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March honours 100-year anniversary of Chinese student school strike over segregation

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VICTORIA — The first day of school in Victoria one hundred years ago marked the start of a student strike over segregation that helped Chinese-Canadians solidify their place in a country that was not always welcoming, say historians and cultural experts.

It was on Sept. 5, 1922, that the British Columbia capital’s more than 200 Chinese-Canadian students refused to attend Victoria School Board mandated Chinese-only schools, launching a one-year student strike that eventually saw the board reverse its segregationist policy in time for the start of class in 1923.

A Monday march to commemorate the student strike was set to start at the elementary school that still bears the name of George Jay, the school board chairman in 1922, and was scheduled to end at the nearby Kings Road park which was the planned location for the Chinese-only schools.

“We talk about history and we talk about Chinese-Canadian history, well this to me is the defining moment,” said Grace Wong Sneddon, a University of Victoria Chinese culture and Asian identity expert who grew up in Victoria and went to public school there.

“Up to this point, there were Canadians and there were Chinese,” she said in an interview. “They didn’t go together. But this moment, this act of defiance and this demonstrated piece of agency, I think, really set the moment and made Chinese-Canadians as a concept and a reality. That is so cool.”

Wong Sneddon said Chinese-Canadians endured racist policies and racial stereotypes, but the community united and drew the line at the proposal to place their children in segregated schools.

“The parents said education is too important to our kids and if we don’t stand up now, future generations will be affected,” she said. The whole community supported this move: clan associations, county associations, merchants, rich, poor, individuals, families led by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.”

Wong Sneddon said the local Chinese-Canadian community hired two teachers from the United States who conducted classes throughout the year to ensure the students did not fall behind as the strike wore on.

The Greater Victoria School Board issued a formal apology earlier this month for the 1922 segregation policy, and current board members are expected to attend Monday’s anniversary march.

The school board also plans to erect a plaque honouring the student strike.

“Among a long list of historic wrongs perpetuated against the Chinese community in Victoria, this stands out as a particularly dark incident for our school district,” current board chairman Ryan Painter said in a statement. “The racist discrimination that led to this act is unacceptable and viewed with regret.”

Former Victoria mayor Alan Lowe, who is Chinese-Canadian, issued a statement saying the actions of the students 100 years ago helped pave the path for students like him to excel at public schools decades later.

“What started as a school boycott became a protest movement for equality which brought together the Chinese community locally, regionally and nationally from county and clan associations to individuals,” said Lowe, who is also chairman of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society.

Tim Stanley, a University of Ottawa emeritus professor who studied the history of racism in Canada, said the Victoria student strike was a monumental event in establishing Canada’s Chinese-Canadian community.

He wrote a book about the strike entitled “Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation, Anti-Racism and the making of Chinese-Canadians” and said he planned to attend the march commemorating what he described as a pivotal time for the community.

“This is the moment where the Chinese say, ‘Look, we’re Canadian. We’ve been here since before the country existed and we’re not going to take it any more,’ ” he said of the strike. “‘We’re prepared to do this for our rights.’”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2022.

 

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Promises, Promises!

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“I support,” is an honest statement.

“I will” is not always an honest statement, but it gets votes.

A few days back, mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa (@Penalosa_G) tweeted, “Stop Tory/Ford from giving away PUBLIC Ontario Place to spa/waterpark tall building. Since 2018 Ford/Tory announced ‘amusement destination’ & he has supported it! The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor. Together we’ll stop it in a #Toronto4Everyone.”

Gil’s tweet rubbed me the wrong way. The Ontario provincial government owns Ontario Place; therefore, Gil’s claim, “The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor.” is, to be kind, an exaggeration. Toronto’s mayor does not have absolute control over Ontario Place.

Another recent tweet that rubbed me the wrong way was by Arber Pucci, who is running for Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York) Toronto city council: ANNOUNCEMENT: I am promising to the residents of King West that as my first action as councillor, I will shut down Hyde Social so you can finally get a good night’s sleep.

In Toronto, a councillor does not have the authority to shut down businesses.

All elections have one thing in common: Promises.

As I watch those campaigning in Toronto for the upcoming election, I question whether many of the promises they are making are realistic. Are their promises outright lies or said out of “not knowing”? In the heat of campaigning, candidates will say anything to win votes.

Recently, I spoke with Glenn De Baeremaeker, a former councillor for Scarborough Center (Ward 38, before Doug Ford, reduced the number of Toronto council seats from 47 to 25) about some of the promises those running for council are making.

