Is the Cullen Commission about to steamroll the Mounties?

In a previous blog your faithful and diligent blogger had opined about the state of white collar crime in this country and the obvious and pressing need to “follow the money”. Naturally, there seemed to be an obligation to follow the formal start of the Cullen Commission on Money Laundering in British Columbia. It will be one of the few government proceedings, where in essence, following the money will be the primary and necessary investigative step of the inquiry.

So for two and a half days this blogger watched the live streaming of the Commission, which began on February 24th, 2020, held in the bland and austere government appointed room at 701 West Georgia St. in Vancouver.

The pursuit of winding trails of money is almost always fascinating, although admittedly it is often easy to drown in the details. Understanding has to start with the basic but safe assumption that in our current society, that if there is money to be gained, and if you follow that money to the end, someone will have found either a legal or illegal advantage. Many, will be found to have tried walking that often moving line between fraud and simply taking advantage of ill-written policies, regulations, and lacklustre enforcement.

This commission is about to go down some roads built by political entities who were lured by the pursuit of unencumbered government revenues emanating from the vices generated by greed. The road will wind through the corridors of power once enjoyed by the Provincial Liberals, but likely will veer past the current governing New Democratic Party. The out-stretched political hands of British Columbia in recent years are to be sure a little dirty, stained possibly by a willingness to look the other way.

There is an old maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. This is rarely heeded by the variety of Commissions, Inquiries or government projects and this Commission will not be the exception. Headed by Judge Austin Cullen it is mandated to prepare a preliminary report in 18 months and a final report in two years. By the time this commission releases its preliminary report we may be in the middle of the next election in 2021. A report that has the real possibility of pointing a finger at the former Christy Clark Liberals will be just in time for the next election. Coincidence or good planning depends on your level of cynicism.

In their defence the terms of reference for this Commission are very broad; everything from gaming, horse racing, real estate, financial institutions, money services, luxury goods, and the legal and accounting communities will be examined.

Clearly, three days in, it is far too early to come to any conclusion on the possible findings by this Commission. But, what did become clearer, even at this early stage, was where the guns were soon to be pointing. Listening to the early proceedings was like being able to look through the sights of a long rifle, the targets evident, but somewhat blurry in the distance.

It was equally clear that those wearing the dark target circles on their chests know who they are. They have been preparing their defences and strategies for some time, having already hired their own hired guns. These are the ones that have applied and received “standing”.

You couldn’t swing a three ring binder in the somewhat austere courtroom without hitting a lawyer. The Cullen Commission itself has a total of nine lawyers, and there are twenty-four lawyers representing the eighteen parties who have been granted that “ standing “. Thirty-three lawyers and we are just getting started. The Commission is expected to incur costs of $15 million, with little doubt that the majority of the funds will be going to lawyer fees, as there is not much chance of anyone doing pro bono work here.

Charles Dickens said that “if there were no bad people there would no good lawyers”.

The British Columbia Lottery Corporation has already paid (up to March 2019), a total of $1.637 million to one of the Vancouver downtown firms: Hunter Litigation Chambers Law Corporation. This is for the services of high profile lawyer William Smart QC and Shannon P. Ramsay.

The fired, or let-go (depending on which version of the story you want to hear) former BCLC Vice- President Robert Kroeker has hired the high profile lawyer Marie Henein—who has been written about before by this blogger and her representation of Jian Gomeshi and Admiral Norman .

The current CEO of BCLC, James Lightbody, felt the need to hire his own personal lawyer; not satisfied with just the lawyers hired for his employer and instead has obtained Robin McFee QC and Jessie Meikle-Kahs of Sudden, McFee and Roes LLP. Mr. Lightbody is apparently currently away on medical leave.

These initial three days consisted of the respective lawyers for those with standing, making and reading scripted presentations. All, as expected, were self-serving documents defending of their own personal predicaments. The reading into the record, with an occasional question by Cullen was at times slow, tedious, and nuanced. But, there were some interesting takes and tidbits of truth buried under mounds of legalese and acronyms.

