Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm sharing my blog space today with a Victoria man who is justifiably frustrated with the system in B.C. for people with developmental disabilities, and wonders why Premier Christy Clark's promises to put "families first" doesn't seem to apply to his family: 

By Ian McInnes

Families First, a political concept that resonates well if you have 2.3 children, are a member of the middle class and live in urban BC
 In fact, it is rather easy to put Families First as a member of these strata of our society; you have the financial strength, community support, and educational opportunities to do just that.  And if you vote Liberal you not only get government support but receive a pat on the back from your premier saying “keep up the good work” we’ve got your back.
 But if you have a family unit that includes a member with a developmental disability, it is impossible to put family first.
 The reality is the family member with the disability comes first at the expense of you, your spouse and the other members of your family.
If the family member needs to be fed because they are unable to feed themselves, they come first.
If they need to be dressed because they cannot accomplish the task, they come first.
If they need to be diapered 5 times a day because of incontinence, they come first.
If they need be turned in the middle of the night, you get up and do it.
 Other siblings say, “What about me; don’t I come first sometime?” Your spouse says, “What about me don’t I deserve a little attention sometime?”
And you say, “What about us don’t we deserve a holiday; a break from this 24/7 responsibility; a time to be just us?”
 For families with a disabled member, Families First is just empty political rhetoric
 A slogan of “Retaining a Semblance of Family” would be a more apt rallying call. Faced with the responsibility and stress of developmental disability, most families just fly apart (over 90 per cent end in divorce).
Being a couple, handling a family member with a disability is extremely difficult.  As a single parent, it is impossible without a great deal of external support.
And unlike the conventional family unit there is never an “empty nest” period to look forward to.  The responsibility, for those willing to accept the challenge, is for life, either yours or that of the person with the disability.
As a caring community we must support such family units and support them more vigorously than conventional family units. Families First must include those with a disability.
 Since 2005, Community Living BC is the crown agency mandated to provide that support. But instead of increasing or at the very least maintaining service, CLBC is cutting and curtailing services to the developmentally disabled.
According to Paul Willcocks, a keen observer of B.C. politics, “the amount of funding per client has fallen every year since it (CLBC) was created six years ago.” 
The final irony may be that Harry Bloy, the minister responsible for CLBC, has been made a cabinet committee member of Families First. 
He has had the opportunity to improve the lives of the developmentally disability and by extension their families, but to date has chosen to make their lives more difficult.
 Families First remains a political rallying cry for the Liberal government but does not apply to families with a member having a developmental disability.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great news from Turn off the Blue Light, the anti-criminalization campaign in Ireland launched by sex workers and supporters. Google has changed its mind on prohibiting the group from buying an AdWord, one of those little paid links you see at the top of some Google searches.
I mean, it's a pretty small victory in the grand scheme of things, but what the heck. Take the wins wherever they come, especially when the issue is sex work. You just don't see many wins if that's your cause.
The power of social media and electronic distribution lists were certainly obvious to me after I wrote a column on this subject (it'll be the June 24 blog post below this one) and then used Facebook and two sex-work-friendly researcher-based distribution lists to get the word out as far as possible. I've now got new "friends" in Bangladesh and Thailand as a result.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that my Victoria column was the reason Google changed its mind, prompt and thorough use of Facebook and distribution lists notwithstanding. But maybe it helped a little.
The Blue Light organizers were prepared to protest outside Google's European headquarters in Dublin when they got word from Google that it had taken another look at the group's Web site and approved them to advertise.
Google had deemed that the group was selling sexual services,which it doesn't allow. But when the company took a closer look, it must have seen what Blue Light had been telling them all along: The Web site, and the Blue Light campaign, is strictly about human rights, not selling sex. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An inquiry into murdered sex workers, without any sex workers taking part in the proceedings - how well do you think that's going to work? This story from the Globe has a comment from the Attorney General's ministry that would be amusing if it weren't so tragic.
In defence of the government's refusal to cover legal costs at the Pickton inquiry for groups representing the interests of aboriginals and women, the government lawyer suggests his team could assume the interests of aboriginals and women for the purposes of questioning witnesses.
Yeah, that'll work. A bunch of largely white, largely male privileged people with law degrees, reimagining themselves as impoverished aboriginal women working the Downtown Eastside stroll.
I get that it's painful for government to pay the legal bills of all the groups that Pickton inquiry chief Wally Oppal has said need to be heard at the inquiry. But it's completely unacceptable to deny legal support for virtually every group with a connection to the victims. Whose voices should be louder at this inquiry than theirs? 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Google decision snuffs out human-rights ad for sex workers

