutter about regrets as if our First Nations were victims of some externally caused natural disaster rather than the targets of brutal acculturative policy?

The level of compensation is also less than impressive at least if you cast your mind back to settlements with other aggrieved parties such as...the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney who received a tidy $2 million -- and a formal apology - after suffering the indignities of the Airbus affair. Now, I am not one of the many Mulroney-bashers and did not begrudge that settlement. But I can't help but compare the level of suffering, such as it was, that the former P.M. endured to the miserable lifetimes, indeed inter-generational traumas, foisted upon Canada's native population. It has been claimed with justification that no aboriginal person alive today has been unaffected by the residential school system. So, just for a lark, take Mulroney's settlement and multiply that times the roughly estimated numbers of Canadian Natives (about 1.2 million). The resulting national bill if we were to admit that their hardships were no less than Brian's? 2.4 trillion - more than a thousand times higher than the package now being so heartily endorsed across Canada,

That should put in perspective the cost of a simple but wide and thorough "sorry".

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Justice At Any Price?

There is a common and profitable fiction perpetuated by lawyers that there must be "justice for all" and damn the costs. Members of the legal profession (and countless average joes who got screwed by the courts because they couldn't afford high priced help) know this is pure guff but the legal fraternity is better than anybody but the pols at serving up self-serving junk phrases.

Here in British Columbia we have or have recently had two of the most costly prosecutions (and correspondingly dear defenses) seen anywhere in Canada. One is the ongoing case of Robert Pickton the disintegrata of whose alleged victims is being painstakingly recovered so that we can be sure that the accused is hit with many dozens of murder charges. It could be asked whether the same funding applied to the policing and policy change needed to prevent future murders of prostitutes might be better spent. But, no, justice, you see, must be served. Pickton needs 40 not 20 life sentences. That will make the families of missing women feel so much better.

Even more lavish expenditure was pissed away on the botched investigation and trial of the Air India bombers. Today, B.C.'s head justice honcho Wally Oppal spilled
the beans on what that fiasco cost: $57.8 million, 30M of which Victoria will pay for, with Ottawa springing for the rest. That included the extraordinary expense of building an entire court facility so that Mssrs. Malik and Singh would be safe, much safer than you or I dear friend whenever we sally forth into the not-so-friendly skies.

And, hold on to your wallet, that doesn't even include what was anted up for the two killers' defense costs. Well, at least that wasn’t frittered away ‘cause the bastards walked.

Fork over millions to mount the best possible legal defense to get such monsters off? What the heck is that about, you ask? That brings us straight back to the "justice must be served at any cost" rationale. The Honourable Mr. Oppal has his solemn lecture in civics and fairness at hand to hastily explain how it was only right to spend big. After all, the bigger the crime, the bigger the dime.

Imagine the inequity if if we had skimped a little on that defense and the Bombsy Twins went to jail! What kind of a country would let that happen? Besides, Wally continued, all due vigour and diligence will be used in to recover about $16 million of that from the defendants.

That's a comfort. When Wally and his staff match wits with two chaps that dirty who still got away with the biggest murder in Canada's history, who ya gonna like?

Oh, but comfort and relief are now on the way: That Most Eminent Person, Smiling Bob Rae, having had his own lengthy slurp at the public trough to chum up to the victims' families, wringing his hands and saying how simply awful it must have been, today is reporting back that -- goodness gracious -- the murdered and their survivors didn't get much of a fair shake in all of this.

Rocket science, that. Mind you, according to Bob, we still don't need a real get-to-the bottom-of-it no-holds-barred inquiry, but rather a "streamlined" version, that will pin blame on no one, but ask, “how might we do better?” You know, when Malik, Singh or the like-minded free-ranging terrorists in our midst get the gelignite together for another "go". Oh, and another thing according to Bob: only one solitary commissioner is needed to do all this. Second opinions can get so messy.

The tit-for-tat for concluding on such a vapid no-fault approach to shut off real investigation of the high level mishandling of this blatant mass murder case was this: Faster than you can say "Bob's your uncle", federal Justice Minister McLellan was blabbering on about how Rae is the only possible guy for the very job he has proposed. Nice work if you can get it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

42 Years Ago Today

In memory of a flawed, great man from a sadly brief era when being U.S. President meant chutzpah.

Vancouver - Some Olympic City That!