James Lightbody, ably represented by Robert McFee, began by outlining all the myriad duties and responsibilities his job entailed, and pointed out that he was always guided by the Board of Directors in terms of strategy and annual plans. He proclaimed that he was a stalwart defender of the “vision, mission and values” of the organization and that he had worked diligently to help fulfill “social responsibility”. That he shares the public concern and always recognized the threat brought on by money laundering.

It will be remembered that previously unnamed sources have alleged that senior management at BCLC had turned a blind eye to what was going on. Lightbody argued that the evidence will show otherwise, that he made “active efforts” and that he brought in greater co-ordination with law enforcement.

The lawyer was also quick to point out that the role of BCLC was one of “Detecting, reporting and supporting” the enforcement and regulatory government branches and added that he had been pressing for more resources since 2011. He said that through him BCLC had initiated a sharing agreement with RCMP in 2014 and that JIGET (Joint Intelligence Gaming Enforcement Team) was supported and partially funded by BCLC.

Then there was the statement of Robert Kroeker, who was represented by Christine Mainville of the firm headed by Heinen. Kroeker was the former head of Security and Compliance for almost four years, but left suddenly in July 2019. He was the fourth high level executive to suddenly leave the Corporation within a year. The others being Bohm, Delinski, and Hobson. All four were earning over $240,000 per year. There was no confirmation of their having been fired, but all this occurred after Peter German’s report in 2018. Kroeker was replaced by the Vice-President of Casinos Brad Desmarais.

As an aside. If these names seem familiar; Kroeker was a former RCMP officer and was the head of Security for Great Canadian Gaming Corporation which includes the highly profiled River Rock casino, before joining BCLC. Prior to that he was a former director of BC Civil Forfeiture office. Brad Desmarais was also a former RCMP and Vancouver City Police officer and and had overseen the bungled rollout of the anti-money laundering software in 2013. Kroeker had also been appointed to a chair at the Justice Institute from which he eventually resigned under pressure after the German report.

Former Mounties have their fingerprints everywhere. Kevin deBruyckere, also a former Mountie, who at one time headed up Commercial Crime and then went to HSBC, is now the the Director of Anti-Money Laundering and Investigations at BCLC.

It seems that BCLC became a second lucrative home to many of the executives of the RCMP. Even potential witnesses Fred Pinnock and Joe Schalk are former Mounties. Peter German of course is a former Mountie. And it is rumoured that former Liberal Cabinet member Rich Coleman is going to end up being the focus from the former Liberals. He too is a former Mountie. It all seems rather incestuous.

In any event, Kroeker his lawyer said, looks forward to testifying and also defending the various “false” assertions against him. Mainville indicated rather forcefully that her client will testify under oath.

She went on to outline how Kroecker was in charge of regulatory affairs from 2006-2012 and had worked “extensively” with police and that during his time the Director of Civil Forfeiture had recovered $30 million.

He claims to have called for a tracking and monitoring of STRs (suspicious transactions reports) and it was also his understanding that after the review by FINTRAC that all activities had been cleared of wrong doing. He pointed out more than once that all information was passed on to the “authorities.”

Kroecker said that he “tried” to get the police and the regulator to investigate through 2013 and onward. That he “urged” investigations and was told by “Senior RCMP management” that all things inside BCLC and the Casinos were fine —that they were doing their part in the battle of money laundering.

In June 2014 Kroecker said that under his direction an information sharing agreement with the police was constructed. That BCLC had been led to believe that the police would investigate and that they continually raised alarms. But that subsequently there was no evidence of police investigation, nor were any investigative steps being taken. Officers with police powers were needed, he underlined, to get involved— and they weren’t. Calls for investigation were repeatedly “ignored” according to Kroecker.

