Indigenous labour is an untapped resource

Canadians opened their hearts and homes to Syrian refugees last year. It was a warm humanitarian gesture as well as an economic imperative: Canada relies on immigrants to sustain our work force.

    image: Government of Canada

Treatment of our Indigenous people is puzzling in both regards. Refugees from Indian Reserves do not receive a warm welcome. Communities don’t sponsor Indigenous families and put them up in homes. They are not being bombed but they are fleeing abominable conditions: mouldy housing, undrinkable water, poor education, appalling health care and little hope for employment. Instead of being helped, First Nations refugees often end up on city streets with few options for integration into society.

Not only are Indigenous Canadians uninvited in cities but the labour resource they represent is wasted.

The Centre for the Study of Living Standards released a report earlier this month entitled “The Contribution of Aboriginal People to Future Labour Force Growth in Canada.” The 36 page report outlines the wasted labour resource of Indigenous Canadians.

Indigenous citizens are the youngest, fastest growing demographic in Canada.

To start with, all Indigenous people are underemployed. More critically, participation of the 15-24 age group is 12 per cent lower than average. Only one-half of Indigenous youth are employed. That untapped resource could contribute to future labour force growth. It’s worse in the North where participation in the labour force is one-fifth the average.

If Canada’s Indigenous work force were developed, they would contribute to one-fifth of the future national labour growth. That contribution could be in the North, where they are most needed. As the global climate change warms and the climate of the North warms disproportionately, opportunities will open for jobs in resource extraction, infrastructure, housing and tourism. The expansion of the Indigenous work force In the North could comprise 83 per cent of total northern growth.

What would it take? The report states rather dryly:

“Indigenous people also face deficiencies in hours worked, employment, income by level of education and health among others. Progress must be based on Indigenous autonomy and this in turn will require strengthening administrative and managerial capacities, most likely under new institutional arrangements.”

In more vital words, it will take a reversal of our colonial past which was designed to dominate and assimilate Indigenous peoples. The Trudeau government made a good start when it divided the Indigenous portfolio in two with Jane Philpott becoming minister of Indigenous services and Carolyn Bennett becoming minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.

Some criticise the move as increased bureaucracy but the split was recommended in 1996 by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Both ministers are capable I can only hope they will succeed in ending the anachronistic Indian Act.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations is optimistic:

“First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and re-asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights.”

Let’s bring our Indigenous brothers and sisters in from the cold. And if compassion doesn’t motivate Canadians, maybe a bleak economic future without them will.

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Let’s talk about doctor’s pay

Doctors have been given benefits under incorporation in lieu of receiving wage hikes and that’s not right. Doctors are on both sides of the issue. The Canadian Medical Association has come out against any changes to these benefits while 450 doctors signed an open letter to Finance Minister Morneau in favour of tax reform.

  Dr. Rita McCracken supports tax reform. Photo: Huffington Post

The existing tax system allows for the questionable practice of “income sprinkling” where family members are paid even when they don’t contribute to the doctor’s business. In Ontario, children and spouses are allowed to be paid as members of doctor’s corporate boards.

Doctor practices are unlike other small business. They operate private businesses while being paid through the public healthcare system.

Some doctors are uncomfortable the existing breaks. Dr. Hasan Sheikh says:

“There is nothing unique about a physician’s work that makes income sprinkling okay for them and not for others (Globe and Mail Sept. 22, 2017.)”

As usual, proposed tax changes are political fodder. Some premiers have condemned them, even though the details have yet to be released. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister calls them “class warfare.” Nova Scotia Premier Stephan McNeil worries about the ability to attract doctors and small business to the province. B.C. Finance Minister Carole James concerns are more nuanced:

“I certainly believe in closing tax loopholes, I believe that’s important, but I also don’t believe there was good consultation done.”

That’s Morneau’s failing. He announced the changes in the downtime of summer and faces a storm brewing in the fall. Only now is he consulting provinces.

One of the doctors in favour of tax reforms is Dr. Ritika Goel. The existing system doesn’t even benefit all doctors fairly:

“So, for example, if you have a single mother who is a physician she would be paying higher tax rate than a mother with a spouse that she’s able to income sprinkle and we don’t believe that’s fair (CBC’s The Current, Sept. 19, 2017).”

Another doctor is opposed to the changes. While acknowledging the issue of tax-fairness, she is bitter about existing compensation. Dr. Brenna Velker told The Current:

“I think that as physicians, you know, we all understand that those who make more money need to pay more tax, that’s how society works. The problem that I think a lot of us are running into is that we’re feeling really beat down. So, any of the forms that I fill out and of the phone calls that I make, or you know, e-mails, or anything like that, any other communication with my patients is unpaid. You know, it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”

Doctors deserve fair wages. They are dedicated and hard working. They incur more student debt and they start earning money later in their career.