Those of my readership who know my not so small prejudices shall be unsurprised by my saying that I have very little use for the city of Vancouver or for the economic sink-hole otherwise known as the 2010 Olympics. Thus, it raised my always wry eyebrows and tickles my always chagrined grin to hear on CBC this morning (Tuesday, Nov 22) that disgruntled Lions football fans are avidly peddling their Grey Cup seats just because the Leos came up short against Edmonton in Sunday’s semi-final.

And this parochial, bloated backwater is going to play host to the world’s premier sporting spectacle!

Time was that that it mattered not a whit to local demand for seats if the home team happened to make it to the Grey Cup. Good thing too, because at least during the heyday of the 1950s and on to 1967, the site alternated just between the old CNE Stadium in Hogtown and Empire Stadium in Vancouver without either city making it once to the fall classic. Indeed, between 1952 when Toronto won in Toronto and 1972 when the Ticats triumphed in a rare Hamilton-based Grey Cup, no home town team ever made it all the way. Impact on ticket sales and local attendance? Zero.
The event was an institution not much short of Christmas and probably equal to or exceeding every other special occasion in this country.

Against this background, today’s Lotus-land whiners show just how classy Vancouver isn’t as a venue for top flight sports events. What are they going to do come 2010 if local boys and girls aren’t well represented at the Winter Olympics?

Of course, the real laugh is that this fair-weather fealty to the home team is directed to a bunch of not-quite-good-enough-for-the-NFLers who, by and large aren’t from Vancouver, B.C. or even Canada. Today, the Grey Cup is little more than a chance to cheer the best second stringers from Chattanooga Collegiate on against the undrafted heroes from Sam Houston State College. And I’ll bet ya' an unsold ticket (they come cheap in Vancouver) that most of the fallen heroes have scooted on back to Des Moines or Lubbock from where next Sunday they will most definitely not be watching what used to be Canada’s premier sports event.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Gutsy and Goldy

Botanicidal Coincidence? You Tell Me.

Sufferin'juxtapositions! This week brought into the limelight amazingly parallel stories of sacred vegetation, their demise and their virtual and even literal rebirth. One was somewhat indirect and a bit of warmed over news - with young John Vaillant of Vancouver walking off with the Governor General's 2005 literary award in non-fiction literature for his gripping account of one big tree's felling on the Queen Charlottes aka Haida Gwaii.

This was the Golden Spruce, the great mythic symbol that appears to have made its rather belated debut in Haida cosmogony roughly concurrent with its decapitation by a wacked-out Queen Charlottes resident (if that is not an unforgivable redundancy). That most peculiar event brought forth - and few groups can do it like the Haida can - a great cultural gnashing and outpouring, quickly creating yet another potent symbol of the white man's insensitivity to the ethnological patrimony of indigenous peoples. That of course was a more intriguing and marketable narrative than the banal reality that, before its razing, the golden spruce seemed a lot more significant for the tourism sloganeering for a logging-dependent non-Native village than as an icon in the pantheon of local indigenous tradition.

Well, lest Vaillant is now running on empty for topics of comparable ethnobotanical import, he need no longer worry: for another horrendous act of vegi-cide has sprouted up far across the vast Pacific from the Misty Isles. Recently the town of Aioi, in the Japanese prefecture of Hyogo, watched admiringly as a massive daikon (white radish) indomitably thrust itself through untold layers of pavement into the sunshine and, likewise, into the hearts of locals who dubbed it (one presumes in some dialect of thereabouts), "Gutsy". Like the golden spruce, albeit at a scale in all ways of shorter stature, Gutsy quickly became the subject of local folklore, even idolatry. Defying the oppressive overlayers of that abominable foreign devil, road asphalt, it rose, a veritable phallus puncturing the alien substance! But then - O day of infamy! - last Thursday, an unseen maniacal phyto-assassin, working in the dead of night, just as on the Charlottes, hacked the top off Gutsy leaving his severed remains hither and yon. And as with the felling of the spruce so far away, outbursts of horror and tears were then globally reported.

Can all this be just coincidence?

