By Mike Archer. Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz, Abbotsford Community Services (ACS) Executive Director Rod Santiago and Mayor Bruce Banman may not have been able to make it Friday evening but Rm 101 in Building B at the UFV was packed anyway for the latest installment of the sales pitch for the ACS Supportive Housing Project.
Councillors Henry Braun, Patricia Ross, Bill MacGregor and Les Barkman did manage to be there along with about 180 concerned citizens.
The purpose for the event was ostensibly to, once again, discuss the proposal by ACS, BC Housing and the City of Abbotsford to build a Supportive Housing Project in downtown Abbotsford. It was the third such public meeting in the last five months and it was conducted in fundamentally the same format – information was imparted from the panel to the audience and any semblance of real discussion was kept in check by handing out clipboards to collect a series of handwritten questions which were then sorted and moderated by John Sutherland within the short time limit allowed (since speakers like Plecas had taken up so much time trying to turn the evening to his political advantage).
Spectators were greeted by Pastor Christoph Reiners representing the Abbotsford Church Leaders Network (ACLN). Panelists included representatives from BC Housing, ACS, ACLN, the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) and, of course, MLA Darryl Plecas who organized the event and spoke longer than anyone else.
Nobody from Abbotsford’s homeless community was represented on the panel. The ADBA was only included on the panel at the last minute as a result of a strong and relentless lobbying effort.
The fact that the a former criminologist was hosting a discussion on homelessness didn’t seem to bother anybody on the panel, or, evidently, at UFV. The fact that treating homelessness and drug addiction as crimes is precisely what has lead to the large, and growing mess in Abbotsford didn’t apparently dawn on any of the academics at UFV
Nor did anyone seem to notice the rather startling juxtaposition of having the ACLN, which has been firmly silent on homelessness and the civil rights of the homeless for at least a decade, working together with a guy whose entire body of work as a teacher has not only differed from almost the entirety of the real academic world outside of Abbotsford, but whose police-sponsored research and relentless pursuit of his own personal war on drugs has helped to create the current crisis in Abbotsford.
Plecas never addressed the controversial role he has played in encouraging police forces and municipalities to ignore the need for warrants in fighting drug addiction, and never touched on the intellectually bankrupt notion of criminalizing social issues at the heart of Abbotsford’s homeless crisis.
Plecas spoke of how much ‘his’ government has spent on the issue of homelessness – without being able to solve it or do a damn thing for those still living on the streets of Abbotsford ($3,750,000,000 according to Plecas) – and explained that as a community college teacher paid by the RCMP to help police get around laws requiring warrants, he felt he knew a great deal about real and affordable solutions for homelessness.
It turned out he was referring to the solution ‘his’* government and the City of Abbotsford had negotiated behind closed doors to build a Supportive Housing Project in downtown Abbotsford before ‘he’ ever joined the government.
Each of the well-chosen panelists got up in turn to explain why the City’s proposal to build the project in downtown Abbotsford was necessary:
a) So that the men accepted into the building would be close to the services they need (no mention was made of the fact ACS moved addictions services over to Clearbrook Rd more than a year ago where staff now see a fraction of the addicts they once did)
b) Because no other land in the 375-acre City fit the pre-determined selection criteria for the project
c) The ADBA was simply wrong in it’s concerns about … well everything
d) The ADBA had to get with the times (this from the ACLN!) and grow some compassion (like Plecas suddenly did)
e) Anybody opposed to the project was … well … just plain mean, dumb or ill-informed … so there
Apparently unable to figure out how to allow the microphone (which kept being passed among the panelists) to be used by the audience of the small and rather crowded room, audience members were asked to fill out blank sheets of paper with their questions so that John Sutherland could vet them, sort through them, and decide which ones he would ask his friends on the panel.
After telling a few jokes, making light of the whole subject of people dying in the streets and explaining why several of the questions were too complicated to ask, Sutherland, who also chairs the impotent and useless Abbotsford Social Development Advisory Committee (ASDAC), then read a short selection of questions to the panel.
ADBA President Paul MacLeod and Exective Director Tina Stewart, who had fought hard to be included on the panel, smiled bravely through the obvious setup to embarrass them for having had the audacity to ask to be on the panel, and simply pointed out that:
a) The City had given it’s word it would never do this and now appeared poised to break its word
b) In addition to the ACS the ADBA already has 12 of the city’s social service agencies within its little corner of the community
After cutting the discussion short (we have to respect people’s time and our advertised schedule) John Sutherland thanked everybody for coming and disposed of the rest of the questions which were never asked of the panel.
All in all a very typical and normal public discussion of a life and death issue by Abbotsford standards. Not a single Abbotsford homeless person was invited to be a part of the panel nor the discussion.
A selected group of white, wealthy and comfortable people gave prepared speeches to the assembled citizens, some of whom, had believed there would be a discussion of the issue of homelessness in Abbotsford.
Fooled you 🙂
Addendum: Let me be clear. The right decision is going to be made. 20 men are going to receive the help they desperately need to get off the streets of Abbotsford and begin re-building their lives. Abbotsford is going to join the rest of the province and the country at start helping those with drug and alcohol addictions.
We are going to leave behind the old Salvation Army, APD, City of Abbotsford policy of harassing, poisoning and criminalizing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.
The fact it has taken this long for the ACLN and failed crime-fighter Darryl Plecas to realize we have a bit of a problem is, to say the least, a bit embarrassing for both Plecas and the ACLN.
It is beyond me that the role both have played in creating this crisis seems to escape everybody. But hey … this is Abbotsford.
Rather than demonizing the ADBA and belittling the legitimate fears and concerns of its members, the ACLN, the ACS and all those like Plecas, who are trying to turn this sordid human rights issue to their own advantage, should be thanking the ADBA for bearing the brunt of the costs of the misguided and deadly policies of the City, Darryl Plecas’ government and the Abbotsford Police Department over the last decade.
The patronizing, delivery-of-the-truth-from-the-pulpit style of what passes for community discussion that has served the power structure of Abbotsford so well in the past is beginning to crack at the seams and crumble at the feet of those who, like John Sutherland, seem to think moderating a discussion about people who are dying in our ditches alleyways is sort of like being the MC at a wedding.
Wake up Abbotsford – your decrepit, out-of-touch, ancient cult-like servitude to people who haven’t earned your respect or your trust must end at some point.
If the people dying in the streets around you and begging for your help and respect aren’t enough to wake you up … I can’t imagine what will.
* The BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors, Entering its 4th week of their protest in Jubilee Park, is taking the City of Abbotsford to court in a series of lawsuits and a human right complaint over the City’s controversial Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw and the poisoning of the homeless and DWS members with the prior approval of the Salvation Army last summer.
** Plecas joined ‘his’ government in last spring’s provincial election.