Canada’s Roma

The Romani people of Canada have been met with both fascination and suspicion.

image: from film “Opre Roma: Gypsies in Canada”

For more than a century, Canadians have been fascinated by the colourful bands of “Gypsies” that roamed the country. There was a circus-like feeling when they came to town. Dressed in colourful costumes, women danced, told fortunes, sold herbs, and worked as midwives. Men made and sold copper utensils and furniture. Gypsies must have been  a rare source of entertainment in frontier towns like Kamloops.

Historical entries of the Roma are brief says Professor Cynthia Levine-Rasky, author of Writing the Roma:

“In historical almanacs, most encounters are discussed only fleetingly, such as the report of the “Gypsy show put on in Kamloops in 1898, or in description of visitors who dressed ’like Gypsies,’ or in the numerous sightings of nearby campsites (Canada’s History Magazine, June/July 2018).”

While these Gypsies were never identified as Roma, the nature of their activities closely corresponded with the people. The Roma liked the myth that the name “Gypsy” projected, so it’s understandable.

“Gypsy” obscures the people’s origin. In Europe, the Gypsy label was given to the Roma because they were thought to originate in Egypt. The Roma never identified a homeland. Their origins were further obscured as they took surnames from whatever country they landed in.

We now know that the Roma originated from Northern India in the eleventh century. Their exodus to North Africa and Europe suggests they may have been refugees from the spread of Islam into India.

In Canada, the most common subgroups of Roma came from the United Kingdom, Russia, and Hungary. In some respects, the Roma were like other ethnic group. “Also like other groups, the Roma have been misunderstood or regarded with suspicion,” says Levine-Rasky. “But, unlike with people with other ethnicities, the myth of the Gypsy travelled alongside the Roma wherever they went.”

One attack on the Roma is seared into their historical memory. The Roma settled into a camp near Glace Bay, Cape Breton Island, in 1935. Women told fortunes in town and the men, who were skilled mechanics, did odd jobs.

In the middle of the night five drunken miners attacked the camp, intent on raping two Romani girls; Bessie and Millie Demetro.  A reporter wrote: “hardly a member of the band escaped the carnage that followed.” Their father, Frank Demetro, fired a gunshot into the air to scare them off. He was arrested for firing another shot that killed one of the miners. Demetro was taken to hospital to care for his injuries and placed under RCMP guard. Frank’s brother Russel, fearing that Frank would not survive prison because he was diabetic, admitted to the shooting. Russel was tried but acquitted on a plea of self-defence.

Canadian Roma commemorate the event with a song in which Frank appeals to his wife Kezha: “Kezha, de ma ki katrinsa te kosav a rat pa mande (Kezha, give me your apron to wipe the blood from me)”

But don’t look for bands of Gypsies roaming the countryside today.

“When we learn of their historical travails, however, the Gypsy myth is challenged, just as it is when we encounter the Roma in Canada today –a dynamic and pluralistic community numbering about one hundred thousand and encompassing citizens of many faiths, occupations, and statuses,” says Levine-Rasky.

 

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Canada’s first constitution of 1763

 

More than a century before the confederation of Canada in 1867, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 established a basis of government in North America. Peter Russell, in his book Canada’s Odyssey: A Country Based on Incomplete Conquests, calls the proclamation “the formal beginning of Canada’s constitution,” and adds:

King George III. Image: Wikipedia

“Accordingly, the Proclamation called for that essential institution of Anglo-American liberal government: a representative assembly. This plan of government reflected the fact that, in terms of constitutional and representative government, Britain was the most advanced European state of the day. …France was still an absolute, not a constitutional monarchy (p.29)”

It’s odd now to think of England as a model for government now, but at the time a progressive King George III empowered the colonies of North America to form government comprised of citizens empowered to: “make laws for the Public, Peace, Welfare, and good Government.” Colonial courts were set up as well for hearing “all cases, criminal as well as civil, according to Law and Equity, and as near as may be agreeable to the Laws of England.”

The force of the proclamation reverberated through the centuries.

