Medicinal marijuana users suffer social stigma, despite new regs

The federal government introduced new regulations on medicinal marijuana last month, but local users still complain of social judgment and stigma.

While researching last week’s story on the new medicinal marijuana regulations, The Goat contacted more than a dozen local users and growers. Four were willing to speak on the issue, but nobody was willing to speak on the record. Even those legally permitted to possess or grow medical marijuana refused to speak on the record.

Pot taboo? or Pot-a-boo!

 Marijuana confiscated by Valemount RCMP in October 2012 after an effort to crack down on drug runners through the Robson Valley. One local contacted for this story who has a license to grow medical cannabis complained of being “harassed” by RCMP. Photo: Laura Keil

Marijuana confiscated by Valemount RCMP in October 2012 after an effort to crack down on drug runners through the Robson Valley. One local contacted for this story who has a license to grow medical cannabis complained of being “harassed” by RCMP. Photo: Laura Keil

One local said they feared being targeted for break-ins by those looking for marijuana, a fear created by the black market. But this local was also wary of social stigma.

“Some people think, ‘Oh, he’s just a pothead getting a free ride.’ And that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

This local suffers from debilitating back pain, and medicinal cannabis is the best medication he’s found to alleviate the pain without inducing a host of side effects.

Another local who lives close to a grow-op and dislikes the odour, feared being judged by friends who wouldn’t agree with her opinion that marijuana should not be grown at home.

“It’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, and I don’t want to offend anybody.”

Another comment by this local points to a stubborn social stigma: “Where I come from, it’s people who are lower class that use weed.”

Don Skogstad, a criminal prosecutor in Nelson, says the taboo around medicinal use of marijuana has resulted in ridiculously strict rules about where and when it can be consumed.

“If you look at the rules in US states where it’s been legalized, you can drink in a lot of places, but you cannot consume marijuana anywhere in public view.”

Skogstad said he recently gave a lecture on medicinal marijuana at the University of Toronto, but that the university didn’t want “medical marijuana” and “the University of Toronto” to appear in the same ad.

“And yet it’s a perfectly legal, viable, court-ordered constitutional right.”

Skogstad pointed to a number of documentaries that suggest marijuana was treated with a racist paranoia in the early 20th century, targeting minorities more than dealing with the scientific aspects of the drug.

“And that persists today, that it’s a really bad thing, when in fact it’s got genuine, proven, medical benefits.”

Medicinal value still questioned

“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.” -BC Compassion Club Society.  Photo: Thomas Rohner
“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.” -BC Compassion Club Society. Photo: Thomas Rohner

But the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons does not acknowledge any proven medical benefits. A letter in their College Quarterly publication this past March, written by CEO Heidi Oetter, said “in the absence of scientific evidence, many physicians have been reluctant to authorize its use.” Oetter wrote that the medical community acknowledges possible relief to those suffering from a terminal illness or chronic pain “when conventional therapies cease to have an effect.”

This point is untrue, however, to patients who choose cannabis instead of “conventional therapies”. The local suffering from chronic back pain, for example, says that while he used narcotics prescribed by his doctor, he experienced a series of complications including appetite and sleep problems.

“You can’t take narcotics every day of your life. Otherwise you’re just not you.”

Dr. Paul Hornby, a pathologist from the Vancouver area, has been studying cannabis for 15 years, focusing on its applications for cancer patients for the past six years. He says there’s “tonnes of scientific evidence” on cannabis’ medicinal applications. He says the power of the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbying efforts prevent cannabis from being recognized for its medicinal use.

“As a medicine, there’s no way the pharmaceutical industry can afford to have [cannabis] legal because they’ll lose their analgesic market, they’ll lose their anti-depressant market, and they can’t have that.”

Oetter’s letter says, “If and when appropriate research is conducted, physicians may eventually have accurate information in the form of a clinical practice guideline on the use of marijuana.” But Hornby points out that to develop a clinical guideline, clinical trials have to be run and “we’re not allowed to right now because there’s no licensing for that.”

Jamie Shaw, communications director for the BC Compassion Club Society, calls the letter by Oetter “ridiculous” but acknowledges the difficult position the new regulations put doctors in. She points to the preamble of the new rules which says that nowhere in the world is cannabis acknowledged as a therapeutic remedy.