De Baeremaeker sees the role of a city councillor as one of serving the people rather than running on a political platform, which I am 100% in agreement with.

During our discussion of what Toronto councillors can and cannot do, Glenn and I touched on this election’s three hot-button issues: affordable housing, crime, especially gun violence, and public transportation.

 

Affordable Housing:

De Baeremaeker pointed out that housing has been a Toronto issue for more than 50 years; it is not a “new crisis.” Every major city with a growing population faces the challenge of housing affordability. In 2019 Toronto welcomed 117,720 immigrants, along with all those who moved to Toronto from across the country.

The factors contributing to the cost of housing, such as interest rates, and immigration (supply and demand), are well beyond the control of councillors, or even the mayor. Affordable housing would have been built years ago if it were as easy as those running for office claim. Mayors and council members want to be re-elected, why wouldn’t they build affordable housing? Any councillor, or mayoral candidate, who claims to be able to single-handedly address Toronto’s housing affordability is, to be polite, misinforming voters.

 

Crime/gun Violence:

Since the beginning of civilization, crime has existed in various forms. Glenn pointed out, “Less than 1% of the population resort to violent crime.” Most violent crimes are committed by angry young men. Therefore, the question becomes, what can be done to reach these young men before they begin committing violent crimes?

I do not see any councillor, current or running, having the education, experience, or ability to reach the disenfranchised youth in his/her ward.

There is also this fact: Toronto borders the world’s largest gun-toting population; thus, gun smuggling is inevitable. Border crossings are a federal responsibility, not a councillor’s. Glenn noted, “Toronto, like all of Canada, is the victim of the insanity in the U.S. today.” Toronto is part of the global village we all live in. Torontonians do not live in their own bubble.

 

Public Transportation:

Federal and provincial funding is required for Toronto to build any public transportation. De Baeremaeker noted that Toronto is currently building more public transit infrastructure than at any time in its history. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is governed by an 11-member Board consisting of city councillors and members of the public. Even if a wannabe councillor were to sit on the TTC board, their promise of a bus stop or increasing bus service being dangled to attract votes is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

With councillors pushing for more transit in their respective ward, public transit has become a highly sensitive issue. A councillor is only one vote out of 26, so ask yourself if a candidate has the political prowess to deliver on their transit promises.

Glenn and I then directed our conversation to what Toronto city councillors can and should do.

 

A councillor’s priority should be to assist their constituents. 

Like myself, De Baeremaeker believes councillors should practice servitude. Constituents should be able to easily contact their councillor and/or their staff for assistance. It is important for constituents to know they can reach their councillor to expeditiously resolve issues such as graffiti removal, fixing a pothole, emptying an overflowing garbage can, or repairing a knocked-down stop sign.

Additionally, councillors should be informing their constituents about the numerous programs the city of Toronto has, many of which are underutilized.

 

Dealing with Development:

All of Toronto is pre-zoned. Therefore, a councillor cannot control (READ: stop) development in their ward, whether residential or commercial. However, a councillor does have influence over facilitating studies, public consultation, approvals and working with developers to help shape how a development project will integrate into the community. (e.g., stop lights, parks, sidewalks) Councillors can and should work with developers to create a net benefit for the community. For example, incorporating retail spaces at the bottom of a condominium development like De Baeremaeker negotiated with the developers of the Me Living Condos at the corner of Markham Road and Ellesmere Road.

A councillor can also push for additional infrastructure for the betterment of their ward, such as a community center, libraries, and parks.

 

Keep Taxes Low:

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Councillors cannot freeze or cut taxes. “I’ll vote to keep tax increases as low as possible,” while not designed to attract votes, is an honest statement. Inevitably taxes will increase year-over-year, ideally rising in line with inflation.

Perhaps I am being romantically naive, but I hope those running for mayor or council feel obligated to tell voters what they can and cannot do instead of what they think voters want to hear. However, at the end of the day it is the voters’ responsibility to not vote for candidates who make unrealistic promises.

____________________________________________

 

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

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Former Conservative senator Don Meredith charged with three counts of sexual assault

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OTTAWA — A former senator who resigned from the upper chamber amid a sexual misconduct scandal is now facing criminal charges.

Don Meredith, 58, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment, Ottawa police said Saturday.

A source confirmed to The Canadian Press that the man in question was the former Conservative senator.

The charges relate to incidents that allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014 and were reported by an adult woman, police said, offering no other details.

Meredith has been released on a promise to appear in court.

A lawyer who represented him in the past did not immediately respond to request for comment on the charges. Alison Korn, a spokeswoman for the Senate’s Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, declined to comment on the matter as it is now before the courts.

