Category: Posts

It’s Another Year…

I always think of September as the beginning of the new year. And so it is. A new school year, new activities for the kids at school and in the community, a new subscription season of films, music, theatre, new shows at the galleries, new courses to take, new routines at the gym, new projects at hand, new holidays to plan in the months ahead. The days are cooler, the nights are crisp, the sky is clear, and the leaves are changing into glorious fall colours. It strikes me that the best season of the year is at hand.

To my mind, the Jewish community which celebrates its High Holidays, both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, at this time of year has got it right. Rosh Hashanah marks the first and second days of the Jewish year, which begins this year at sundown on September 20th and continues through nightfall on September 22nd. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the day when God is said to inscribe the fate of each individual in the Book of Life for the year ahead. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” is the holiest day of the year, which begins the evening of September 29th and ends the evening of September 30th. Depending on how Jews have sought forgiveness for any wrongs they may have done in the previous year, God “seals” the verdict for the year ahead on Yom Kippur. Not being Jewish, I am envious of this annual ritual of reflection and renewal. It strikes me that Jews start off their new year on the right foot.

John Lane & Marion Lane share a birthday cake.

Lacking a religious holiday to mark the season, I love to celebrate the many late summer and September birthdays which bring so many of my family and friends together at this time of the year. This holiday in Vancouver has been a wonderful example. John Lane, Dianne Slimmon, Cathie Percival, my husband Bill Irvine, and I began the festivities with a delightful lunch a week ago Friday at the Shaughnessy restaurant in Vancouver. Located in the VanDusen Garden, it is a beautiful venue, naturally lit and artfully designed to help guests enjoy good food and extended time together in peace and quiet. Birthday cake number one, for me and for John.

The next night, it was a birthday cake number two for me and for Bill Hall who was celebrating his 70th. He and his wife Carol threw a marvellous dinner for their closest friends in The Palmer Room, at the Northview Golf Club in Surrey. What a magnificent evening it was! The Palmer Room is a quietly elegant restaurant with lush plants, lavish chandeliers, a white fireplace, live piano music, and window walls that show off the view beyond the patio and the rich greens of the two eighteen-hole golf courses. The panorama is of fountains rising high in a chain of ponds, fields of farms in the distance rich with summer produce, and, on the horizon, a band of mountain tops silhouetted in black against the changing colours of the sunset. An absolutely glorious west coast mountain view.

Bill Hall’s 70th at Northview’s Palmer Room.

Apart from the ambience, the menu was stunning. I had simply superb salmon lox with herb cheese, capers, crostini and micro greens as an appetizer and a melt-in-the-mouth prime rib roast to die for. Others had rack of lamb, filet mignon, duck breast, jumbo prawns, and a cioppino of halibut, salmon, scallops, prawns, mussels, in a tomato based broth. Bill and I had red velvet birthday cake; tiramisu and lemon cheesecake were other dessert favourites.

Birthday celebrations are such fun. As we grow older, celebrating who we are, that we are still here, and that we have dear family and friends around, becomes all the more important. Bonne fête, tout le monde, whenever your birthday might be. And to all our Jewish friends, may you be signed into the Book of Life.

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Renaissance from a Forest Fire

In August 2003, my cousins Doug and Cheryl Fraser were on a fishing trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island when they received an emergency call to return home to Kelowna right away. Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, a tinderbox of old timber and dried duff which had accumulated for decades, was on fire. The Park sits to the west of their property which was in an area subject to an evacuation alert. Officials watched the progress of the fire which was dependent on the speed and direction of the wind.

Doug and Cheryl, attracted to the Rimrock area by the thick forest on their five-acre property and the view over Okanagan Lake, completed construction of their dream house two years before. Now they faced a desperate scramble to save their home. Doug consulted local fire officials who advised him to move anything flammable away from the house. The woodpile had to go. Doug called in professional woodsmen who felled fifteen trees which were close to the house, cut off all their branches, got rid of the leaves and the pine needles, mulched them, and hauled them away. The tree trunks were left lying on the ground, denuded of all readily flammable vegetation. They put three sprinklers on the roof, and used hoses to water down the cedar soffits.

