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Last Friday, I found out about the “new” abortion caravan organized by a group called the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) traveling the country from Vancouver to Ottawa to push for the re-criminalization of abortion in Canada. I heard about this because I found out it will be stopping in London tomorrow (Monday June 25).
Since learning this, I started to read about the original abortion caravan that also traveled from Vancouver to Ottawa in 1970, pressing for the legalization of abortion in our country. This caravan was started by a group called the Vancouver Women’s Caucus (VWC), and traveled across the country making many stops as they went, holding public meetings and listening to concerns they would aim to address in Ottawa.
The travels of the caravan culminated in the group’s arrival in Ottawa, where several protests were held. These protests weren’t without controversy, as the group carried a black coffin on Parliament Hill, and burned an effigy of then-PM Pierre Trudeau outside of 24 Sussex Drive. “The coffin represented pregnant women who’d died from back-alley procedures or their own horrific attempts with knitting needles or coat hangers” (as told in this story).
Most dramatically, on May 11, 1970 about 3 dozen women took seats in the galleries circling the House of Commons, and quietly chained themselves to their seats. Once ready, they began to read a speech the group had prepared. One article tells it this way:
Just before 3 p.m., one of the women stood up and started giving the group’s speech. As the guards closed in on her, another stood up in another gallery and continued. One guard told The Globe and Mail’s Clyde Sanger that the women were “popping up all over the place.” They shut down the House of Commons, and the Vancouver Sun reported it was the first adjournment provoked by a gallery disturbance in its 103-year history.
The caravan was also Canada’s first national feminist protest. It laid the path for the decriminalization of abortion in Canada in 1988, and marks an important part of Canadian history.
The new caravan aims to parody the original caravan, hijacking its associations and creating new ones. It too is doing a series of speaking engagements across the country, but the vehicles they’re using feature disturbing images of aborted fetuses (as does their website). The CCBR argue that the images force people to think about the issue and sparks conversation, while opponents to the caravan argue the images are being used irresponsibly to evoke emotion and stop people from thinking about the issue sensibly.
Tomorrow evening the new abortion caravan will be in London, at 254 Adelaide St S., London Youth for Christ. A group of activists that feel strongly about a woman’s right to safe abortion will be there to form a counter-protest, as has been happening across the country at every stop the CCBR has made.
Many people are getting involved. Among those that will be there to speak are Irene Mathyssen, NDP MP for London-Fanshawe and Megan Walker, the Executive Director of London Abused Women’s Centre. For more information, the Facebook page for the event is here.
This is a deeply complex and emotional issue. There is a time and a place for open dialogue and debate, but I believe it is irresponsible to use such traumatizing imagery, especially on vehicles where all members of the public will see it whether they wish to or not. As well, for my part, I believe in a woman’s fundamental right to have the option of safe abortion medically available to them.
For these reasons, I will be there to observe and take part in the counter-protest. I ask anyone who feels strongly about this issue and is able to be there to please come.
Today was the next step in the ReThink process, the “Your Vision, Your Future” event. This is the next phase of the process, following the June 11 Discover Your City night (my article for Metro News London on it can be read here.)
There were two sessions for everyone’s convenience, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. It branched from the introduction to the City citizens were given June 11, and quickly caught up everyone that wasn’t able to be at the event.
I came to the afternoon event, and met with many people I’ve seen at these and similar events, as well as a great many that were new to me. There seemed to be a diversity of ideas and perspectives, though common themes came up often.
The event was hosted at the Convention Centre with several small round tables. After an introduction by several City staff, each table was asked to come up with general ideas/visions for our city’s future. After each table shared 1 or 2 visionary ideas they had put together, people were asked to join a “pod” of 3-4 tables discussing clear objectives for one of the 5 major themes of ReThink (Live. Grow. Green. Move. Prosper.).
From there, each table was asked to build up to 5 clear objectives over half an hour, before moving to another theme and building on what the first table had done. In the end, the sheets were put up for everyone to examine, and each person was given 3 sticky dots to place on their favourite ideas from each of the themes. These sheets will be looked over by the city staff involved in the ReThink process to determine what Londoners are most interested in seeing happen, which they’ll come back to citizens with in a future session.
After the event, I asked the Twitter community what the ReThink process means to them. A few of the responses I received were:
Dean Sheppard (@DeanShpprd): “citizen chance to tell the politicians how to run *our* city. It’s *ours* not * theirs*”. “Staff can make great policies but in end votes on Council make the decisions”.
Anne Arnott @AArnott22: “What I enjoyed the most about #rethinkldn today is the people, the Londoners that ask questions, spark creativity and engage for the better.”
Stephen Turner (@st3v3turn3r): “was very impressed how similar people’s visions were for #ldnont. #rethinkldn 4 me is boiling the plan down to reflect that.”