Meredith — an ordained minister — was appointed to the senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, but resigned in 2017 after a scathing report from the Senate’s ethics officer.

The report from Lyse Ricard, who held the position at the time, concluded Meredith had violated the chamber’s code of ethics by engaging in a relationship with a girl when she was just 16 and recommended the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling him.

Meredith resigned from the Senate weeks later just as the upper chamber was believed ready to expel him over the relationship. He also acknowledged the sexual relations outlined in the report but said nothing took place until she turned 18.

A second Senate investigation, released in 2019, found Meredith had repeatedly bullied, threatened and intimidated his staff, as well as touched, kissed and propositioned some of them.

Saturday’s announcement marks the first time Meredith has faced criminal charges related to sexual misconduct.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Jaded, cynical, disillusioned: report says federal whistleblowers fear reprisal

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OTTAWA — Federal workers are increasingly cynical, skeptical and disillusioned about the idea of reporting wrongdoing in the public service, says a recent survey.

That pessimism is more “palpable and widespread” now than it was before the pandemic, and bureaucrats have become more likely to fear reprisals for whistleblowing.

Research firm Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. delivered the report in March to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, which investigates serious abuses within the federal government.

Commissioner Joe Friday says there is a maze of oversight mechanisms available to public servants and it can be discouraging or exhausting to figure out where to lodge a complaint.

He says he thinks public servants are feeling more isolated and disconnected during the pandemic, making it more difficult to feel confident in coming forward — let alone to gather the sort of documentation that whistleblowers require.

Chris Aylward, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the protections in place for whistleblowers are inadequate and the regime must be strengthened.

“It’s discouraging to see that federal workers have grown more cynical about whistleblowing and reporting wrongdoing in the public service, but it is not surprising,” Aylward said in a statement.

“It can be intimidating to come forward as a whistleblower, and our members are right to fear retaliation. Strong measures are needed to protect workers that speak out. Instead, there are too many conditions on whistleblowers that unnecessarily restrict disclosure.”

The report, based on nine focus group sessions held in March, found that workers feared a wide variety of hypothetical repercussions, many of which are premised on the fear that confidentiality could be compromised.

These included a negative impact on the physical or psychological well-being of the whistleblower, a lack of support, the idea that they would acquire a reputation as a troublemaker, diminished trust and division among co-workers and “damage to the image or reputation of the public service.”

Some said they feared their careers would be derailed — that they’d be given poor evaluations, be taken off projects, be assigned less challenging work or have their workloads increased.

Compared to a similar report undertaken in 2015, public servants were more likely to say that their attitudes toward whistleblowing had changed over time. This time around, they described themselves as having become “less naive,” “more pessimistic,” “more cynical,” “more jaded,” “less bright-eyed” and “more disillusioned.”

Workers tended to see whistleblowing as a good thing and described whistleblowers as brave people who should be encouraged and supported. But they emphasized that prospective whistleblowers “need to understand what they are facing”: a process that is “long, arduous, stressful and uncertain as to the outcome.”

And while participants reported an increase in awareness and education about the process of reporting wrongdoing, they didn’t trust it.

“Many held the view that such changes amount to ‘virtue signalling’ or ‘window dressing’ as opposed to constituting real cultural change,” the report says.

A little over half of the focus group attendees were unaware of the existence of the office that commissioned the research in the first place.

That’s not necessarily such a bad thing, Friday says.

“I think if every public servant woke up every morning and first thing on their mind was, ‘How do I bring wrongdoing to light,’ that might suggest that there’s more wrongdoing than anybody thinks there is,” he says.

Still, it’s apparent that many don’t know how the whistleblowing process works, or don’t have trust in it if they do. “Clearly, there’s more to do,” he says.

It can be frustrating to push for cultural change on the margins of a 300,000-person organization, Friday says — and with no influence or authority over the internal, department-specific procedures that govern most of the whistleblowing system.

Still, his office of 35 people has reached thousands of public servants with events and presentations over the course of the pandemic, he says, in an attempt to demystify the process.

In the seven years he’s been commissioner — and during his time as deputy commissioner and legal counsel before that — Friday says he’s never given a presentation that didn’t result in a followup with someone in the audience who was considering reporting wrongdoing.

“We’re talking about something very personal, very often something that someone has not yet spoken to anybody about,” he says, lamenting that the pandemic has resulted in fewer opportunities to have face-to-face conversations.

“We’re trying our damnedest to continue with our outreach efforts.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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