“You’ve got Health Canada claiming it’s not a therapeutic treatment, and then you have them asking doctors to prescribe it. They’re asking doctors to prescribe a substance illegal in any other context.”

In her letter, Oetter wrote, “It is irresponsible of Health Canada to download the risks, legal and otherwise, to physicians as gatekeepers to marijuana.” Oetter did not respond to an interview request by press time.

Despite the College’s stance on medical cannabis, doctors and nurses can dispense the drug directly to patients under the new regulations.  But as the licensing and regulatory body for all physicians and surgeons in BC they have considerable influence. At least one doctor local to the Valley cited this letter as his basis for refusing to prescribe medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, taboos persist
Shaw says that patients who come to the BCCCS wellness centre often don’t realize the social stigma they’re under until talking to somebody without being judged.

“It’s a huge relief, but they didn’t know anything different.”

Shaw says many patients have medical conditions that already have a stigma attached, like HIV or mental health issues. And many can’t even tell their neighbours or family about their use.

“Their families can’t figure out why they’re doing better. They’re happy they’re doing better, but the patients can’t tell their families a lot of times.”

As long as the social stigma persists, patients using medical marijuana are unlikely to lobby for their constitutional right to the medication.

New rules won’t improve community safety, lawyer says

 “A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness…” -John Conroy, criminal prosecutor. Photo: Thomas Rohner

“A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness…” -John Conroy, criminal prosecutor. Photo: Thomas Rohner

Every press release issued by Health Canada on the new medicinal marijuana regulations last month said that Canadian communities would be safer as a result of the new regulations, but none of them said how or why that was the case.

Presumably, the government is implicitly referring to the same-old fears associated with cannabis grow-ops: fire and mould risks and drug-related violence.  But the reality, according to experts, does not support these implied fears nor the government’s assertion that communities will be safer.

John Conroy, a criminal lawyer who has dealt with marijuana cases for 40 years, says he’s talked to a lot of lawyers in different BC municipalities who admit there hasn’t been a single fire from a medical grow-op yet, let alone a death from a fire, but they fear being the first municipality to have either.

“Statistics show that most house fires are in kitchens, and we’re not about to take kitchens out of people’s homes.”

Conroy said if grow-ops were properly inspected and permitted, mould wouldn’t be any more of a risk “than a person with a lot of house plants.” And he doubts the new rules will make Canadian communities safer since it’s the prohibition of the drug that creates the circumstances for violence.

“If you can’t go to the police when you’re ripped off, when you can’t resort to peaceful remedies, presumably you resort to violent remedies. We’ve known that since booze prohibition in the early days of the 20th century.”

As for young people, Conroy says it’s easier for them to access a drug on the black market than on a regulated market.

“The content of the drug is regulated then too, so you don’t have people dying from other stuff put into the drugs. That wouldn’t happen if the stuff was under control. It’s out of control because of prohibition.”

Last year the federal government brought in mandatory minimums for illegal grow-ops. The sentences range from 6 months for five plants up to two years for 500 plants. Conroy says organized crime will just get someone willing to carry out the jail sentence, while “mom and pop” operations will disappear.

“So the effect of mandatory minimums is that they squeeze the market and push the price up. When things on the black market become worth more, people shoot each other more because there’s a greater value when they get ripped off.”

Conroy said the regulations introduced in 2001 created a glut in the black market, mostly because many designate growers are growing beyond their allotment and selling it “out the back door”. The glut has driven black market prices down and subsequently reduced violence, but the government hasn’t acknowledged that, he said. Instead they’ve created regulations based on the exaggerated fear of gang-violence.

“A lot of this is based on the same old emotional, gut-reaction, stigma stuff of reefer madness, exacerbated by people thinking the drug war is still so bad that someone’s going to get shot in the crossfire because of a grow-op at the end of your street.”

Under the new regulations, private individuals can no longer grow in residential areas. Instead Licensed Commercial Producers will operate secure facilities.

Click HERE to read The Goat’s story on the new medicinal marijuana regulations.

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A story for Daniel

Going back to Prince George, and visiting the UNBC campus, evoked strong emotions for me. How could I separate the place from Daniel? How could I forget the youthful excitement we shared in coming out here in 2001? Seeing the Rockies for the first time; moving away from Toronto for the first time; flexing our newfound freedom from high school and Etobicoke; the world seemed like such a big place then with endless possibility.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in reflecting on the two days that I spent there this week. So to keep things simple, I’ll relate the experience through a story I know Daniel would’ve been entertained by.

