Vancouver's bright lights illuminate the city

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Many citizens have worked tirelessly to improve our communities; here are eight who are making a big difference in people's lives.

For many of us, the best thing about Vancouver is its people””particularly those who are having a profound impact on the community. Here are eight residents who have helped transform the city and the region.

David Bates has been an air-quality pioneer

David Bates
Ensuring cleaner air for Canadians

We all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. David Bates for the quality of the air we breathe. Bates, 84, told the Georgia Straight he has produced six books and 270 papers on the topic, including a recent one in the Canadian Respiratory Journal. Bates, former UBC dean of medicine, also helped establish Vancouver as a centre for research on air pollution.

Bates, originally a chest physician, witnessed a devastating smog outbreak in London, England, in 1952 that ended up causing almost 12,000 deaths. “For the first time, people realized that smog...was very dangerous and was killing a lot of people,”  Bates said. In 1956, he was lured to McGill University as a professor of experimental medicine.

In a 1987 paper published in Environmental Research, Bates established a link between bad-air days and an increase in hospital admissions. He accomplished this by studying the situation in Southern Ontario, which was the first jurisdiction to computerize hospital records on a large scale.

“We were able to show that in the summer, the association between hospital admissions for respiratory conditions””for lung disease, particularly for children and particularly for asthmatic children””was closely associated with the ozone [smog] level that existed in Toronto,”  Bates said.

He also played a significant role in establishing a statistical association between fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter and daily mortality. More recently, Bates has tried to highlight the impact that marine sources of pollution, including freighters in Burrard Inlet, are having on air quality in the region.

“Most of their pollution contribution, actually, we now know, is when they're moored,”  Bates said.

Governments have responded by creating AirCare, requiring improved emission systems in motor vehicles, and regulating emissions from industrial sources. But Bates says the public must remain vigilant, noting that New Westminster residents still endure a great deal of air pollution from marine traffic on the water. There is more information on Bates on his Web site at www .healthandcleanair.org/.

Paula Carr tackles tough issues in the Collingwood neighbourhood

Paula Carr
Welcoming the world

Paula Carr, 50, has spent the past 18 years spearheading an East Vancouver neighbourhood house that is gaining recognition around the world. Carr told the Straight that when she started at Collingwood Neighbourhood House, it operated out of a small storefront office with a budget of $30,000 and served about 100 people.

Since then, she said, the annual budget has risen to $3.5 million; there are more than 100 part-time and full-time staff and 300 to 500 volunteers and approximately 120,000 people walk through the doors at 5288 Joyce Street in any given year.

“Our focus has really been on multiculturalism and really trying to find a way for the different cultures and the diversity within our community to come together,”  she said. “We probably have 35 or 40 different languages represented in our human-resource pool.” 

There are 700 young people involved in a youth-leadership program, sharing their skills with others in the community. There are arts programs, seniors' services, and child care. “Always, our goal is about building a sense of community””people coming together and meeting one another,”  Carr said.

According to local NDP MLA Adrian Dix, Collingwood Neighbourhood House is a “joyful place”  that doesn't shy away from the tough subjects, such as dealing with drug and alcohol issues, mental illness, homelessness, and food security. UBC planning professor Leonie Sandercock, who specializes in multicultural planning, was so enthralled by Collingwood's approach to multiculturalism that she coproduced a documentary called Where Strangers Become Neighbours: The Story of the Collingwood Neighbourhood House and the Integration of Immigrants in Vancouver.

Carr said that delegations have come from China, Venezuela, and Chile to learn more. In October, Carr will travel with Sandercock to Lisbon to show the film at an international conference on immigrant settlement in urban centres.

Bill Chu has organized tours of Indian reserves to help immigrants learn about Native people

Bill Chu
Crusading against colonialism

For Bill Chu, 55, a turning point came after an aboriginal man asked him for spare change in Chinatown in the winter of 1988. “I was an immigrant, and I knew nothing about aboriginal people,”  Chu recalled in an interview with the Straight. “So I offered to buy him coffee, just to walk down to Hastings [Street]. On the way, it became plenty clear that this guy needed a little bit more than coffee.” 