The first shock wave was the revolution of the thirteen colonies of what is now the United States. They were not happy with the lines drawn on the map of North America by the King. Land west of the colonies as far as the Mississippi was assigned to Indigenous peoples. The thirteen colonies saw the proclamation as hemming them in from expansion to the west. Two years after the proclamation, the American Revolution started which led to their independence in 1776.

Treatment of Quebec had a better outcome. With the winds of independence drifting through the colonies, Britain decided to accommodate their new colony of Quebec. Wisely so, since Catholic French-speakers outnumbered the English. In the Quebec Act of 1774, French property and civil law was introduced and French-speaking Catholics held public offices.

Recognition of Indigenous land title took a little longer. Two and one-half centuries later, Canada is finally recognizing Indigenous entitlement laid out in the proclamation. Reactionary Canadian governments ignored the proclamation and proceeded with the subjugation and assimilation of Canada’s first peoples.

As one of the three pillars of the founding of Canada, Indigenous peoples were left out of the British North American Act in 1867. The French and English pillars were there says Russell:

“One of the first challenges for the infant Canadian federation was its relations with the absent pillar, the Indigenous peoples (p.163).”

Two centuries after the proclamation, patient Indigenous leaders reminded us of their exclusion. George Manual was one of those who rallied against the failed colonization of his people. As former chief of the Neskonlith band of the Shuswap nation and participant of the residential school in Kamloops, he collaborated with Michael Posluns in writing The Fourth World: An Indian Reality in 1974.

In a landmark court decision, against the wishes of the Province of B.C., the court ruled that Nisga’a territory had never been extinguished. We live on unceded Indigenous land in most of B.C.

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 is referred to in section 25 of our Constitution Act of 1982. And on the 250th anniversary of the proclamation in 2013 was celebrated in Ottawa with a meeting of Indian leaders and Governor-General David Johnston.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

 

New Zealand’s experience with electoral reform

I sat down with Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, to talk about her country’s experience with electoral reform. She was in Kamloops on June 21 at a reception held at a local pub where about 70 people had gathered.

   image: Wikipedia

“You have five minutes for the interview,” the organizer of the event told us. We made our way to a quiet table.

Two referenda were held in New Zealand, she told me. The first in 1992 was non-binding. It asked whether voters wanted to retain the present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system or if they wanted a change. And if they wanted a change, which of four systems of proportional representation did they prefer?

The results were overwhelming with 85 per cent in favour of a change. Of the four systems, Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), was a clear favourite.

A second referendum was held a year later. This time the referendum was binding and the results closer with 54 per cent choosing MMP over FPTP.

I wondered how proportional representation had changed the culture of political parties. MMP leads to minority governments, Ms. Clark told me, which means that parties need to get along, not only after election but before. “Be sure to make friends”, she said, “you never know when you’ll need them later.”

After 20 minutes, I had asked all my prepared questions and we just chatted. “I thought the interview was only going to be five minutes,” the organizer scolded when he found us. Ms. Clark returned to the group where photos were taken and she gave a speech.

Afterward, I thought about the similarly of our upcoming mail-in referendum this fall to the one in New Zealand.

Two questions make sense to me: Do you want a change? If so, want kind do you want?  However, a B.C. lobby group called Fair Referendum disagrees. In a robocall call, they said that there should be just one question. I had to chuckle. The Fair Referendum proposal illustrates what’s wrong with our voting system. They want a single question with four choices, three of which are a type proportional representation and one being the existing FPTP. Those in favour of change will have their vote split three ways and those who don’t want change will have one choice. The ballot is rigged so that even if, say 60 per cent want change, 40 per cent will make sure it doesn’t happen. It seems obvious that’s what Fair Referendum hopes for.

The referendum, to be held from October 22 to November 30 by mail-in ballot, is shaping up along party lines. The Greens and NDP favour proportional representation and the BC Liberals oppose it.

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone says the referendum would be biased in favour of the NDP and that’s probably true –but only because the BC Liberals choose not to cooperate with other parties.

The Greens and NDP have made an extraordinary effort to be nice to each other because, as Ms. Clark suggests, it’s the only way that future governments under proportional representation will work. It’s a shift in party culture that the BC Liberals have yet to realize.

 

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.

By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops

In April of 1935 they left their miserable camps and made their way to Vancouver. The camps had been set up in the middle of nowhere. Young men worked in the military-run camps for 20 cents a day under deplorable conditions in dead-end jobs with no end in sight.