I drove there with Andru, the mayor, and Laura, the newspaper owner; my roommates. The 4-hour drive was spectacular, winding along the Valley floor with the Rockies on one side and the Caribou Mountains on the other. The weather alternated brilliant sunshine with sudden downpours, leaving a trail of arcing rainbows in the rear view mirror. We saw black bears and deer too. We stopped at an ancient rain forest along the way, where a newly constructed boardwalk lead through towering cedars that twisted awkwardly into the sky. I felt like I was in a cartoon where the world was enormous and I was miniature. Daniel and I saw similar trees when we went camping out on the coast near Kitimat.

We got into Prince George around 9:30pm. Andru had to go to a Regional District meeting the next day, and Laura wanted to pick up her car from the mechanic, which had been nearly totalled by a run-in with a moose two months before. Laura and I were going to crash in Andru’s hotel room, but before going to the hotel Andru wanted to stop at a bar where a friend of his—and somewhat of a musical legend in Valemount, especially with my roommates—was hosting an open mic. After a few beers we were ready to leave. But when Andru phoned the hotel to let them know we were coming, he was told his room had been sold because he didn’t confirm earlier. We had nowhere to sleep.

Andru’s friend hosting the open mic, Raghu, offered to let us crash at his place. He lived with his partner and her child. Back at Raghu’s we sat outside on his back deck and smoked a joint. The conversation was immediately easy and edgy and intellectual and funny.

“That flag over the roof there is from the Sikh Temple.”

“Is that a sickle on it?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Maybe it’s a turban, that’d be more appropriate.”

“Or a bomb. Sorry, that’s not right.”

I zoned out for a bit, and when I came back Raghu was talking about Shiva. I listened intently and then said, “I can’t even wrap my head around all of the characters in the religion that I grew up with. I can barely begin to with other religions. Say Archangel Michael. Was he good? Bad? Rebel?”

Converation turned to Greek mythology.

“Theseus was interesting. They say his story is an allegory for the birth of language.”

“But what’s a speed belt gotta do with it?”, Laura asked.

“Nothing,” we all said.

“No, but how does it compare to a speed belt?”

“It doesn’t, only in your head,” we said.

Laura wasn’t even stoned.

When I lay down on the inflatable mattress in the spare room stuffed with bookshelves and a little girl’s paraphernalia, I noted that this was certainly not a hotel bed. Andru and Raghu had spent 15 minutes pumping the mattress up with a foot pump, except they used their hands trying, in vain, to mute the squeaky, farty sounds from waking up Leah, the little girl. I slept alright, considering every time I moved a muscle I was woken up by the sound of twisting latex.

The next day Laura and I spent an hour on the campus of UNBC. Among the stories that Daniel and I used to tell when we waxed nostalgic about that time:

-we had the idea of setting up a business in our residence room offering home-cooked meals to poor, malnourished students. We did a few trial meals for some friends, but that was about it.

-we’d test each other’s tolerance for mould and filth. One time Daniel left a pot of rice on the stove in the kitchen for weeks if not months. Green and grey and turquoise fluffy mould started poking over the edge of the pot. Eventually Daniel just threw the whole pot out. I clogged the toilet one time and it stayed that way for days. Man Daniel hated me for that for a while.

-we signed up for a natural resource class that promised wilderness first aid and survival skills. The class was a bust. Our field trips were cancelled because of a cougar in the area. And our teacher was a master’s student who couldn’t get his grammar in order on the exams.

 

An uneasy emotional premonition. Self-chastisement for giving in to the irrational, as though I had a choice. What is a place? I’ve learned it can change by unrelated events in a time removed. Suddenly a place can don the cloak of significance never imagined and unwanted.

Small town politics aren’t so different, sadly

 

“Thanks for breaking my balls,” the mayor said to me when I came home for lunch.  He cracked a smile. “Nah, It was a good article.”

 

Things had been tense for the past week or two while I worked on a story about an accident on an unsafe accessibility ramp at the local community hall—owned and operated by the Village—that left a 98-year-old man and a pregnant woman injured. The tension was mostly in my own my mind, but not entirely.