Their neighbours thought they were crazy, but the plan paid off. One week after the evacuation notice was posted, the fire swept through Rimrock. When Cheryl and Doug returned to their house after the fire, they found the house below in rubble, and the house above razed to the ground. Of thirty houses in the area, fifteen were totally destroyed. Some the fire burned; others blew up when air in the modern-insulated, air-tight homes heated so rapidly that the houses exploded. The forest of trees on their property was charred, black and standing stark. The tallest of the trees, with a thick cambium layer, survived the fire although their trunks were singed close to the ground. Travelling fast through the property, the fire apparently jumped the structure with its soaking roof and no dry plants around to fuel the flames. Their house remained intact, with only a couple of window seals broken, a few spark burns on the roof, and some shingles that had become brittle and needed to be replaced.

After the fire, professional foresters removed five logging truckloads of marketable fir trees from the property. In all: 125 dead trees taken to the local mill where the wood was made into lumber. Within months, Doug and Cheryl started replanting. A local nursery gave everyone in the area a pallet of ponderosa pine seedlings, a total of 100 baby trees each. Doug and his brother Don dug up another 250 two- to three-foot fir, pine and larch trees which were growing under power lines up and down the valley. The brothers planted the young trees in sites across the five acres, strategically placed with open spaces nearby. To the east, is a standing stump from a tree that did not survive. Doug pulled it upright and keeps it for the birds.

It has been another season of forest fires in British Columbia. The worst ever, with hundreds of people evacuated, and fire fighters brought in from across the continent. The sky remains smoky, apparently from forest fires burning in Washington State. British Columbia is an economy based on the forest industry. Fires occur naturally and can be useful to clean out the forests and renew the resource. Out of control, they can bring devastation and disaster. My cousin’s experience in Kelowna is proof, however, that, from all the horror of that 2003 cataclysm, a renaissance has come.

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***** With great thanks to Doug and Cheryl Fraser for sharing their story. *****

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Compensation and an Apology to Omar Khadr

I’ve been asked to comment on the current Omar Khadr controversy. I wrote about the Omar Khadr case in an earlier post which will give the essential background. (It can be found here.) Apparently over 70% of Canadians oppose the federal government’s compensation payment of $10.5 million to Khadr, yet over 40% do not know whether he was fairly treated or not. If they don’t know, how can they have an opinion on the wisdom, or not, of the compensation? The Trudeau government paid to Khadr the same amount the Conservative government under Stephen Harper in 2007 paid to Maher Arar, who had been tortured in Syria after being sent there by the United States on the basis of false information from Canada. I agree with the Globe and Mail that compensation in both cases was the right thing. In my view, with respect to Omar Khadr at least, the government got off lightly.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada reviewed the actions of the Canadian government towards Khadr at Guantanamo Bay and found that the Canadian government had clearly breached his rights under Canadian law, the Charter, and various international treaties. The breaches were multiple, grievous, with continuing effects at the time of the Supreme Court decision and into the future. He was a Canadian citizen, born in Toronto, 15 years of age when in July 2002 he was found very seriously wounded and the only survivor of a firefight that destroyed an al-Qaeda compound during the war in Afghanistan. Under Canadian law, he was a young person at the time, yet he was incarcerated indefinitely, refused repatriation back to his native country (unlike British and Australians similarly situated), denied access to counsel, tortured and interrogated repeatedly, including by Canadian intelligence agents and diplomats who shared the fruits of those interviews with US authorities. The videotapes of those interviews by Canadian officials were before the Supreme Court of Canada. Although he later pleaded guilty to having thrown a grenade which killed an American military medic and wounded another soldier, his guilty plea was extorted from him after he had been imprisoned for eight years, tortured and offered a resolution as the only way to escape indefinite incarceration without trial in Guantanamo Bay. In Canadian law, his “confession” would not be admissible and, according to reports, there is little other evidence by which he could be found guilty of the offences alleged against him. When he finally was returned to Canada in 2012, he served further time in a maximum security federal penitentiary until he was moved to a provincial facility and, finally, in 2015, freed on bail.

