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“They were protesting in peace and being removed in violence”

Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution" underway, Sept. 29, 2014, in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. (Kelvin Chui photo)

Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” underway, Sept. 29, 2014, in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. (Kelvin Chui photo)

I spent the past 24 hours talking to former Vancouverites at Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protests for a piece that ran in The Globe and Mail. They had many thoughtful and insightful things to say, but with limited room in the paper, their accounts, unfortunately, had to be edited down. So, here are the full-length versions:

It was the first time Maggie Lee ever recalls the MTR skipping a station. (Maggie Lee photo)

It was the first time Maggie Lee ever recalls the MTR skipping a station. (Maggie Lee photo)

Maggie Lee, 31, was born in Hong Kong but moved to Canada as a child. She attended the University of B.C., majoring in food science, and in 2006 returned to her place of birth, where she now works as a scientist. Ms. Lee said that while she supported the Occupy Central movement, she initially did not feel compelled to action – until she saw that Joshua Wong, the baby-faced 17-year-old leader of a student movement, had been arrested.

In the beginning, we didn’t know what to do. These kids were being grabbed off the street by policemen. They’re only kids, in high school or in university. [My friends and I were] on the fence at that point because we don’t really feel like we belong here in Hong Kong – because we grew up abroad – but we feel for them because we know that this is not right. They were protesting in peace and being removed in violence. We were feeling for them. All of a sudden, we learned tear gas had been released. That was the breaking point when most Hong Kong people took to the streets. I think a lot of the people just couldn’t stand it anymore. When they heard that, they couldn’t take it anymore. They realized the government had gone too far. A lot of people started walking the streets with cling wrap and lab goggles and disposable raincoats. They didn’t know how to protect themselves against tear gas.

We didn’t have any protective clothing on; we just ran home, put on some comfortable clothing, grabbed a backpack, took some bottles of water and whatever we could find – supplies for the people who were there. That’s what we all did; we didn’t know what else we could do. We grabbed everything and ran there. We knew something had to be done and we had to show our distaste for the government. This is not what we want in Hong Kong.

We stayed until very late at night. It was like a war zone. There was a lot of tear gas, people running around trying to dodge the police. They (the protesters) didn’t even do anything in the first place; they were just standing there with their umbrellas. Sometimes we heard people screaming at the police, and that was ill advised. We actually tried to calm people down when they were screaming. We want this to be peaceful. We want them to know that we’re standing together against something we don’t believe in – and that’s it. That’s the only message we wanted to bring across.

Sometimes when we participate in these things, we get fingers pointed at us. They say, “You guys have a ticket out already; why are you so still so worried about this place? It’s not your war to fight.” But the people who participated in the protest with me, we don’t think that way. We think that as long as we’re here, we’re responsible. It’s our duty to protect this place. We know that our freedom is being taken away, bit by bit.

(Jackie Chan photo)

(Jackie Chan photo)

Jackie Chan, 36, was born in Hong Kong and lived in Vancouver from the late 1980s until the early 2000s. A Simon Fraser University graduate, Mr. Chan has since moved back to Hong Kong, where he works in sales and marketing. After seeing news footage of riot police firing tear gas at protesters, he ventured out around midnight, wanting both to support the student protesters and see if what he saw on television reflected the reality of the situation.

From what I saw [in Mong Kok], police were calm. They didn’t use any violence at all. Unfortunately, some of the crowd was taking advantage of it. I think they were being quite aggressive, trying to intimidate police in a couple of cases. There was one incident – I didn’t see the whole thing develop, but I saw part of it – where three or four police officers were trying to direct traffic and people would keep storming in. The police were asking the crowd to move away, so the cars and motorbikes could pass, and people were jumping on the opportunity and just storming them, saying “Why don’t you just shoot me” and making crazy statements like that. There were probably 100 people surrounding the three or four police officers.

I was quite impressed by a couple of things, though. There were a couple of students making announcements, managing the crowds quite well. On the other side of the road, there was a parked police car and a couple of guys had climbed up and were sitting on top of it. People saw it and were yelling at them: “Get off the police car!” The student organizers told them to get down, and they did. Which was good. We didn’t want any trouble. They managed the crowds quite well. There were also water and supply stations managed, again, by the kids, which I thought were quite well organized.

