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They called him Bunny George

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Last year, an elderly homeless man died alone at a “tent city” protest at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park. Despite being surrounded by hundreds, his body wasn’t discovered until the next day. Authorities searched for his next-of-kin for a month, finding no one.

Who was this man? What had happened in his seven decades and why did his life end that way, there in an East Vancouver park? My colleagues and I spent the last 14 months finding out, locating family members, friends and acquaintances, conducting dozens of interviews in three countries, two provinces and two U.S. states; we also reviewed his court and academic records, municipal files, yearbooks and genealogy websites.

The result is an 8,100-word story that runs from the ruins of postwar Germany to the surfing beaches of California, to the Air Force, to prison, and to the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. What the investigation found was surprising – especially to the family who never knew him.

Read it at The Globe and Mail.

 

More dire by the day

Beto Orozco, whose well ran dry more than a year ago, makes weekly trips the to the local fire station for more water. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Beto Orozco, whose well ran dry more than a year ago, makes weekly trips the to the local fire station for more water. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Stark images of cracked earth and fallow fields tell the story of the worst drought in California history. Reporter Andrea Woo and photojournalist John Lehmann travelled to East Porterville, Calif., where residents have made dramatic changes to their lives

ANDREA WOO – EAST PORTERVILLE, CALIF.

ore than a year after the family well ran dry, Beto Orozco has learned by necessity how to conserve water at the ramshackle one-storey house he shares with 13 others.

When the taps first went dry, the former janitor would drive to a nearby cemetery, which is connected to a municipal water source, and bathe under the timed spray of the sprinklers. But more often, on days when it is warm enough, he takes a small quantity of his county-supplied non-potable water and washes himself by a tree in his front yard.

“I shower by the tree,” the 53-year-old says in a thick Spanish accent, “so the tree can drink the water.”

Mr. Orozco’s rural community of East Porterville, located about 120 kilometres southeast of Fresno, in Tulare County, Calif., is among the hardest hit by the state’s extreme drought, now in its fourth year. The situation has become so dire that Governor Jerry Brown in April imposed the first-ever mandatory statewide water restrictions, requiring urban water agencies to reduce water usage by 25 per cent or face hefty fines.

It adds teeth to a January, 2014, declaration of a drought state of emergency that called on – but did not mandate – Californians to reduce water usage by 20 per cent.

Under the new order, more than 4.6 square kilometres of lawns throughout the state will be replaced with drought-tolerant landscaping, and new homes and developments are prohibited from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip systems are used. Campuses, golf courses and cemeteries – such as the one Mr. Orozco bathed in – are required to make significant cuts in water use.

While affluent communities such as Beverly Hills have been slow to turn off the taps, hard-hit areas such as East Porterville – an unincorporated community that is not connected to a municipal water system – have no choice. There, hundreds of private wells have been dry for more than a year. Parched lawns have long gone brown and the passing of each car sends a plume of dust into the air.

As dramatic images of cracked earth and uncultivated fields continue to dominate coverage of the worst drought in California’s recorded history, people such as those in East Porterville – who have had to make stark changes to their daily habits – quietly endure, waiting for rain.

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

Pharcyde producer J-Sw!ft stuck in Vancouver, fears deportation to Spain

Rapper/producer Juan Martinez (better known as J-Sw!ft from hip-hop group the Pharcyde), is currently stuck in Vancouver and facing deportation to Spain. (Jimmy Jeong For the Globe and Mail)

Rapper/producer Juan Martinez (better known as J-Sw!ft from hip-hop group the Pharcyde), is currently stuck in Vancouver and facing deportation to Spain. (Jimmy Jeong For the Globe and Mail)

ANDREA WOO – VANCOUVER

A California music producer who has been stuck in British Columbia for two months fears he may soon be deported to his birth country of Spain, despite not having lived there in more than 40 years.

Juan Martinez – best known for his work with esteemed Los Angeles hip-hop group the Pharcyde, under the stage name J-Sw!ft – has been in the province since mid-January, when he performed a reunion show with the Pharcyde in Vancouver. When he tried returning home on Jan. 15, U.S. customs officials turned him away.