In one interesting side-bar, Kroecker indicated that he tried to implement a “chip replacement” program to counter the constant holding and misuse of casino chips. It needed to be done with some stealth but that the program was delayed by GPEB (Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch) thus allowing some of the nefarious actors to get rid of the suspect chips.

Anon and malicious claims that he allowed “dirty money” to flow into casinos were patently wrong he said and that he has been cleared of this false allegation by GPEB. GPEB determined them to be “unfounded” and the “matter was now closed”. He expressed frustration that he had not been interviewed for the German report, which at first glance does appear to be a rather curious. An administrative fine against BCLC in 2010 was explained away as resulting from “technical deficiencies between FINTRAC and BCLC. He pointed out that the fine was eventually set aside.

There were other presenters.

Members of the Notaries Public appeared, clearly worried as to the allegations of impropriety in real estate transactions that have been alleged. Predictably they too claimed that they have been doing due diligence all along. They went further in saying that currently legal investigations and regulatory bodies are fundamentally “broken”. That through no fault of their own, money laundering convictions are rare. They said that the sharing of information with them was rare and would have gone a long way to make a dent in what was going on.

They mentioned being part of Project Athena, but this project got side-tracked when it took 11 months for the RCMP to get information from FINTRAC. They even implied that maybe the Stinchcombe decision on disclosure was hurting investigations.

The notaries expressed surprise that the Financial institutions were absent from the Commission. They opined that they needed and should be present and agreed with the Kroeker lawyer that money that was being laundered may be being done through banking institutions. They lamented that the financial sector have almost been ignored and may in fact be needed to help explain the problem of money laundering.

BMW was also granted standing and made a presentation that spoke about the “grey market” in high end luxury cars and the use of “straw buyers”. Money launderers were buying vehicles for shipping out of the country and then went on to describe a loophole allowing the funnelling of monies through these purchases and their subsequent applications for Provincial tax refunds. They stated that they too had passed on information to the authorities.

The Great Canadian Casino Corporation counsel also appeared. Part of its conglomerate is the River Rock Casino. They described a highly regulated industry that was at times audited by FINTRAC. They too spoke of the fact that they were not investigators, they had a duty to report, which they insisted they did profusely.

Of course the Provincial Government and the Federal Government were also present. Their presentations were guarded and as one listened you were left to wonder if there ever was a problem. All, according to these two presenters were functioning as designed and GPEB and FINTRAC were guarding our interests with diligence and concern. Acronyms and current bureaucratic buzzwords bounced off the walls with abandon, “best practises”, “working with stake holders”, and the “regime” of regulation and investigation. Of course there are the Committees, the many Committees, all designed to “educate” and involved in “intelligence gathering” and “sharing”.

The Feds did outline the vagaries of FINTRAC and outlined how a mind warping 2400 agencies and service providers reported to them. But then they reminded the Commission that they are about regulations and oversight and all criminal activities would be pointed to the Police and Crown.

At the end of the three days, where does all this predictable posturing leave the taxpaying public?

You are left with the impression that there are three spinning tops— three divided layers, none of whom seem to be interacting in anything approaching cohesion. The Federal government spins in their isolation, the Province is eager to point at the previous administration; and at the ground level are the Casinos, the racetracks, the car dealerships and the housing industry. Most will clearly point at the Police, FINTRAC and any one else charged with enforcement.

What is curious is that the RCMP did not ask for standing with the Commission.

This could either be explained by: their hope to hide behind the camouflage and obfuscation of the Federal bureaucracy, a common default position, or, that they are in denial of this Commission doing them any harm. Unfortunately, they may find there is little defence for dereliction of duty. Hopefully, they are now at least paying attention.

Photo courtesy of Images Money via Flickr Commons – Some rights reserved

Collision Course

In a ruling this month by Justice Margeurite Church of the B.C. Supreme Court, it was decided that Coastal Gas Link, the company constructing the LNG pipeline from north eastern British Columbia to Kitimat British Columbia, had satisfied the requirements for an interlocutory injunction against the protestors of the natural gas pipeline.

