The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Failing the Sniff Test

Dan Vandal limped out of the starting gate on Tuesday to take another run at civic politics.

He's chosen to challenge City Councillor Franco Magnifico to a fight for St. Boniface, but if his wimpy stand on the $300 million OlyWest hog processing plant is any indication of his campaign, he's on his way to becoming a two-time also-ran.

Vandal, a former city councillor himself and a losing mayoral candidate in the last civic election, put his foot down over OlyWest.

Well, he didn't exactly stamp his foot. He sort of gingerly minced around the issue.

"For the first time yesterday, Vandal clarified his position on OlyWest, saying he wouldn't have voted for the city's $3.4 million incentive package without public consultation and an environmental assessment by the province's Clearn Environment Commission," said the Winnipeg Free Press story.

Got that? He's against OlyWest, sort of, kinda, don't quote him on it. He's put in more qualifiers in his stance than a UN resolution on Hezbollah.

He won't say he's against OlyWest. He just hopes you think he is and you'll vote for him.

He won't say he'll work to stop OlyWest. He just hopes you think he will and you'll vote for him.

This is leadership? This guy wanted to be Mayor?

Take a stand Danny. That's what a leader does.

Oh, wait. You lost to Sam Katz, and for the first time, the boxer doesn't want a rematch.

The residents of St. Boniface are afraid that the hog processing plant will stink up their neighbourhood. Well, they don't know how lucky they would be if that's all they had to worry about.

They could be living in downtown Vancouver.

The International Aids Conference in T.O. heard from a Vancouver HIV expert who sang the praises of the city's saffe drug-injection site.

Here's how CP described the speech.

"A roomful of scientists and AIDs activists gave a standing ovation yesterday to a Vancouver HIV expert who reported that the city's controversial safe drug-injection site had been a resounding success."

"Another researcher participating in the same emotional session warned that the federal government will have "blood on its hands" if it closes down the project now."

The story says the site "is the first project in North America to allow drug addictgs to inject heroin and other narcotics under medical supervison."

"The project has cut crime in its Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, reduced the number of overdose deaths, made potentially fatal needle sharing less common--- and not encouraged more drug use, said Dr. Tom Kerr of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, which evaluated the project."

Except its one thing to applaud the project at a fancy schmancy schoozefest a few thousand miles away, and another to live in the filth that is the reality of the safe drug-injection site.

Hold your noses, and read this CP story from one year ago:

Street defecation a growing problem
Canadian Press
06/08/05 Amy Carmichael
June 8, 2005
VANCOUVER (CP) -- The ripe stench of human excrement is getting stronger in downtown lanes, curling the stomachs of workers who no longer want to relax by the back door for smoke breaks.

"We're getting to the point where the need for public toilets is getting serious," said Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
"There's a burgeoning entertainment district, a growing homelessness problem and people have nowhere to go.

"I've been with the association for 15 years and it's just becoming more and more of an issue for more of our members. The stench of urine and feces in back lanes in the central business district and the Downtown Eastside, where it's probably a lot worse."

The 10-block city slum is swollen with up to 5,000 injection drug users who have less control of their bowels. Many are homeless and have nowhere to go to the toilet.

Often the drug users roam out of the neighbourhood into alleys linking downtown businesses.
Gauthier said his members don't want to clean up the piles excrement the homeless make on their properties and he doesn't blame them. The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has gotten involved and is calling for action before disease spreads.

"Defecating and urinating in the street is not something that's healthy for individuals," said Richard Taki, public health protection officer for the authority.

"A number of diseases are passed through the fecal-oral route. If people are tracking this bacteria into eating establishments and public facilities we're running the risk of a problem with rodents and insects carrying bacteria.

"Salmonella is the obvious threat and for a lot of the homeless people who are imunocompromised, food poisoning is going to be serious."

He said a solution, likely portable public toilets, is imminent.

"It's going to be sooner rather than later, it's something we're going ahead with."

City planners met with the business association Wednesday to tell them a range of options will have to be discussed.

"There's a considerable cost involved. In the Downtown Eastside we're going to need a supervised bank of toilets and that's going to cost in excess of $5,000 a month," said Bob Ross, a city engineer working on the issue.

Open urinals are also in the mix of strategies being considered.

"I'm not sure our culture is ready for that. It seems to me it's an undignified and humiliating way of dealing with the problem, but one that also seems to be working in parts of England and Amsterdam," Ross said.

There are logistical and financing challenges in the way of cleaning back lanes. But the city, the health authority and the business association are all in agreement that something has to be done now.

"It's awful for residents who have to deal with the smell wafting in through their windows and it's just getting so much worse," said Ross.