As you may or may not remember the perpetrator back in the Charlottes, one Grant Hadwin, vanished shortly after the crime, whilst kayaking across Hecate Strait towards his arraignment. Lost at sea? Well you might have thought, but if our literary Holmes, Mr. Valliant can use his acumen and some of that prize money to patiently stake out at Aioi, the bigger truth that is out there may, at last, spring forth like the offspring of Gutsy and Goldy themselves that now are being nurtured through the skills of culturally competent botanists.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Not Winning a CBC Contest

I don't suppose my wide readership was holding its collective sweet breath as CBC's North by Northwest ran through a few entries and announced the winner of a trip and weekend for two to Victoria yesterday morning (Sunday, Nov 13).

I was. I worked my figuratively wide butt off responding to Sheryl McKay's siren call for stories about "homecoming." Quite a long time ago, I'd written an elegy to Prince Edward Island and especially to the two homesteads there that, as a child, I visited long and happily - one uncle and aunt's farm and another uncle and aunt's tourist cabins. So I kind of cannibalized that ode and pumped out the latest contest entry of an unreformed contest addict. And, to be clear, doubters, I wasn't just sucking up to Sheryl who just happens to be from PEI.

One kind of contest I don't enter much however is a "draw" from a hat. I'd far rather depend on my middling talents than on lady luck. So I was not amused this morning when, after all the entries were in, Sheryl cheerily announced that she was now going to pull the lucky winner out of the proverbial hat. Thus today a grouse which is certainly not on the scale of Chretien's follies nor, most certainly, the ubiquity of cinnamon in apple pastries ...that CBC clarify the rules a little more explicitly before we unseen, unwashed, highly talented but never-that-lucky bards are lured from our garrets by promise of our justly deserved 15 seconds of fame.

Naturally you are dying to see what I fashioned and sent and so without further introduction...

___________The Road Home_____________

Watch carefully for it as you come off the Confederation Bridge at Borden, P.E.I. Just past the truck scale – there on the left! - you’ll see a general store and, along side it, a rundown and abandoned garage. Humped against that paint-peeled building is a sloppily pushed up mound of red earth and dry weeds. Once, it was a lawn with swings for tourist kids, close trimmed as a putting green.

Stop your car; get out and walk about. You have arrived at the Borden Inn and Cabins.

In the 50s a dozen or so brightly-painted cottages formed a gentle arc around that garage and what was then its restaurant, now that general store. Above the garage was an apartment, crafted just after the war with love and care by my uncle and his friends. That’s where he, his wife and my maiden aunt lived until 1962, running a gas station and the cabins. That’s where my siblings and I spent weeks, even whole summers a half century ago.

Small children remember the oddest details - what I recall best was the gravelly sound of sliding cupboard doors in the little kitchen. Inside that cupboard was an oversize mug reserved just for me: a Johnson Brothers china pattern called “The Road Home”

Not so long ago, unwisely ignoring Thomas Wolfe’s counsel about going home again, I got the present owner of that property to let me in for a look-about. I climbed those stairs that wound up to the suite above the garage. Well, it was sadly obvious that a sequence of ever less prosperous tenants had done the place in. The once-lustrous hardwood floors were now covered with a cheap and quickly tattered oilcloth. The walls hadn’t seen new paint in the countless generations of the beetles and woodlice now scurrying about. It seemed vacant in every sense of the word.

That cupboard was still there and like an infirm, aged friend, fallen on hard times, croaked out a weak but recognizable facsimile of its old gravelly song as I slid the door open. Then, I closed my eyes and could hear again the footfalls of my uncle coming up from the garage for his afternoon break. He carries some sweets, a thank-you left by one of those tourist families checking out of the Borden Inn and Cabins. “Time for tea” he says. Instinctively, I reach into the emptiness of that cupboard, looking for The Road Home that is no longer there.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Those Ole' Cameron Street Bridge Blues

(For the many hundreds of avid Grouseophiles who have not the privilege of a Prince George domicile - a quick intro to what I'm raving about: Prince George stands or sits or lies at the confluence of the mighty Fraser and the reasonably mighty Nechako. Downtown and the bulk of the city is south of the Nechako but Urban, suburban and rurban development grows steadily on the north side. Not insignificantly, the north side also is home to a pack of major industrial facilities - several pulp mills and refineries operated by the likes of CANFOR and Husky Oil. Until last month, residential and industrial traffic had three choices in crossing the Nechako - from upriver down, the quite new and modern Foothills and John Hart Bridges and the old Cameron Street Bridge. The latter has had a series of maintenance shutdowns for quite some time but in early October the city announced an indefinite closure as a result, t'was said, of some "rot" discovered during an inspection)