The Supreme Court of Canada found that multiple breaches of Khadr’s rights violated “the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.” There is no need for any further court action to establish those facts. Those are the facts which call for compensation and an apology. People who insist that the Liberal government has settled this case prematurely apparently do not appreciate that the issue has already been decided by the highest court in the country. Both the Liberal government in power at the time of the interrogations and the Conservatives who resisted later efforts to assert his rights and repatriate him back to Canada were responsible. In the circumstances, settlement is the prudent course of action.

I agree with the Globe and Mail that a civilized justice system does not torture people, even people who are fighting for the other side in a military conflict. “A legal justice system, one operating under the rule of law, does not coerce confessions with violence or threats,” does not single young people out for mistreatment, does not deny habeas corpus or access to a lawyer. The case is about “the rule of law” and the duty of the Canadian government to adhere to the rule of law in its interactions with all its citizens, including those abroad. We are all beneficiaries of the rule of law, never more so than when we find ourselves or our family or friends the focus of unproven allegations or alone, abroad, in trouble. The Canadian military fought for the rule of law in two World Wars, in Afghanistan and in various peacekeeping missions which continue today. Preserving the rule of law sometimes takes lives and sometimes takes treasure.

And I also agree with Colby Cash, writing in the National Post on July 6th:

“The intractable problem with Omar Khadr is simply his existence. The politicians who seem to crave (more of) his blood are… trying to punish the behaviour of his father, and to retroactively abnegate the slack application of dual-citizenship principles that allowed Khadr Sr. to become Canadian while leading a double life as an international terrorist. No one who has read Sophocles or the Old Testament can fail to recognize the mentality at work here. Omar Khadr is the manifestation of a curse upon the state. His personal activity and his ethical culpability are not really the point… It is the Khadr-frenzy crowd… who seem to own magic glasses that can see through time and penetrate the fog of war. They state confidently, as a fact, that Khadr was personally caught using violence against Canadian allies. This proposition seems untried by any forensic method we would expect to receive the benefit of, ourselves… Maybe you believe, to a moral certainty, that he threw the grenade… maybe you believe that Khadr deserves to be treated as if he had been a responsible, independent adult at the time. That is a fair amount of compounded confidence. But even granted all of that, don’t the legal traditions of Canada and the United States, whose courts have both condemned the regime under which he was tried and held, still require him to be given some credit for time served in an extra-national torture shop? Indeed, wouldn’t a non-legal idea of common justice require it? I am not a Christian, so I won’t invoke mercy. That concept does not seem necessary to the argument. But I do notice that no one seems very interested in adding it.”

 

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Happy Canada Day

It’s Canada Day tomorrow and time to get into the mood.

How better to do so than to join in song? The music video, “Mon cher Canada/This is My Canada,” launched earlier this month has circulated via email and on social media. Acadian singer-songwriter Jeanette Arsenault wrote the stirring song 25 years ago. New Brunswick songwriter Don Coleman produced this new rendition with the help of a bevy of well-known Canadian music talent including David Clayton Thomas (formerly of Blood, Sweat and Tears), Liberty Silver, The Good Brothers, and Acadian vocalist Wilfred LeBouthillier. I particularly liked the multicultural and highly energetic Young Singers group led by Anna Lynn Murphy and the interjections of twelve-year-old Indigenous dancer, Malakai Daybutch. Apart from the music, splendid photographs from all over the country evoke the beauty of our nation. My only disappointment was that the images did not portray any of the rich diversity and energy of our major cities. Maybe there is only so much that you can do with a limited budget raised from 400 donors in a GoFundMe campaign. As for “Mon cher Canada” becoming our second national song? I applaud the initiative and am happy to have it better known across the country. Take a listen for yourself, here.