Canada’s History Magazine

The camps were designed to harsh. Prime Minister Bennett had reluctantly set them up as a concession to the unemployed victims of the Great Depression. He was opposed to anything that looked like a handout, including even the appalling camps. He told a labour delegation in 1930: “Never will I or any government of which I am part put a premium on idles or put our people on the dole (Canada’s History magazine, August-September, 2016).”

The camps didn’t have to be that way, says historian Bill Waiser of the University of Saskatchewan. “In contrast to the American Civil Conservation Corps, a popular federal work-for-relief program across the border, the make-work projects and isolating conditions of the Canadian relief camps aggravated the gloom of the men who were in them.”

About fifteen hundred desperate men arrived in Vancouver and were warmly received. Huge public rallies and parades were held. On Mother’s Day in Stanley Park, three hundred women circled the men in the shape of a heart.

As is typical, provincial and federal governments wrangled over who was responsible for the men. Finally the men decided to take matters into their own hands and trek to Ottawa aboard boxcars. About one thousand left Vancouver in June of 1935. Governments made no attempt to stop them –convinced that the trekker’s tenacity would dissolve in the cold trip through the mountains.

By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops they were cold, hungry and dispirited. Unlike Vancouver, no warm reception awaited them. Nothing had been done to prepare for their arrival: Mayor W. J. Moffatt and the chief of police flatly refused requests for help.

Kamloops had problems of its own with hordes of desperate, unemployed men in formal camps and informal “hobo jungles” says Mary Balf, former curator of the Kamloops Museum, in her book Kamloops 1914-1945. In one case, on May 1, 1931, men flocked into the city to complain about the poor conditions in these camps. Police closed the bridge from North Kamloops to limit the numbers.

“The work camps continued rather haphazardly until the summer of 1936,” says Balf, “but never really worked well. . . frequently they were so badly managed that even the promised wages were not forthcoming.”

After 300 men joined the trekkers from Kamloops, they were revitalized. As word of the trekkers spread, they were soon regarded as folk heroes. Washtubs of stew awaited them when they arrived in Golden in June. Calgary citizens were struck by the youthful innocence of the men.

More men joined the trek in Alberta but not my father. He was in a camp in Jasper at the time building the national park. He never told me about the camp conditions in Jasper. Perhaps he preferred to forget the depression and the stigma of unemployment. Perhaps, like some of the projects in the U.S., the building of parks gave purpose to his work.

As the popularity of the heroic trekkers grew, the federal government began to worry that they might actually get to Ottawa. By the time they got to Regina, the feds decided they would go no further. On Dominion Day in 1935, Regina police and RCMP raided a rally attended by thousands of trekkers and supporters. A riot ensued with hundreds of injuries and two deaths.

The trek ended but not without a cost to the feds. In October of 1935, Bennett’s government was defeated. A year later the camps were closed down.

Local content on the new aether

Medieval scientists believed that radio waves were carried through a medium they called the aether. Seems sensible. If sound waves require a medium, why not radio waves? It turns out that radio doesn’t need a medium; a vacuum will do nicely.

radio

     radio waves

The internet is the new aether. The “network of networks” depends on wires and optical fibers to carry signals. The internet wouldn’t exist without it (Wifi is radio but it’s just a connection to the internet).

We straddle both worlds –ethereal radio waves surround us while the internet remains wired. If I put up an antenna, I can receive CFJC TV for free. I chose to pay Shaw cable to have the station delivered to my house.

The internet is as disruptive as early radio and TV was and its role is still being defined. Is the internet a broadcaster? If CFJC is a broadcaster and if I can receive the same station over the internet, it would seem like it.

Not so. In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments from program producers that cable companies were broadcasters. The court agreed with cable companies that they were not.

It’s not trivial matter. If traditional TV stations are broadcasters and cable companies are, then the cost of production local shows and news has to be paid for by the TV stations –they receive nothing for the signals that cable carries.

It’s a problem in small cities like Kamloops because local news and programming is expensive to produce and ad revenue is not as high as large cities.

