Vancouver Island University launches first-of-its-kind tuition waiver for former youth in care

Youth who grew up in foster care are welcome and wanted at university.

So says Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo which recently announced that they would waive tuition fees for former youth who grew up in foster care.

Partners in VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program include (left to right) MLA Parksville-Qualicum Michelle Stilwell; Ralph Nilson, VIU’s President and Vice-Chancellor; Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk; Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux; Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, and Bill Yoachim, Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, Snuneymuxw Councilor, VIU Alumnus & Governor. (Vancouver Island University)
Partners in VIU’s Tuition Waiver Program include (left to right) MLA Parksville-Qualicum Michelle Stilwell; Ralph Nilson, VIU’s President and Vice-Chancellor; Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk; Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux; Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, and Bill Yoachim, Kw’umut Lelum Child and Family Services, Snuneymuxw Councilor, VIU Alumnus & Governor. (Vancouver Island University)

In a speech titled “Listening to the marginalized to address inequality” given at the University of Victoria’s Congress conference in June, Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond called on post-secondary schools to offer free tuition for B.C. youth who spent time in the foster care system.

VIU was the first and to date only university to accept the challenge.

“We hope more public, post-secondary institutions in B.C. follow VIU’s lead,” says Turpel-Lafond. “Earlier this year, I challenged B.C.’s post-secondary institutions to waive tuition fees for children in care and I’m extremely pleased to see that Vancouver Island University has taken the lead in responding to this challenge.”

VIU President Ralph Nilson says the university’s long history of inclusivity contributed to this decision.

“We have a whole set of values at the institution that we have identified in our planning which go to the core of who we are,” Nilson tells me by phone. “We recognize importance of accessibility, support and education to create equality in society whether it’s in our Aboriginal population or people with socio-economic disadvantages.”

Nilson points out that many people living within the communities that VIU serves live below the poverty line. He also notes that 63.8% of youth in care on Vancouver Island are Aboriginal and that VIU has more Aboriginal students than any other university in the province

“I have a firm and enduring belief in the power of education to dramatically change a person’s life,” says VIU’s Chancellor Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “It opens up opportunities, boosts confidence and of course gives people the chance to secure better, more fulfilling employment opportunities. A program such as this, where tuition is waived, is a great step forward in opening”

Nilson says that education is an important part of both individuals and communities as a whole and hopes to involve youth in care in many areas of VIU life including work study positions.

“People that work at VIU are dedicated and we as an intuition want to make sure that all members are welcome to attend not just the select few,” he says. “We recognize people coming in may not have everything they need but we can help give them everything they need to graduate on merit and that’s what we are proud of. These investments are relatively small when you think of the benefit long-term over a person’s life relative to the cost to the system if you don’t provide it. It’s very minor relative to the real cost and again, it’s so important.”

This is the Tamagawa Gardens at Malaspina University-College in 2004. This beautiful and tranquil space was built as a gift for the school by Tamagawa University in Machida, Tokyo, Japan. When I was a child I used to come up here to read, write, draw or just sit and reflect on my life and the future. I still make a point of returning to this spot whenever I visit Nanaimo.
This is the Tamagawa Gardens at Malaspina University-College in 2004. This beautiful and tranquil space was built as a gift for the school by Tamagawa University in Machida, Tokyo, Japan. When I was a child I used to come up here to read, write, draw or just sit and reflect on my life and the future. I still make a point of returning to this spot whenever I visit Nanaimo.

As a former youth in care who grew up in Nanaimo I know from first-hand experience that the VIU community has a long and laudable history with respect to the advancement of marginalized youth – especially youth in care. Many of my workers and teachers were graduates of VIU which was then known as Malaspina University-College.

When I was a teenager I attended a weekly drop-in for LGBT youth which provided a brief respite from some of the harsh realities of being a queer youth in Nanaimo at the time. It was a supportive place where I felt free to wear my favourite glittery shirts, talk openly about dating boys and really, for the first time, get to know other queer youth as well as adult volunteers. It was the first opportunity I had to speak with openly gay and lesbian adults who included social workers, child care workers, teachers, and university instructors.