 

Email communication I had with the Mayor’s office and other Village staff in researching the story was chafing me.  It had been convoluted and difficult.  And the complications of living with the Mayor, being friendly with Village staff on the streets, bumping into them in the most informal of settings like the grocery store or coffee shop, was starkly contrasted with the inaccessibility and formality of official correspondence.

 

For example: I had emailed the building inspector and public works officer at the Village requesting interviews to cover this story. I got an email reply from the Chief Administrative Officer saying that all media requests went through the mayor, “his Worship”. Balking at the formality, I wrote an ironically formal email to the Mayor with the same interview requests. That irony was lost, though, as the mayor didn’t respond, and then the weekend was upon us.  He avoided the topic when I saw him at “home”, so finally on Sunday night I asked him what the status of my interview requests were. He told me the CAO was going to handle it after all. So on Monday I emailed the CAO asking when I could have an interview. She had forgotten to send me an email the Mayor sent her before the weekend in response to my questions. She had vetted the email, added some comments (who knows what other edits) and then forwarded it to me.

 

My initial response was akin to rage.  Could an interview request really be satisfied by an officially vetted email response?  If physical interaction can be made obsolete between journalists and interview subjects then journalism fails. I was angry at the Mayor, who used to run his own newspaper because it was a “great way to stir up shit”, for not acknowledging the journalistic principle at stake here. I was angry at myself for assuming that communication between media and municipal officials in a small town would be more straightforward and honest, not like the antagonistic and cynical rapport between media and municipal officials in Toronto.  And I was disillusioned with the CAO who I thought was a very sweet person on the few occasions I’d met her, and now had no choice but to view her kindness as a façade behind which she operated, foremost, as a bureaucrat.  The kind, sincere bureaucrat is a journalist’s formidable foe.

 

But whenever I have a strong emotional reaction to a situation, and especially when righteousness is involved, layers are revealed with time and the simple, strong conviction I first felt is burdened and enlightened with context.

 

“I’ve been making a documentary about my fall into politics,” the Mayor said to me on the night after my story was published.  He had been working on a documentary in private for the past few years, chronicling his transition from media into politics, which he obviously had a guilty conscience about.  In an honest attempt to be a good politician, and probably to mitigate the guilt, he was reading books on non-violence, Abraham Lincoln and diplomacy.  “Maybe you can help me with the documentary. We have to get you comfortable in front of a camera,” the Mayor said.  Unlikely, but I appreciated the Mayor’s candor and personability, despite the constraints and challenges in mixing formal and informal life.

 

In fact it inspired me to wax idealistic.  This antagonism between media and politics is unnecessary, I said.  And this situation of living with you, the mayor, in a small community was a perfect situation to prove that. What it boiled down to, I said, was being conscious of communication.  The influences that made us react defensively or offensively found controlled but unacknowledged outlet in “formal” communication.  We could hide behind the facades of our professionalism. The structures in place not only made that possible, but encouraged it; in fact nearly dictate that we nurture an antagonistic rapport. But if we committed ourselves to monitoring those defensive and aggressive reactions in our communication, which are emotionally based, we could define a new type of relationship between media and politician.

 

I’m not sure anything will come of those ideals, or even if they’ve been formulated and articulated carefully enough to be true. But in trying to navigate the complicated boundaries between reporting on municipal affairs and living with the mayor, two of his often-expressed sentiments come to mind: government can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try to, on the one hand, and the insecurity of what people are thinking about him on the other.  He has good intentions and noble ideals and his attempt to bring those to office is inspiring. But his desire to appear honest and his conviction in communicating honestly leaves something to be desired. And without an ongoing, frank dialogue on motivations, that discrepancy will only become entrenched. The best way to appear honest, after all, is, simply, to be honest.

 

New medicinal marijuana regulations will quadruple cost for some users

Marihuana for Medical Purposes, MMPR, Medicinal marihuana access program, medicinal marihuana access regulations, MMAR, MMAP, Conservative Party of Canada, legalize marijuana, decriminalize marijuana
doctors and nurses can dispense the drug directly under the new regulations

Home grown medical marijuana will be a thing of the past under new regulations ushered in by the federal government last month.