Everybody’s got an opinion on the sex industry. But when you’re Google, what you think really matters.
So when Google yanks the online ads of a small group of Dublin sex workers trying to talk about human rights for people in the industry, it’s a big statement. I’m going to have to rethink everything I thought I knew about Google.
Ten escorts launched “Turn Off the Blue Light” earlier this year, responding to a major campaign in Ireland right now to outlaw the last legal vestiges of prostitution.
The anti-prostitution campaign is called “Turn off the Red Light.” The escorts picked their name as an allusion to the blue lights on Ireland’s police cars, and the impact of criminalization.
Ireland’s prostitution laws are essentially the same as Canada’s. The sale of sex is legal, but everything else to do with the industry is a crime. As in Canada, that has led to a thriving industry that operates almost completely in the shadows.
The Red Light campaign - a broad coalition of 39 religious groups, unions, non-profits, feminist organizations, political parties and so on - is pushing for Ireland to follow Sweden and make the sale of sex illegal. Sex workers in both countries contend that only increases the risk to workers.
Desperate to be heard on the subject, a few Dublin escorts and supporters struck up their own small rights campaign and bought a Google AdWord - those paid links that you’ve probably noticed at the top of some of your Google searches.
The ad linked to the Blue Light Web site. Here’s what it said: “Turn off the Blue Light: Sex workers in Ireland need human rights, not legal wrongs.”
It ran for several weeks without issue. But in May, Google yanked the ad, having suddenly decided the content was an “egregious violation” of company ad policy.
Google contends the ad is selling adult sexual services, a sector the company prohibits from advertising (with an interesting exception for stripping or lap-dancing services).
But Blue Light isn’t selling sexual services. It’s campaigning for human rights. Unfortunately, Google won’t budge.
As if to add insult, the company then sold an AdWord to a religious organization leading a campaign against sex trafficking in Ireland. With “Turn Off the Blue Light” worked into the ad’s keyword search, the anti-prostitution site is now the first to come up on Google’s Irish search engine ( when anyone looks for information on the Blue Light campaign.
What does Google have to say about all this? Not much.
I got two very polite responses from the company’s press department after a little prodding. But neither addressed the questions I’d asked - like why an ad for workers’ rights is considered to be selling sexual services just because the workers happen to be escorts.
Blue Light knew its tiny Google ad wouldn’t make much of a splash in the face of widespread and aggressive opposition. But it was better than no voice at all, says a campaign organizer I talked to this week.
The sex workers appealed Google’s decision. They lost, or at least presume they did. Google said they’d get an email from the company within three days if the appeal was successful, and no notice if it was rejected. The three days came and went a while ago, with no further word.
The sentiment in Ireland feels overwhelmingly against people in the industry, says the Blue Light organizer. Even the unions have joined the anti-prostitution campaign, as have a long list of women’s organizations. Google’s rejection was one more blow.
How Google managed to find the tiny Blue Light ad amid the gamillion AdWords that generate almost $28 billion a year in revenues for the company - well, that’s an intriguing question.
But as Google notes in its correspondence with Blue Light, the company acts when it gets complaints. And it obviously feels little compunction to verify the accuracy of a complaint before it acts.
Responding to my interview request, Google first sent me an email detailing how it handles political ads, noting that it strives to be neutral and fair. I hope CEO Larry Page reads that policy with more intent sometime soon.
The company followed up half an hour later with a second email on its sexual-services policy, reiterating that escort services are prohibited from advertising.  
As are legal workers who dare to speak up on their own behalf, it appears. That’s a frightening development in a company that controls the world’s information.
Please urge Google to reconsider their decision. You can comment on the Google wall on Facebook (you'll have to "like" it first), and I notice that my post from this morning is already gone!) and on the walls of Larry Page and Larry Page/Sergey Brin. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Here's an idea: Pull together a panel of average citizens and ask THEM to take a look at health care and what they think needs to be done. The Globe's Andre Picard summarizes here what the group of 28 Ontarians recommended as part of the Citizens' Reference Panel on Health Services.
If you like your information full-on, read the full report here. It's 44 pages, but there's also a one-page summary. 
Nothing world-shaking in the panel's findings, but that's the point. It doesn't take shiny new equipment, expensive new drugs and an influx of even more health-care professionals to fix much of what ails the "health" system - it just takes common sense and policy-makers brave enough to get beyond the individual interests of the big players.
Note the recommendation to end the fee-for-service pay system for doctors. Yes, please - the incentives are all wrong in that system, resulting in high costs to taxpayers with no assurances that all that spending is actually resulting in a healthier population. Governments are all about "outcomes" these days - why should the medical system be exempt?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Just bite the bullet, government - developmental disability is for life