“Let’s stop talking about propping up a broken tax system that benefits some Canadians and not others based on the title of their profession and not the nature of it,” adds Dr. Sheikh.

Instead of granting doctors dubious tax breaks, they should be given appropriate pay and benefits that dignify their profession.

The legacy of Occupy Kamloops

No one knew what would happen next. We gathered in anticipation in front of the Kamloops Library on October 15, 2011. The Occupy movement was sweeping the globe and its reach extended to Kamloops.

Kamloops Library. Photo: David Charbonneau

These giddy times reminded me of the Hippy Movement of the 1960’s but these participants were more focused and clear-headed: no drugs, psychedelic music and free love.

More than 950 demonstrations were planned for that day in 82 countries on every continent, in every Canadian province, eight in British Columbia.

Seven years later, the euphoria faded and the legacy unclear, I wanted to capture the moment before it was a lost. When Professor Trish Archibald from the Social Work program at Thompson Rivers University invited me to write a chapter in an upcoming book, I jumped at the chance. She was assembling a team to write a history of social justice in Kamloops since the Second World War.

To research my chapter, I interviewed ten people involved with the camp at Spirit Square. I met with each of them at Red Beard Cafe on Tranquille. That location was appropriate, not only because I’m a regular but because it was only a block away from the original campsite. Back in 2011 when it was called Cowboy Coffee I would see the occupiers, camp-worn, visiting the washrooms.

They were willing and eager to tell me about the events that changed their lives. Cassie Tremblay was a major force in the camp. Her training as a nurse gave her the skills necessary for to day-to-day routine and regular meetings.

They hadn’t intended to occupy the park to begin with. But after five hours of talking at Library Square (after I had left) a core of seven to ten people wondered what to do with the pent-up enthusiasm. They decided to set up the camp at Spirit Square, went home and gathered sleeping bags, tents and camping gear, and met that evening at the Park.

The long hours at the camp gave people time to reflect more deeply about what they had committed to – the occupation of public land. Some visitors to the camp were motivated by the same principles: idealism, global solidarity, and wage disparity. Some were not; such as the homeless, those with addiction and mental health issues, even runaway kids.

As the days grew colder, the practical matters of the camp became more urgent; such the need for toilets and heat. But because they were occupying public land, permits weren’t granted. The daily grind took its toll and by November 15, 2011 the occupiers’ camp at Spirit Square was gone.

What is the legacy of Occupy Kamloops, I asked occupier Kevin Wicheknap? “The goals of Occupy have yet to be accomplished. All things are always in transition. Occupy brought people together who were concerned about the environment and inequality. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was inspiring. Now it’s like, where next? We’ve learned to walk.”

Years in the making, our book was released Monday. Other chapters include made-in-Kamloops solutions to social injustice regarding food security, education, housing, and poverty. Our book, Building Community in Kamloops, Social Justice in Action, is available at the Brock Activity Centre.

 

 

Bring drug overdose plan to B.C. interior

To reduce drug overdose deaths, Vancouver Coastal Health authority plans to track patients to make sure they are taking their prescribed opioids.

image: IFL Science

I may seem odd that lives can be saved by making sure that patients take one opioid (Methadone) so that they don’t die from another (fentanyl). But that’s what statistics show. If patients stay on Methadone they’re more likely to be alive a year later.

It’s the first program of its kind in Canada and the latest effort to turn the tide on the opioid crisis that is projected to kill 1,500 British Columbians (Globe and Mail, Sept. 15, 2017). That’s up from 914 in 2016.

The problem is that patients have hectic lifestyles that make daily prescriptions difficult to take. As a result, only one-third are still on Methadone after a year. Laura Shaver, board member of the B.C. Association for People on Methadone, supports the plan:

“I would think it would be a great idea for many people that are, you know, a little bit unstable, for them to have a bit of a push behind them. With a bit of support, things could be a lot different.”

Rolando Barrios, assistant director at the Vancouver Coastal Health, sets his goal at 95 per cent Methadone compliance:

“We may not achieve that, but think about doubling the 30 per cent to 60 per cent . . . and the impact that would have.”

Tracking Methadone patients is labour intensive. The unregimented lifestyles of drug addicts make it difficult for them to make daily appointments. Starting this month, 20 teams, each comprising of three health professionals, will check on 3,000 patients to make sure they are taking their drugs.