The Marihuana For Medical Purposes Regulations came into effect last month replacing Health Canada’s Marihuana for Medical Purposes Program introduced in 2001, but both regimes will be used until April 1, 2014, to allow for a transition. “Marihuana” is how the government spells the drug in its legislation.

According to a press release on Health Canada’s website, the new regulations aim “to treat marihuana as much as possible like any other narcotic used for medical purposes” and to create “conditions for a new, commercial industry responsible for its production and distribution”.

The rules allowing medicinal cannabis to be grown in private dwellings will expire March 31, 2014, replaced by “Licensed Commercial Producers.” The Licensed Producers will operate secure facilities outside of residential areas and courier their product to users and health practitioners. Health Canada will also end its own production and distribution next March.
With the new rules patients will no longer have to apply to Health Canada directly because doctors and nurses can fill out an abbreviated application form. Patients then show this form to Licensed Producers or obtain dried marijuana from doctors or nurses, who are now allowed to dispense the drug directly.
Health Canada currently distributes medical marijuana for a subsidized price of $5/g, according to a cost-benefit analysis it released in December, 2012. The analysis estimates the cost of homegrown cannabis at $1.80/g-$2.80/g. The estimated cost under the new system is $8.80/g, plus shipping, but the market will ultimately set prices. That’s more than a four-fold increase for users who grow themselves.

Reaction to Regs

The BC Compassion Club Society was quick to respond to the new regulations. The Society distributes marijuana to medical users only. It does so illegally, but police have typically turned a blind eye.

The Society, which was consulted by the federal government in drafting the new rules, submitted a number of recommendations to Health Canada earlier this year. One recommendation was to keep personal grow licenses which drastically reduce the cost for patients, “many of whom are already burdened by extensive medical expenses” the Society wrote.
John Conroy, a BC criminal lawyer with 40 years experience in medicinal marijuana cases, said 60-70 per cent of people who apply for medical marijuana are poor.
Conroy is working on a constitutional challenge to the new rules. He says the new rules violate the constitutional rights of marijuana-using patients who will no longer be allowed to grow at home or buy from a home-growing supplier.

“If you have a contained unit, specially built and safe…if you’ve had it inspected and there’s some limits on numbers—instead of saying not at all—that would be reasonable.”

Those who complied with the old rules and invested in equipment and labour to produce their own cannabis are not being compensated under the new rules.

Conroy will challenge the restriction of medical marijuana to only the dried bud. The BC Supreme Court found the restriction unconstitutional last year and acknowledged the safe use of cannabis derivatives like salves and juice, which do not produce a “high.” The court gave the government one year to change the law. The government hasn’t complied.

Don Skogstad, a criminal lawyer in Nelson specializing in marijuana cases, says the continued limitation to cannabis derivatives is a deliberate oversight on the government’s part.

“The government claims that when [marijuana] is put into these derivatives, the THC is hidden. But I’m not aware of anybody who can get the THC back out of the derivative and use it for recreation any more. It’s an ideological decision.”

Jamie Shaw, director of communications for the BCCCS, says the limitation on dried marijuana is irrational and impractical.

“We have patients who are physically incapable of smoking.”

Shaw points out that patients in hospitals will be able to access the drug, but have no way of consuming it.

“You can’t bake it into cookies because you’re in a hospital, and you’re not allowed to smoke.”

Shaw, Skogstad and Conroy independently agreed the new rules don’t create an effective market structure. All three pointed to US dispensary models, where community-based centres can dispense the drug. Licensed Producers, on the other hand, will be limited to secure couriers and healthcare professionals willing to keep a stock. Skogstad points out that Licensed Producers will require a big capital investment and “without a dispensary or even just a pharmacy you could develop a relationship with, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your product to market.”

Skogstad also wonders if compassion clubs will survive the new regulations.

“If you’re [a Licensed Producer and] going to spend $2-million … are you not going to go to the government next April 1st and ask, ‘How do you allow these people to compete with me? How do you expect my business to grow?’”

Skogstad says for now tolerance by the local police force, usually non-RCMP, allow the clubs to operate.

The Valley RCMP detachment under Sgt. Darren Woroshelo couldn’t be reached for comment, despite multiple phone calls and over a week to respond.

Local Reaction

In addition to substantially raised costs, medicinal cannabis users in the Valley may have to travel further to access it.