So Chu offered to pay for dinner, and the man told his troubled history of injustice. When Chu, a Christian, tried sharing his religious views, the man suddenly stood up and left the restaurant, saying, “You're one of them.” 

“That event in 1988 stirred me to think that there must be something that the church has done wrong to cause a hungry man to reject his dinner,”  Chu recalled.

The next year, Chu's Christian world-view received another jolt following the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, where Chinese troops opened fire on student demonstrators. Two days after the bloodbath, he attended St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church, looking out over a mass of teary faces. At that point, he realized that he needed to do more than just go to church.

Since then, Chu has organized bus trips taking some 1,200 people, including many Chinese immigrants, to the Mount Currie reserve so they can learn more about daily lives of aboriginal people. He immersed himself in Native history and organized a reconciliation dinner for 600 people in 2004 to bring together the Chinese and aboriginal communities. He also founded the Multicultural Coalition Against Gambling Expansion after a casino proponent stated that there was an “unsatisfied demand among the Asian population” .

Over the past year, Chu has turned his attention to the Chinese head tax. He came from Hong Kong in 1974, so he never personally paid the fee, which was assessed on Chinese immigrants from 1885 to 1923. But it struck a chord with him because it reeked of inequality, and he felt that many local Chinese pioneers had been fleeing the effects of imperialism in China.

“Most of the problems that we are witnessing are either from colonization or globalization””those are the two prime sources of conflict,”  Chu told the Straight. “We don't really deal with it in an honest way.” 

Murray and Peter Corren have ensured gay and lesbian kids aren't ignored in the school curriculum.

Murray and Peter Corren
Blazing a trail for equal rights

Don't call Murray and Peter Corren partners. “We're not partners,”  Peter says. “We're husbands.” 

Murray, a Coquitlam literacy-support teacher, says that they married two years ago on the 33rd anniversary of their meeting. For the past 10 years, their lives have been consumed with various struggles to advance the rights of same-sex couples across the province. During this period, they've endured abusive phone calls and even death threats, Peter said.

During an interview with the Straight in their luxurious Kitsilano condo, the couple tick off a list of firsts. They believe they were the first same-sex couple to adopt an adult child in Canada. “He was in our foster care prior to turning 19,”  Murray said.

The first time they tried adopting in B.C., they were told that only one could be the legal parent and the other would be identified as a legal guardian. “We weren't prepared to accept that,”  Murray said. “So I got myself elected to the board of directors of the BC Adoptive Parents Association.” 

He helped persuade then–NDP cabinet minister Joy MacPhail to change the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly. “As far as we know, that was a world precedent,”  Murray said. In other words, another first.

Peter, who works for TransLink, recalled the time they “naively”  went down to get a marriage licence and were refused. “So we then filed a human-rights complaint against the B.C. government, which was the beginning of litigation in B.C.,”  Peter said.

When it appeared as though the NDP government would be defeated, the Correns launched a court action and recruited two other couples to join the fight. Egale Canada backed a different court case brought forward by five other couples. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield heard both cases together and upheld the ban on same-sex marriage. The B.C. Court of Appeal later overturned the decision, legalizing same-sex marriage in B.C.

“We actually started it,”  Peter said. Chalk up another first.

Then there was the lengthy and successful court fight with the Surrey school board over the use of three books featuring same-sex parents. “By the time we got to the Supreme Court of Canada, we had a personal legal bill of over $460,000,”  Murray recalled, noting that the final victory meant the losing party absorbed most of the court costs.

But one of the most vexing battles of all involved the B.C. school curriculum. The Correns filed a human-rights complaint in 1999 when the previous NDP government refused to require that the issues of same-sex parents, sexual orientation, and gender identity be taken into account in curriculum documents. Gender equity, antiracism, aboriginal issues, and disability were addressed.

Murray said the NDP government claimed that the curriculum wasn't a service customarily available to the public and, therefore, it wasn't covered under the human-rights code. “If public education isn't a service, I don't know what is,”  Murray said.

The dogged Correns kept up the fight, and this year the B.C. Liberal government finally settled the case. It has created a new elective Grade 12 course on social justice that will address same-sex issues, gender identity, racism, and other topics. The Correns also ensured that the Ministry of Education would specify exactly when parents can pull their kids out of health classes [which deal with sex education] from kindergarten to Grade 10, and to ensure that the learning outcomes are still delivered to these students.