Two of the volunteers – Dawn Thompson and Kym Samis – were instructors at Malaspina. They told me that my past was not a detriment but a part of a life journey that lent depth and authenticity to my interactions with this world and that I would make a very good university or college student.

Here is a note of encouragement that Dawn wrote on a card when I moved out from Nanaimo in January 2000.
Here is a note of encouragement that Dawn wrote on a card when I moved out from Nanaimo in January 2000.

I was never a student at Malaspina/VIU but I did end up going to university thanks, in part, to the support and encouragement of these two Malaspina instructors who were incredibly supportive throughout my entire academic journey. They remain a part of my life to this day.

I graduated from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario in 2005 with a bachelor of arts in Canadian Studies and from Langara College in Vancouver in 2007 with a post-graduate certificate in journalism.

The support I received from faculty, staff and students at those institutions was instrumental in my success.

Me and my awesome friend Lindsay on graduation day at Trent University in 2005.
Me and my awesome friend Lindsay on graduation day at Trent University in 2005.

Unfortunately the provincial government had cut post-secondary funding for youth from care shortly before I started university. Without any support from family I had to take out large student loans to fund my education just like most other youth from care at that time.

Student loan debt really sucks, particularly when it is owed to the same government that was supposed to be your guardian.

I am glad, however, that today’s leaders understand the importance of making post-secondary institutions accessible and affordable for youth in and from care.
This new program at VIU will allow youth from care to focus on their educational and health needs and hopefully break the cycle of poverty. I believe it will also go a long way in making VIU a more universal, well-rounded and loving community.

The pilot project called the Youth in Care Tuition Waiver Program begins in next month

Homophobic grafitti in Vancouver on 4/20

On April 20 Vancouver celebrated its 18th annual 4/20 celebration.  That’s basically the day when thousands of people converge downtown to buy, smoke, see, or smell marijuana. Some go down there.

The celebration was founded by employees of Canadian cannabis activist Marc Emery who wanted to host a day-long rally to celebrate cannabis and call for its legalisation.

This year’s celebration attracted an estimated 20,000 attendees up from 15,000 who showed up last year. Many of these people, of course, made their way through the city to get home or to another destination. I spent part of the day visting with friends in Hastings-Sunrise which was a lot busier than usual. Hundreds of people pushed their way through Hastings on their way to or from the big celebration.

In addition to the people I also noticed a spammy sign at the corner of Nanaimo and Hastings had been defaced with homophobic graffiti. I spoke with area residents who said the vandalism took place sometime on April 20.

"GAY" spray painted on spammy advertisement.
"GAY" spray painted on spammy advertisement.

The Charter at 30

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. w00t!

As a gay man I credit the Charter for the advancement of a culture and society that protects and includes gay and lesbian people.

While sexual orientation is not specifically mentioned in the Charter successive rulings prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation and expanded gay and lesbian equality to areas such as marriage and pensions. Gay and lesbian people have also made gains in areas such as employment, health benefits, housing, hate crimes, and adoption.

I frequently read news stories from other parts of the world where leaders attempt to pass homophobic legislation or otherwise use the state to oppress gay and lesbian people.

It makes me grateful to live in Canada but I am mindful that even here we have politicians and governments who would love to push through a bunch of crazy homophobic laws. But they can’t. We have have a constitutionally embedded Charter.

In a 2002 University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman wrote an article in which she evaluated the legal implications of the Charter for the gay and lesbian community.

The Charter has been an effective tool in challenging the denial
of formal legal equality of lesbians and gay men. Laws that discriminate against
lesbian and gay individuals and relationships have been struck down as
unconstitutional, and legislatures have been forced to amend their laws to
extend formal legal equality. In so doing, there has been a shift in the politics
of democracy. The Charter critics—right and left—are correct to point out that
courts have done what almost no legislature was prepared to do. The
legalization of politics has delivered formal equality for lesbians and gay men

In early 2011 Saskatchewan’s right-of-centre government told provincial marriage commissioners that if they refused to conduct same-sex marriages they would have to resign or be fired even if doing so conflicted with their religious conviction.