Standard practise for shipping controlled substances via courier is to get a signature upon delivery. If nobody is there to sign, it gets sent to the closest terminal. Since Valley mail is delivered to post boxes, the closest terminal is either Kamloops or Prince George. Puralator, for example, doesn’t have an agent in the Valley qualified to hold packages of controlled substances. Their closest terminal is in Kamloops. Canada Post is the only local option for obtaining orders through secure courier.

The Goat interviewed a number of local users and growers, all of which requested to be anonymous citing concerns around possible thefts from their homes and fear of social stigma.

One Valley residents lives in the neighbourhood of a grow-op and is overwhelmed with the odour. The smell gets everywhere in her house and car.

“I don’t care if it’s legal or not, as long as it doesn’t affect me or my family.”

She’s been asking local government, along with some neighbours, to have a bylaw implemented.

Another local became a grower when his wife fell ill with terminal cancer in order to be her caregiver. After months of painkiller cocktails and liquid morphine, he started baking her cookies, which were more effective and improved her appetite. He suffers from MS but doesn’t experience enough pain to warrant medication. Should the time come though, he would turn to edible cannabis products.

“I wouldn’t buy any of the government controlled stuff, but good, strong home grown that works.”

A different local has been legally growing for about five years and said he’ll comply with the new rules, but doesn’t know what he’ll do for pain management. Compassion clubs are expensive and the government doesn’t know how to grow good product, he said.

“It’s trash. It may as well be ragweed from Mexico.”

Another local who uses medical marijuana legally for pain relief has switched from compassion clubs to Health Canada, which is subsidized up to 50 per cent. After March 31 he’ll have to find a Licensed Producer at a higher cost, however, and pay shipping fees.

He says going down the illegal route is not an option for him, out of consideration for his family.

Check next week’s Goat for a follow-up story on the social stigma surrounding users and how the government thinks the new regulations will make communities safer.

Sources

For BCCCS reaction to the new regulations, including recommendations, click here.

For Health Canada’s press releases on the new regulations, click here.

For Health Canada’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement, including a cost-benefit analysis, click here.

Passing Through: a man, a journey and a flood

Valemount sees its fair share of transient people.  Contractors from different industries who live in nearby communities, international tourists, Canadians making a ritualistic cross-country trek, cyclists, bikers—people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe it seems.  In this column The Goat presents a sketch of our short-term guests, observed and written by a transient himself—RMG intern Thomas Rohner. 

A man, a journey, and a flood

“The highway to Banff was closed, eh?  They wouldn’t let anybody through.”

A man, probably in his late 50s, sat at the bar drinking spiced rum. His leathery face and paunched nose suggested his health had seen better days. But he was amicable and his eyes betrayed a lively curiosity and interest in the world they perceived.

“And the Saddle Dome, well that’s ruined. All the way up to the 14th row was under water. They wanted to replace it already, it’s old, but now they’ve got no choice.”

Paul was travelling from Calgary to Vancouver to visit his son, a trip that just happened to coincide with the worst flooding Calgary has seen in decades.

“I don’t know what they’re gonna do about the Stampede. You know how much money they’re gonna lose? Billions probably. They have massive grounds, tents as big as this building I bet, and real western stars, cowboys, top stars come out. They’re gonna lose a ton of money.”

“I bought tickets,” he said, as an after thought. “Are they gonna refund my ticket if it’s cancelled?” passing through pic2

Our conversation was interrupted by another man roughly Paul’s age.  “He’s a happy fellow,” this new patron said, nodding towards Paul, then sauntered over to him and had a five minute conversation that began with the exclamation, “My name is Paul too!”

When our conversation resumed, I told him that I was interning at The Goat and in school for journalism.

“That’s something I bet I would’ve liked doing,” Paul said. “That’s something, if you like doing it, you can just do it forever, can’t you? If you’ve got your hunch, you just dig and dig to find your story, stick to your story. I can see a man being really happy doing that. A lot of sacrifices, I bet. But we need people like you to keep them straight and honest, because without that, without journalists hounding them, they won’t be.” I gathered Paul was referring to politicians and business moguls and anyone who’s accrued substantial power.