I can feel for governments on issues like health spending, which has no top limit to its growth. As long as there are people desperate to stay alive and clever entrepreneurs eager to capitalize on that, no amount of money will ever be “enough.”
So yes, let’s have a heart for the plight of government in trying to manage that challenging issue. But that’s no excuse for why they’re not better at managing other costs that are far more predictable year over year.
The crazy stuff going on right now for people with developmental disabilities in B.C. is a fitting example.
Yes, there are cost pressures on that front, too: double-digit growth in autism diagnoses in Canada; expanded services on reduced budgets; more private-sector interests finding ways to turn a profit in the delivery of social services.
But allowing for all of that, the big costs for a funding body like Community Living B.C. still ought to be relatively predictable over the long term.
When it comes to a lifetime condition like developmental disability, you can budget with assurance knowing that the people needing services and support today will still need them tomorrow. The number of babies born with developmental disabilities every year is also stable enough to be built into the spending plan.
And unlike the health system, caps on care are common for developmental-disability services, restricting the number of people who can access support.
In contrast to our all-you-can-eat health system, there are multiple tests to take, professional assessments to acquire, hurdles to overcome and “analyst” scrutiny to bear before anyone gets CLBC funding. It all adds up to more budgetary certainty.  
Yet here we are again, acting like the cost of caring for British Columbians with developmental disability has caught us by surprise.  Here we are again, trying to downgrade the housing support and work opportunities for people who we know with certainty can’t manage without them.
B.C. looked progressive back in the 1980s when it shut down the big institutions - Glendale, Tranquille, Woodlands - where “the retarded” had been locked away. But the years haven’t been kind to the chronically underfunded community system that developed as a replacement for institutional care.
The creation of CLBC in 2005 was supposed to improve things. The Crown corporation was conceived as a parent-driven initiative that would finally put people with developmental disabilities and their families first in establishing spending priorities.
Not quite. The TC reported this week on the concerns of group-home operators facing a 19 per cent jump in B.C.’s minimum wage this year. Some overnight staff at the homes earn minimum wage, and agencies are wondering where they’ll find the money.
Not from CLBC. The Crown corporation told agencies to cut client services if it comes to that.
“We would encourage your members to continue to explore new and more cost-effective ways to meet individuals’ disability-related needs,” wrote the CLBC’s Doug Woollard in a letter last month to the Community Living Agencies Network, which had raised the issue.  
Much has changed for the better for people with developmental disabilities in the last 30 years, mind you.
The level of integration in our school system now would have been a distant dream in the days when I was in elementary school and the mentally handicapped kids were hidden away in the basement.
In terms of employment, the best that any of those kids could hope for back then was a seat in a sheltered workshop, where they’d maybe make a few dollars a week. Now, there’s the possibility of getting a real job - for real money - at the growing number of community-minded businesses stepping up to do their part.
But those gains are worthless if government waffles on its commitment to people’s basic needs. The closure of group homes this year is destabilizing decades of effort to create those homes and bring a little certainty into people’s lives. Recent cuts to work programs and job training are just plain cruel.
Everybody has to be prepared to give up something in a recession, I suppose. But should that include secure housing, social connection and job training for a few thousand extremely vulnerable people who we know won’t make it in this world without our help?
People with developmental disabilities need a lifetime of support. It’s frustrating, inefficient and sad that government still resists that reality.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CLBC execs clean up as services dwindle