The column below, written by former managing editor of the Globe and Mail Geoffrey Stevens, and published in the Waterloo Region Record on June 26, 2017, will evoke rich memories for boomers and pre-boomers. Newcomers to the country and those under 50 may appreciate a bit of history to fill in the context for what we celebrate today. In 1967, we had no idea what would happen within three years and where that would lead. We all went to Montreal for Expo 67, fell in love with Quebec and les Québécois, and then were more than happy to buy into official bilingualism and biculturalism. No one would ever have anticipated the existential threat of the country breaking up which arose with the Second Quebec Referendum in October 1995, nor the constitutional wrangling that continued thereafter. In my view, those years of turmoil were part of the adolescence of our country as it struggled to forge the unique identity that we now take for granted. Quebec has moved on, Canada has moved on, and today the challenge is to reconcile with our Indigenous people and integrate our latest multicultural newcomers. We are now a mature nation with so much to celebrate and to offer the rest of the world. In difficult times when the world is changing before our eyes, may we in Canada feel yet again the optimism and enthusiasm that prevailed in 1967. Canadians are blessed beyond belief. May our certainty of that give us what we need to pursue the future with energy, perseverance and grace.

“Remembering the best birthday bash ever – Canada Day 1967

“The sesquicentennial celebrations marking Canada’s 150 years as a nation on Saturday will feature the biggest birthday bash on Parliament Hill since the centennial in 1967. It will be a great party – and, with a budget of $2.5 million, it should be.

“But no matter how splendid the weather, how spectacular the entertainment, how dramatic the air show, or how eloquent the speeches, this year’s event will not hold a candle to the bash 50 years ago.
Fifty years? Can it be?

“Although I have tried to con my children into believing that I, like the late Jack Benny, am a mere 39 years old, I must confess I was there on Parliament Hill on that day, July 1, 1967, 50 years ago, covering the event for the Globe and Mail.

“The Queen was there. So was the new governor general, Roland Michener, and the soon-to-retire prime minister, Lester Pearson. Although I don’t remember a word any of them said that day, I do remember the Queen cutting the gigantic birthday cake, which rose to a height of 30 feet (the metric system not having come to Canada yet). I remember the bright new Canadian flag fluttering atop the Peace Tower and the centennial flame burning brightly in front of the Centre Block.

“But mostly I remember the crowd, both for its size – there had to be at least 100,000 people from every corner of Canada on the Hill that day – and for its excitement. There was a powerful sense that they were taking part in a historic moment in the life of their country.

“Historians would say later that 1967 was a watershed year, the year Canada emerged as a modern nation, the year we shed the vestiges of a colonial past and realized we had become a grownup independent country.

“It was an emotional year – the year Bobby Gimby’s “CA-NA-DA” became our unofficial anthem, the year that Expo brought the world to our shores, and the year our prime minister sent the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, packing, telling him he was not welcome in Canada after he shouted the separatist slogan, “Vive le Québec libre,” from a balcony at Montreal City Hall.

“Trouble in Quebec was on the horizon in 1967. Terrorist bombings had begun the year before and five bombs went off on New Year`s Day, 1967. Before the year was over, René Lévesque, a charismatic former journalist, would leave the Quebec Liberals to form his own sovereignist party. Within three years, the Front de libération du Québec would kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross and murder Quebec’s Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, and the War Measures Act would be invoked in Quebec. Three years after that, Lévesque and his separatist Parti Québécois would be elected in Quebec.

“The year 1967 was also the year when the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. It would be the last Stanley for the Leafs for 50 years, and counting, although the crowd on Parliament Hill on that July 1 had no way of foreseeing this dismal fact.