The organizers want China to revoke its decision [to limit 2017 elections to Beijing-vetted candidates]. I don’t think that will happen. The Chinese government has already made its decision and it’s not going to say, “Okay, let’s change it.” I think people have to realize we are part of China – this is fact – and there are some things that we cannot change. It’s like China is your dad; you can’t change who your dad is. But I think Hong Kong can better define “one country, two systems,” because there are a lot of grey areas. We have to be careful and not give in on those. For example: Do lawyers have to be patriotic? I don’t think so. Can we still have demonstrations at this level without [persecution]? We need to treasure [those freedoms]. I don’t want to lose them, otherwise we become just another city in China.

Volunteers setting up a water station. (Kelvin Chui photo.)

Volunteers setting up a water station. (Kelvin Chui photo.)

Kelvin Chui, 37, is a former Vancouverite and Simon Fraser University graduate who now operates a trading company in Hong Kong and a shoe factory elsewhere in China. After learning about the escalation of the Occupy Central movement, he decided to show his support by joining protesters at the Central Government Offices in Admiralty.

It was impossible to get into the office because there were so many people and people just kept arriving. I gave up on that and went to Admiralty Centre and sat there for about 30 minutes, with what I thought was 400, 500 people. After that the organizers told us they were planning to march to Connaught Road Central [a major thoroughfare in Central] to support people there, so I followed. When I followed, I found out there were not 500 people, but more than 1,000. I don’t know where they came from. We went toward Central and arrived at Cotton Tree Drive, where the organizers told us to stay for a while. That’s where we were met with a lot of police [but] I don’t think they knew what to do to stop us from crossing the street. They were not that aggressive at that moment – no weapons, no pepper spray. They were not riot police. We stayed there for another 30 minutes and then marched to Connaught Road Central to join the main force.

I felt the urgency. It’s really difficult to just sit at home, watching and knowing all this. I’m pretty sure there weren’t enough people to make the movement successful, at that moment, I hope my presence will make some difference. The main reason [I got involved] was because I just couldn’t stand it, watching these students doing all this for us, for adults, for everybody else. They were there for a few days already; they must be tired. It’s difficult to see that.

At the beginning, I didn’t expect a big difference, but after we saw how police reacted to these protests – the unreasonable violence that they used – that will make a difference. Because so many people who were staying at home, watching the news, got involved after they saw tear gas being shot. That crossed the line. The awareness has been aroused. That is the major difference.

As evictions loom, even a landmark court ruling can’t bring certainty on Gitxsan land

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Hazelton, a sleepy, northwestern B.C. town where a dispute involving the Gitxsan First Nation, province and federal government is playing out. It was a challenging story to write, with a lot of important background and a wealth of varying, meaningful opinions. It was tough to compile everything into a cohesive story, giving appropriate space to each element and still fit the word count. Much was ultimately cut; the story could have been twice as long if I had been given the space.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs have set an Aug. 4 deadline for an eviction notice sent to sports fishermen, loggers and CN Rail in an escalation of protest over a territorial overlap claim. To the Gitxsan First Nation, this is not a just a story about jobs or land, but the history and future of its people. This will be a story to watch in coming weeks.

A totem pole in the village of Kitwanga, B.C., part of the Gitxsan Nation. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

A totem pole in the village of Kitwanga, B.C., part of the Gitxsan Nation. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

The signs outside Norman Stephens’ Hazelton, B.C., hardware store make clear his stance on pipelines: On one, the letters LNG are crossed out with a red X; on another, two salmon – one dead – face each other, illustrating the potential risks involved.

“Face the future,” the latter reads. “Don’t frack with our salmon!”

Mr. Stephens, a hereditary chief of the Gitxsan First Nation, is adamant there is no place in the sleepy, northwestern B.C. community for such projects. And after a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision that underscored aboriginal title and rights, he is confident the Gitxsan will have final say on the matter.

A faction of the Gitxsan – one not including Mr. Stephens – is relying on the Supreme Court ruling to back eviction notices issued to Canadian National Railway, forestry companies and some fishing lodges that also operate on land the Gitxsan claim. The eviction deadline is Monday.