Pharmacists will alert the teams if patients have not taken their daily dose. The team will then phone or visit the patient to check up. Participation in the program is voluntary: the teams are not policing patients.

The plan is modeled on the highly successful program to stop HIV/AIDS launched in 2010. It actively sought untreated HIV-positive people and followed up with an antiretroviral therapy. As a result, the transmission of AIDS was reduced by 96 per cent.

“With HIV,” says Dr. Barrios, “we used to wait until people had low immune systems before they started treatment . . . and then science came in and said we need to treat them earlier and faster. We learned that we needed to be aggressive.”

If the plan is so good for Vancouver, why isn’t it being applied throughout the province? Vancouver’s drug deaths may make news but the problem is worse in B.C.’s interior on a per capita basis.

Kamloops is bad -40 people died of drug overdoses in 2016- but Kelowna is worse. Kelowna led all Canada in per capita opioid poisoning hospitalizations. Vancouver was 16th. Kamloops didn’t make the top twenty but the program is needed here.

The Interior Health Authority needs to match the efforts of Vancouver Coastal Health. Users of prescription opioids need to be monitored. Only by reaching out will the death rate be brought down.

Dieppe’s secret mission

Recently declassified documents reveal the true mission of the raid on the beaches of Dieppe on August 19, 1942.

   image: commons.wikimedia.org

The publicly stated reasons varied: to test Hitler’s defences in France; to placate Stalin in his calls for a second front to divert Germany’s attention away from Russia; to learn lessons in preparation for D-day (Canada’s History Magazine, Aug/Sept, 2017.)

However, the real reason was to steal the Enigma machine and give decoders like Alan Turing a chance to figure out what the Nazis were planning. It would reveal vital information about German positions, capabilities, and intentions.

Previous raids on the Norwegian island of Lofoten had been successful in stealing the three-rotor version.

Other than top command, no one knew the true mission –not the general public and certainly not the Germans. To mask the true mission, it had to look like a regular operation. Enough damage had to be done to installations to make it look convincing but not so much damage as to destroy the machines. Press reports described the large scale destruction of facilities. Not only did the propaganda bolster public moral but it deflected German attention away from the theft of cryptography. It worked at first.

But after a dozen more trawlers were taken, the Germans became suspicious and came up with a more complicated encoder: the four-rotor version of the Enigma machine. The three-rotor version was hard enough to crack but four-rotors would have been impossible without capturing more deciphering data.

Emboldened by the success of earlier raids and driven by the necessity of decoding German plans, raids became more daring and unrestrained. The ambitious “Dickie” Mountbatten was placed in charge. Three raids were planned in 1942.  The first was on a U-boat base at Saint-Nazaire. It had limited success but failed to capture the ciphers and cost an entire commando unit. The second raid on the port of Bayonne was a complete failure.

Undeterred, Mountbatten pressed with the third raid on Dieppe. His leadership was in question and he had to prove himself. Not only Mountbatten’s reputation was at stake, but so was Prime Minister Churchill’s.

Canadian soldiers were languishing in England and were itching to get involved in combat. When the opportunity came in the Dieppe raid, they jumped at it.

The Dieppe plan was complicated and everything had to go like clockwork to succeed. To avoid alerting the Germans by the sound of droning planes, no bombers were used. The 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment (Calgary) was to take Dieppe, the South Saskatchewan Regiment and Royal Regiment Canada (Black Watch) were to take adjacent beaches. Bunkers were to be attacked but not destroyed to spare the cipher equipment.

Things went badly from the start. Calgary tanks cleared the beach but got stuck in roadblocks. Other Canadian regiments were trapped on the beaches and were sitting targets for the German guns.

Six hours later, more than 1,000 soldiers lay dead on the beaches –most of them Canadians. About 2,300 were taken prisoners. No Enigma machines were captured.

October 30, 1942, the four-rotor Enigma was discovered by chance on a sunken U-boat off Port Said, Egypt.

 

Help fentanyl labs make a safer drug

Illegal fentanyl lab operators don’t intend to kill users. They would prefer to have return customers. The problem, I suspect, is that the fentanyl used is so concentrated that it’s hard to dissolve to a uniform consistency. The resulting doses are uneven –from low to deadly. It’s a good idea to provide testing facilities for fentanyl cooks to let them know the potency of their product. Dr. Tyndall of the BC Centre for Disease Control says:

  fentanyl lab. image: Global news

“I’m still firmly of the belief that nobody’s actually trying to kill people. These manufacturers don’t know what they’re doing and they’re putting out ridiculous concentrations of these drugs.”