“The mood that day 50 years ago was one of optimism and enthusiasm. There was a sense that anything was possible, that a new era was dawning. In terms of political leadership, it was true. Two months after the bash on the Hill, the Progressive Conservatives dumped their leader and former prime minister, John Diefenbaker, and replaced him with Robert Stanfield, the premier of Nova Scotia. Nine months after that, Pearson was gone and in his place the Liberals chose Pierre Trudeau, a swinging bachelor who made lady voters swoon and their significant others fume.

“He immediately called an election and swept to victory in June 1968. The “Trudeaumania election,” as it became known, was the most exciting election I ever covered. Yes I was there, on the planes and press buses, and one day I’ll tell my grandchildren all about it, even though I am still only 39.”


*****
This column is reprinted here with the kind permission of Mr. Stevens. 

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Nordic Pole Walking

Are you looking for the perfect high intensity, low impact exercise? We may have found it. Yesterday my husband and I had a lesson in Nordic Pole Walking. We both came away wildly enthusiastic. Even my normally cynical husband readily admitted that this may be the way to go.

His return from Vancouver has been Act Three in the saga of the broken kneecap. After a good recovery in Vancouver and an easy flight home, only a few days later, he was suddenly suffering excruciating pain in the leg opposite to that which had been broken. Although the pain was intermittent, when it occurred he was forced to walk almost doubled over, at half his height, leaning on his cane. We had no idea what was happening.

A friend referred us to the Insideout Physiotherapy and Wellness Group in downtown Toronto and, less than ten days later, he appears on his way to recovery. Among the diverse techniques physiotherapist Jennifer Howey used was to recommend that he take up Nordic Pole Walking.

Developed by the Finns in the 1990s to train their cross-country ski team during the summer, the technique makes perfect sense. It’s walking naturally with a kick. Using the specially designed walking poles with the proper technique transforms a lower-body exercise into a gentle full-body workout which includes the upper arms, back, shoulders and neck. That doubles the impact of the walking without adding to any apparent increase in exertion.

We have used poles for hiking and backpacking for years. There, they are invaluable in distributing the body weight, helping with balance, and adding a third and a fourth leg to ease crossing difficult terrain. These poles are different. They are shorter, have rubber boot tips which are shaped to add propulsion, and a glove which adds pressure to the push without straining the fingers. They are designed to get all the muscles of the body moving while walking naturally.

For my husband, the poles are a huge advantage. Giving what is perceived to be a gentle exercise, they help with balance and force him to stand upright and look ahead. Use of the poles reduces stress on the knees and hips. It is early yet, but we can see the benefits the poling will provide.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Nordic Pole Walking could be equally useful for me. Apparently, it is highly recommended for managing diabetes, blood pressure and weight control. In Europe, 20% of Finns now use these walking poles, as do millions in Germany where health insurance companies subsidize pole walking courses and equipment.

Jennifer and her partner, Peter Burrill, the Insideout Nordic Pole Walking Program Coordinator, are big promoters of the technique. They use it for their patients, offer Nordic walking workshops and special events, conduct clinical studies and even helped design the Nordixx pole they recommend. Walking around the trees and up the allies of Toronto’s iconic Yorkville Park and along Bloor Street in our lesson yesterday, Peter had specific suggestions to ensure we were using the correct technique. My husband walked better than he has in weeks and I could feel the difference. The proof, of course, will be in how we follow up.

For more detailed information about Nordic Pole Walking, the health benefits, the nature of the equipment (relatively inexpensive and remarkably light-weight), and demonstrations of the correct technique, check out the Insideout webpage.

My husband and I are clearly slow to catching on to new trends. Mike Snider reported in the Globe and Mail six years ago that occupational therapist Mandy Shintani launched Urban Poling in Vancouver in 2003, and has certified more than 1,000 instructors across the country. Nordixx maintains a webpage which allows you to locate the closest instructor in your area.  

 

 

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A Photo Shoot at Jack Poole Plaza

I invite you to join our early morning photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the Vancouver harbour last week, and see how photographer Rick Hulbert works. Using The Photographer’s Ephemeris, a free online program which shows the quality of light at particular places and times of day (including sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moon set), Rick knew exactly when morning light would be best at the Plaza. When I arrived at 6:10 a.m., he was already there, with his tripod set up at the extreme architectural point of the plaza. He’d already begun shooting material for use in future photography classes.

