Best of Vancouver 2019: News & Politics

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      Best site to launch a march for sex workers’ safety

      Vancouver has a memorial for sex workers tucked away in the West End on a decorative lamppost. The plaque outside St. Paul’s Anglican Church at 1130 Jervis Street honours ladies and gentlemen of the night who were displaced from the neighbourhood in the 1980s due to a court injunction that forced them out of the West End. That fateful decision played a role in dozens of sex workers being murdered in subsequent years after they were pushed into the shadows. For the first time this year, the annual Red Umbrella march to promote the safety of sex workers began at the memorial, which the city created in partnership with the West End Sex Workers Memorial Committee. Fun historical fact: the window of the apartment that housed former sex worker Wendy King can be seen across the street from the memorial. Her explosive memoir chronicled her dalliances with former chief justice John Farris, who was forced to resign in 1978. 


      Best reason to call a lawyer

      It’s ridiculous that a 1972 conviction for pot in Canada can prevent someone from entering the United States in 2019. But the war on drugs continues and that’s the world we live in. There has long been a method one can use to clear their record of past run-ins with the law. But the application to suspend a citizen’s prior conviction—a record suspension, as it’s known in Canada—comes with a $631 price tag. The process is also complicated enough for one to want to hire a lawyer. All that hassle and then there’s no guarantee a request will be successful. It’s discouraging, to say the least. But as of August 1, the federal government says it has made it easier and much cheaper for Canadians to obtain a pardon for a past conviction for cannabis possession. “Individuals convicted only of simple possession of cannabis can now apply to the Parole Board of Canada for a pardon through a streamlined, simplified process,” Public Safety Canada announced this summer. “The $631 fee and waiting periods associated with other pardon applications are eliminated.” With recreational cannabis finally legal in Canada, it’s about time citizens stopped paying for past infractions that are no longer a crime.


      Best shout-out to the VPD

      It’s fun to imagine heads turning in surprise inside Vancouver police stations when they heard their department’s name come up in a fracas involving U.S. president Donald Trump and the White House. The mess began when Kellyanne Conway, a high-profile Trump spokesperson, claimed that the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl was showing up in cannabis. Washington, D.C., journalists were skeptical and subsequently asked Trump officials on what basis Conway made the claim. In response, the White House said it came from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). So reporters asked NIDA where it got the idea that fentanyl had found its way into weed. “Anecdotal reports,” the organization replied. “Specifically a 2015 Vancouver police report claiming ‘fentanyl-laced marijuana’ was killing drug users.” The VPD had walked back that claim but Trump-administration officials apparently didn’t know that. Today, that VPD report includes a correction emphasizing that the force has never seen fentanyl in cannabis.


      Best proof that Gen Z will save the world

      It might be a little crass to say, but if you’re 65 years old, you’re going to be dead long before the worst effects of climate change are upon us. That simple fact probably has some relation to polls consistently showing that older people care a lot less about the environment than younger people. Children in Canadian schools today understand that they will be alive when the world passes a tipping point on climate change. Justifiably, they’re angry about this and, in 2019, began letting adults know it. In Vancouver, school walkouts have become a popular tactic of the youth climate movement. Last March, for example, hundreds of students gathered outside the art gallery on Georgia Street carrying signs with slogans like “The oceans are rising and so are we” and “Climate justice now”. And very recently, many thousands of mostly young people gathered outside Vancouver City Hall, from where they launched a march through downtown Vancouver demanding that governments do more to mitigate Canada’s contributions to climate change. The same week, Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old de facto leader of this movement, pulled no punches summarizing the situation. “You are failing us,” she said in a speech aimed at adults. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you.” There’s hope yet for our future, thanks to the leaders of tomorrow.


      The host of the podcast Crackdown, Garth Mullins, sees himself and others on the show as war correspondents.
      Rob Newell

      Best radio to come out of the trenches of the DTES

      “For us it’s a war. And it needs to be covered like a war—by war correspondents. That’s us,” Garth Mullins says in Episode 1 of Crackdown, a new podcast based out of Vancouver. If Mullins and his team live and work in B.C., what conflict are they covering? The war on drugs, the show explains, as it plays out in the city’s Downtown Eastside, across Canada, in the United States, and around the world. Mullins is a member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), a grassroots organization that has fought to reform drug policy in Canada since its founding in 1997. In addition to Mullins’s role as the podcast’s host, a number of VANDU members serve on the show’s editorial board. In a partnership with the UBC-based Cited Media Productions, it is conflict journalism told through the eyes of the side that’s losing. That unique perspective was recognized in June with a “silver” win at the prestigious New York Festivals Radio Awards. “We couldn’t go collect it in person at the awards gala because some of us can’t cross the border,” Mullins noted poignantly after learning of the honour. Since then, Crackdown has continued to share stories from the drug war that listeners won’t hear anywhere else.


      Best imitation of a powerful politician

      Kennedy Stewart has all the trappings of power. He’s the friggin’ mayor of the third-largest city in Canada, for goodness’ sake. Stewart has a huge corner office at Vancouver City Hall with a magnificent view. Citizens and city staff call him “your worship”. He chairs the police board. Reporters respond in a Pavlovian fashion any time he holds a media briefing. The prime minister and premier likely have him on speed-dial. But the reality is that without a party, the first independent mayor since Mike Harcourt can only get things done if he cobbles together enough votes from Green and/or NPA councillors. Here’s just one example: Stewart came into office on the laudable promise of reforming the electoral system. He huffed and puffed about taking the province to court, if necessary, to ditch the at-large voting system. This was his life’s work as a political scientist. He had to run for mayor to fix this, or so we were told. Nowadays, you hear zero talk of electoral reform. And anyone who feels that the at-large system is responsible for the lack of local politicians with non-Anglicized names is better off speaking to an official with real clout—like new B.C. human rights commissioner Kasari Govender—rather than a feeble mayor.


      Best reason to wonder about Premier John Horgan’s commitment to equality

      The city’s two loud and proud gay and lesbian NDP MLAs, Spencer Chandra Herbert and Mable Elmore, also happen to be the only two of the NDP’s eight Vancouver MLAs not in the provincial cabinet. What a coincidence. Both have been in office for more than a decade and both have diligently advocated for their constituents, yet they were passed over in favour of politicians with far less elected experience. Over to you, Mr. Horgan.


      Best reason to wonder about B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s concern for tenants

      Wilkinson, who represents the wealthy constituency of Vancouver-Quilchena, called being a renter a “rite of passage” in a bizarre speech in the legislature in February. “It was part of growing up and getting better,” Wilkinson declared. “We’ve all done it. It’s kind of a wacky time of life but it can be really enjoyable.” Try telling that to seniors living on fixed incomes, single parents, or anyone with a disability who’s been renovicted. Kind of fun? Maybe if you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a fat-cat politician! Like Andrew Wilkinson.


      Best proof it’s the Year of the Asahi

      While the historic Vancouver Asahi baseball team may have gotten the big-screen treatment in the 2014 Japanese film Bankuba no Asahi (The Vancouver Asahi), several Canadian institutions have been paying tribute to this local Japanese-Canadian sports team this year. On February 20, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute about the team, which was filmed in Vancouver and near Hope, B.C. The minute-long vignette (released in English, French, and Japanese) tells the story of how the team rose to success in the Pacific Northwest with its strategic approach to outwit its opponents before the internment of Japanese-Canadians in 1942 during the Second World War forced it to disband. Then on April 24, Canada Post launched its Vancouver Asahi stamp at the National Nikkei Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby. The event was attended by the last surviving team member, 97-year-old Koichi Kay Kaminishi, members of the current Asahi Baseball Association, and Japanese-American activist and Star Trek actor George Takei. Now that's how you take a historic team back out to the ballgame.


      Carlito Pablo

      Best outdoor acknowledgment of Indigenous people

      During the observance of this year’s National Aboriginal Day on June 21, the Vancouver school board unveiled three totem poles on the grounds of its main offices at 1580 West Broadway. The centrepiece was a 13-metre reconciliation pole. On both sides of the work were welcoming poles representing male and female figures. In advance of the event, Chas Desjarlais, the district’s vice principal for Indigenous education, noted that although the board has a lot of art pieces referencing Indigenous history and heritage inside the building, the school board had nothing on the outside that speaks about this legacy. Now it does.


      Best conservative dissenter

      For three decades, CKNW host Charles Adler has been a conservative media titan in Canada and the United States. The son of Hungarian Jews who survived the Holocaust, Adler has never been shy about sharing stories about his parents’ sacrifices and bravery in the face of abominable discrimination during the Nazi era. But when Adler started voicing his objections to the loathsome bigotry meted out against gays and lesbians—particularly through forced conversion therapy—he suddenly became a pariah among some on the right. A self-described member of the Bernier Nation tweeted that Adler must have developed a brain tumour the size of a watermelon. Another suggested that Adler might have suffered a stroke. Yet another suspected Alzheimer’s, which was particularly galling, given that Adler’s father had this disease. But Adler soldiers on, night after night, calling out Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer for waffling over a ban on conversion therapy. Kudos to Adler for standing up for those who are often unable to defend themselves—and for honouring his parents’ legacy.


      Best reason to stay angry in the face of good news

      Six years into an overdose crisis that has killed thousands of people in B.C., policymakers finally saw a reason for cautious optimism this past summer. Overdose deaths declined during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year. There were 538 illicit-drug overdose deaths in B.C. between January and June 2019, down from 763 deaths reported in the first six months of 2018. A one-third drop is significant. But from 2001 to 2010, there were an average of just 102 overdose deaths in B.C. each six months. So although 538 is “good news”, it is also more than five times the number of deaths that was once considered “normal”. The year has seen overdose deaths decline, but only to a number that was once considered unimaginable for a population the size of B.C.’s. Worse, even as fatal overdoses have declined, emergency calls for overdoses continue to rise. “The psychological trauma that is being inflicted on people is increasing as the number of overdoses go up,” Eris Nyx, a member of the Vancouver-based Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, told the Straight this summer. “Even if they are nonfatal, the absolute number of responses are increasing, and this is having very negative effects on people’s mental health.”


      Best indicator why Vancouver renters cannot expect council to adopt vacancy control

      Vancouver councillors had the chance to impose vacancy control on a proposed rental development on West 4th Avenue, which would have meant that rents would be tied to the units instead of the tenants. If council had chosen to do this, the landlord could not have jacked rents for a unit beyond what is allowed by the yearly increases mandated by the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch, even after a tenant moved out. Coun. Jean Swanson thought this was a good idea. And when she proposed vacancy control for the rental project, city manager Sadhu Johnston confirmed that council had the power to do so. However, Swanson’s motion at a February 26, 2019, council meeting was defeated.


      Best explanation why rents are high in “for-profit affordable housing”

      In the City of Vancouver’s 2019 criteria for affordable rents on the East Side, lease charges start at $1,607 per month for a studio unit; $1,869 for a one-bedroom; $2,457 for two bedrooms; and $3,235 for three bedrooms. Housing activist Sara Sagaii explained that this is because the rates are not based on average market rents in that part of the city. Rather, they’re based on a citywide average, which means West Side numbers are part of the equation. Of course, average West Side rents are higher than those on the East Side. As a result, this pulls up rents on the East Side in for-profit affordable-housing projects. Go figure.


      Best reason to work harder on the recycling front

      Starting in 2018, China banned several types of solid-waste imports and imposed stricter contamination standards for these types of shipments under its National Sword policy. In short, China no longer wants to be the world’s dumping ground. According to a report by Metro Vancouver environmental planner Andrew Doi in April this year, recycling companies in the Lower Mainland are having problems marketing their stockpiles abroad. This means that the region, and the country in general, need to find new solutions in dealing with plastic and paper waste.



      Best examples of health benefits of walkable communities

      People who live in compact and walkable neighbourhoods are 39 percent less likely to have diabetes than those in car-dependent areas. They are also 28 percent less likely to suffer hypertension. In addition, they are 23 percent less likely to develop stress. These are some of the findings of research led by Larry Frank, a UBC professor and director of the university’s Health and Community Design Lab. The results of the study, titled Where Matters: Health and Economic Impacts of Where We Live, were presented by Erin Rennie, a senior regional planner with Metro Vancouver, in a report to the district’s regional planning committee. Yes, folks, living in single-family homes in the sprawling, car-dependent suburbs can kill you.


      Best reason to turn off the lights and take the bus

      Vancouver’s temperate climate is the envy of cities across Canada. While Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto freeze for half the year, Vancouver residents simply throw a windbreaker over their yoga gear and continue with their weekly walks along the seawall. Or at least that’s what we’ll tell future generations. Whereas Vancouver previously had four distinct seasons, each with its own charms, it increasingly feels like we’re down to two. For eight months of the year, it rains. And for four months, a blanket of heat settles over the Lower Mainland. Residents do their best to suck sufficient oxygen from the toxic smoke that occasionally floats in from the Interior’s annual forest fires. Infants and the elderly are advised to avoid the outdoors altogether. This shift in Vancouver’s climate is—unsurprisingly, to anyone who’s been paying attention for the past 30 years—a result of climate change. In January 2019, researchers at the University of Victoria examined 2018’s smash-all-records wildfire season and determined it was no fluke. “This profound influence of climate change on forest fire extremes in B.C. will require increasing attention in forest management, public health, and infrastructure,” it reads. We were warned.


      Best reason to hug someone who uses drugs

      There are plenty of good reasons we should be nice to people who struggle with an addiction. For starters, it’s more productive than stigmatizing them with tough love, recent studies suggest. But if that doesn’t convince you, consider this: in 2018, people who died of a drug overdose accounted for 32 percent—roughly one-third—of all organ donors in British Columbia. The year before, that number was even higher, at 35 percent, according to statistics that Transplant B.C. shared with the Georgia Straight earlier this year. Last July, B.C. health minister Adrian Dix convened a small celebration in a rooftop garden at St. Paul’s Hospital to commemorate the province’s 5,000th person alive today who was saved by an organ transplant. “Donors are our heroes, and this incredible milestone is truly their legacy of the incredible gift of life,” he said. There’s one group of citizens that’s contributed an especially significant number of those heroes: victims of Canada’s overdose crisis.