Listen closely….can you hear the echo?

The year before in December 2018 the court had granted an interim injunction against these same protestors. That time the RCMP eventually moved in and 14 of the protestors were arrested and the encampment taken down. All of it much to the chagrin of a small sect of the Indigenous who were being supported and prompted by the usual wagon jumpers of the enlightened liberal left.

So here we are again, a year later, same issue, different court date. Ms. Church in this latest court verdict went a little further in her ruling saying –that there is evidence to suggest that the protestors had engaged in “deliberate and unlawful conduct” for the purpose of causing harm to the plaintiff and preventing it from constructing the pipeline.

Of added interest may be her comments reflecting on the general state of the laws pertaining to the Indigenous movement reflected in this particular case:
“There is a public interest in upholding the rule of law and in restraining illegal behaviour and protecting the right of the public, including the plaintiff, to access on Crown roads…the defendants may genuinely believe in their rights under indigenous law to prevent the plaintiff from entering into Dark Horse territory, but the law does not recognize any right to blockade and obstruct the plaintiff, to access on Crown roads.

In any event, another court decision, another group of lawyers, all kicking at the peripheral issues and avoiding the central dilemma of defining the role the Indigenous are to play in this country.

One would be hard pressed to imagine a more convoluted, ridiculous, and multi-layered predicament. Often mis- guided policy and vague initiatives have been all wrapped in endless litigation and court interpretation. The politically righteous argument of aboriginal rights, simmering away for the last forty years in a cauldron stirred by hundreds of lawyers. Apparently none able or overly concerned to define the central role of the Indigenous in this country. No one able to say whether the Indigenous are simply Canadians, just like everyone else, with the same rights and benefits, and subject to the laws of this country; or a “Nation” unto themselves, independent in spirit and governance, albeit financially dependent.

The popular view being force fed by the Liberal government Federally and a Provincial NDP government is that there is a 2nd “Nation” in this country. An ill-defined nation to be sure, no central authority, no common economic agenda or engine, old ways versus the new.

Non the less this “Nation” has indeed found a receptive audience in the current government and is grabbing for the ring of political acceptability and political empowerment, with ceaseless demands for increased financial resources and independence. It is demanding its own school system, its own policing and justice system, its own health care, its own social services, all to be run by a disparate range of communities.

A “nation” system made up of 634 different groups or “nations” speaking over than 50 different languages. Varied in language and cultural beliefs and spread throughout a massive geographic and often isolated area it is difficult to see a unified coherent and plausible plan.

As the years tick by this stew of government initiatives have been tendered, milked and prolonged by a legal and political community fuelled by the increasingly politically astute indigenous leadership.

Since 2000 there have been 21 cases involving indigenous rights and claims heard by the BC Supreme Court. There have been 9 cases since 1984 heard by the BC Court of Appeal, 14 cases heard by the Federal Court, and since 1970, 64 cases coming before the Supreme Court of Canada.

The result is layers of court systems all pronouncing their particular spin on what it all means. Supreme Court Constitutional decisions, common law precedents, treaties, Reserved land, “ceded” and “unceded” lands, Canadian law, Indigenous “laws”, hereditary chiefs, elected counsels, and Provincial declarations echoing United Nations Declarations.

The need for “reconciliation” spews forth at every turn, the beauty of the word “reconciliation” being is that it is infinite, there is no end. By very definition the issues can never be “reconciled.” The devil incarnate of course is “colonization”.

The movement has taken down statues, removed names from buildings, re-named Provincial and Federal Parks, and moved to ensure that any business done has to include a portion of the pie for them.

Some Indigenous are living in the most hideous squalid communities, living in poverty, poor education, no drinking water, and out of control birth rates. No hope of economic sustainment on one hand, while others are developing billion dollar city properties.

