Vancouver school board says human rights legislation fails to target gender discrimination

Feb. 21, 2011’s meeting of the Vancouver School Board welcomed very few observers.


The Vancouver School Board believes changes to human rights legislation in Canada are necessary to fight homophobia and gender discrimination in public schools.

VSB has voted unanimously to formally support bill C-389, a proposal to recognize gender identity and gender expression in the Human Rights Act. The bill, which is now awaiting approval of the Senate, would also include discrimination against transgendered peoples under the Criminal Code’s hate crime laws.

“We spend so much time in our education system trying to prevent [discrimination] and dealing with it,” trustee Mike Lombardi said.

“This is an important legal piece which will make the case from a legal perspective. So, it supports us in what we’re trying to do through our education and training program for kids .”

The Canadian Human Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.”

Bill C-389

As of now, transgendered peoples currently have no protection from discrimination under law. In public schools where children are often subject to bullying and verbal abuse, administrators currently lack any legal basis to fight the discrimination.

“We’re promoting tolerance and acceptance, and working really hard trying to promote social behaviour [in the schools],” Lombardi said. “What this does is, from a legal point of view, legitimizes that.”

Bill C-389 is a private member’s bill put forward by NDP member Bill Siksay, and was passed by a 143 to 135 vote on Feb. 9, 2011.

“I am proud to stand in solidarity with the transgender and transsexual community, as we finally seek their full equality and seek to establish their full human rights in law in Canada,” Siksay said to Parliament when introducing Bill C-389.

“I have seen and sometimes shared the frustration, the anger, the tears and the deep sadness of people who are not yet equal, who too often face violence, sometimes to the point of death, and who mourn the loss of friends and family for whom the pain was more than they could bear, “ he added.

Conservative opposition

Critics of the legislation have been calling it “the bathroom bill,” arguing that discriminatory protections against transgendered peoples would grant sexual predators access to the public bathrooms of both sexes.

Leading this charge against the bill is Charles McVety, an evangelical minister and far-right conservative activist.

“My daughter turned 13 on Saturday, and I don’t want some guy showering beside her at the local swimming pool,” McVety said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. McVety said he believed the bill to be “a danger to our children.”

Trustees with VSB unanimously disagree with McVety and worry that the bill could be defeated by the conservative Senate.

Trustee Jane Bouey echoed these concerns, saying that forces of intolerance “are spreading information about what this bill would mean.”

“They’re putting intense pressure on the senate to try to stop it from passing,” she said.

Bouey said she considered sexual and gender-based discrimination to be a serious problem in Vancouver’s schools. According to her, VSB passed its own policy prohibiting this type of discrimination in 2004.

“The early indications are [that] it hasn’t resulted in a complete elimination of bullying of transgendered students or queer students, but it does make a difference,” Bouey said.

According to her, only 12 of British Columbia’s 60 school districts currently have such a policy.

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Sustainable Vancouver: building towards lean, green transport

This article is the second in a series on living sustainably in Vancouver. Stay tuned for more instalments.

Old Translink buses catch some Sun as they await their fate. Photo by Stephen Rees.


Building towards sustainable transport

Environmentalists in Vancouver were given a reason to smile last week when Translink released its first report on sustainability.

The 102-page report details an extensive amount of data related to environmental and economic sustainability, while also providing a window into the overall operations of the company.

In building towards a sustainable future in transport, the document is a step in the right direction. Transportation currently accounts for up to 33 per cent of green house gas (GHG) emissions in the province of British Columbia, and that is reason enough to begin documenting the specific indicators guiding these emissions.

Taking measure of a system’s performance allows for improvements to be made. To reach higher levels of sustainability in transportation, the data necessary to understand the system must be made available.

I spoke with Translink spokeswoman Trish Webb about the release. She said that the sustainability report is based on regional indicators, and these are only made available every five years.

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Vancouver surgeon, Dr. Robert Taylor, receives the Order of Canada

Of the 54 people awarded the Order of Canada for 2010, 13 were B.C. residents. Dr. Robert Taylor, a professor at the University of British Columbia, received his for donating time and expertise to developing nations in need.

“I’m really busy,” Dr. Robert Taylor said over the phone when contacted for an interview. “I was just out the door, I didn’t even think I should answer the phone.”

Even when running late, the doctor comes across as apologetic, kind, and sincere. He speaks with a tone that is both calm and articulate, lending a sense that he truly aims to be helpful.

But Taylor is a busy man indeed.

When the Vancouver-based surgeon isn’t overseas helping war torn and struggling nations establish some semblance of proper medical care, he’s at home finding other ways to share his expertise.

Dr. Robert Taylor teaching a hernia repair course in Zambia, 2009. Photo courtesy of CNIS.

Taylor works in the surgery departments of both Vancouver General Hospital and Providence Health Care.

In addition to being a professor at University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine, Taylor lends his services to the Red Cross and the Canadian Network for International Surgery, or CNIS.

A quick glance at the 66-year-old Taylor’s resume is enough to make even the most accomplished of us pause.

His initiatives in Vancouver include the establishment of UBC’s international surgery branch, as well as a colorectal cancer clinic at St. Paul’s hospital.

“At the request of the BC Cancer Agency…I initiated and developed the Anal Dysplasia Clinic at St. Paul’s,” Taylor wrote in his resume.

Since the early 1970s, the doctor has been on a wide array of humanitarian missions. The long list of countries he’s worked in includes Bolivia, Malawi, Uganda, and most recently, Sri Lanka and the Ivory Coast.

Working with the Red Cross in Sri Lanka, Taylor established “a sustainable surgical service in the north to serve the several hundred thousand internally displaced people from the long armed conflict in that region.”

In the Ivory Coast, Taylor also worked with the Red Cross to establish hospitals in war zones, following the announcement of a ceasefire.