As well, the event organizers have put together what they call “workshops in a box” for those interested, which allows citizens to create their own ReThink events with their friends/family/coworkers etc. to get them to share their thoughts and visions for our city’s future. Anne-Marie Sánchez (@anma_sa) had this to say:
I thought it was a great event and everyone felt energized afterward. It’s critical to get buy-in from citizens and this is a great first-step. I was especially hopeful with the concept of “workshops in a box”. I think it’s a great idea to leverage those enthused by the process to bring it back to their circles (eg neighborhoods, family, friends) and get as much feedback as possible. So many citizens have competing priorities that we can’t expect for everyone to come to the City to give feedback, the City needs to go to them in as many creative ways as possible.
It is so important for as many people as possible to get involved. Today many ideas came forward with a large group giving input and sharing which ideas they think should have highest priority, but it isn’t up to just the people there to have their say.
Everyone in the city have a voice and a part to play. My hope is that even more people will come into the process, share their perspectives, support the ideas they think have merit, discuss and constructively criticize the ones they think don’t, and bring their own to the table.
We also have a shared responsibility to make sure it happens. At the end of the process, as Dean said, staff will bring citizen ideas forward to Council who will have the final approval. It is up to us to ensure that citizens’ views are properly represented and respected when that time comes.
The process is ongoing, and works to be accessible to everyone interested no matter what point they come into the process. If you’d like to learn more, make sure to check out their website (including videos of the talks given on the June 11 introducing Londoners to everything the City does), share your ideas, and keep an eye out for future events! Everyone is encouraged to participate, share the ideas with fellow citizens and the City as they work to put together everyone’s ideas and build objectives for our city to achieve.
I’m excited by this process and will continue to participate as it moves forward. We’re all in this together London; make sure to have your say!
This leaves us as the only first-world country without a reliable census of our population. Unfortunately this is only one strand in a much larger narrative, as the Harper Government reduces and/or removes sources of information and protection. This is marked most recently by Bill-38, the 425-page budget omnibus bill (and the online protests happening today against it).
Why should we care?
One reason: there are many different professional groups that depend on reliable long-form census data.
My undergrad thesis, “Estimating Population: A Case Study of Accessibility to Outdoor Pools in London, Ontario, Canada”, relied entirely on Statistics Canada. The data was at the dissemination area level, broken down into neighbourhood-sized blocks, the smallest level Statistics Canada data is broken down into, to protect privacy. I studied the theory behind how we understand population and how people move in their environment, developing a new method of doing so in the process. I performed my research by studying how accessible London public pools are to young people but with application to other amenities like schools, grocery stores etc. The research goal was to develop a better understanding of our populations and plan for them.
The Harper Government has demonstrated it doesn’t have time for anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs. As Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird explains, fact should suit government opinion:
Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected? That is a message the Liberal Party just will not accept. It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families. [Emphasis mine]
But in striking down the mandatory long-form census, the government went even further. Instead of disregarding unbiased research and suggesting government-funded work should twist fact to suit opinion, Statistics Canada should no longer be in the business of gathering reliable data on the Canadian population at all. This would eliminate the possibility of further credible Canadian social studies entirely.
Those in support of the change made it a case of personal liberty (although there are only a handful of complaints each time the census is distributed, and no one has been prosecuted for refusing to complete the census). They are assured that it is only “elitist” hand-wringing, whose precious data will be perfectly fine.
In fact, those in support of eliminating the mandatory census point out that the number of people that fill it out may very well go up as more people have the opportunity to opt-in, completely ignoring how skew is produced in data. Without a truly random sample of the population, the data becomes worthless as it cannot be verified that it produces a fair representation of the Canadian population. As people groups (be it by income level, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.) become over- or under-represented, the data no longer presents an accurate picture, and makes the work of professionals like planners that much more difficult.
I’ve been frustrated by this since it happened, but have left it alone since the initial outrage. Until this Sun article, published this weekend, “Census cry was all elitist paranoia”, re-opened the wound.
The article describes how the government is still receiving a rough image of the country via Statistics Canada data (a lot of the information cited is available from the mandatory short-form census that every household fills out), and says therefore there was never a problem, just a lot of elites complaining.
First of all, what is an “elite”? There isn’t further mention in the article except stating that the concern over the value of future census data is just “elitist paranoia”, and as an irregular reader of Sun media I can only gather it means professionals, i.e. eggheads.
I guess I fit into that mold. As a student of planning and statistics, I am deeply concerned about research of the kind I performed in school, the kind my professors continue to do. I’m concerned about the work of every type of professional that relies on this data (planners, statisticians, social services etc.), who will no longer be able to say without doubt that the data they rely on isn’t corrupted, casting the value of their work into question. The article states that:
Editorialists opined that the government’s assault on the purity of the census would undermine public policy formation and “hamper Ottawa’s ability to solve social problems.”
Those editorialists would be right, though this ignores the larger (or perhaps smaller) picture. Ottawa relies on this data, but likely the provinces and municipalities far more so. The work our cities and provinces do at the micro scale to understand the people they work to serve rely heavily on the kind of data now rendered highly questionable, at best.