There are oil-rich Indigenous bands where the average income is $125,000 per year, and only 4% of the income comes from the Federal government, only because they are blessed by the good fortune of sitting on often barren lands but lands where there is black gold running under their feet. There are others that are almost 100% funded by the Federal government, defecating in buckets, no clean water, and no siding on their houses.

In this systemic chaos only the lawyers are winning. No one else.

It is all leading to darkening clouds and a possible storm of discontent on both sides of the two “Nations”. A low pressure system consisting of 96% of the population moving inexorably toward an Indigenous high pressure system made up of 4% of the population.

The latest example is now being played out near Houston, British Columbia. The Unist’ot’en and Wet’suwet’sen “nations” and their “hereditary chiefs” versus the rest. This latest collision to be where there is the proposed site of a natural gas pipeline to be built for a $6.6 billion by Coastal Gas Link. (The pipeline is to link to a $40 billion LNG export plant that is to be built in Kitimat, B.C.)

The NDP government of British Columbia with a straight face, state that they are both anti-pipeline and pro- pipeline. Hereditary chiefs disagree with elected counsels. Some bands are pro development seeing it as a financial windfall and the only hope out of abject poverty; others are just against it.

Last week a BC Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering that all obstacles to construction be removed. Pretty simple right?

The problem is that it was one Nation, going through their legal system, that obtained the injunction. The other Nation doesn’t recognize those laws.

Grand Chief Stewart Philip says that it is a very “complicated issue”. It’s complicated mainly because it is difficult for him to argue both for and against.

On the hereditary chief side you have reported comments like;

“It’s our territory. It’s not Canadian land. It is not the Queen’s. It’s not the RCMP’s. Its Wet’ suwet’sen land. “

The builders are “settlers on stolen land”, this is “environmental racism” all part of the “Canadian legacy of colonization”.

Immediately the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs jumped on the practised narrative, led by Grand Chief Stewart Philip who issued a statement saying: “A police exclusion zone smacks of outright racism and the colonial – era pass system sanctioned by the so-called rule of law, which our people survived for far too long”.

And in between these two nations is the politically correct RCMP. Their political masters want them to be gentle, do not offend at any cost. Their legal bosses are telling them to enforce the order and in the past, there was no hesitancy around a court ordered injunction. The Mounties traditionally and constitutionally were there to enforce the laws, not to interpret them.

But this is a different world now. This is the world of appeasement and the Mounties are going to find that they have no friends on either side.

The Mounties, god bless their souls are trying none the less, to be friends to those who can not countenance any meeting of the ways. They have asked the Indigenous protestors to meet and negotiate with the very same company that went to get the court order, the Coastal Gas Link group, who must think that they are is some sort of Twilight zone.

In the meantime the protestors have been cutting down trees and setting up their camp, while the Hereditary chiefs continue to say that the pipeline violates “Indigenous law and does not have consent”.

This is a fundamental collision. This is not going to go away.

It circles around aboriginal title which has been a decades long argument. What “title” or the “duty to confer” or “honour of the Crown” all means, with all its varied interpretations also includes such arguments as to whether treaty’s extinguished those title claims. Some even argue whether Indigenous groups in signing some of these treaties even understood them.

The countless cases which have been brought forward, have all circled around Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982 which proscribes to the protection of indigenous and treaty rights. Unfortunately, it didn’t define those rights, but none the less in 1995 the government began to adopt a policy of an “inherent right to self-government”, and the Penner Report to the House of Commons in 1983 spoke of this inherent right.

Adding to the legal and political confusion is the fact that the rights being claimed by the Indigenous do not come from an “external source”–they claim it is a result of Aboriginal people’s own occupation and relationship with their home territories as well as their own ongoing social structures and legal systems.

This would mean that in their view, they control and define aboriginal title.

Today, no political party, Provincial government or Federal government wants to be seen as decisive in terms of defining what these rights will be or how they would integrate with the rest of Canada in terms of self government.