“After the Tsilhqot’in decision, the ball is in our court,” Mr. Stephens said. “We have full control over it.”

But while many hailed the Tsilhqot’in court ruling as a game-changer, the future of the Gitxsan territory is anything but clear. Division within the group, stemming from long-standing differences of opinion among some hereditary chiefs, has created uncertainty. The community is now at a crossroads for its future, needing to balance economic goals and environmental concerns while reconciling outward conflicts with governments and within the group itself.

The main issue has nothing to do with liquefied natural gas or pipelines. It’s a touchy territorial overlap claim: The Gitxsan First Nation say that in negotiating treaty agreements with the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum bands, which belong to the Tsimshian First Nation, the B.C. government illegally gave away pieces of Gitxsan land.

The Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, a group that represents most but not all of the chiefs, broke off pipeline discussions with the government on June 21 for the same reason. The eviction notice is an escalation of protest to force the government’s hand in resolving the issue, said Gitxsan Treaty Society negotiator Gwaans, whose English name is Beverley Clifton Percival.

But while most of the nation’s hereditary chiefs supported the June decision to end LNG talks, only eight signed last month’s eviction notice – most of whom are directly affected by the overlap issue. Those who oppose the action say sports fishermen and loggers are being caught in the crossfire.

Among non-native locals, the eviction notice sparked mixed responses: anger, uncertainty, confusion, indifference. Martin Knutson, who owns Skeena Meadows Wildlife Preseve with his wife, said it is creating uncertainty in a community that is already economically depressed.

“Uncertainty is what drives away business. What is needed is certainty as to how our provincial and federal governments are going to deal with this and what the rules are going to be going forward. Industry runs away from uncertainty.”

Shannon McPhail, executive director at the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said in the past week she has received e-mails, phone calls and visits from more than 100 people trying to figure out what is happening and why.

“It’s a very confusing and unfortunate situation,” said Ms. McPhail from her office in Hazelton. “I believe it has made enemies out of allies – but it has started a very important conversation that we have to have as a region.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

Showing promise in B.C., prescription heroin now in peril

Larry Love, 62, a participant in the SALOME study, is photographed at the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Larry Love, 62, a participant in the SALOME study, is photographed at the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
(Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

At 59, Doug Lidstrom says he is close to overcoming the heroin addiction that has dominated three-quarters of his life. Participation in a groundbreaking clinical trial has helped stabilize his habits and, perhaps within weeks, he will be among the first in North America to receive prescription heroin to help further combat his addiction.

But a swift decision by the federal government announced this week has halted Health Canada’s authorization of doctors to prescribe the drug. This means when doctors run out of Mr. Lidstrom’s three-month supply of diacetylmorphine (heroin) – which hasn’t arrived yet – the Vancouver resident must turn back to the conventional treatments that have failed him many times before.

In her announcement Thursday, Health Minister Rona Ambrose described the change as the closing of a “loophole” that allowed for the exploitation of a federal program. By banning doctors from prescribing “dangerous drugs like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and LSD,” effective immediately, Ms. Ambrose made good on a vow of two weeks earlier, when her department first authorized the applications: to ensure it never happened again.

“This is turning me into a yo-yo,” Mr. Lidstrom said. “It’s playing with people’s lives.”

The Pivot Legal Society, which is representing Mr. Lidstrom and others in his position, will be exploring legal options that could include a constitutional challenge, said lawyer Scott Bernstein.

While illicit injection drug use in Vancouver has declined over the past 15 years, it remains a hot-button issue, largely due to the longstanding epidemics in the Downtown Eastside and politically charged harm-reduction measures such as Insite, the supervised injection site that recently marked its 10th anniversary.

The issue was again thrown into sharp focus mid-week with the release of a B.C. coroners report into the death of actor Cory Monteith, confirming he died in a Vancouver hotel room from a combination of injected heroin and alcohol. Ms. Ambrose invoked his name in her announcement – “to make the point it touches on all aspects of our community,” she said.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

From residential school to the NHL: the remarkable story of Fred Sasakamoose

sasakamoose

Fred Sasakamoose, a residential school survivor and the first First Nations NHL hockey player, sits in the Vancouver Giants dressing room where the WHL hockey team unveiled First Nations tribute jerseys in Vancouver, Sept. 19, 2013.
(DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

There weren’t many bright moments in the nine years Fred Sasakamoose suffered through residential school, but one came six years in, when he was 12.

