Vancouver

They called him Bunny George

brylla

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.

 

Eight surprising facts about B.C.’s civic elections

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to supporters after being elected for a third term during a civic election in Vancouver on Nov. 15. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson speaks to supporters after being elected for a third term during a civic election in Vancouver on Nov. 15. (JIMMY JEONG/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Surrey was not nearly the “close three-way race” many polls and pundits said it would be. Insights West, for example, released a poll early in the week putting Linda Hepner and Doug McCallum tied at 33 per cent and Barinder Rasode at 30 per cent. But from early on Saturday evening, results showed that Ms. Hepner held a huge lead over the other two. By night’s end, Ms. Hepner, an ally of popular outgoing Mayor Dianne Watts, had 46,901 votes – more than Mr. McCallum (25,539) and Ms. Rasode (19,784) combined.

New Squamish councillor Peter Kent will have to set himself on fire. In a video posted to YouTube, Mr. Kent, a professional stuntman who worked as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Total Recall and Predator, pledged that if voter turnout in 2014 was higher than in 2011 (41.2 per cent), “I as a professional stuntman will set myself on fire in the centre of this street.” According to CivicInfoBC, this year’s turnout was 44.5. Reached by email the morning after his election, Mr. Kent showed no signs of backing down, saying he is now looking into getting a district permit to set himself afire in accordance with city laws. “I would be remiss to break my first campaign promise, wouldn’t I?” he wrote.

Vision Vancouver was decimated on Park Board. Vision, which previously controlled the Park Board with five of seven commissioners, was on Saturday night reduced to just one: former Vancouver Public Library chair Catherine Evans. This raises the question of how Vision’s handling of hot-button issues – like keeping cetaceans in captivity and the battle with resident groups over control of community centres – factored in. Of the other six commissioners, four are NPA and two are Green.

Voter turnout in Vancouver climbed to 44 per cent, according to preliminary numbers, up from 35 per cent in 2011. This was seen in long wait times that at some polling stations reached an hour. The Britannia Community Centre even ran out of ballots mid-afternoon, with staff telling voters it would be at least half an hour before they could restock.

Nearly 3,000 people voted to make Obi Canuel – a self professed “Pastafarian” who wears a colander on his head as religious headgear – a Surrey city councillor. Mr. Canuel – an ordained minister in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, made headlines in recent months for his battle with the Insurance Corp. of B.C., which refused to issue him a driver’s licence unless he removed his holy headgear for his photo. He ended up placing second-to-last in the race for city council, but he still received more than 2,800 votes.

Green councillor Adriane Carr has gotten a lot more popular. In 2011, Ms. Carr just barely made it on to Vancouver city council with 48,648 votes – just 90 more than 11th place finisher Ellen Woodsworth of COPE. This year, she was by far the most popular councillor, taking in 74,077 votes – 5,658 more than second place finisher George Affleck of the NPA.

For the first time, municipal elections candidates – as well as staff on the parties’ payrolls – were prohibited from promoting themselves, or their parties, on social media on Election Day. This rule has existed for provincial elections and byelections for some time, but is new for municipal elections under the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act, which came into effect on May 29. Under the rules of the Act, a candidate can use social media on Election Day to post about something completely unrelated to the election – Gregor Robertson could Instagram his breakfast, for example – but he cannot use it to say “Get out and vote,” even if he does not mention his party, Vision Vancouver. A campaign volunteer can use a personal account to post about the campaign as long as he or she is not being paid to do so. Those who violate these rules could face a penalty of up to $5,000 or one year in jail, if convicted.

The District of Stewart, with its population of about 500, had a voter turnout of 83.2 per cent. Results were hand-written on a sheet and posted online. Incumbent mayor Galina Durant was re-elected with 199 votes; competitor Steve Howe had 92.

My latest in the Globe and Mail.

“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.

A little story about something sweet that happens just off Cambie every day

Rosemary Blomeyer, left, walks to her favourite breakfast restaurant with new friend Jean Collette. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Rosemary Blomeyer, left, walks to her favourite breakfast restaurant with new friend Jean Collette. (JOHN LEHMANN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Every Every morning around 8 a.m., Rosemary Blomeyer emerges from her basement suite in a Mount Pleasant home, tapping her umbrella along the driveway and sidewalk as she navigates her way to the residential street corner.

There, Ms. Blomeyer, a visually impaired German immigrant in her 80s, listens for the footsteps of passersby, flagging them down when they are near. Sometimes, this takes just a minute or two; other times, much longer.

At 8:20 a.m. on a frosty December day, a woman on her way to work hurries by Ms. Blomeyer, her brisk pace typical during the frenetic, morning rush. But then, she stops and turns around.

“I am blind,” Ms. Blomeyer tells her. “Could you please walk me to Cambie [Street] and 13th [Avenue]?”

The would-be passerby, a woman named Jean Collette, obliges. Ms. Blomeyer takes her arm and the two walk, slowly and carefully along the icy sidewalks, to the White Spot restaurant where Ms. Blomeyer has breakfast every morning.

This act of kindness has happened at least twice a day – once on the way to the restaurant and once back home – every day since Ms. Blomeyer’s deteriorating eyesight completely gave out more than a year ago. That’s roughly 60 strangers per month, though there are many repeat volunteers.

It is a charming occurrence in a city where residents recently listed social isolation as their most pressing concern, over poverty, homelessness or any other social ill. An oft-referenced survey conducted by the community-based Vancouver Foundation released last year found residents feel it is difficult to make new friends in Metro Vancouver and are worried about the growing sense of disconnection.

Continue reading here.

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.