*Note: Here's further news coverage from October after Rick Mowles was fired, and another follow from Nov. 4 detailing Mowles' $345,000 severance package

While browsing the Community Living BC Web site for information about cuts to services, I found myself comparing compensation paid to CLBC executives since the Crown corporation was started in 2005-2006. Very, very interesting.
CEO Rick Mowles has seen a 59 per cent increase in his annual compensation over the four fiscal years from 2005-06 to 2009-10, pushing him to almost $231,000. Doug Woollard, vice-president of operations and the man most often mentioned in stories about more service cuts at CLBC, has seen his compensation climb 57 per cent in that same period, to almost $176,000.
Meanwhile, the money for contracted services for people with developmental disabilities - the raison d'etre of CLBC - fell $5 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year compared to the previous year. (Can't do comparisons back to 2006, as funded services have changed.) I guess we now know why the CLBC bosses get the big bucks.
See the figures for yourself here. You'll need to go into each year's financial statements to do the comparison.

*June 23: Heard from CLBC communications and I just want to underline that the increases above are for total compensation - salary, incentive, pension, and a category called "all other compensation."
CLBC says Rick Mowles hasn't had a salary increase since 2005. But when I take his partial-year salary from fiscal-year 2006 and calculate it as a full year for comparison's sake, I still come out with his salary increasing from $138,660 to $195,000 by 2009-10, so the "zero salary increase" doesn't square with the numbers in CLBC's financials.
But at least Mowles didn't take the $21,500 incentive this year that he got in 2008-09. That has been discontinued as of the most recent fiscal year. That paid the CEO up to 15 per cent additional on top of his salary if he hit his performance targets in any given year.
Only the incentive to the CEO was discontinued. Other CLBC executives continue to receive that. Doug Woollard, Richard Hunter (VP of corporate services) and Carol Goozh (VP of policy and program development) each got more than $13,780 in performance incentives in the last fiscal year, and an additional $10,700 or so in the "all other compensation" category.
And here's what those incentive measurements are, from the CLBC Web site:

Incentive Plan Performance Measurement 
CLBC’s CEO and NEOs incentive plan performance targets and measures are captured in the organization’s Operational Plan which is derived from the Strategic and Service Plan initiatives. All three documents are accessible to the public on CLBC’s web site. The main categories within the Operational Plan are as follows:
1. Transformation and Organizational Development
2.  Community Supports and Services
3.  Services for Children
4.  Safeguards
5.  Policy/Program Development
6. Community Involvement and Partnerships
7. Governance, Financial & Information Management
8. Communication
Operational goals within each category are assigned to CLBC executives and performance measures are assigned to each operational goal.  The executive’s progress towards the achievement of stated goals is regularly monitored throughout the year and assessed at fiscal year-end.  The annual review provides the basis for the performance incentive calculation.

Nice to have the Ontario Appeal Court calling prosecutors on their guff about the constitutional rights of sex workers in the landmark case that's before the courts right now. The judges cut through the blah-blah-blah and just got down to the bare facts - that Canadian laws around prostitution aren't just shutting sex workers out from constitutional protection, but are actively making the work much more dangerous than it needs to be.
With two sex-work-related court cases progressing toward the Supreme Court of Canada right now, those of us who support the decriminalization of the adult, consensual sex industry are feeling stirrings of hope. However, I'm a little fearful that the federal government's response to a pro-decriminalization court ruling could be to declare sex work illegal, which will improve nothing and possibly make the situation even worse for workers.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