Up until then, he had quietly endured the physical, emotional and sexual abuse, pushing aside the thoughts of exacting revenge that so often came to mind. He diligently completed his daily chores, making the beds, scrubbing the floors and doing farm work that included chopping firewood and milking two cows daily.

Then one day, he was told he had “earned” a pair of ice skates. He beamed at the memory.

He and his schoolmates fashioned hockey sticks out of plywood, pucks out of tree branches and tape. For the three more years he spent at St. Michael’s Indian Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask., hockey games became his salvation.

“I wanted to be a hockey player,” said Mr. Sasakamoose, who turns 80 this year. “I wanted to be a star, better than anybody else. I wanted to be – and I got to be.”

He went on to become the first Canadian aboriginal player in the National Hockey League, playing for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-1954.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

National Truth and Reconciliation event opens in Vancouver

A procession of residential school survivors during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, Sept. 18, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the globe and mail)

A procession of residential school survivors during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, British Columbia National Event in Vancouver, Sept. 18, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak for the Globe and Mail)

By Andrea Woo – Vancouver

More than 60 years later, Amy George still vividly remembers the snap of the long, black strap hitting her little hands, the pain, and the resulting welts that would render her incapable of gripping a pen, or the chains of a swing set.

But the abuse she endured at St. Paul’s Indian Residential School in North Vancouver went far beyond the physical: For nine years, starting when she was six, she was taught by nuns to hate herself from the inside out, she says, to be ashamed of who she was.

“I was taught the worst thing in the world was to be an Indian,” Ms. George told a crowd of thousands on the opening day of the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Vancouver on Wednesday. “[They would say,] ‘You’re so hard to teach because you’re so dumb.’ And that stayed with me for the rest of my life.”

This week’s four-day event, put on by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, is the sixth of seven mandated under the Residential Schools Settlement Agreement between former residential school students, first nations groups and the government of Canada.

The commission, established in 2007 as an independent body to inform all Canadians about what happened in more than 120 years of residential schools in Canada, is expected to deliver a full report by 2014.

Each of the national events has been designated a theme under the first nations’ seven sacred teachings; it was fitting for Ms. George, now a frank, 72-year-old Tsleil-Waututh elder, to speak at the one fashioned in the theme of honesty.

In an interview afterward, Ms. George said it is her hope that reopening these wounds and sharing such stories will help the public better understand the struggles of the first nations.

“A lot of our people suffer from addictions,” said Ms. George, who herself has struggled with drugs and alcohol. “The general population has no idea. They just say we’re a bunch of lazy, good for nothing people. We are a people coming out of oppression and genocide. Those schools were built so that we would die.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

Toward peace of mind: Man’s illness brings him full-circle through B.C.’s justice system

Lyle Richardson, pictured at the Justice Institute in New Westminster, has been living with schizoaffective disorder and helps police recruits learn to deal with mental health issues in the field. (Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail)

Lyle Richardson
(Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail)

One of the best things about my job is that I get to meet all sorts of interesting people I’d likely never meet otherwise. Lyle Richardson, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and the central figure of our mental health series (running today through Wednesday), is one of those people. Over the course of several weeks, two lunches, several phone calls and dozens of emails, he told me seemingly everything about his life, answering every question I had without hesitation. It was fascinating to learn about what a psychotic episode is like — the intensity of the voices, the fact those voices belong to people he knows — and the complexities involved in moving forward. Here’s the first of four instalments of our series. I hope you’ll check out the rest.

Exactly what the small piece of plastic was he can’t now remember, but held under his shirt that day some 15 years ago, Lyle Richardson had convinced the staff at a downtown Vancouver electronics store it was a loaded gun.

“I went in and held the plastic under my shirt and asked for all the money,” he recalled. It was an early morning in mid-September and he can remember the warmth of the sun. “The manager said to give it to [me], so they gave me the $600 that was in the till and I walked out.”