The lawyers drone on in every level of courtroom. They are seemingly content in this ongoing lucrative dark hole of litigation.

The silent majority sit back and wonder where this is all leading. Is Canada prepared to have a separate entity operating within its borders, with its own laws and government, while at the same time supporting them through tax dollars. Are they prepared to let 4% determine what flows through economically to the other 96%. It seems unlikely, but there is no current political party asking that this central issue gets addressed definitively.

At some point the police are going to have to act in Houston. Every police officer involved will be left standing out in the field and roadway and it will an open hunting season for cries of violence and racism the minute they come within a few feet of the protestors.

The journalists stand by at the ready, camera rolling, salivating at the potential for filmed violence. ( the Canadian association of Journalists even jumped into the recent fray— arguing in court the fact that they were worried that the police could use the exclusion zone to prevent media from covering the RCMP enforcement of the injunction.) Maybe this is a sad conclusion but in this age of “breaking news” it is hard to dispute their intent.

None of this is new in terms of the RCMP being the potential fall guy. There have been many times in the past where the enforcement of an injunction has been violent and they have been pilloried for their abuse of power, rightly or wrongly.

The concern is that there is not a lot of confidence or recent evidence in the current RCMP management being behind their operational officers. Will they be supportive of the laws of Canada and the enforcement of those laws, or will they succumb to the un-written laws of a frenzied very vocal political “Nation”. After all it is a management group which has been genuflecting in front of the Indigenous cause in deference and in parallel with their political masters for the last several years.

We will see shortly. Time is running out in their “negotiations”.

A note to those uniform officers. Make sure those body cams are charged up and the audible is working. It may be the only friend you have in this instance.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Tony Webster

The war in Strathcona…

In a recent foray into the Main and Hastings corridor, an area known to this blogger for over 30 years, it was truly shocking to see the level of human desperation which continues to consume that area. What have we to show for the last decades of effort? Seemingly nothing. A whole community is under siege and burning before our very eyes. The area known as Strathcona is gradually being swallowed whole by an industrial level of drugs and the suffocating undercurrent of violence. Mental anguish and conflict layered on top of excruciating poverty.

This despite 30 years of a victim centric infrastructure which has been created, developed and now maintained by myriad levels of social workers, housing advocates, drug counsellors, medical staff, firefighters, police, sanitation workers and all those academics that like to “study” the problem. The advocates of all stripes have been continually moving in and out of these garbage strewn streets and alleyways, pausing long enough to relay their latest theory on how to correct this miasma of despair. Playing in the background, on some sort of victimization verbal loop, is the ever constant narrative of the “oppressed”, the “downtrodden” and the “unable to fend for themselves”.

It is scary place. It is depressing, but it is equally disgusting that in a country as bountiful as Canada, that this monument to everything that ails this society, stands in proud defiance.

Where has it all gone so wrong? Millions and millions of dollars expended in this apparent never-ending war on a drug fuelled mental health epidemic. It is a magnet which draws from all over the country. A bizarrely twisted tourist attraction, for all the wrong reasons. A place where even the hardened from other cities are truly taken aback at such a level of lawlessness and depravity.

Drastic and innovative action is clearly long overdue. Not innovation designed by the leftist victim advocating culture wing of our society, but by some with a modicum of common sense and where individual responsibility becomes part of the solution.

But the very first step, desperately needed and absolutely essential, is an honest managerial and expenditure review. A macro look over decades of funds and governmental decisions. A far reaching and inclusive appraisal of what has been spent and the effectiveness of those expenditures and the managers who have been overseeing the policies and processes for years.

The Washington Post recently unveiled a sweeping story sourced by thousands of pages of information which looked at the true cost of the war in Afghanistan. One can not help but be taken by the many parallels to what seems to be a similar story about the the war zone at Hastings and Main.