Taylor practices stitch work with his students on a rather obedient patient, Zambia 2009. Photo courtesy of CNIS

His work as an ambassador of the Canadian medical profession earned him the Order of Canada in 2010, an award a co-worker said he accepted with humility.

“He was quite shocked when they told him,” Karethe Linaae of CNIS said. Linaae said Taylor was not expecting the award at all, and figured the phone call was to request a reference for someone else.

“He’s an amazing, giving, kind person. Very humble,” she said.

Linaae said Taylor is currently awaiting approval to visit Haiti with a group of Quebec surgeons, where he will work to establish medical facilities and train staff.

She added that he also teaches online surgery courses, allowing doctors in the developing world to continue learning once he’s left.

Sustainable Vancouver: A Guide to Eating Local in the City

This article is the first in a series on living sustainably in Vancouver. Stay tuned for more instalments. Photo by Natalie Maynor.


Eating Local

For the first instalment of sustainable Vancouver I decided to take a look at local food. Here in Vancouver, we are blessed with a wide assortment of local food options which can help make a sustainable lifestyle a reality. From seafood to local produce, much of our diets can be supplemented with local options.

When opting for local choices, consumers will often find that many of the things they enjoy are simply not available. Tropical fruit, olive oils, coffee – many of the staples we enjoy regularly come from abroad and are subject to many unseen costs. When picking up ingredients at the local grocery store, very rarely does one consider the hidden costs affecting our sustainability.

For example, bananas can be had on the cheap quite regularly, but the cost of transporting those bananas is one that remains hidden. While eating local can some times weigh heavier on the budget, the impact on our global carbon footprint is much lower. In no small way, eating local is much less costly for the environment as a whole.

“For food purists, “local” is the new “organic,” the new ideal that promises healthier bodies and a healthier planet,” said Time reporter John Cloud in an article which is now almost four years old.

Produce which is sold locally generally circumvents the need for harsh chemicals like pesticides, as the products are not expected to stay unnaturally fresh while they’re shipped around the globe. When buying organic, local products are usually of higher quality as well, lending more credence to the superiority of local food.

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Homelessness in Vancouver still a bleeding wound, council reports

City Council meeting, Feb. 1, 2011

Mayor Gregor Robertson begins the Feb. 1 council session adorned in traditional East Asian attires. The mayor welcomed members of the Asian community by wishing them a happy new year in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese and Korean.


This month’s city staff report on the progress to shelter the Vancouver’s street homeless by 2015 expressed a mixture of positive and negative sentiments.

City manager Penny Ballem said that while 450 spaces were still needed to meet the goal, a worthy commitment from the community could make this a reality.

The dollar figure of such a commitment has been estimated to be $20 million per 100 spaces, in addition to an annual maintenance fee of $1 million.

“We have a lot of momentum,” Ballem said during last Tuesday’s council meeting. “Let’s see what we can do this year.”

Ballem estimated that by 2020 the demand for spaces will increase by another 750 people, leading to a potential bill of $240 million should the city provide needed real estate.

With such a high financial commitment needed to provide for the city’s growing homeless population, there could be worry that a long-term solution is being avoided.

Councillor Ellen Woodsworth echoed concerns that the city is plagued by an underlying racism, which sees groups like aboriginal women left behind.

The report also stressed that 80 per cent of the homeless in Vancouver suffer from one or more health concerns, a significant underlying factor pushing many into destitution.

Despite this, advocacy groups in the city that are largely responsible for providing for the homeless are careful to avoid speculation that the city’s plan is anything but correct.

“Union Gospel Mission is encouraged by the way city council is going. We hope to be part of that solution,” spokesman Derek Weiss said.

“To the point of full-disclosure, the city of Vancouver has provided us with $1.4 million for the building of a new building,” Weiss added.

While UGM is pleased to be receiving a significant portion of the money allotted to tackling homelessness in the city, Weiss did admit that concerns like those put forward by Woodsworth have some weight.

“All women and particularly aboriginal women do represent a higher percentage of people that go through extreme struggles on the Downtown Eastside. That’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Weiss said that groups like UGM are not capable of dealing with the more extreme health issues faced by many of the city’s homeless. While this is a contributing factor to their suffering, the most a group like UGM can do is refer them to a doctor.

“We try not to be discouraged, we live on hope. You don’t spend very long in the Downtown Eastside before you start to cling to hope,” Weiss said.

While the city continues to spend millions to meet its goal, one thing remains clear. The growth of homelessness in Vancouver is expected to continue towards 2015 and beyond.

Police using creative methods to catch cell phone use while driving

Driving while operating your cell is not only dangerous, it can lead to some pretty harsh fines. Photo by Lord-Jim


This February, police in B.C. are working to step up their efforts to combat distracted driving.

Last year on Feb. 1, a new law prohibiting the use of cell phones and other devices while driving was passed. On this, the one-year anniversary of the new legislation, police are feeling that the public has failed to receive their message.

This comes after an estimated 32,000 tickets were issued under the new legislation.

Police concerns have also been bolstered by statistics. The BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation estimated that distracted driving was a contributing factor in as many as 48 per cent of the fatalities on our roads in the Lower Mainland last year.

Penalties for distracted driving in the province do not currently exceed a ticket of $169 combined with three Driver Penalty Points or DPP. With the public paying so little attention to the new law, could harsher penalties be coming?

In the following podcast, I speak with officers Sgt. Peter Thiessen and Cpl. Jamie Chung of the RCMP about the legislation and distracted driving month.

The officers detail their concerns about distracted driving, as well as providing some insight into the creative methods police will be using to catch violators.

For anybody who drives on B.C. roads, it’s worth a listen.

 

Click here for the podcast