In addition, Murray said, the Correns will have an opportunity to identify areas in the curriculum where issues around sexual orientation, sexual identity, and same-sex families could be included.

In the past, Murray claimed, gay and lesbian kids were totally silenced in the B.C. school system. “When you're silenced and invisible, and you don't see yourself reflected in public education when you're in school, then why would you want to be there in the first place?”  he asked. “Secondly, because of that silence and invisibility, it's so easy to stereotype and scapegoat people, and that's precisely what had been happening and has been happening. Schools were not safe places for these kids.” 

Director David Diamond relies on audience members to enhance understanding.

David Diamond
Changing perceptions through theatre

For several years, David Diamond, 53, produced and directed theatre about oppressors and the oppressed for Headlines Theatre. Buy Buy Vancouver focused on how poor people in Vancouver couldn't find affordable housing. Under the Gun addressed militarism.

“We were doing really good work that was for people and about them,”  Diamond recently told the Straight. “I wanted to know how you did it with them.” 

He found his answer in 1984 when he met legendary Brazilian director and writer Augusto Boal, founder of Theater of the Oppressed. The same year, Diamond became artistic director of Headlines Theatre, and he decided to experiment with Boal's model of forum theatre. Audience members could shout “Stop”  and replace one of the oppressed characters.

During production of Sanctuary in 1989, which focused on refugee issues, a Latin American woman said she wanted to play the death-squad leader. In Diamond's mind, this character was not a victim and wasn't supposed to be replaced by an audience member.

“I go to her, 'You think he's oppressed?'?”  Diamond recalled in astonishment. “She says, 'Yes.'?” 

What followed transformed Diamond's view of the world. Performing the role of the death-squad leader, the woman declared that she couldn't continue as a killer. She explained how she got lured into it all after being caught stealing a loaf of bread as a child. To protect her family from reprisals, she said, she performed an escalating series of errands for the police. And now she wanted to stop.

Diamond said that the actor who originally played the role, Victor Porter, had tears in his eyes””and in real life, he had been held in solitary confinement for opposing death squads. “He says, 'This is true,'?”  Diamond recalled. “So that was a huge moment for me, because she knew something I couldn't imagine.” 

Diamond said that he learned more from First Nations communities in 1992. They strongly discouraged Headlines Theatre from using the language of the oppressor and the oppressed in its presentations in their communities. Instead, the Natives wanted a forum-theatre project in which a batterer wasn't portrayed as a criminal who needed to be locked up forever.

He said aboriginal people told him, “We want to have the recognition that while we're not going to condone his actions, that he is in crisis and needs healing.” 

This perspective informed Headlines Theatre's subsequent productions, including Here and Now, which helped audiences understand why young men of South Asian descent might be attracted to gangs.

Diamond said that he believes in dealing with the way the world is, not the way he wishes it to be. He added that he is working on a book that concludes the “binary model”  of oppressor and the oppressed is part of the problem.

“When we divide the world into us-and-them””whether the right does it or the left does it””the boundary between the oppressor and oppressed is an artificial construction,”  Diamond said. “If you want to tackle whatever issue it is, if you want to tackle racism, you've got to be prepared to talk to the racist in an honourable way....I'm having to constantly ask myself: 'Do I want to live in constant struggle against the oppressor? Or do I want to live in a world where we stop growing them?'?” 

Headlines Theatre's next big project is Meth, which is another forum-theatre production that will be performed in 28 communities by people who've struggled with crystal meth. The following year, Headlines Theatre is planning a theatre-dance piece, tentatively called Fire Season, which addresses climate change.

Melanie Mark overcame tragedy to become an aboriginal role model

Melanie Mark
Creating a community centre and a new reality for aboriginal youth

Melanie Mark, 30, says she has heard a lot of lip service over the years about how much our governments care about the future of aboriginal children. Now she wants to see some action on this front.

Mark, a Nisga'a woman, has lived almost her entire life in Vancouver. She is also a key member of the Urban Native Youth Association's capital-campaign committee, which is trying to raise $50 million for a new Native Youth Centre. It is planned for the corner of Commercial Drive and Hastings Street.