Last week, he sent me two images which he had ‘recorded’ (notice the lingo) during a five-minute period early that morning. Using the Ephemeris, he was able to find the exact angle of the sunlight and the best place to stand. He explained in an email that his intention was “to portray Harbour Green Neighbourhood in colour. It is early morning first light, and because the sun is shining through the greatest amount of the earth’s atmosphere, the quality of the light is soft and warm. I employed a wide-angle lens and kept my camera level and on a tripod to support a horizontal horizon along with ‘vertical verticals.’

The image of the downtown core of Vancouver surrounding Jack Poole Plaza is conveyed in black and white. B&W images portray pure luminance which has the potential of conveying an enhanced sense of depth. By stopping down my Tilt/Shift lens to f/22, I was able to achieve a starburst effect with the sun bouncing off one of the building windows in the distance.

“The challenge in both images was to display the enormous dynamic range of light in a single capture. I did this by reducing the original tone curve to a ‘linear curve,’ which also reduces the contrast, allowing me to have more flexibility in ‘re-visualizing’ the image in software. While it could be said that simplicity of subject is a noble goal, I chose to attempt to embrace a complexity of edges in an ordered composition.” He wanted “the images to read as large as possible with no cropping. The subject of each image is the entire field of view… edge to edge of each photo.”

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Photo by Rick Hulbert

Learning by doing means getting up early in the morning to experience in our bones the quality of the light at that hour of the day. While the master produced his prototypes for future use in class, the rest of us were free to see all the splendid scene had to offer.

My photos have not yet been re-visualized in Lightroom. They were shot as RAW files in Aperture mode. Rick did say that I could have moved the chairs. I never thought of that at the time. My focus on the greenery visible through the iconic Olympic Cauldron led to a discussion of how green pops out in any setting. In the last photo, I tried to highlight the Lions Gate Bridge in the background on my Apple Photos edit program but was not particularly successful. Next purchase? A download of Lightroom.

***** Thank you to Rick Hulbert for sharing his photos and his comments. 

 

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A Five Star Photography Workshop

Billed as the “Ultimate Urban Travel Photography Workshop with International Award Winning Architect, Urban Designer and Photographer, Rick Hulbert,” this four-day workshop held in Vancouver last week was one of the most intense and engaging learning experiences of my life.

I’d taken a workshop with Rick years ago, while he was still working as an architect. It had been very useful and relatively laid-back. I jumped at the chance for a repeat, with a focus on my hometown. After all, blogging about Vancouver is one of my favourite themes, and improving my pictures would make future posts all the better.

Retired from architecture for more than a year, Rick now teaches photography all over the world. From his professional background, knowledge of art history, and interest in the rapidly changing neurosciences, he articulates his (perhaps revolutionary?) philosophy of photography with unbridled passion. His lectures are amazing. His own photographs used to illustrate his points, awesome. He answers all questions with equal grace, no matter how technical, controversial, or simple (as many of mine certainly were). Post-course, students receive a copy of his key point visuals, which relieves the pressure of taking notes and focuses student attention on what he says and does. Conscious of what each student wants and needs, he ensures everyone equal “one on one” time. It seems that Rick has become the platonic ideal of a photography teacher: rigorous, thoughtful, constantly learning himself, and downright funny to boot. No wonder he is in such demand.

The ten participants in the workshop were photography enthusiasts: devotees of camera clubs, journalists who use photos to illustrate their stories, a hip sound man who is a sports photographer wannabe, a busy father of four who somehow fits serious photography into his work/life balance, some who have already sold their pictures, at least one a computer tech. I was by far the least photo-experienced of the group. The workshop promo said to come and “share your skills with others.” Everyone did, most generously. One, with a camera similar to mine, helped me with my settings. A second showed me how to set up and manipulate my new tripod. Another told me that I could press the button in the corner of my iPhone screen and take pictures without even opening the phone. (I blush to admit, I’d never used that feature before. How could I have missed it?) He also showed me how to download photos onto a USB stick, an essential task in sharing photography (and much else) which I had never quite mastered. Even before the workshop began, I’d learned these two new skills which will undoubtedly change my life.

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The False Creek Bubble (photo by Bruce Hawick)

The promo material promised that the course was “all about taking your photography to the next level.” It warned, however, that “you need a camera that you know how to use” and that you should “read the manual that came with your camera so you will be familiar with its features.” Easier said than done. Since creating my blog, my handy-dandy iPhone has been my camera of choice. But I knew that showing up at a Rick Hulbert workshop with only an iPhone was not on. I bought a light-weight, mirrorless camera two years ago but, out of sheer laziness, I’d used it only in Intelligent Auto mode. “Read the manual.” Are you kidding? Manuals are for techies. It takes a long time to become familiar with all the features on the contemporary camera computers we can now buy, and I hadn’t used my “new” camera for at least a year.

Fully aware that Rick doesn’t teach “Camera Operation 101,” I scheduled some lessons before the workshop to learn how my “new” camera worked. I also started to use my early morning walks for photo shoots. I thought I was ready to go. But, to go “to the next level,” in my case, was a really big leap. Rick recommends shooting in Manual and Aperture modes, and primarily in RAW file format. That’s a totally different thing. Manual mode I had forgotten. Shooting RAW files, I had never done before. I had no idea what impact this would have on how I used my camera. On Day One, I floundered big time.

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

On the Georgia Viaduct (photo by Bruce Hawick)

That day Rick lectured in the morning. After a late lunch, we did a “hands on” walk-about over the Georgia Street Viaduct, down Main Street, and then along the waterfront to the Science Centre and the Olympic Village at the east of False Creek. It was less than a two kilometre walk, a glorious sunny day, and we stopped often to practice what Rick had taught us, and for him to make suggestions. His promo had said that we would learn what to wear on a photo shoot. I did! And it was definitely not what I had on: a black Icebreaker sweater, a wool sweater-coat and a new camera bag too small to hold all my gear. The next day, I jettisoned this attire and came more properly outfitted. That aside, around 4:00 p.m., in the shade of a patio near a bakery, Rick talked cameras and lenses with the more experienced photographers. They were on a short break while awaiting the change of light to continue the photo shoot into the evening.

Into the evening? How do they do it? I realized that I had to pace myself. Feeling a bit of a wimp, I took my leave, rode the Aquabus to the Plaza of Nations, and found my way home. I don’t know when I have ever felt so tired. I was utterly exhausted. Why was I so sore all over? What happened to my much-vaunted energy and the fruits of my physical training? Who knew that photographers worked so hard?

Day Two was another intensive session when Rick explained his principles for successful photography and we applied them to our pictures. In “Image Review” with Rick Hulbert, we saw a master manipulating Adobe Lightroom to improve the RAW data files we’d taken. Apart from teaching us about light, how to see, what to look for, and how to get what we want, “re-visualization,” as he calls his post-production editing, is an essential tool of the modern digital photographer. He made sure we knew how Lightroom works and why we would use its many features. Day Three was a lecture on street photography, a film, and an afternoon photo shoot on Granville Island, including another walk-about to unusual sites only a photographer like Rick would notice. Day Four was an early morning (6:30 a.m.) photo shoot at Jack Poole Plaza on the harbour, with another full day of “Image Review” to further embed our skills.

After four days, others in the group were fading and even Rick admitted that he too was tired. No wonder. He gives out 100% all the time, and then some. It’s true that many of the activities he offered on the last two days were optional. But who wants to opt out when Rick is at hand to share his expertise? I may not yet be able to apply all I have learned, but I now understand the lingo and have the basic concepts firmly embedded in my brain. There is no doubt that I am many levels higher than when I started. Everyone rises to expectations, right?