This attitude is unfortunately similar to the one repeatedly shown of late in London’s City Hall as city staff recommendations have been ignored by Council; despite stacks of evidence Council is pushing through decisions against the public interest. I’ve unfortunately been reminded more than once by those who think that they know better (present and past members of Council) that we elected our Council to do the thinking and to rely too heavily on the opinion of the unelected experts would be devastatingly undemocratic.
As an “elite”, I am offended both by the author arrogantly stating this is a non-issue without doing any kind of analysis of how the data is/isn’t compromised (“we’re still getting data, therefore everything is fine” is not a valid argument), and by the lack of respect for those that do the analysis. Planners use this data to understand the people they work to plan for and to serve them most effectively and efficiently. When knee-jerk, uninformed decisions like this happen, it only makes their jobs much more difficult.
As written in my previous post, water conservation advocate Maude Barlow spoke at London’s Aeolian Hall Wednesday night, joined by two local water, habitat and ecosystem conservation advocates. I was glad to be there for the talks, as well as the great performance that kicked off the event.
There was an enjoyable surprise start to the evening in the form of a performance by the El Sistema Aeolian, and a brief introduction to the program. The introduction included a video briefly explaining the El Sistema project’s beginnings in Venezuela, available to watch here. I was delighted by the skill of the young performers, and was interested to learn more about them, having seen the group open a City Council meeting a couple months ago. The main source of their talent is the neighbourhood surrounding the Aeolian, specifically students from Lorne Ave. Public School. The program began in London November 2011 and is already flourishing, I look forward to seeing it continue to grow and spread.
After the performance, a traditional native elder of the London region’s Chippewas of the Thames performed a traditional ceremony celebrating the natural world, and specifically the water we all depend on for survival.
Thom McClenaghan, the President of the conservation group Friends of the Coves Subwatershed then started the night’s talks. He spoke about their group as well as work happening throughout London to protect, preserve and educate about the Coves and the other subwatersheds in the city. He explained how subwatersheds such as the Coves connect to larger watersheds like the Thames River, which eventually drain into large bodies of water, in our case, the Great Lakes. This message tied in well with the other two presentations.
Patrick Donnelly, Urban Watershed Program Manager City of London spoke next. His talk echoed Thom’s message about connectivity, and also discussed London’s deep connection with the Great Lakes. As we became very aware of last week, London draws its municipal water both from Lake Erie and Lake Huron, a very unique water collection method, and one that kept the city receiving at least some new water to bolster reserves while the Lake Huron pipe was unusable. He outlines how people in every watershed depend on those upstream of them to preserve the quality of the water for those below them, and how the water ultimately returns to the sources we draw from, reminding us that we must be very careful of what we dump in our streams and rivers, as well as directly into the Great Lakes. He also outlined some of the ways the city is working to take care of our section of the Thames, including working with and encouraging neighbourhood projects to adopt and protect watercourses such as the Friends of the Coves.
This talk led well into Maude Barlow’s message. She spoke passionately about the Canadian, North American and global importance of the Great Lakes, as the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth making up 21% of the planet’s surface fresh water. She talked of how there are many trade and protection agreements between Canada and the U.S. outlining the protection of the Great Lakes, but voiced concerns that as American water sources such as the California Coastal Basin aquifer is depleted and threatens U.S. food security, fresh water such as the Lakes may become too tempting as the next major water source to adequately protect it.
Her message was a strong reminder of just how amazing the Lakes are, and how fortunate we are to have them to enjoy. She spoke about different perspectives/philosophies about water resources such as the Great Lakes (and the global environment in general), ranging from preservation/conservation-led beliefs that see resources both as a gift and a responsibility to be protected for future generations, and much more human-centric views that see the natural environment as available firstly for our use and as an economy driver. She said that it doesn’t have to be a case of the economy vs. the environment, but encourages all citizens and businesses to strive for creative methods to both boost our economy and preserve our natural world for future generations.
As Maude noted, this talk came at a very relevant time for our city, as we were under an outdoor water ban last week, and this article was published yesterday. It states “With a meager 21 millimetres of precipitation falling in May, it was the second driest May since the record was set for London in May 1954 at 13.8 millimetres, according to Environment Canada.”. As well, May was another month in what has been an exceptionally dry spring, with the Upper Thames Conservation Authority issuing alerts that the low precipitation levels is causing low river levels which in turn may harm water and habitat quality (though we were fortunate today to get a great deal of much-needed rain, which will hopefully reduce the impact of the spring drought).
I was glad to have been present for the talk, but was left somewhat at a loss. We can each work to lower our water consumption, but there seems to be many elements entirely out of our control or influence. As well, Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians are a polarizing group in Canadian advocacy/politics, and one of a diverse group of voices on the subject. I hope to continue thinking and learning about the subject of water conservation, and writing about it periodically here.
I was struck by her message, but it is something she said after that has really stuck with me. As she met with the audience, she said “We only have one chance here, so should make the very most of this time”.
As we try to balance the various elements of our lives and attempt to live out our beliefs even as they continue to be shaped, we can easily be bogged down. This message is a fresh reminder that we have only one chance in this world, we should continue to work and do all we can, while we can.