What the Washington Post and others found was that the war and the efforts of the Americans and the many other countries, including Canada, in Afghanistan has proven to be not just a failure, but a failure of epic proportions. It’s worth looking at their findings.

It was in 2001 that President George Bush announced the first military action in Afghanistan with the goal to disrupt terrorist operations and attack the Taliban. Today, eighteen years later, the Taliban control much of the country and are killing Afghan security force members sometimes in the hundreds per week. Even though the leadership of the Taliban moved to Pakistan, they have now expanded into Yemen, northern Africa, Somalia and Syrian.

Over $10 billion was spent on counternarcotics. Despite this, Afghanistan remains the source of over 80% of the global supply of heroin. Before the war the Afghanistan government had almost completely eradicated opium when the actual Taliban were in power. Opium production has now quadrupled.

They spent $87 billion to train Afghan military and police forces yet today no one believes that the Afghan military could support themselves. The army is continually fighting desertion and casualties making them replace over a third of their Forces every year.

War related spending has doubled the size of the Afghan economy but the current rate of unemployment is 25%. Corruption in all its forms still runs rampant.

$30 billion was spent on infrastructure and reconstruction. Most of that money has been considered “wasted”. The Inspector General documented over $15.5 billion lost to fraud and abuse between 2008 and 2017.

$500 billion on interest to finance the war spending, as all the monies have been borrowed which will take years to pay.

Over $1.4 trillion will be spent on veterans that fought in post 9/11 wars by 2059. About $350 billion has already gone to medical and disability care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are estimating the total spending bill for the medical problems, over the next 40 years, to amount to another $1trillion.

Afghanistan remains one of the largest sources of refugees and immigrants.

What has this got to do with all of us? It demonstrates the problem when incremental spending and single narratives are accepted as gospel and when the problem is allowed to fester year after year. It demonstrates the need for a great big spotlight to be shone on this smaller version of Afghanistan. Not a study by an interest group that continually circles the DTES, but an independent study, independent of all who have been part of the thirty years of problems.

The usual self-described experts always avail themselves to the cameras and microphones, to riff or to lecture the rest of us on what they believe is the cause of the problems. They have no shortage of people to blame, but that blame seems to stop short of any introspection.

The Libby Davies or Jenny Kwans, or the Pivot Legal Society do not need to be consulted in this proposed study. Their versions are already clear and predictable. They are always pointing to some level of government not providing “more”. The money being demanded is an endless request which re-invents itself with another justification, in one form or other, for the next year.

Money clearly is the common cure all whether you are asking the firefighters or the housing advocates.

Each agency demands annual funding, taking credit for successes which go unchallenged or doesn’t seem to reflect the reality.

There have been studies and counter-studies over this continuum. The studies, like the DTES many services often operate in silos and not always in a singular approach.

Donald McPherson, is a typical example. The former drug policy co-ordinator for the city of Vancouver (who now heads another Drug Policy Coalition) talks about the 10 year plan outlined in the Vancouver Agreement in 2000. It was designed to improve housing and social welfare. He blames the collapse on the Harper government.

Mr. McPherson in this proposed future study should also be ignored.

Governments themselves have come and gone, each offering up their particular version of what is needed. Liberals and NDP equally share responsibility for these disastrous results. None of them take the time to look in the mirror.

On one side of the ledger, groups like the BC Centre for Disease Control takes credit for saving 3000 lives between April 2016 and December 2017.

On the other side of that account is that 2177 people also died in this Province during this time.

There is no shortage of positive spin.

Twenty-three operating supervised injection sites claim to have saved 230 deaths. The overall goal of these sites is to decrease “needle sharing”. Their “observational studies” dutifully report favourable results. Their evidence is that fewer people are “injecting in public”. Anybody walking down Hastings may disagree.

The annual operating cost for the injection sites alone is $ 2,948,101.

The injection sites define “saving lives” and count those that have been treated by “agonist treatment” or “opioid replacement” treatment where the people get put on a methadone program.