“In my view, from a litigation point of view, it’s a done issue,” Saskatchewan’s Justice Minister, Don Morgan told me. “There’s certainly an option to appeal to the Supreme Court, but when you got a well-written judgment from five of the leading jurists in the province, you would want to accept that.”

The decision came a week after Saskatchewan’s highest court unanimously ruled that proposed legislation giving marriage commissioners the right to refuse to marry couples for religious reasons was unconstitutional.

The Government of Alberta, in contrast, has gone to great lengths to prevent gay and lesbian equality from taking root there. IF it wasn’t for the charter Alberta would be just like one of the 29 US States where residents can be fired on the basis of sexual orientation.

In 1991 Delwin Vriend was fired from his position at a private Christian university because he was gay. He was unable to file a human rights complaint as sexual orientation was not included as a prohibited ground of discrimination in Alberta’s Human Rights legislation.

He sued the commission and the provincial government and the case was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court who ruled that provincial government could not exclude gay and lesbian people from human rights legislation and that such exclusion violated the Charter.

We still have a long way to go with regards to gay and lesbian equality but I’m grateful for the significant gains we have made thus far and I believe we have the Charter to thank.

Falun Gong is homophobic

Earlier this week I went out for fish and chips with my friend Andrew, his husband Alex, and our buddy Margaret. We’d heard good things about Dundas Fish & Chips located at 2077 Dundas St. in East Vancouver and decided to try it out.

“I just gotta warn you that the owners are Falun Gong people,” said Andrew.  I figured he’d learned that from some wonderfully in-depth discussion with the owner. He is, after all, quite the social butterfly.

”Oh well. I don’t think it’ll be a problem,” I told him. “If they don’t to preach to us I probably won’t even say anything!”

An advertisement for Falun Gong is prominently displayed next to the sign of of Dundas Fish & Chips
An advertisement for Falun Gong is prominently displayed next to the sign of of Dundas Fish & Chips

When we arrived at the restaurant I quickly realized the owners didn’t need to tell Andrew a damn thing. The restaurant was plastered with Falun Gong posters and signs. They also had a table near the entrance with Falun Gong literature and video as well as a petition for customers to sign.

My friends Margaret and Alex enjoy their beverages while waiting for their meal at Dundas Fish & Chips. Andrew has already received his soup.
My friends Margaret and Alex enjoy their beverages while waiting for their meal at Dundas Fish & Chips. Andrew has already received his won ton soup.

“I don’t do religion in the morning or on an empty stomach,” said Margaret who thought it was all kind of creepy.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a religious organisation founded in China  in 1992. Some of their followers describe it as a cultivation of the central tenets of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance. The practice of Falun Dafa also includes meditation, qi-gong exercise as well as the moral teachings of their founder Li Hongzhi.

Falun Gong presents itself as an organization concerned about human rights, particularly their own. They regularly stage protests, and campaigns to raise awareness about the human rights of Falun Gong followers in the Peoples Republic of China.

A table of Falun Gong Literature and DVDs at Dundas Fish & Chips
A table of Falun Gong Literature and DVDs at Dundas Fish & Chips

But they don’t really believe in human rights for all – especially not the gays who they say are not worthy of being human.
Referring to a discussion about human rights protections for gay people in many western democracies Li said “I told them [the students in the West], ‘To be perfectly frank, your government may approve of it, but your Lord does not!’”

A large Falun Gong paintings in the restaurant.
A large Falun Gong paintings in the restaurant.

He has also said that “repulsive homosexual behaviour” bespeaks of a filthy, deviant state of mind that lacks rationality.

Li and his followers predictably use insane superstition to justify their claims. The writings of this “cultivation of practice” make unsupported claims about the existence of deities who have a real hate-on for gay people.

