John Yano: Failure to end homelessness is human rights violation
Editor's note: Social and environmental justice advocate John Yano announced today (August 25) his candidacy for a COPE nomination for city council. Here's the prepared text of his speech at Oppenheimer Park.
My name is John Yano and I am seeking nomination for City Council with COPE, the Coalition of Progressive Electors. I believe that the current government is failing to provide for the needs of a vast majority of its residents. With a COPE City Council, I believe I can contribute to making Vancouver a better city for all its residents. Vision and the NPA receive millions of dollars from developers. COPE does not accept contributions from developers. It is a natural conclusion that developer funded parties must cater to the desires of their paymasters. It is also natural that developers desire to maximize their profits. Maximizing profits for developers cannot serve the best interests of the vast majority of the people of Vancouver.
Good government must protect and promote the Human Rights of all people in its jurisdiction. Our current governments are failing to maintain the Human Rights of the people they are governing. Canada was a drafter and has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
• (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
The record levels of homelessness in Vancouver are Canada’s, BC’s and our city’s great shame. A COPE City Council will not shrug its shoulders and say nothing can be done. A COPE City Council will lead by example. It will work vigorously to build housing for the homeless. A COPE City Council will build social housing and work tirelessly to get the Provincial and Federal Governments to pay their share. SROs and shelters are not homes, they are warehouses for the poor, often infested with rats, bedbugs and other vermin.
Our governments’ refusal to end homelessness is not saving taxpayers money. Many studies have shown that homelessness costs taxpayers many times the cost of providing good housing in the increased costs in the providing of healthcare to the homeless. Homelessness limits the amount of healthcare space and dollars available to the rest of the people. Our governments’ refusal to end homelessness is a value judgement of our leaders in government. They are saying that homeless people are not worthy of having Human Rights. I believe they are heaping indignities that verge on torture on the poor; in order to motivate the people who are better off to work harder in order to evade these weapons of cruelty. I say this is wrong. I believe that the vast majority of the people of Vancouver know that this is wrong. I believe that together we can do so much better.
I would like to thank the organizers of the Oppenheimer tent city. They have increased the security of the homeless and have given them a place to escape the vermin infested SROs and shelters. The tent city has focused a spotlight on the deplorable situation facing the homeless in Vancouver. The people of the tent city have repeatedly refused to leave or to be swept under the rug into SROs or shelters despite the numerous threats by civic officials.
In light of recent events it is necessary to talk about CP’s recent decision to destroy the community gardens along the Arbutus corridor. Given the current civic government’s weak will to stand up for its residents, I do not completely fault CP’s actions. Community gardens are an essential component of livability in Vancouver. They must not be used as a tax dodge for land speculators. Vancouver City Council should have taken concrete steps to prevent the destruction of the community gardens along the Arbutus corridor. Expropriation along with an injunction seems like a reasonable avenue given that CP was playing hardball. All community plans must include community gardens. Community gardens are key component of sustainable and livable cities. Vision Vancouver is failing to protect the livability and sustainability of our city.
Priority must be given to ensuring that Jericho Lands develop in way that respects the livability and sustainability of our city. Respectful consultation with First Nations with regards to their needs and desires must take place first, before any plans go forward, given that this is one of the last large parcels of land within Vancouver that is not a park.
I would like to tell you a little bit about who I am. I am a gay cis-gendered male of Japanese descent. I was born in Niagara Falls Ontario and grew up in Toronto. My parents were born in Vancouver to parents who were born in Japan. My father’s family was interned at Lemon Creek during the Second World War. When the war ended and the internment camps were closed, my father’s family was given the choice of going to a war ravaged Japan or going to Brantford Ontario to work on a farm. Thankfully my father’s family chose Brantford. My mother’s family was more fortunate, my mother’s father had heard that the internment was coming and was able to move the family to Grand Forks BC in advance of the internment order. Both families lost almost all of their belongings and property, for which they received an insulting token in return. Both families were deeply shamed by having the government deem them to be enemy aliens and worthy victims of institutionalized theft. They became deeply committed to silently keeping their heads down and blending in. I am extremely fortunate to have been born to parents who worked very hard and were able to give me a very comfortable childhood. I was also fortunate that I was encouraged and told I have good mind by my parents. Through reading and learning history, I have come to the realization that silence is extremely dangerous and helps those who would oppress us. I am glad to have found my voice and will use it to make things better for all the people of Vancouver.
I studied organic chemistry at University of Waterloo. I worked in variety of jobs before deciding to become a professional chef. I received a diploma in Culinary Management from George Brown College before apprenticing at the Royal York Hotel. On completing my apprenticeship I received my red seal journeyman’s papers. In 1999 I moved to Vancouver. I worked as a cook for St. Vincent’s Hospitals at all of their locations in Vancouver. I realized that it was more deeply rewarding for me to provide good food for seniors than to provide gourmet meals to the wealthy. Many of those seniors had little more to look forward to in their life than a good meal. When the BC Liberal government enacted Bill 29, I realized that I had to become active in my union the Hospital Employee’s Union (HEU) and to advocate for the seniors at St. Vincent’s Hospitals. I became a shop steward, a member my local’s union executive, and a member of two of my union’s provincial committees including the LGBT Standing Committee. Through Bill 29’s illegal contracting out, I lost my job working for St. Vincent’s Hospital. Eventually I was able to get a job at St. Paul’s Hospital in the warehouse and became a shop steward, a delegate to the Vancouver and District Labour Council, and member of the union’s local executive again. In 2005 I felt compelled to fight against the BC Lieberals for the BCNDP in my riding. In that year I also worked in the civic election in Vancouver for COPE. In 2006 I worked in the federal election for the NDP. Since 2006 I have been a member of my provincial riding’s NDP executive. Since 2005 I have been active in all local federal and provincial elections and by-elections for the NDP and all civic elections for COPE. I have served as Provincial Council Rep for the NDP for my riding and I am currently the Regional Representative for Vancouver and the North Shore to the Provincial Executive of the BCNDP. Since 2011 I have served as a member of my federal riding’s NDP executive. I currently serve on the BCNDP’s Pride Committee. I am the newly created LGBQ Representative to COPE’s Executive.
I chose this location for the press conference for two major reasons. The first reason is that it was prior WWII, this was the heart of Japanese Canadian Community. And secondly that this is a place where people are fighting to make things better for the homeless people of Vancouver. I am thankful to the organizers of the Powell Street Festival for their decision to respect the people of the Oppenheimer Tent City and move the Festival to adjoining streets. I am grateful that the City did not succeed in pitting the Japanese Canadian community against the residents of the tent city. I applaud COPE’s decision to stand in solidarity with the people of the tent city, here at Oppenheimer Park.
I believe that Vancouver must build strong, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Vancouver. This means consulting respectfully with all neighbourhoods and ensuring that their current and future needs are met. This means opening the Community Plans and making sure that space is set aside to serve the needs of its residents. This means that we must ensure that seniors can remain in their communities as they age and that their children need not commute from long distances to visit them, because they can’t find affordable housing for their families in Vancouver. This means that people can access services in their communities in the languages that they understand. This means ensuring that there is space set aside in the West End and the Commercial Drive Areas for LGBTQ seniors. This means increasing access to fast efficient low carbon emission public transit throughout our great city. Amongst many other things this means we strive to minimize our environmental impact, reduce our per capita energy consumption, and reduce our CO2 emissions.
COPE has a plan to build a future for Vancouver that is Strong, Inclusive and Sustainable. I am proud to put my name forward for nomination for COPE City Council. Together we can build a brighter future for all residents of Vancouver.
Thank-you for coming. All my relations.