Meanwhile those running the Needle Exchange program say that Insite is exaggerating the numbers.

In 2017, 60,000 naloxone kits were distributed. At roughly $70 apiece that works out to about $4.2 million this year just on the kits.

Health officials claim that through their services that they have saved “hundreds of lives” but the numbers often vary according to the individual study quoted. The dearth of agreed upon results and the fact that there is a lot of self-reporting remains one of the major roadblocks to any comprehensive study.

But the fail safe fallback to any counter-argument is the oft quoted maxim that “even one life saved” means that their programs can be deemed a “success”.

On the negative side of the ledger.

Calls to Oppenheimer Park in 2019 for the Vancouver City Police have increased over 50%. Shots fired calls have increased over 800%, weapons calls have increased 300% and assaults in progress are up over 17%.

Vancouver City police estimate the policing costs for Oppenheimer park encampment are over a million dollars so far this year. That is for an encampment of about 100 people in amongst the 2700 estimated homeless in the area.

Meanwhile the BC Centre for Substance Abuse and the University of British Columbia in a recent study argued that the police need to stop policing the DTES because it leads to drug users fearing the police, intimidated, and being harassed by the police.

How did they come to this conclusion: they interviewed 72 persons in the DTES and spent 200 hours hanging around overdose prevention sites. They feel police shouldn’t be checking for drugs, or running persons for warrants and such minimal breaches of the law.

What is not answered is how do they propose that we “de-criminalize” if the people are still doing criminal acts?

In the last five years the number of break-ins to vehicles has doubled to 6538 incidents in the Strathcona area alone.

Vancouver City Police records show in 2018 there were 666 assaults and 68 robberies in the Strathcona area.

In the single month of June 2019 in this small geographic area there were 70 assaults, 106 thefts from vehicles, 11 robberies and 31 break-ins to businesses and residences.

To add insult to injury the number of homeless has increased from 2181 people last year to 2223 this year.

Like the war in Afghanistan over 18 years have now gone by since Mr. McPherson’s study in 2000.

Does anyone doubt that during this time there have been misuses of funds, fraud and corruption? Does anyone believe that governments are providing a full accounting of the costs?

Maybe, just maybe, government spending for more counsellors, housing or drugs is not the answer.

Maybe, it is unjustifiable, or maybe an alternative to a policy of more of the same is out there somewhere.

However, it is difficult to contemplate any alternative which does not include forced rehabilitation; or removal from the core (sorry Pivot Legal Society).

The only way to honestly answer is to see the entire package of funds and resources which have been expended over the many years; the layers of government action and in-action; the levels of bureaucracy; the levels of private industry and the number of social housing models which have been proposed and tried over the decades.

The results may be shocking, but nothing less than a Royal Commission level of study is needed. Just as importantly, it must all be seen by a fresh set of eyes–eyes from outside the DTES, eyes with no vested interest in the promulgation of the current norm.

The first thing is the most difficult admission, especially for those that have toiled under the most trying of circumstances with the best of intentions, is the admission that as of today, it has all been a massive failure. On a small scale, this may be our Afghanistan.

*All crime statistics are from the Vancouver City Police records, as reported by the Vancouver Courier.

Photo courtesy of Dan Toulget of the Vancouver Courier – Some Rights Reserved

Diversity vs Merit…planned discrimination?

The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”.  It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.

A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was  “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.

The goal of  affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.

If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.

So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification.  They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow.  Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.

In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.

The world began to follow suit.  Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific  members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.

Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.

So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs  dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.

However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.

Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.

In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas,  began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive.  So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.

It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.

But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”

Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level  is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority.  Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.

In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota”  per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.

According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.

It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers:  48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.

Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”.  What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.

Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?

This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.

Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?

There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions.  It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.

Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.

An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?

We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.

Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious.  Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.

They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.

One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies.  It was clearly in place  to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.

I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However,  quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.

And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.

 

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved