By macleans.ca - Friday, March 1, 2013 - 0 Comments
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside gets a new restaurant and Service Canada cracks down on bogus EI claims
The right turn
In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post last week, former U.S. presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s chief political strategist said his boss’s stance against gay marriage played a central role in his crushing loss to Barack Obama. Which may explain this welcome piece of news: dozens of prominent Republicans—including senior advisers to former president George W. Bush, four former governors and two members of Congress—have signed their names to a Supreme Court brief arguing that gay men and women have a constitutional right to marry. If legal analysts are correct, the document could sway conservative judges as much for the names on the bottom as the evidence inside.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley was on the House of Commons hot seat amid revelations that Service Canada employees are (gasp!) cracking down on fraudulent Employment Insurance claims. The Opposition was outraged to learn that door-knocking federal investigators have each been given annual “performance objectives” to find $485,000 worth of bogus or ineligible claims. It is Ottawa’s job to help the unemployed as they search for work, but safeguarding taxpayer money is equally important. To be shocked that the feds are doing both is either naïve or disingenuous.
Feed the Pidgin
Our best wishes to Brandon Grossutti, owner of the newest restaurant in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Since opening the doors, his customers have endured daily protests from a small but committed group of anti-poverty activists who claim the eatery, Pidgin, is Exhibit A of the regrettable gentrification sweeping the notorious neighbourhood. To the contrary, Pidgin is exactly what the area needs: a fresh, vibrant business that has not only created jobs, but is helping to revitalize the landscape. Bon appétit.
‘The Abyss,’ Part II
When James Cameron traded his director’s chair for a submarine—becoming the first person to complete a solo dive to the deepest-known point on Earth (11 km down)—it wasn’t just for show. A researcher who examined the Canadian’s underwater footage found evidence of two new species: a sea cucumber and a squid worm. Aliens indeed.
A massive crash at a NASCAR race in Daytona Beach, Fla., injured 33 fansPierre Ducharme/Reuters
Another week, another new low for the Upper Chamber. A police search warrant shed new light on the assault and sexual assault charges laid against disgraced Sen. Patrick Brazeau. According to officers (though yet to be proven in court), Brazeau grabbed a woman’s breast inside his home and pushed her hard enough to break a staircase handrail. Meanwhile, more of Brazeau’s colleagues—at least five, at last count—are being questioned about where they live and whether they deserve the extra housing allowance they receive. Maybe it’s time to dispatch those Service Canada investigators to their houses.
Peace talks with the Taliban are not exactly rolling along, and the past seven days have offered little new hope. A Pakistani intelligence official says at least half the Afghan Taliban members recently freed from his country’s prisons have rejoined the insurgency. In a much more embarrassing admission, U.S. military officials in Kabul say they miscalculated stats from last year that showed Taliban attacks were actually in steep decline; in truth, there was no change at all. The Pentagon attributed the mistake to a “clerical error.” If only figuring out the Taliban was so simple.
No, the referee isn’t blind. But he may be deaf. New U.S. research has reached a not-so-surprising conclusion: referees report ringing in their ears and more trouble hearing than their non-whistle-blowing counterparts. The solution? Co-author Nathan Williams (who also happens to be a part-time basketball ref) recommends a quieter whistle. Pardon?
Smart phone, dumb user
Homemade sex tapes aren’t just for celebrities. A study conducted by AVG Technologies, an Internet and mobile security firm, found that one in four people store intimate photos or videos on their phones or tablets. Amazingly, the survey says about the same number of people (35 per cent) won’t shop online because of a “perceived lack of security.” J.R. Smith, AVG’s CEO, summed it up best: “This survey has clearly demonstrated that there is confusion in the minds of consumers about what is and isn’t safe or sensible to do with a mobile device.”
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, October 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Signs of hope and renewal in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood
For decades it was an acknowledged, if largely unspoken fact: if you lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside odds were you lived a Third World life and died a Third World death. Twenty years ago women living in what was called Canada’s poorest postal code died 4½ years sooner on average than those living in the rest of British Columbia. They died almost 6½ years before residents of suburban Richmond just a few kilometres to the south, which has the longest life expectancy of any city in Canada. Men in inner-city Vancouver died almost 11 years before those in the rest of B.C.; they lost 14 years of life compared to men in Richmond. Health officials declared a public health emergency in the Downtown Eastside but the problems seemed intractable: poverty, addiction, homelessness, an epidemic of HIV-AIDS, drug overdoses and a host of chronic diseases. “There was nothing else like it elsewhere in Canada or North America,” Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says of her arrival in the city 15 years ago. “The rates of HIV in that population were the highest reported in any city, I think, anywhere in the developed world at that time. There was despair. Overdose deaths were unbelievable. It seemed overwhelming.”
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 6:33 PM - 6 Comments
Bob Rennie’s bash drew Iggy, Olympians, and protesters
Michael Ignatieff looks slightly stunned as he pushes his way into the packed reception at Bob Rennie’s fantabulous private art gallery in the Downtown Eastside with his wife Zsuzsanna on Wednesday afternoon. “Is this a church?,” he asks, gazing upward at the soaring ceilings and high windows that permitted beatific light. Then he went into scholarly mode: “Because the analogy would be apt.”
The question too is apt. Rennie, a ridiculously rich 51-year-old condo developer and big-time art collector, has God-like status in this city. He’s been called Vancouver’s most influential citizen. The money helps. Last year, Rennie Marketing Systems generated over $1.5 billion in sales. But the boyish entrepreneur also makes things happen. When New York architect Robert Stern’s design for the Olympic Village got panned, Rennie had him fired and replaced by his pal, Arthur Erickson. His big project is the Downtown Eastside, Canada’s poorest postal code. Rennie pushed through the redevelopment of the Woodward building which now houses Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, social housing and retail space. And he poured tens of millions into renovating Chinatown’s oldest structure, the Wang Sing Building which dates back to 1889. The condemned space was in such derelict condition workers had to wear hazard suits.
Now it’s his headquarters and a private gallery for his renowned collection of socially conscious contemporary art. During the Games, the gallery has been taken over by the World Olympians Association, an alumni group founded by the IOC, which is using it as a place for former Olympians to hang out. For the duration, Rennie’s collection is in storage and the walls are covered with an exhibit of splendid photographs taken at the Beijing Games.
Because Rennie is a guy who likes to make things happen, he decided to throw an afternoon shindig in the middle of the Games, a kind of social summit to bring together communities that don’t generally mingle—Olympic mucky-mucks, athletes, artists, politicians, arts administrators, and social activists from the community, many of whom opposed the Games. And because Bob asked them, they came, even with the big Canada-Russian hockey game about to start (it was broadcast on the wall).
Hundreds packed into the space, among them current mayor Gregor Robinson Robertson, former mayor Senator Larry Campbell, Canada Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge, city councilor Kim Capri, Team Canada medalists Maëlle Ricker and Mike Robertson. Caitlin Jones, the executive director of artist-run Western Front, wearing a “I’m cranky about BC arts cuts” button stood next to Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella.
When Ignatieff arrives, Rennie leaps over to give him a quick hug. “He’s my new best friend,” the real estate developer boasts. Ignatieff dropped by to chat with him earlier in the week, Rennie explains, and ended up staying for an hour and a half. Such is the power of Bob.
Rennie is in his element as host, addressing the crowd about the galvanizing power of the Games, the thrill of just walking down the street. “It’s socially acceptable now to have a conscience,” he tells the group.
Already the gallery has become a landmark. Rennie tells me Rudge approached him last October, after it opened, asking if the COC could use the space for Canada Olympic House, a retreat for Canadian athletes and their families. The idea of bringing the team to the off-the-track Downtown Eastside pleased him, he said. Creating a place that would bring people who wouldn’t otherwise step foot in the area was his goal, he says. So he was less happy when the Hudson’s Bay Company ended up putting the retreat in its flagship downtown store. “It is a big sponsor,” Rudge explains later.
The mood in the room is buoyant—about the Games and Rennie’s ambitions for the neighbourhood, though a few people express disappointment they weren’t going to get a peak of Rennie’s famous collection.
Carrie Belanger of 411 Senior Centre, a drop-in for senior citizens in the neighbourhood, tells me her concerns about the Olympics—that it would bring congestion that would limit her clients’ access—proved mostly unfounded. “There has been some inconvenience but the energy has been fabulous,” she says. VANOC has been generous with tickets for her clients: “Never in a million years would they have access to sporting and cultural events.”
Minister Ric Matthews of First United Church Mission around the corner believes Rennie is trying to bridge the space between the elite that attends the Olympics and people in the margins. What he wants is to find a middle ground that will also preserve the low-income neighbourhood. “It’s protecting space so people feel at home.”
Ron Burnett, president of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, is more hopeful. “If we can create a cultural impact in the area, we can help homelessness,” he says. “You can’t see a solution if you stay away.” The risk, he allows, is that gentrification will drive up property values and push out residents who have no other place to go. “It’s a challenging problem. But I think the city has made an amazing effort in buying land and hotels and creating a sense of momentum.” He cites the revitalization of New York’s Bowery, as an example: “You create a democratic space—a sense of participation from all classes.”
Rennie’s critics, of whom there are many in this town, are here too—outside, where a handful of protesters picketed with signs reading “Resort City Trend Sped Up by Olympics” and “Bob, we want social housing not condos.”
Rider Cooey, a protester wearing a “2010 Welfare Olympics” t-shirt, says Rennie’s pattern is to gentrify and condo-ize. The Downtown Eastside is his latest target. “This building is his vanity project,” he says, “He’s a marketer. The more he gets those quotes out about making a difference in the neighbourhood, the more successful he’ll be.”
Jean Swanson, coordinator of Carnegie Community Action Project, a neighbourhood community centre, has tangled with Rennie in the past. “Who does it benefit?” she asks of the gallery. “Maybe it makes the area look prettier. Meanwhile, residents are being pushed out, rents in crummy hotels are running $800 a month.” A mapping project found 95 per cent want to live here—with good housing, she says. “They like the non-judgmental nature of it; they’re stigmatized in other neighbourhoods.”
As I talk with them, Rennie’s guests keep coming and going through doors guarded by police. No one who walks down the street here can escape the complexity of the challenge: a block from the single-room occupancy hotel Balmoral, there’s Bombast, a swank furniture store selling $3,500 sofas. And in between the streets are filled with homeless for whom the neighbourhood is home, at least for now.