The BCCDC recommends an expansion of drug-checking services where anyone, including producers of illegal fentanyl, can have their drugs tested for toxicity. B.C.’s Minister of Health, Judy Darcy, endorses the expansion.

As it stands, drug policy is perverse because we tell users not to use street drugs but provide no other option when legal supplies fail.

“We strongly advise people to stop using street drugs,” says Dr. Tyndall, “and if they can’t do that, then we offer them … Suboxone or methadone, and if that doesn’t work, we basically tell them to go and find their own drugs even though there is a very real possibility of dying.”

The BCCDC suggests ten “areas of action.” If they were adopted, opioids would be essentially legalized much in the way that marijuana will be next year. Grower’s clubs and individuals would be allowed to make medical grade opiates. To clarify, opiates are derived from poppies whereas opioids include all synthetic and natural products.

Legal opioids are not likely to happen any time soon. I started lobbying for legalization of cannabis 40 years ago and look how long that took. Optimistically, with the model of legalized marijuana to be established soon, it won’t take another 40 years for the legalization of opioids.

Even without legalization, off-label uses of opioids are allowed. The BCCDC suggest dispensing take-home opioids such as oral hydromorphone which users could take home, grind up, and inject without supervision.

If the above recommendations only seem radical, it’s only because of a false sense of what criminalization can achieve. Criminal law can’t accomplish societal goals. If we want to stop people from using harmful drugs, criminalization has been a dismal failure. Instead, make drugs legal and educate people of the unhealthy consequences of use. It works with tobacco. If the goal is harm reduction, the recommendations don’t seem so radical.

Imagine that we are talking about baby strollers instead of drugs, and that some early models collapsed resulting in injury or death. An irrational solution would be to make strollers illegal. The sensible solution would be to regulate manufacture of the strollers to make them safe.

Prohibition of opioids isn’t working. It didn’t work for coffee, cigarettes or alcohol.

If the current trend continues, the death rate will continue to climb. More than 1,500 will die in British Columbia this year -ordinary people like friends, family and neighbours. Forget the stereotype of street people overdosing in alleys: 90 per cent of deaths are indoors. Isn’t it time to abandon prohibition and give harm-reduction a chance?

Burn all books about Sir John A.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario doesn’t go far enough when they recommend the removal of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s name from schools because of his role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”

Image: Maryland Faerie Festival Blog

Macdonald established reserves in order to clear Indigenous people from the land to make way for the railway. He rationed food on reserves that led to malnutrition, disease, and the deaths of thousands.

He should be erased. Statues and monuments should be torn down. His image on our ten dollar bill should be removed. All traces of his memory should be expunged. Why should we honour such a racist?

I searched the TNRD library and found 12 books with offensive titles such as “John A.: the man who made us: the life and times of John A. Macdonald How could a killer shape Canada? And “Sir John’s table: the culinary life and times of Canada’s first prime minister.” Who cares what he ate while starving children?

I “borrowed” a digital copy from the TNRD library of “The destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the election of 1891.” In it I learn that Macdonald appointed Indian agents in the West who used open ballots to track who voted for whom to ensure the re-election of Tories.

As a symbol of our collective disgust of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, the books should be burned. What a cathartic feeling that would give to Canadians in relieving our guilt at the treatment of Canada’s first people! A good date for the book-burning would be Guy Fawkes Night on November 5 when we would gather in public squares while bonfires raged. How therapeutic it would be to dance in the light of the flames as our national shame when up in smoke!

Public burnings of ten dollar bills would further expunge our blame, similar to the Chinese tradition of burning “joss notes (unofficial banknotes).” Whereas the Chinese do so as offerings to the deceased, wealthy Canadians and corporations could set examples of our collective outrage by burning large quantities of ten-dollar bills. Such burnings would fortify their images as good citizens.

The hard drives of people who downloaded borrowed digital copies from libraries should be seized (except for mine, of course, which is for the purpose of research only.) The names of those library patrons (except mine) who have borrowed hard and digital copies of books should be reported to the Ministry of Pure Thought.

The complete purge should start with Macdonald and continue with other villains such as Hector-Louis Langevin and Egerton Ryerson, who promoted residential schools; Edward Cornwallis, who placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps; Judge Mathew Begbie, who ordered the hanging of chiefs of Tsilhqot’in Nation for defending their land; and Paul de Chomedey, who killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands.

The cleansing of Canada’s spirit should continue with the re-writing of history. More than just the political leaders of the past are to blame. The majority of Canadians who voted for them are at fault. We cannot let the evil views of Canadians from the past to warp our values today! Those views cast an ominous shadow over Canadians. History should reflect who we are now, not the warped morals of the past.