Mark told the Straight that Petro- Canada donated one parcel of land, and the City of Vancouver has donated money for two adjacent parcels. Next month, she expects the federal and provincial treasury boards to review the business plan.

If public funding is in place, Mark expects the private sector will be more receptive to the idea. “This is an investment in the future, looking at the social landscape of the Commercial-Hastings corridor,”  she said. “I want a Native youth centre to change our neighbourhood. I want it to be a place where people are accessing positive role-modelling, programming for their well-being, as opposed to what we have now.” 

Mark, an SFU graduate, won a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for her advocacy work as the president of the Urban Native Youth Association. Now she is an associate child and youth officer with the provincial government. Poised, confident, and articulate, Mark appears like the last person to grow up in troubled circumstances.

But she did. She recalled growing up poor in East Vancouver, often walking with her brothers to save money on bus fare. At the age of 12, Mark witnessed a semitrailer truck kill her younger brother Wayne as he was doubling another brother on a bicycle near the corner of Hastings and Cassiar streets. Mark said her mother had been sober for a while, but she went into a serious tailspin following the accident.

“The biggest thing for me at that time was stepping in for my mother,”  Mark recalled. Later, her brothers were apprehended by the government, and Mark stayed in contact with social workers to ensure she retained a role in their lives.

“I've always had a sense of compassion,”  Mark said. “But I also had a sense of justice””justice on behalf of children and youth who don't have a say in their reality, who don't have a say that they don't want to be sexually abused or assaulted or neglected or starved or forced to the streets.” 

In the past year, Mark and several other aboriginal youth leaders successfully advocated for a Native policing centre in Vancouver, reversing an earlier VPD decision to ignore the recommendations of Wally Oppal's 1994 report on municipal policing.

Teacher Yonah Martin unites Korean Canadians divided by language

Yonah Martin
Awakening Korean Canadians

Yonah Martin, 41, calls herself a member of the “1.5”  generation of Korean Canadians. She was born in Korea but moved to Vancouver when she was seven years old, so English is her first language. Her surname is a giveaway that her husband is not of Korean descent.

Martin, a Coquitlam middle-school teacher, told the Straight that their 11-year-old daughter, Kiana, has become passionate about her Korean heritage. This has spurred Martin to create a better sense of community for Koreans on both sides of the language divide.

“That dual role can only be played by people like me,”  she said, noting that this is because she can communicate in both languages.

Martin is the energetic chair of the Corean Canadian Coactive Society, often referred to as the C3 Society (www.c3society.com/). It was formed in 2003 to create a bridge between first-, second-, third-, and 1.5-generation Korean Canadians by creating cultural, educational, economic, and charitable resources. She said that as a teacher, she always realized she was a role model, but she never fully embraced her Korean heritage until the C3 Society was created.

One of their first big events was a bilingual cultural event for kids called Camp Korea, to create greater understanding between Korean and English speakers. The society promotes artists and writers of Korean descent.

Earlier this year, the organization held a bilingual career leadership conference for 200 young people, which was open to everyone but was mostly attended by students of Korean descent. “Our dream is to make it a national conference where we can really bring together the whole community,”  she said.

Martin, who lives near Commercial Drive, said there are between 80,000 and 85,000 people of Korean ancestry living in the Lower Mainland in any year if one includes foreign students and their parents. Even though Korean Canadians are one of the fastest growing communities in the region, they hadn't attracted a great deal of attention before the society was created. Martin also noted that there is no Korean content in the B.C. school curriculum, which is why she brought a novel called A Single Shard (Clarion Books, 2001), by Korean American writer Linda Sue Park, into the classroom.

She said the C3 Society is in the process of becoming a registered charity, and she hopes that one day the Korean Canadian community can have a community centre as elegant as the National Nikkei Heritage Centre in Burnaby for Japanese Canadians. “I know it will happen when it's the right time,”  Martin predicted.

Meet more locals making a difference on the “Bright Lights”  segments running Mondays on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition (between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m.) and CBC TV's Canada Now (between 6 and 7 p.m.)