“Lookit all the stuff that’s come out in the States, about the phone taps and stuff. They know exactly what you’re doing, where you are, if you’re sitting at a computer, what you’re buying. I was listening to the radio just the other night, and they had this guy on who nailed it, who said it just right. Eventually they want to make it so that you can’t do nothing, buy a house or a car or get a job or anything, without having some chip scanned in your hand or your neck or some place.  And it’s already started, you bet.” Paul raised his eyebrows above the frame of his spectacles in incredulity.

“But that’s great, we need journalists to watch out for us like that. We need open-minded people, because they’re sure not open minded.”

Paul works as a security guard for an information database in Calgary, a building filled with servers with clients from all over the world.

“You wouldn’t believe the information in that building, it’s just a normal-looking building. My nephew, he’s a security guard in Toronto at a college, and you should’ve heard him when I told him how much money I make. He couldn’t believe it,” Paul chuckled.

Paul told me of another nephew of his, in his 40s. “He’s always in school, he’s in school now to learn some…systems…” Paul trailed off. “But he’s an artist…you know, well… no, ya, he’s an artist.” It seemed his nephew had struggled to have the right to be called an artist. “He spent time on Vancouver Island with the Natives, learning some of their crafts, he was really interested in that.”

Despite being delayed by the flood—“I could’ve sworn there was a turn off to Highway 1 around here,” Paul said—he planned to be in Vancouver the following night. “I’ll leave when I wake up, I guess.” He reached for yet another napkin and wetnap, finished with his plate of honey garlic wings. “These wings were great, but I hate sticky, icky things.”

Volunteer animal group’s funding request hijacked by Village administration

A partnership between the Village of Valemount and the Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society (RVSNS) to tackle animal control has fallen through.

At the May 14 Council meeting Council decided not to continue to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the RVSNS or provide them with the $1,000 in financial assistance the Society requested.

Wendy Cinnamon, a founding member of the RVSNS, said in a phone interview that what the Village asked for in the original draft of the MOU was well beyond the scope of the Society and included bylaw enforcement. The Village cannot comment on any specifics relating to the decision because the negotiations were held in camera—closed to the public.

“I think there were just differing expectations,” Village Chief Administrative Officer Anne Yanciw said. “It was a mutual decision not to pursue this.”

The Society, a four-person organization, has been in existence since October 2012, and was initially created in response to a cat colony of about 80 cats living near the home of one of the founding members, Chris Dolbec. Since its inception the Society has helped deal with two cat colonies in the Tete Jaune area, have spayed or neutered cats whose owners can’t afford the vet bill, and, as of last week, have begun an initiative for dogs.

“We’ve done about 59 cats,” Cinnamon said, referring to the Society’s catch, fix and release program. “Right now, we’re limited as to how many cats and dogs we can do per week, so that’s what is holding us back at this point. We do have a list of people waiting.”

In December, the RVSNS requested $1,000 in funding for their volunteer initiative addressing the feline population. The Society was applying for an SPCA grant of $5,000, which the Society was required to match with their own fundraising efforts. They had already secured $1,500 from the Regional District, and planned to fundraise the remaining $2,500.

Before getting a response from the Village, the Society had the opportunity to help the Village with an impounded dog in early January. Dolbec was able to get the help of the SPCA in Kamloops, where she used to work, in finding a home for the dog.

The Society’s work with the impounded dog elicited glowing reviews from council and Village administration.

Village Deputy Corporate Officer Braden Hutchins presented a memo to Mayor and Council on January 22, entitled “Animal Bylaw Control Implementation.” Noting the time and money saved by partnering with the RVSNS, Hutchins wrote that creating an MOU with the Society was necessary “to ensure this partnership continues into the future.”

But from that point the negotiations took an unexpected turn, from the Society’s perspective.

“I don’t know how it morphed into the MOU,” Cinnamon said, “because my feedback was that council was supportive of helping us fund the feline initiative and it became something big and difficult.”

Cinnamon said the Village wanted the Society to be responsible for placing or euthanizing impounded animals that were surrendered or not claimed. Cinnamon said this was beyond their capacity– especially with just $1,000 coming from the Village to cover these costs. The Society doesn’t euthanize healthy animals either, Cinnamon said, unlike the
Village’s animal bylaw which says after 72 hours and “reasonable efforts” to find a home, an impounded animal can be euthanized.

But that wasn’t all the Village administration asked the Society to do for the $1,000 funding, according to Cinnamon.