“Let me tell you, if I weren’t teaching this Fa today, gods’ first target of annihilation would be homosexuals,” Li said at the Fa Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1998. “It’s not me who would destroy them, but gods.”

Falun Gong stickers and petition at the till
Falun Gong stickers and petition at the till

He went on to claim that humans were created by “the gods” who also set out standards of behaviour and that gay people, not terrorists or murderers, are their number one target for divine incineration.

“When human beings overstep those boundaries, they are no longer called human beings, though they still assume the outer appearance of a human,” he said. “So gods can’t tolerate their existence and will destroy them.”

I have no intention or desire of convincing Falun Gong practitioners that they espouse a very homophobic philosophy but I think those gay-positive people who would support them should know the truth.

Somebody wroter "FALUN DAFA IS A HOMOPHOBIC CULT" on the petition! I wonder who that was...
Somebody wroter "FALUN DAFA IS A HOMOPHOBIC CULT" on the petition! I wonder who that was...

They’ve managed to get support from politically progressive people, including politicians, who are probably unaware of the group’s anti-gay stance. Many of these politicians support gay rights and some of them, including Bill Siksay and Libby Davies, are openly gay or lesbian themselves.

Siksay, who was my MP, chaired an all-party group called “Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong” which set out to “foster a better understanding of the practice of Falun Gong among Parliamentarians.”

Even babies dig Falun Gong protests!
Even babies dig Falun Gong protests!

In late 2011 Davies introduced a petition in Parliament regarding the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.

“It concerns the Falun Gong, which is an organization and a practice we are all familiar with, which is the peaceful and beneficial spiritual practice centred on the principles of truth, compassion and forbearance,” she said.

I fail to see how Li’s teachings about  homosexuality are remotely consistent with truth, tolerance, and compassion. Li exhibits a profoundly bigoted, wildly ignorant, and shockingly hostile attitude towards LGBT people normally attributed to religious figures such as Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Oh yeah, they also had food at the restaurant. It made three of us sick. Perhaps it’s part of their god’s plan for annihilating gay people!

Diarrhea fuel. I had halibut and fries and Andrew had a double cheeseburger with two eggs and onion rings.
Diarrhea fuel. I had halibut and fries and Andrew had a double cheeseburger with two eggs and onion rings.

Dispatch from Occupy Kelowna

Today I was checking out the sites in Downtown Kelowna when I happened up on the Occupy Kelowna demonstration.

“It’s about giving 99 per cent of the people a voice,” said Brandy McNeill who is one of two 24 hour demonstrators. “We all have issues to bring to the table so let’s discuss them.”

She says their discussions with the city have gotten to the point of “quibbling” and that they are “just bullying” the protestors at this point. She says demonstrators are allowed to sleep in chairs during the day, but not if they are sitting in a reclining position or covered in blankets.

Brandy McNeill at the Occupy Kelowna protest
Brandy McNeill at the Occupy Kelowna protest

She says that the city has restricted them to a patch of dirt adjacent to a city park from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. at which point they are required to move their tents, signage, and chairs to the sidewalk of a nearby monument before moving back to the dirt.

“We have a Charter right to peaceful assembly,” she says. “And I think the Charter takes precedence over a by-law.

While the number of protestors is low at the moment she says they are receiving support from the community in the form of coffee, tea, donuts, food, signatures on a petition, and honks from passing motorists.

The demonstrators have received some unlikely support from a bus of Taiwanese tourists who were taking photos of the Kelowna Sails monument.

Kelowna Sails
Kelowna Sails

“When they were taking photos we removed our signs so they could take photos of the monument without obstruction,” she says. “But then stopped us and told us to leave them because they support our movement.”

Taiwanese tourists at Occupy Kelowna
Taiwanese tourists at Occupy Kelowna

For more information on Occupy Kelowna please visit their Facebook group.

