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.

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.

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

Newly discovered antibody could lead to ALS vaccine

Photo by Daniel Paquet

Researchers from University of British Columbia’s brain research centre believe they have created an antibody that successfully targets cellular mutations caused by Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The illness, also known as ALS, has been difficult to treat since its discovery in 1869 due to a lack of understanding surrounding its causes.

Biomedical researcher Leslie Grad says the antibodies his team has developed target only the disease-causing proteins, which become mis-folded and spread their mutations throughout the body.

“In our lab we look at ways to stop the protein mis-folding,” Grad said.

“One way to do this is to create molecules called antibodies that specifically recognize diseased forms of the protein.”

The disease affects approximately one in 1000 people, with 80 per cent dying from the disease within two to five years. A disease of the nervous system, ALS alters motor neurons causing paralysis of the limbs, speech, and ultimately respiratory systems.

The guilty protein is known as SOD1 and is found in every cell of the human body. This protein can be affected by over 150 unique mutations, all of which can lead to the disease.

These mutations cause the protein to mis-fold. The researchers believe this disorder can then be transmitted to healthy proteins across cells and neurons.

The actual chemical structure of the protein itself remains unaffected. The disease is instead caused by the way the proteins are folded. The antibodies created by Grad’s team target only these specific mis-folded proteins, while ignoring healthy ones.

“The disease form can be secreted from the cell. Experiments have shown how diseased proteins impose their will on healthy ones,” Grad said.

According to him, SOD1 mutations are responsible for roughly two per cent of ALS cases. The team is also working to explore a general SOD1 connection in all instances of the disease, a topic he describes as “highly controversial” at this time.

Should Grad’s suspicions that SOD1 be linked to other forms of the disease prove valid, a treatment for most forms of the disease could be a possibility.

“We are in the process of humanizing the antibodies,” Grad said.

The researchers hope to make an antibody that the human body will not reject as a foreign agent, leading to possible preventative treatments for the disease.

“A human version of the antibody could essentially be taken as a vaccine,” added Grad.

The first thing researchers need to do, before they can offer their visions of a possible cure or vaccine, is demonstrate how the disease works.

The team is currently working on two studies. Their first aim is to show how the mutated proteins spread throughout a cell by influencing other healthy proteins to mis-fold.

Grad said the second study aims to show how these mutations can be transmitted outside the cell to healthy parts of the body, ultimately affecting our motor neurons and causing the disease.

It is the hope of the researchers that their antibody will block the transmission of these mutations, leading to a vaccine that could be administered in order to prevent ALS from developing.

For the immediate future, however, ALS will remain a vicious and uncontrollable killer.

“Unfortunately, ALS is a death-sentence,” said Grad. “A quick death-sentence.”

The life of a Vancouver mall Santa is both lucrative and exhausting

Norm Pettersson, a former United Church minister, sits upon his throne at the Oakridge shopping centre.


The life of Santa Claus can be quite stressful at times, just ask Norm Pettersson.

A former United Church minister, Pettersson has been donning the bells and fur of Saint Nick for eight seasons now.

“It’s hard for Santa,” said Pettersson, who spoke of trials including visits from the elderly, rambunctious teenagers, crying babies and even sick children.

“The difficult parts are when you get children who are in the middle of chemotherapy and they’re coming as part of the family to do special things at Christmas.”

Pettersson said that while it can be emotionally challenging to make worried families smile, the best thing to do is just “Treat them normally. That’s what they want, to just be treated normally.”

The key to being a good Santa is enthusiasm and a knack for dealing with people from all walks of life, Pettersson said.

“The older kids and adults sometimes are just doing silly things. But it’s alright, you just play the game…Santa has the job of helping them have fun.”

His authentic look and enthusiasm of spirit caught the attention of Jack Scott, owner of Senior Quality Personnel. The company provides Santa services to events and shopping centres across metro Vancouver.

“The criteria is very strict,” said the 74-year-old Scott, a retired executive of a multi billion-dollar developing firm. “They have to like what they’re doing. Santa is a lot of work, and if you don’t like what you’re doing you just get exhausted.”

Scott said that his 35 Santas undergo thorough background checks and have full, natural white beards.

“The people who work for us are genuinely nice people…They’re just the type of people you like to be around.”

Spreading six weeks of holiday cheer across the city can be a stressful business, but the rewards are lucrative. According to Scott, the company expects to make up to $200,000 this year.

“A good Santa will make five to six thousand dollars over Christmas,” Scott said.

John Geissinger is the weekend Santa at the Metropolis shopping centre. He said the extra cash comes in useful during the Christmas season.

“I just got a new car, so it’s paying for that.”

John Geissinger waves from Santa’s workshop in the Metropolis shopping centre


“A good Santa is pretty much somebody who can take a crying child and stop them from crying,” Geissinger said, admitting his favourite part has been the great people he has met along the way.

“Things like that to me are absolutely priceless, the memories I’ll keep forever.”

A boy wearing headphones is struck by a train, Duncan RCMP feel no need to inform

A young student puts on her headphones while waiting to cross the street.

Duncan area RCMP said they have no intent to educate the public after a boy wearing headphones was struck by a train, but an expert in sound awareness thinks they should.

“Something like that, [it’s] something that everybody knows,” constable Markus Luder said.

“It’s just like looking both ways when you’re crossing the crosswalk.”

The 14-year-old was hit by a Via train during daylight hours on Nov. 5, and was unable to hear the approaching train despite repeated blasts of its horn.

“To me, that is amazing,” Luder said. “That dayliner comes through here everyday, I know how loud that horn is.”

Duncan area RCMP said the incident should serve as a lesson to people who might fail to recognize the dangers of headphones and loud music.

“Anywhere around any kind of machinery, any time where your hearing is important, wear one ear bud, don’t wear two, so you know what’s going on,” Luder said.

Chantal Laroche is an expert in noise and the perception of warning sounds at the University of Ottawa. She said she felt police need to help raise awareness of these dangers.

“As audiologists we know that we have a lot of education to do, and it’s unfortunate that police forces don’t want to educate the kids,” Laroche said.

Laroche said she felt people have to be careful, but said she would take it a step further than the police warning to wear just one ear bud.

“It’s risky to wear these devices when you are outside and moving,” she said.

“For me, as an audiologist, I never recommend people to [use] their ipod or music players when they are walking or running.”

Laroche was less than surprised about the boy’s inability to hear the approaching train.

“It’s not the first time I [heard] that somebody [was] hit by a train wearing headphones,” Laroche said. “They have to be told, because people do not know about these risks.”

Laroche said that her worries extend beyond trains, and warned against using music devices in any situation where your attention may be needed.

“The hearing system is very specialized,” she said, speaking about the difference between the ability to detect sound and that of locating it.While most people realize they cannot locate a sound they don’t hear, Laroche said there are still dangers.

“It’s a mix of detection and localization,” she said. “If you just barely hear it … it will take you more time [to locate].”

College student Sheena Lacey, a 26-year-old studying market management, said she routinely uses ear bud headphones like those worn by the Duncan boy.

“I sometimes wonder why I have my headphones in and my music blaring all the time,” Lacey said. “It’s not safe.”

Lacey’s friend, 19-year-old student Patrick Vernier, agreed.

“They should definitely go around to the schools and talk to the kids,” Vernier said.

RCMP said they were unable to offer any updates on the boy’s condition at this time.

“I believe they have a very injured leg,” Luder said.