Prince George, like all B.C. municipalities is abuzz about upcoming municipal elections. The fate of a 75-year old one lane bridge is a surprisingly center-stage
issue. When the local broad-sheet, the almost equally venerable Citizen, interviewed the candidates on the leading issues, a set question that shall allow the electorate to choose wisely concerned the position of each would-be bearer of the local democratic torch, concerned the Cameron Street crossing. And, a credit to local
politics (and a distinction largely with federal same) was that positions dotted the virtual landscape – some would demolish this little piece of transportation nostalgia and rebuild. Others who still favour a serviceable third Nechako River crossing, were for another location and rededication of the old bridge to softer purposes, socially admirable ones like biking and hiking. And there were some whose principal concern was that whatever be done not become a new cesspool into which municipal money would be interminably poured.

Into the foreboding mists of this issue, a bright light of hope and charitableness has now shone. Canfor, one of the companies that spew jobs and smoke into the Prince George environment and whose monster trucks, until recently, rumbled many times a day across the ancient bridge, has announced that it is not going to sue for compensation from our city government for the hardship of having to use a longer route. Well let’s see if we can find a public site that still hasn’t been named for some corporate wrongdoer and call it after Canfor! A cynic might assume, however, that the brass at the forestry giant has already asked for and received from its legal cadre, a less than encouraging assessment of the prospects for such getting such compensation.

Throughout B.C. and Canada there are many little rickety old bridges from which today’s massive tractor trailers trucks are permanently proscribed. It shocked me right from my first acquaintance with the Cameron Bridge that such a steady flow of very heavy vehicles was permitted. Closures have been frequent in my three years here and I have always assumed that this has at least something to do with the inappropriate passage of that industrial traffic. The option that should be seriously looked into, to my mind, is repairing the crossing for non-industrial cars and up to, say, 5 ton trucks and let the big guys “go ‘round”. Of course, the cries from the PG Mill Road would be long and raucous with inflated estimates of what it cost to tack on the extra miles and driver time. But this city already provides an extraordinary subsidy to the mills and refineries – our atmosphere as a free dumping ground for noxious and nauseating gases and particulates. Isn’t that enough without allowing further compromise of a lovely old bridge never designed for modern mega-trucks?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Who Threw That Chicken at Johnny Chretien?!

There was an urban (or is it a rural?) myth in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia about a destitute and elderly chap named Jim Jacks who lived in a squalid hut on the edge of town. To supplement his non-existent income, Jim was favourably disposed towards what we, as kids, called "five-finger discounts". As the story goes he was an artist of the lift with a special penchant or perhaps special capability to spirit tins of tuna and salmon into his oversized rain-or-shine trenchcoat and make his way out of the local Sobey's undetected.

One day, emboldened by years of incident-free shoplifting, Jim targeted a substantial chicken but, alas on the way out of the store, the slippery fowl escaped from its precarious perch under Jim's coat and landed with a sickening thud on the floor, in plain view of all. Old but never dull, the geezer immediately struck an Oscar-worthy display of self-righteous indignation and bellowed accusingly: "Who threw that chicken at Jim Jacks!?"

I hadn't thought of that story or strategem for many a year until last Tuesday when I saw the clips of Jean Chretien's lightning reaction to Gomery's Phase I findings that the P'tit Gar sat atop a seething stinkpile of greedy minions who turned the sponsorship program into their own private retirement fund.

Still trying to bask in the aspenglow of a political career whose most memorable feature, other than figurative and even literal nepotism, was endurance (his and ours!) Chretien considered a pre-emptive attack the best line of defence as damning evidence gathered around his recently departed East Block coterie. Nothing has changed. Probably Chretien's preference would have been the more direct approach used in 1996 when a scrawny little protester got in his way.

But Gomery is not scrawny nor without other extra-physical sources of power. Alternative means to seizing the man by the throat were required. The nasty spirit of last spring's ploy to have Gomery removed, followed by the cameo golf ball performance (for which Gomery should have acquainted the literally contemptuous Chretien with the inside of a cell)continues. Chretien will now spend our money again - this time from his gold-plated federal pensions rather than directly from the public purse - to petition the federal court as allies in covering up his regime's misuse of...our money. Given the superfluity of Chretien appointees on that august body, this arrogant defense-by-offense just may work, again.