2018: A year of ups and downs for social justice

snow timeThis is my last blog of 2018, so now is a good time to reflect on some of the highlights centering on social justice that were significant to me this year.

To start, I was so heartened to witness the comeback of COPE, a party very important to me and one I’ve been heavily involved with for almost 40 years. In October’s municipal election, COPE candidates were elected to all three Vancouver municipal bodies — park board, school board and city council. This shows that the people of Vancouver are once again starting to vote with a social conscience.

On a less positive note, I’m terribly disappointed to hear that the ‘no’ vote carried the day in the electoral reform referendum. I’ve blogged previously about how proportional representation is essential for better equity and diversity in the halls of power.

Also, we all witnessed the lack of meaningful progress at the UN’s COP24 climate change conference in Poland earlier this month. In November, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached a concentration not seen in 3 to 5 million years. Sir David Attenborough warned that “if we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

The people highest-at-risk are the world’s most vulnerable, who are already suffering the effects. According to the WHO, ”communities of color (including Indigenous communities as well as specific racial and ethnic groups), low income, immigrants, and limited English proficiency face disproportionate vulnerabilities due to a wide variety of factors, such as higher risk of exposure, socioeconomic and educational factors that affect their adaptive capacity, and a higher prevalence of medical conditions that affect their sensitivity” to climate change.

Now, more than ever, nations of the world need to commit to a reduction in CO2 emissions, as was recommended prior to the conference by the IPCC’s report. To limit warming to 1.5°C, by 2030 global human-caused emissions of CO2 need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels, reaching net zero by around 2050.

Unfortunately, while COP24 did produce a set of rules to deal with issues such as consistent ways of measuring human-caused CO2 emissions, no commitments were made to achieve the hard targets for reducing them. This shows a total lack of social conscience.

Also in 2018, we saw the retirement of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin from the Supreme Court of Canada. She served as Chief Justice for 17 years — longer than any other Chief Justice in the history of the Supreme Court of Canada. At UBC law school, Ms. McLachlin was my first-year contract law professor — and definitely my favourite prof.

After being called to the bar, I appeared before her in court on two occasions. She was always very respectful, practical, and fair, and ruled against the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper on several important issues, including assisted death, which I blogged about last week.

As I look back on 2018, if there’s one thing I would wish for in the coming year it’s for the world to see more of the type of justice and fairness Beverley McLachlin provided our nation with over many decades.

Penny and I wish you all a very happy holiday season and a successful New Year!

Posted in Canadian politics, City Hall, climate change, COPE, electoral reform, justice system, law, proportional representation, social justice, Stephen Harper, sustainability, UBC, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vancouver Park Board, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Canadians with dementia have the right to a peaceful death

heart-justice-handsMany of you will remember Sue Rodriguez — the very brave woman who went to court in the 1990s seeking the right to die. She had a terminal illness and wished to die with dignity. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her court application. However, the publicity her case generated gave the right-to-die movement the political capital to successfully lobby the federal government for right-to-die legislation.

It took until 2016, when Justin Trudeau’s newly elected federal government passed Bill C-14, for Canadians to get legislation that allows Medical Assistance in Dying or MAiD. While a big step forward, this legislation has several flaws.

One of its biggest failures is the requirement that people requesting a medically assisted death must be mentally capable at the time of the procedure. This is embedded in the assisted death legislation so they can change their mind at the last moment and revoke their request for MAiD. This sounds fine in theory, but the net result is that individuals with illnesses such as dementia would have to request MAiD before their illness advances to the point where they’re no longer mentally competent — something the current law does not allow.

Already the failure of Bill C-14 has meant that people like Audrey Parker in Nova Scotia have been forced to opt for a premature death. Other individuals suffering from dementia, even in its early stages — such as Ron Posno in London, Ontario — realize a terrible irony: The way the law now stands, they will have no mind to change at the crucial moment. (Learn about Ron’s case in this excellent documentary by Alisa Segal that I heard on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition.)

Last week, several reports that the federal government commissioned on Bill C-14 were released. While the reports were not to provide recommendations, three separate areas were reviewed. One of these is the incorporation of advance directives for assisted death. This is when a competent person makes a request for assisted dying that could be honoured later, after they no longer have the mental capacity to make medical decisions for themselves.

In my opinion, advance directives should be included. This would go a long way toward fixing Bill C-14. It also would put at ease people who suffer with diseases like dementia — and their families and caregivers — relieving of them of a tremendous burden so they can focus on more necessary things.

If you feel like I do on this important issue, you may wish to sign this petition by Dana Livingstone in Sooke, who wants no one to suffer like her mom with dementia did at the end. Not everyone with advanced cognitive decline will want an assisted death, but those who do should not be denied their right to do so.

Dying with Dignity Canada is a not-for-profit organization that supports MAiD and advance directives for assisted death. Offering a range of services and information about patients’ rights, they believe it’s your life, it’s your choice.

Posted in Canadian politics, disability justice, Liberal Party | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unanimous vote on Vancouver tenants’ rights is a game changer

puzzle-house-oilpaintOn Tuesday, December 4, COPE Councillor Jean Swanson tenants’ protection motion finally came before city council for a vote.

In the week leading up to the vote, more than 300 tenants spoke eloquently to council about the need for protection when landlords decide to renovict them. See my last blog (Secure tenants make for a better Vancouver) to learn why changes are so needed to the city’s Relocation and Protection Policy to better protect renters. Bottom line: Councillor Swanson’s motion gives tenants the right to move back into a suite after renovations and — more importantly — at the same rent as when they left.

In the lead-up to the vote, all eyes were on council as this would be their first major decision. Without any one party having a majority, it was anybody’s guess how the vote would go.

In the end, Councillor Swanson’s motion, although amended, received the unanimous support of council. An historic moment for tenants’ rights in Vancouver!

While it’s to be expected that the numerous housekeeping motions that frequently come before council will receive unanimous support, it’s highly unusual for council to be unanimous on what’s usually perceived as such a highly political issue. To their credit, even the five right-of centre NPA councillors voted in favour.

This type of unanimity is what Vancouver’s electorate has been waiting for for a long time.

Throughout Vision Vancouver’s 10-year grip on city hall, divisive politics became the norm. We’ll never know, but I suspect that Councillor Swanson’s tenants’ protection motion would have been defeated had Vision still reigned.

During my six years on city council, I experienced the highest level of satisfaction when I was able to obtain support from all the parties at the council table for two motions I put forward — one to create Vancouver ‘s Food Policy Council, the other to initiate the city’s ethical purchasing policy.

When councillors work together across party lines, the result is an initiative much more likely to survive any future change in council’s makeup after voters weigh in again in subsequent elections. It means the change you’ve been working on so hard as a representative of the people of Vancouver gets embedded more solidly. Since it has multi-party support, it can better withstand the twin tests of time and electoral whims, and make a lasting difference.

Posted in affordable housing, British Columbia, City Hall, COPE, developers, gentrification, Green Party, homelessness, NDP, NPA, People Power, Planning, social justice, Vancouver, Vancouver election, Vision Vancouver | Tagged , , | Leave a comment