Stakeholders have been discussing for years a plan to put self-cleaning, automated public toilets in the downtown, but have been afraid that they would be used for prostitution and to shoot drugs.

The city has a contract with a street furniture company to provide six of the units and just has to decide if they are something the community would respect and where to put them.

"There have been problems with illegal activity happening in the toilets in other cities, like Seattle and San Francisco," said Gauthier.

"But now I think we've come to a point in Vancouver where we have to act. The public need far outweighs those concerns. These units are going to be automated and will have a time limit on them. And really, people are going shoot drugs wherever they want."

Vancouver city council has turned to other Canadian municipalities for guidance, but so far nobody has come up with a solution, said Ross. Vancouver is set to commission a study to map the size of the problem and is considering spending more money on maintaining public toilets in the downtown entertainment and business districts.

More funding is needed for permanent public washrooms in the Downtown Eastside slum where thousands of homeless drug users have long used alleys as toilets.

Kim Kerr, general manager of the Downtown Eastside Resident's Association, said he is disgusted with the plan.

"This is a ghetto where people are turned out to rot, we're talking about adults with the mental capabilities of 10-year-olds who are addicted to drugs. They have no home, they have no toilet. What do you expect," Kerr said.

"We are worrying about the mess of piss in the street while homeless people are dying. Let's spend the money on toilets on houses. We treat human beings in this city with less concern than we show animals."


And this one from the CBC

No more shooting up in public, Vancouver police tell junkies
11/29/05 CBC

Police in Vancouver say they plan to start arresting drug addicts who shoot up in public, an uncontroversial idea in some cities but not in Vancouver.

The police say they want to get drug use out of the streets and doorways of the Downtown Eastside and into the city's supervised injection site.

Supervised injection site
Some addicts and people who work with them call it a dangerous move. Dr. Anita Palepu, who treats people for illnesses associated with needle drugs, says the culture of open drug use is deeply ingrained in Vancouver's addicts.

She says police are mistaken if they expect to change it just two years after the opening of the injection site, the first of its kind in North America.

She says addicts going through withdrawal can't wait in lineups at the site and she fears the crackdown will prevent them from being treated for communicable diseases.

"I worry, if the police are out there busting people for using drugs openly, people will just get displaced and go to other neighbourhoods where there's actually very little facilities for them."
Police acknowledge that they don't expect that charging addicts will actually result in any jail time. But they say they can't continue turning a blind eye to drug use that's so open on the city's streets.

Inspector Bob Rolls says the aim is to steer addicts to the injection site. Shooting up "stretched out on the steps" There are thousands of users in the Downtown Eastside, but other people still have to work and live in the neighbourhood, he says.

He recalls one complaint from a volunteer at a community centre:

"The woman was stretched out on the steps and she was shooting a needle into her neck. When the volunteer complained, she lashed out at her - how dare she interfere with her when she just managed to get this needle in the right position to inject?"

No room at supervised site: addict
Diane Tobin, 54, who shoots up at the injection site three times a day, says the site is already at capacity and it's time to talk about opening another. And because rules state that addicts have to inject themselves, it means people who need help shooting up are out on the street where they face arrest.

"If that cubbyhole is your home and you're sleeping there and all your stuff is there and that's where you're using," she says, "they're actually coming into your home and arresting you for possession of a needle."

Tobin, who served a drug sentence decades ago, says the police plan "is like going back 20, 25 years. It's ridiculous."


And this one from the Globe and Mail:

Thursday, October 13, 2005
VANCOUVER -- A special justice-system task force has recommended that British Columbia become the first province in Canada to establish a "community court" that shifts the focus away from determining guilt or innocence, to instead place the emphasis on treating the illnesses and addictions of criminals.

The task force report was released at a press conference by Mr. Justice Donald Brenner, Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Hugh Stansfield, Chief Judge of the Provincial Court, and Peter Leask, a prominent Vancouver lawyer.

Judge Stansfield said the report proposes some "novel . . . and courageous solutions," and he hoped the public wouldn't perceive it as "just another soft-on-crime initiative."

Judge Stansfield said a similar system has proved itself in New York City, where property crimes are "under control," while Vancouver is experiencing an epidemic of street crime.

Street crime is defined as public, random acts such as disturbing the peace, break and entries and theft from cars, but not organized crime, commercial crime or violent crimes such as murder or sexual assault.

Much of the street crime in Vancouver is spilling out of the Downtown Eastside, where an estimated 4,000 drug users live.B.C.'s rate of disturbing-the-peace incidents is nearly double the national average and Vancouver has about 17,000 thefts from automobiles a year.

The city has a crime rate second only to Winnipeg's

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