Huge police presence at BART protest in San Francisco, CA

I’m currently visiting some friends in lovely San Francisco, California. Today I did some freestyle wanderin’ which led me to the lovely City Hall. As I walked out of City Hall I noticed a huge police presence assembled down the street.
I thought, perhaps, that it was the police headquarters or something, but someone told me that they were there to “deal” with a protest.

The protest, which attracted about 100 participants, was apparently organised by the social activist group Anonymous. They were protesting the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency’s decision last month to cut phone service at their stations in response to another protest over the BART police shooting of Charles Hill on the Civic Center station platform on July 3.
I did not witness the actual protest but I did see the police assembly beforehand.

Huge police presence at BART protest
San Francisco, California
These two buses were filled with police officers.
These two buses were filled with police officers.
Another view of the police. In addition to the buses the two sides of the streets were lined with several police cars and bikes.
Another view of the police. In addition to the buses the two sides of the streets were lined with several police cars and bikes.
Another view of the police cars.
Another view of the police cars.
The protest attracted the attention of many news outlets.
The protest attracted the attention of many news outlets.



A one block stretch of Fulton St. between Larkin and Hyde was lined on either side with dozens of police cars, trucks, and motorcycles. There was also a large “mobile command centre” as well as two city buses filled with police officers.
I approached a group of policemen and politely asked why there was such a large police presence there.

“Are you serious?” one officer shot back. I gave him an innocent stare and said, “Yeah, there are quite a lot of you, what’s going on?” “There’s a BART protest,” he said. “But why do you need so many police for that?” I said, glancing at the 30-odd people assembled near United Nations Plaza “Don’t you have protests in England?” he said, grossly mistaking my accent.

At this point he walked away and another police officer began a friendly conversation with me. He was much nicer, less hostile than his colleague.  “I’ve never seen a camera like that,” he said in a southern kind of drawl. “Where do you get one like that?” I explained that I bought it online and showed him some of my pretty photos of City Hall. “You know, my friend has a Pentax and he swears by it,” he said. “I’ve never seen a red one but it goes nicely with your red Coke shirt,” he said glancing at my red Coca Cola shirt. I learned that he is from Fort Worth, Texas and my friends are sure he was hitting on me.

Friendly conversation aside, I was a little disturbed by the overwhelming police presence.

Canadian Blood Services is kinda gay

In Canada gay men can’t donate blood. Actually, the life ban applies to any man who’s had sex with another man since 1977 whether he identifies as gay, bi, straight or whatever.

I believe this is a  homophobic policy and was amused to see the rather gay Facebook profile picture for Ron Vezina, the Director for Media Relations and External Communications for Canadian Blood Services:


Here’s a paragraph from an email I sent him:

“I believe the ban on gay blood donation is a policy rooted in homophobia and not sound medical science. Granted, your personal views may differ, but defending CBS’s homophobic policies on a public forum is part of your job and that’s what you do to make a living. Right or wrong, I believe you are irrevocably linked with this policy and find it ironic that you choose to use a Facebook picture that is, in my opinion, very gay.”

Here’s a paragraph from his response:

“Thanks for your note. First the personal part. My facebook pic is a spoof and it’s on my own personal site. It’s a joke between my friends and I after I was accused of having a very boring profile pic. All those who know me also know that my washboard abs are buried under a couple of loads of laundry!”

Food Stamps in Canada

I always thought it was an American thing, but apparently the provincial government issues food vouchers to assist people in dire need. They are government issued vouchers which can be exchanged for any item of food at any retailer in the province.

BC Food Voucher
BC Food Voucher

A friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous,  is in the process of applying for welfare or “social assistance” as it’s sometimes called.

He won’t be able to see a worker until the end of the week, but in the meantime an intake worker was able to offer him emergency assistance in the form of a food and sundries voucher.

“It was actually very painless,” he says of the process. “She proactively gave them to me when I told her my rent was late. It was in this booklet that looked like a cheque book. She figured I was in a tough spot and gave me the food stamps and it was a temporary aid ‘til I get money on Friday”

My friend was issued four $5 vouchers totaling $20. He went to Safeway and purchased: a six-pack of eggs, a box of Kraft Dinner, three buns and milk. The total came to $4.65. He tried to make sure he used up the $5 because one cannot receive change from a food vouchers.