At the time, his motivation for the robbery was clear: The voices wanted him to fast, and to do so, he would have to get out from under the watchful gaze of the guardians who prepared his meals. Cancun seemed an ideal place to fast; to get there, he would need money.

About a year earlier, the New Westminster native was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia (typically characterized by delusions, hallucinations and breaks with reality) and dramatic mood swings. The milder symptoms of his adolescence had progressed into full-blown psychosis – a detour in Mr. Richardson’s road to adulthood that took him through B.C.’s mental health system.

His illness also brought him full-circle within the province’s criminal justice system, from being a robbery suspect, face-down and handcuffed on the streets of downtown Vancouver, to a speaker at the Justice Institute of B.C., where all municipal police officers in B.C. are trained and – as of this year – learn how to interact with the mentally ill.

The province has taken steps to advance its mental health system, investing in new facilities and launching a 10-year plan focused on preventing problems and on early intervention. However, mental health advocates point to lengthy waiting lists, gaps in care, and the alarming number of police service calls that involve people with mental illnesses as proof much is still to be done. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in B.C. has launched a campaign to make mental health an issue in next month’s provincial election.

A price tag can be put on how mental illness affects the economy – about $51-billion annually in health care and lost productivity in Canada, with about $6.6-billion of that in B.C. – but the emotional cost is incalculable and widespread. About one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness.

While only 1 per cent of Canadians will have schizophrenia, Mr. Richardson’s story shows the strong hold a mental illness can have – and the complexities involved in treating it.

Throughout high school, the symptoms “weren’t too dramatic,” Mr. Richardson recalls: “One day, I would be sleeping on the desk, and the next day, I would be on an emotional high, cracking jokes a mile a minute.” The graduating class at New Westminster Secondary elected him valedictorian because they knew he would make them laugh.

Next came a year at Simon Fraser University. Through an entrepreneurs club, Mr. Richardson landed a job as a junior executive assistant at a large venture capital firm, a position that afforded the young man free hockey tickets and occasional use of his boss’s Ferrari. On the surface, life was great, but Mr. Richardson began feeling withdrawn. When he was let go from the job, he didn’t mind.

The voices started when he was 23 or 24, familiar tones that were innocuous at first and even encouraging. One, for instance, told him to make a list of all the things he wanted to do. Mr. Richardson made that list, although he can’t remember if he ever accomplished those goals.

Even now, as a 39-year-old fully aware of his condition, it is impossible for Mr. Richardson to differentiate the hallucinatory from the real. The voices of his illness are as real as the voice of the barista who makes his coffee, the clerk who bags his groceries. They are, perhaps, even more real: “They kind of talk to my heart,” he said. “They affect me quite deeply.” So when the voice of a woman he quietly admired from afar told him to fast, he did. His weight dropped and he began acting out of character.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths

A Tokyo “gun” shop owner, who mostly sells air rifles, displays one of Japan’s relatively few licensed rifles. (Reuters)

In light of the incredibly tragic events of today, I think it is worth revisiting this piece by The Atlantic from July. It is fairly short, but one of the most compelling pieces on gun control, and the impact of attitudes toward guns, I have ever read.

I’ve heard it said that, if you take a walk around Waikiki, it’s only a matter of time until someone hands you a flyer of scantily clad women clutching handguns, overlaid with English and maybe Japanese text advertising one of the many local shooting ranges. The city’s largest, the Royal Hawaiian Shooting Club, advertises instructors fluent in Japanese, which is also the default language of its website. For years, this peculiar Hawaiian industry has explicitly targeted Japanese tourists, drawing them away from beaches and resorts into shopping malls, to do things that are forbidden in their own country.

Waikiki’s Japanese-filled ranges are the sort of quirk you might find in any major tourist town, but they’re also an intersection of two societies with wildly different approaches to guns and their role in society. Friday’shorrific shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater has been a reminder that America’s gun control laws are the loosest in the developed world and its rate of gun-related homicide is the highest. Of the world’s 23 “rich” countries, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is almost 20 times that of the other 22. With almost one privately owned firearm per person, America’s ownership rate is the highest in the world; tribal-conflict-torn Yemen is ranked second, with a rate about half of America’s.

But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world’s least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousandfirearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.

Continue reading here.