Mr. Martinez’s legal standing in the United States is complicated. The 43-year-old was born in Spain but moved to California at age 2, becoming a permanent resident. He says he didn’t realize until his mid-30s that he did not hold U.S. citizenship.

That decade, Mr. Martinez struggled with homelessness and substance abuse – issues, he said, that were compounded by family health issues and the dissolution of his marriage. He was arrested several times for drug possession, though those arrests never precluded him from international travel.

His situation now centres largely on a 2012 arrest for drug possession that triggered deportation proceedings. Mr. Martinez filed an appeal and departed for a nine-country European tour with the Pharcyde, which concluded without issue.

After a one-off show in Vancouver in January, Mr. Martinez says a U.S. customs official at Vancouver International Airport refused him re-entry, saying that the terms of his appeal had required that he remain in the United States. He spent four days in jail.

“They claimed that by travelling out of the country, I had abandoned my appeal,” Mr. Martinez said. “But that’s not true. I had travelled to nine countries in Europe on appeal.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail.

A covenant under fire: Inside Trinity Western’s struggle between faith and equality

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Matthew Wigmore, an openly gay student at Trinity Western University, is shown outside his dormitory in Langley, B.C., on Feb. 21, 2014. (RAFAL GERSZAK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

ANDREA WOO – LANGLEY, B.C. 

A month after Matthew Wigmore came out to friends at his evangelical Christian university, he stood before his philosophy of sex and gender class to give a presentation on homosexuality and reparative therapy.

Mr. Wigmore, 19, felt vulnerable. Much of the presentation – which denounced the so-called treatment for homosexuality – was based on uncomfortable personal experiences.

However, the second-year theatre student felt bolstered by a supportive social circle at Trinity Western University, including friend and project partner Dillon James, who is also openly gay.

After a discussion that followed the October presentation, Mr. Wigmore asked if there were any dissenting viewpoints. A hand slowly went up.

“I personally read the King James Version [of the Bible],” the classmate said. “It’s hard for me to see how homosexuality is the right choice. How do you expect to get into heaven?”

A hush fell over the classroom. Before Mr. Wigmore could reply, another classmate interjected: “Well, you’re a woman and you’re speaking right now. Technically, [The Book of] Leviticus doesn’t allow that.”

Added Mr. James: “And you’re wearing a fur coat – something the Old Testament law wouldn’t approve of either.”

The conversation quickly ended, Mr. Wigmore recounts in an interview.

Trinity Western University is embroiled in controversy over a law school it hopes to open at its Langley campus. Critics point to a clause in a community covenant that requires all students, administrators and faculty to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” and call it discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. They question how a law school at such a university could possibly educate students on discrimination and equality rights.

The Law Society of B.C. is seeking opinions on whether the law school should go ahead, and Monday is the deadline for submissions. After reviewing reports, statutes and public input, the law society’s board of directors will then give its final word – likely at its April 11 meeting. Law societies in Nova Scotia and Ontario are also running public consultations.

Prominent lawyers, law professors, students and LGBTQ groups across Canada have decried the program as inherently discriminatory. Some firms said they would be unlikely to take TWU law school graduates, potentially limiting their mobility. Prominent Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby called the decision by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to approve the school “cowardly nonsense.”

At Dalhousie University, law professors unanimously approved a motion urging the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society not to approve the school’s law degrees. “TWU seems to have isolated just one segment of the population for second-class status,” said Archibald Kaiser, the Dalhousie law professor who put forward the motion. “I don’t see how it could possibly be acceptable to demean some members of its student body or to exclude some people from its faculty.”

The university views the criticism as unfair. President Bob Kuhn says it is based on reckless assumptions and calls it an attack on religious freedom in Canada. Robynne Healey, a history professor, co-director of the Gender Studies Institute and chair of the university senate, says she does not recognize the university depicted in the media.

“As a scholar, as a historian, I study people from the past and am pretty conscious of the things that make up their group identity,” she said. “I wonder if the people I study would recognize themselves in the way I write about them, because sometimes I don’t recognize myself in the way Trinity is being represented.”

Continue reading at The Globe and Mail