In the past, cable and satellite companies have grudgingly paid into temporary funds to support local programming but it’s a constant battle. This has left small markets scrambling to make ends meet.

Local news is vital. It not only informs the community it serves, reflects its values, and is vital in emergencies. Rick Arnish, Chair of the Small Market Independent Television Stations Coalition (SMITS), was a strong advocate of local TV before retiring. He also supported free over-the-air TV for people who can’t afford cable. He made that clear in his letter to the Canadian Radio-television & Telecommunications Commission in 2015:

“Over 95% of the participants who posted comments on the topic of over-the-air television in the online consultation held during Phase 3 referred to the importance and value of the ability to receive television programs inexpensively over the air and opposed proposals to shut down transmitters. Canadians value local news, with a CRTC commissioned poll putting the number who consider it ‘important’ at 81%.”

Arnish also made clear that cable companies should share the cost of local TV if small stations are to survive.

“Moreover, all things being equal, with the phase out of LPIF [Local Programming Improvement Fund] now complete, the SMITS Coalition stations as a group will be in the red this broadcast year, given the loss of the $5.4 million contributed by LPIF last year.”

Before retiring last year, Arnish was Program Director at CFJC TV and General Manager of Broadcast Centre and later President of the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group.

The internet transmits the content from traditional sources without paying for its creation. Unlike the old aether which radiated local programming, the new aether sucks the life from local TV.

Pro-cavity groups proven wrong

Tooth cavities have increased in Calgary since the city stopped adding fluorides to its water in 2011 according to a study published in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology. Researchers from the University of Calgary compared the number of cavities in children for Edmonton, where water is still fluoridated, with Calgary where it is not.

natures-way-cause-tooth-decay

The lead author of the study is candid: “This study points to the conclusion that tooth decay has worsened following removal of fluoride from drinking water, especially in primary teeth, and it will be important to continue monitoring these trends.”

The pro-cavity groups –let’s call the anti-fluoridation groups what they are – ran a scare campaign against the fluoridation of Kamloops’ water supply in 2001 and won.

Like good scare campaigns, theirs contained an element of truth. Yes, fluorides are produced by chemical companies but to claim that they were dumping their toxic byproducts into our water was misleading. Yes, too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis but that would take much more than what was added to Kamloops’ water.

Let’s get the facts straight; ones that I challenge the pro-cavity groups to deny. All water is naturally fluoridated. As I said in my column of 2001 “All river water, well water, filtered water, reverse osmosis water, bottled water, and tap water is fluoridated.  The only water that isn’t is rain water collected in sterile containers, and distilled water.”

No wonder: Fluorine is the 13th most abundant terrestrial element. The concentration of natural fluorides depends on the acidity of the water and length of time in contact with rocks and soil. River water is less fluoridated than well water. Kamloops’ water is naturally fluoridated with more than one-half the concentration necessary to prevent tooth decay.

Fluoridation is nature’s way of reducing cavities. The benefits of fluoridation weren’t discovered by some mad scientist who experimented on his tortured patients by pouring fluorine down their throats. The benefits were discovered incidentally in the early 1900s by a Colorado Springs dentist, Frederick S. McKay, who noticed that many of his patients had brown stains on their teeth and reduced cavities. The brown stains were caused by too much fluoride (fluorosis). When the fluorides were reduced, the stains went away and the benefits remained.

If our water is already fluoridated, you might reasonably ask, why add more? At about 0.5 parts per million, Kamloops’ water doesn’t have quite enough. When I wrote my column in 2001, the recommended amount was 1 part per million but according the Calgary study, 0.7 parts will do.

Some countries act responsibly. I just returned from Mexico where I noticed that fluorine are added to salt, much in the way that iodine (another halogen) is added to ours to prevent of intellectual and developmental disabilities, and thyroid gland problems. Children in Mexico are protected from the pro-cavity groups.

I take the issue personally. While researching Kamloops before moving here, one of the appealing features was the city’s fluoridated water supply. My son grew up with flawless teeth due to fluoridation, dental hygiene, and heredity. I don’t know of any studies in Kamloops but my dentist tells me that he sees more cavities now, especially in low income families.

The dental health of Kamloops’ most vulnerable have been put at risk because of a misguided lobby.