If anyone's still wondering whether things are going well in the psychiatric facilities here in Victoria, this ought to set them straight. Terrific TC opinion piece from a psych-ward survivor, who writes in my favourite style: Straight-up.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Great column from the Vancouver Sun's Craig McInnes, who raises some very good points about where we put our priorities for spending. What's going to do us the most good in the long run - a fair tax system that ensures our children are educated and our civic needs are tended to for generations to come, or a flat-screen TV for the  living room?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Gotta love the young page who seized a moment and pointed her protest sign toward the cameras in the House of Commons during the Throne Speech. She lost a job but is obviously creating quite a following.
Whether she was an infiltrator from the start or truly was moved to action by her growing understanding of the Harper government's agenda - her assertion - Brigette DePape's protest was a bold thing to do. She'll feel the repercussions, good and bad, for a lifetime. How many of us would be brave enough to take such an action, no matter how passionately we might think we feel?
Interesting letters in the Times Colonist this morning present the two polarities of viewpoints: A big hurrah from people who think like me, which is also to say they probably don't like Stephen Harper either; and a thumbs-down from those who think DePape's act shames Canadian legislative custom. (Sorry, I couldn't seem to find the letters on the TC Web site, but will keep working at that.)
I like to think Brigette DePape simply saw a grand moment - perhaps the grandest of her life - to make a statement that would literally be heard around the world. You go, girl. 

Friday, June 03, 2011

Only dead sex workers get our support

So we’ve got an inquiry into a B.C. mass murder headed up by a man tainted by his political connections, presiding over a process that shuts out almost everyone on the side of the victims.
Yup, that sounds like a solid way to get at the truth about the Robert Pickton case.
Only sex workers could draw straws this short. Then again, only sex workers would be left to go missing and murdered on our streets for so long in the first place. It’s baffling and heartbreaking, this misery we sustain in the name of “morality.”
Should we be surprised, then, that the B.C. government has refused to cover legal costs for groups representing the interests of sex workers at the upcoming Robert Pickton inquiry?
It’s a more blatant rejection than I’d have expected from a new premier, sure.
But isolated howls of protest aside, the government likely knows it’s politically safe to stick it to groups acting in the interests of sex workers.
More than a decade of dead and missing women in the Downtown Eastside wasn’t enough to get British Columbians riled enough to change one damn thing for sex workers. Why would they rise up now over a lack of money for legal representation?
The government’s denial of support is reprehensible, but you can’t argue with its political instincts. It’s got the public’s number on this one.
Lawyers collected $21 million after Pickton’s trial. RCMP rang up $84 million on the investigation. We’ll spend many millions more to revisit all of that during the inquiry that former attorney general Wally Oppal will be presiding over.  
How far might money like that have gone if used instead to improve the lives of the troubled women Pickton preyed on? It turns my stomach to think of all the desperate women and their children who came looking for help in my three years at PEERS Victoria, and how little was available. 
I was in the last year of that non-profit job when Pickton went on trial. As I’ve noted in past rants on this subject, media called me from across the country that spring and summer to ask what I thought would change for outdoor sex workers now that “justice” was being done.
What can possibly change when the only time a sex worker gets any consideration is as a dead body?
Women were going missing for a long, long time from the Downtown Eastside before Pickton was ever brought to trial. If British Columbians had wanted to do right by outdoor sex workers, we would have taken preventive steps well before Pickton was even a suspect, and certainly in the years following his conviction. But we didn’t.
I hope Pickton’s victims are out there right now in some version of an afterlife, having a good, rueful laugh about all of this.
They were universally shafted in life, that’s for sure. But I think they’d see the black humour in the small fortune we’ve lavished on them in death. Do the math on the $102 million in legal and police costs for the Pickton proceedings and it turns out we’ve spent almost $4 million for  each of the 26 women Pickton was charged with killing.  
All that for women we didn’t have the time of day for back when they were alive. Women who struggled to find housing, support, addiction treatment or even an ounce of public sympathy when they were still walking the stroll.
And the kicker: None of that money altered one thing for the future victims of a future Pickton. It didn’t change the law, or make a bit of difference in the lives of the vulnerable, impoverished women still working the grim outdoor strolls in our communities.
 Families of Pickton’s victims understandably want an inquiry. And they’ll have it starting in September, albeit under the direction of a man who presided with indifference over the plight of outdoor sex workers in the years when he was attorney general.
The families will be able to share a lawyer at the government’s expense during the inquiry. At least that ensures the voices of the dead are represented.
But the denial of legal aid to the sex workers’ coalitions and community advocacy groups silences the voices of the living.  Those groups have now withdrawn from the inquiry in protest. Once again, only the dead will be heard.
All that’s left to feel is shame.