Thursday, August 25, 2011

Betty's Choice - In Burnaby an email blunder opened a rare breach in a bureaucratic Stone Wall

After a month of glorious R & R it is time to scratch that itch. George Orwell, a writer whom I idolize, described four reasons for needing to write. His list included (i) Sheer egoism (ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm (iii) Historical impulse (iv) Political purpose. Blog articles must have purpose, and because I am an historian I favour Orwell's number (iii): "Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity."

Tomorrow the B.C. government will release the 2011 HST Referendum Voting Results. The media have already lined up a cadre of well tanned opinion leaders who will tell us what the poll numbers mean. In fact by Friday night we will have heard the opening salvo of a cold blooded campaign to finish off the wounded B.C. Liberal administration. We will start with battles for control of British Columbia's cities in the November 2011 B.C. municipal elections, to be followed by the end game, after the provincial associations have regrouped and rearmed. With so much at stake at home I have decided to ignore the Wide World and focus on local issues and personalities over the coming three months. In the doing, I will point readers to pertinent articles or websites which mainstream media may ignore.

On August 23rd the Vancouver SUN published an interesting story under: ERRANT EMAIL SHOWS BURNABY SCHOOL DISTRICT IS ILLEGALLY WITHHOLDING INFORMATION, FATHER SAYS. The article disclosed news that Betty Choi, executive assistant to the superintendent of schools, [Burnaby SD 41] had accidentally sent a copy of an incriminating email, to the very citizen (George Kovocic) she was in the process of stonewalling. You can read the full SUN article here - "Errant email". The relevant Choi quote is: "I don’t think we should get in a flap over this, we should just let him initiate his complaint to the Privacy Commissioner, and then wait for them to contact us, that will delay him even further, maybe past the [November civic] election. I heard he is running on the new civic team taht (sic) Parents Voice is forming for election of trustees!"
Ms. Choi was asked by the SUN to explain herself, but she stone walled the reporter. Old habits die hard. After a huddle at the School Board offices, Choi's boss told the Sun the email was a purely personal exchange between colleagues. His answer smells.

Betty Choi certainly knows where she stands. After months of resisting George Kovacic, a researcher for a Burnaby group called "The Parents' Voice," the United Front guarding the files at School Board offices have won. By wearing down and wearing out applicants for information, they subvert democratic access to the Public record and control public debate.

A decade ago I was a frequent attendee at meetings of The Canadian Alliance for Social Justice & Family Values Association, an advocacy group spearheaded by lawyer K-John Cheung, his wife, and a band of dedicated workers. I didn't agree with every point on their program but agreed with enough, and I did admire their guts and a dedication to core values, especially as they frequently took abuse for what the Media term "Christian conservatism". I had kids in the public school system, and as an educator myself I appreciated the opportunity to work with folks who believed in ideas which didn't have a dollar value attached. Since then I have noticed that similar groups have formed up, some of which are now taking hits from the Gay press. The local congregation which draws the most heat is the Willingdon Church, which earned television coverage last April when members packed a meeting of the Burnaby School Board which was discussing "anti-homophobia" policies. You can read the story here, which was published April 27th in XTRA! the Gay and Lesbian News. George Kovocic is quoted in the XTRA! article.
Packing a meeting of Burnaby School District 41. Media reports suggest that Christians of Asian descent (Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean) have refused to adhere to the tenets of Canadian political correctness, and that really drives some people wild. The rest of us learned to shut up years ago, for "the greater good" if not for our own.

Now what I find really interesting in my background reading, is that on this single public issue -Values Based Education - the Catholics and the Protestants are finally working together. I don't know how long amity will last, but it is a healthy development. Nobody can say if their political Crusade will really translate into seats at the School Board but it is a noteworthy phenomenon. Gay rights and equality are fully guaranteed by our laws, but the jury is still out on whether adults should be allowed to discuss sex of any stripe with someone else's children, be it in a playground or within the confines of a classroom.

Nothing in our culture is permanent. I sometimes inform students that my ancestors were warrior Celts who took enemy heads as trophies. Then the tribes became subjects of the Holy Roman Empire and the Christian communal sacraments replaced our ancient customs. Who would have thought that in the 21st Century the taking of heads (Mexico, Afghanistan, etc) would make a comeback. In Canada nothing is written in stone. In fact most of what we write, as Betty Choi could attest, is only recorded electronically, and can be made to disappear with a key stroke.

An interesting contribution to the story can be found in the August 19, 2011 edition of the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER, an American publication with regular Canadian content. Steve Weatherbe covered recent work by B.C. Catholics which clearly dovetails with efforts made by several Protestant denominations over the past decade. The Weatherbe story can be read HERE. One gentleman quoted is Gordon World, a spokesman for The Parents Voice, and a possible candidate for the School Board in the November elections. Also interviewed for the REGISTER was Sean Murphy, who is B.C. director of the Canadian Catholic Civil Rights League. [It takes just ten minutes to read the 3 articles I linked to.] The website maintained by THE PARENTS' VOICE is here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Axe murders in Canada - Yes, but who gets the house?

In my youth I took courses in Criminology alongside working policemen and at one time I seriously considered taking up the profession. While at university I also did my service in the Militia - in a military police platoon. Since graduation I've conducted research into how crime is perceived and reported, and I recently completed a book on the life of a very clever Canadian criminal. In addition I've filmed a documentary on a prison and am working on a project which will feature some of its most notorious inmates.

With these experiences in my background I feel entitled to comment on the recent news that Statistics Canada have declared Canada's crime rate to be at a 25 year low. You can read a summary of the finding in "Canada's Crime rate lowest in 25 years: StatsCan report" on this CBC webpage. The figures, much hyped by politicians and their parrots in the news media, are a snapshot of where we were in 2006, or five years ago. Those who pay attention, know where we are at today. Gang suppression in B.C. has temporarily reduced the incidence of drug related ambush killings, and engine immobilizers are finally put a dent in epidemic levels of car theft. As to property crime at the retail and residential levels, few are reporting it and as a society we no longer even have an interest in policing it. Being "ripped off" from time to time is simply a condition of living, and how many of us want to compound the loss by lining a lawyers pocket with our remaining cash?

We are told that as a percentage, violent crime is down in Canada. I have met many young men grown to maturity without having participated in a single fist fight. That's incredible to someone of my generation for whom schoolyard knuckle bruising was the norm, and 'fighting your own battles' was the expected neighborhood etiquette. Of course these days so many anxious parents are delivering and picking up their kids at school that there is no risk they will ever encounter a bully on the field behind the building . And of course adults who have never risked their skin in boyhood, will be afraid to stand up to aggression when they encounter it, or even fail to see it coming. We delegate the safety of our neighborhoods and our nation to a very tiny cadre of trained professionals.

Charles W. Moore is a Nova Scotia based columnist who dismisses the "proof" that falling crime numbers mean we are living in a safer country. In a recent opinion piece he pointed out that because home alarm systems are now the norm in this country, and fewer people venture out on foot after dark, crime stats are dampened. Social engineers jump to take credit for it, yet "Children don't have the same freedom and security outside the home their grandparents enjoyed 40 or 50 years ago."

There are many who claim that the news media over emphasizes crime, playing up the violence and the blood. That's not true. Crime in Canada is in fact under-reported. It is too often sanitized and explained away. Here in B.C. there are many cold blooded murders take place for which we never even see a photograph of the victim or the killer. What the media is guilty of is reporting crime with personal bias. Cherry picking is the norm. Reporters and news editors choose which few criminals they are going to hold up for public examination, and those of the majority whom they will let off the hook. The media's power to decide what goes on the public record and what stories get buried, does more to skew public perception of crime than any StatsCanada report ever could.

"AXE MURDERERS" are not just creatures of urban myth. They are an "inconvenient truth" of Canadian crime. (I had to abuse this Gore-ism.) We have our share of haters and our share of Lizzie Borden's. We had two axe murders in July, on opposite sides of the country. The media doesn't like to report grizzly killings and it pours water on the coals of murders stoked by too much hatred, unless of course it's "right wing" political hatred. (That commodity does sell.)

Consider the case of Richard (Dick) Oland, scion of the brewery clan in Saint John , N.B. Had Mr. Oland simply been shot, every local official from the Mayor and Police Chief to the coroner and Fire Chief would have turned up for the press conference. "Ground Zero- type" media scrums are an annoying reality of a society obsessed with celebrity, but the Pros know when it's best to avoid the podium.

Richard Oland murder - Saint John, N.B.
Richard (Dick) Oland was murdered on July 7th, in his office, located in the business district of Saint John, N.B. Friday's edition of MACLEANS magazine offers a few lurid details, while the S.J.P.D. has been very tight lipped: "This week, a professional cleaner specializing in mopping up after suicides, homicides and unattended deaths spent days vigorously scouring the premises..." The suspect? Some point to the son, others to a loan shark, and most hope it was a transient.
Ravinder Kaur Bhangu murder - Surrey, B.C.
All of the news outlets reported that Ravinder Kaur Bhangu had been "stabbed" to death, but THE PROVINCE (temporarily) reported the horrifying truth. The husband went to her office armed with an axe and a meat cleaver and committed a public atrocity.

If crime statistics sank further off the chart, would that prove anything? What if statisticians are failing to monitor entire swaths of felonious behavior? The federal government employs thousands of trained investigators to detect and prosecute tax cheaters and is exceptionally vigorous in making a public example of many of them each year. But far more Canadians engage in pension fraud - faking and feigning their way to unearned settlements or incremental increases. There is no attempt whatever to take the measure of it, and yet it robs working taxpayers of $$billions that would help sustain their own families. Query a reporter on the subject of pension fraud and you will learn that they don't know enough to engage in a five minute conversation about it.

An even more macabre problem to ponder is the vulnerability of those elderly citizens who happen to own real property. How many accidental deaths of our seniors are not so accidental? And is anyone in law enforcement paying attention? With the average price of a detached home in Vancouver getting closer and closer to a million dollars, how great is the temptation for some impatient heir to arrange a little misfortune in the home or in the park... a fall, an accidental over dosage, an electrocution, an exposure to inclement weather? StatsCanada says that fatal accidents are more common in the north than in urban Canada. I have no reason to dispute their numbers (see chart below) but the agency admits that it is held hostage by the quality of information reported to it by the provinces, and by systemic anomalies. For example, all of our military personnel blown up in Afghanistan are not included in national reporting, because their deaths occurred overseas. Odd, eh?

Fatal Accident rates - Northern vs Southern Canada