“I went to the customer service desk to spend them as I did not want the teller to be all confused and call a manager over the intercom,” he says, mindful of the stigma associated with people on welfare. “I came to customer care first and not a teller due to the sensitive nature of my vouchers She was like ‘oh yeah no problem we get these all the time’”.

Although it was a little embarrassing for him, he maintains that it is far better than the alternatives.
“Those vouchers allowed me to happily eliminate some much crappier options of getting food from my week such as food banks,” he says. “It is always on their time and you have to be up so fucking early and the worst part is that 90 per cent of them are located in skid fucking row.”

BC’s last execution

April 28, 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of British Columbia’s last execution.

Leo Mantha's death certificate (click for high-res PDF)
Death certificate for last man executed in BC (click for high-res PDF)

Leo Anthony Mantha was a tugboat operator and former sailor. He was gay and wanted to have a long-term  relationship with his boyfriend Aaron “Bud” Jenkins.  Jenkins tried to break up with him and Mantha lost his shit and stabbed Jenkins to death. He was subsequently tried, convicted and executed.

Bud Jenkins and Leo Mantha
Bud Jenkins and Leo Mantha

Capital punishment was on the books in Canada until 1976 when Parliament narrowly voted to abolish it.  The only method ever used in this country was hanging.

In British Columbia most executions were carried out at Oakalla prison in Burnaby. Initially the gallows were located in the prison courtyard but later moved inside to an abandoned elevator shaft.

The prison was torn down in the early ‘90s and the site is now occupied by a subdivision.  The site of the gallows is now a non-descript park where middle class people walk their dogs and go for morning power walks.

Jean Howarth (1917-2004) was a reporter at the Vancouver Province at the time of the Mantha execution. An opponent of capital punishment, she wanted to shed the light of day on legislated killing. She witnessed Mantha’s execution.

I believe that her article, which appeared the day after the execution, is the most harrowing, sobering and sincere thing ever written about Leo Mantha.

Howarth, Jean. “Mantha dies on the gallows.” The Province [Vancouver] 29 Apr. 1959

Jean Howarth
Jean Howarth

Leo Anthony Mantha dropped to his death down the old elevator shaft at Oakalla at 12:07 Tuesday morning.

He came into the bleak little concrete room looking frozen and expressionless and he didn’t say anything.

Mantha had been convicted of murdering Seaman Aaron Jenkins in his bunk at HMCS Naden naval base at Esquimalt last September.

The murmur of the priest’s prayers came with him. After half a minute the priest stopped praying, because there wasn’t anything to pray over any more.

ALWAYS QUIET

My invitation to the hanging had sad that I must be there at 11:45 p.m. So I was there.

A young guard took me down to the prison.

“It’s very quiet,” I said.

“It’s always quiet nights like these,” he said.

“The others… seem to mourn.”

We came up to the prison door and a guard unlocked it and let us in. A guard at the door took my invitation.

“Is it your intention to witness this?” he said.

“Yes.” I said.

“It’s a pretty grisly business for a woman.” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I think it’s time women in Canada knew how grisly it is.

People kept coming in. The six members of the coroner’s jury came and sat solidly along a wall. Mantha’s lawyer George Gregory came, with another lawyer.

The condemned man had asked for them.

He had asked for the prison doctor, Dr. R.G.E. Richmond, to come too and certify him dead. The doctor said he (Mantha) wanted some friends around him at the end.

ENJOYED DINNER

The doctor said that Mantha had eaten a good dinner… a T-bone steak… and enjoyed it.
Mantha was very calm, he said, calmer than most condemned men that the doctor had seen. He needed only a mild sedative, a tranquilizer.

The priest had been with him since 8 o’clock. They had prayed the last hour and a half with a stop once for a cigaret. He had given the priest a sealed letter for his sister down east.