“They also wanted us to step into the bylaw enforcement roll,” Cinnamon said, saying the Village wanted the Society to cite bylaws to residents. “And we’re not qualified to do that. We can educate people on what they should be doing … but we’re not bylaw officers…We just wanted to help with the cat population.

Cinnamon said helping the Village in January with the impounded dog was the result of a favour from the Kamloops SPCA—not something legally binding or consistent.

“They help us out when they can,” Cinnamon said of the SPCA.

The biggest factor in rejecting the village’s first proposal, however, was $2-million liability insurance the Village required the Society to purchase. Cinnamon said as a small new volunteer organization, they couldn’t afford to.

Hutchins could not be reached for comment; CAO Yanciw and Mayor McCracken were the spokespeople from Council and Village administration on this issue.

No bylaw officer

The Village made an effort to hire a bylaw enforcement officer earlier this year, even advertising outside of Valemount for the position. But with the limited resources the Village can allocate to bylaw enforcement, and the qualifications needed for a successful applicant, the Village “simply couldn’t find anyone who would be able to fill the position,” Yanciw said.

Mayor McCracken said the lack of a bylaw officer poses a number of nuanced challenges. The last bylaw enforcement officer didn’t catch any animals reported to the Village, he said.

“It’s not because he wasn’t doing his job; he was really trying to do the best he could. But you show up and the dog’s not there anymore.”

“So we’ve been working on a system, trying to do something smarter, using education.”

Yanciw said they are doing a trial period of bylaw enforcement without a bylaw officer, focusing instead on education.

“If education alone is not enough, then we’ll go back to council and look for a decision.”

Yanciw said she hopes the Village’s general Bylaw Enforcement Strategy, currently under development, will be ready by this fall.

Prof. Annie Booth, in the Ecosystems Management Science program at UNBC, has worked on municipal animal bylaw strategies and said that a combination of education and enforcement is “usually the only way to go.”

Prof. Booth says relying on education alone “relies on people wanting to do the right thing, and people do a lot of things even if they know they’re wrong.”
RVSNS  expands efforts

Prof. Booth said enforcing animal control laws is often dangerous, and SPCA officers get special training at the Justice Institute of BC. The former bylaw enforcement officer for the Village attended a 10-day course on bylaw enforcement at the Justice Institute. Special training was also part of the qualifications the Village was looking for in an attempt to fill the role earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of skill required,” Prof. Booth said, “To expect a volunteer to do that, if that’s the expectation the Village had of the Society, then I would agree … that would be an unreasonable request.”

Mayor McCracken could not comment on the in camera deliberations, but said, “The Robson Valley Spay and Neuter Society is doing excellent work, independently of us. Would it be better, in an ideal world, to do that work together? Yes. But ultimately, they’re free and they want to do it unencumbered by the Village so we support them.”

Cinnamon said the Society redrafted the original MOU with Hutchins to their satisfaction, but that Council voted to drop the potential partnership for reasons she is still unaware of; she was told a letter would be sent to the Society from the Village about the decision but hasn’t yet received it. In the meantime, the Society was able to fundraise the additional $1,000 to match the SPCA grant.

Mayor McCracken said that partnering with the Village is tough, especially for small organizations, because it inevitably involves a lot of paper work, rules and regulations.

“To a small organization that must feel like a total encumbrance, I totally understand that. But if we’re going to have a formal relationship with you, it has to have certain pieces.”

Concessions at Valemount Pride, featuring the Mexikaaner

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69670461″>Mexikaaner Pride.m4v</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user15904699″>Thomas Rohner</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

I only miss Toronto Pride when I’m not in Toronto.  The cynicism and neuroses that it induces, coupled with the fact that it’s in my home city, the most familiar place to me on earth, for good and bad, makes it entirely missable in my books…when I’m IN Toronto, that is.

From this distance, though, the neuroses have no real relevance, and the cynicism alone isn’t enough to hold back the nostalgia and idealizing.

This video isn’t really about Pride. I just happened to get around to doing a small stop-mo I had in my mind for the past few weeks on Pride weekend.  But the coincidence and my nostalgia suggested that this could be about Pride. So let’s just say that.

The Mexikaaner in “Concessions at Valemount Pride” (or “Mexikaaner, meet Jin”), music arranged by Kerrin McNamara.