LINE KEPT OPEN

Warden Hugh Christie came in then. He said Mantha had wanted the lawyers because he had no family and he wanted to be sure it was all done right.

There was a link open to Ottawa, but they didn’t expect the phone to ring.

The hangman came.

He is a very short man, very fat with little round eyes like black buttons behind horned rimmed spectacles. He carried a strap in his hand to fasten Mantha’s leg as he stood on the trapdoor; and he wore a black beret.

VERY LONG TIME

We seemed to have been there a very long time and I looked at the clock wishing it was over, and then feeling a terrible guilt at rushing the time.

And then suddenly Warden Christie looked at the door and nodded his head.

We were all walking very rapidly then out through a locked barred door and another, and up some stairs and into a little rectangular cement room.

FENCED WITH STEEL

Gallows at Oakalla Prison
Gallows at Oakalla Prison

The room had a trap door in the floor, fenced around with steel. Standing around it and facing away from it was a row of prison guards.

We went down to the end of the room behind another steel fence. There was silence for a minute. And then we heard the shuffle of feet and Leo Mantha came in with his hands strapped behind him. The priest’s voice murmuring prayers.

The hangman put his strap around his legs and pulled a black cloth over his head and the noose.

And stepped back and reached down to a little lever on the floor.

THEN WAS SICK

Only I put my hands over my face then because I was sick.

I didn’t go down to view the body. I couldn’t.

Mantha was 31 and unmarried. Last Sept. 5 he had stabbed a sailor friend as he lay in bed. They were homosexuals and they had a fight because the young sailor planned to get married.

I went to see Leo Mantha hanged because I do not believe in capital punishment. It was my idea that I go.

A man had been assigned to the job and the  managing editor did not want to let a woman go. None of my superiors did. It made them uncomfortable.

SAW SHERIFF

I went to New Westminster myself to ask permission of Sheriff Frank Cotton. When I told him what I wanted he said at once, “No, I couldn’t.” then he added, “I’m not trying to deny you, just to protect you.”

But he agreed to listen to me.

I told him why I wanted to go. That a hanging was the responsibility of all Canadians and that I did not think we should do in the dark corners what we could not face in the light. That I would not be writing it hysterically or dramatically, but with as much sober truth as I could muster.

After a while he said, “will you sit out in the other office and let me think for a while?”

I sat in the other office for 21 minutes. Then he opened the door and beckoned me in. He was looking grey and unhappy.

“I have decided to let you go,” he said.

Minimum wage laws = theft

As of April 15, 2009 British Columbia will have the lowest minimum wage in Canada and BC premier, Gordon Campbell, has no plans to increase it from the current rate of $8 per hour.

Over the past year governments across Canada have been adjusting the minimum wage to more humane levels. Yesterday Ontario increased the minimum wage to $9.75 an hour.

But don’t expect the trend to spread westward.

“The 25-30 per cent increase in your wage package versus keeping your business successful, they will be forced to lay people off. That’s all the evidence we have,” said Gordon Campbell, as quoted in yesterday’s edition of 24 Hours.

This has long been the argument for keeping minimum wage rates at extremely low levels. Opponents of an increase fear that it will hurt business.

I believe that underpaying workers is an act of theft.

If for example a hamburger joint wants to stay in business the owners have to buy hamburger meat. If the price of the meat goes up they have to find a way to pay it, find a cheaper supplier or close shop. If they decided to go to the warehouse to purchase three quarters of the meat and steal the rest they’d likely be arrested and charged with theft under our laws.

I don’t see how it’s any different for labour.

If the current minimum wage laws are keeping some of these businesses afloat then they are profiting from theft.

I’ve worked several minimum wage jobs and I never worked harder in my life. A lot of those retail, food-service, cleaning and labour jobs that pay minimum wage are very demanding and thankless but this province couldn’t survive without these workers.

What do you think would happen if all the underpaid workers in British Columbia went on strike for one day?