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

Granville Island (photo by Bruce Hawick)

So, how to rate Rick Hulbert as a teacher of photography? A+++ He more than delivers on what he promises, with the caveat to potential students that he deliberately pitches his program to make the best possible photos. “Learning by doing” is the name of the game. Nothing is more effective. Rick teaches a theory of photography which will stay with us forever. And the attention he pays each student makes it like a master class in photography. Listening to more experienced photographers teaches much, by osmosis. Just remember to get lots of sleep and exercise before the workshop begins, bring a water bottle and some trail snacks to keep you going. And tell your family in advance that you will be late getting home for dinner.

***** The uncaptioned photos are my RAW files of data, “re-visualized” with the help of Rick and the group. 

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Red Flags to Avoid a Computer Hacking

On Tuesday, my computer was hacked royally. And I helped the slimy skulker do it. All sorts of red flags should have alerted me to the danger, but I ignored them and became a party to my own hacking. How embarrassing is that? Don’t let it happen to you.

I had just opened my MacBook Pro laptop to begin my day’s writing when a window popped up in the middle of the screen indicating that this was a “System-key 23.xyz.” warning to a “Telus Communications User.” It said I needed to know that my computer was infected and that I was in danger of losing all my data. To avoid further problems, I was to phone the 1-844 telephone number provided without closing my computer. Assuming this was a communication from my internet provider, I obeyed the instruction, and called the number.

That was Flag Number One. This is a classic line which should have immediately alerted me to the fact that this was a scam. A computer-literate friend of mine later told me that no one external to my computer can ever know in the abstract that there is anything amiss with my computer. What I should have done, right away, was to close my computer. If my computer would not close (which may have been the case, I can’t remember), I should have disconnected my router from the wall and cut my wireless connection.

I did neither. I blithely used my iPhone to call the number and the drama began. Right away, “Ethan, employee number 1603, extension 8008” answered. He said he was a “Microsoft-certified technician” who also “provided support to all Apple users all over the globe” and that he was working from the “Apple Support Desk in Buffalo, New York.”

Flags Number Two, Three and Four. I have worked on several Apple computers and devices for more than six years. I have also used Apple Support, on occasion. I should have known instantly that “a Microsoft-certified technician” does not fix Apple computers, and that the Apple Support program does not operate, out of the blue, from Buffalo, New York. What was I thinking? These were all obvious clues. That I did not pick up on them gave the hacker the information he needed to know that I was someone he could exploit.

“Ethan” went on to tell me that he “would check out any damage to [my] machine,” “check for viruses,” “insecure connections,” and “malicious infections,” since it appeared that “there were no protections on [my] machine,” and “no warnings.” Without protections, my computer may crash and without backup I “might lose all my data.” He asked me for permission to access my computer so that he could show me the problems. I said, “okay. I guess you need to do that,” or something to that effect. He then showed me a code page from the computer indicating that there was malicious software shown in the codes. During our conversation, which went on for some time, he assured me that he would “clean and tune up” my computer, “optimize the browser,” “run the stop services,” “update the drivers,” “install Mac Defender” and “install Apple MacKeeper.”

Flags Number Five, Six and Seven! In my work life, when I used Microsoft computers, I had bought Norton software to give protection against hackers. I had assumed that Apple products were less prone to hacking than Microsoft, and that anti-hacking software was built into my machine. No professional techie that I had used to rationalize my Apple computer, and no instructor in any One-on-One program I had taken, had ever suggested that any extra protection was necessary. This guy was telling me differently. And I fell for it.

Until he mentioned “Mac Defender,” and I saw that the printed material he was flashing on my screen was misspelled as “Apple Defends.” When he said “MacKeeper,” the penny finally dropped. Late one night, several months ago, I saw a “MacKeeper” ad on my Facebook page, and followed up. When I did so, I discovered that “MacKeeper” is a scam which I later tried to remove from my computer but was never quite able to do.

At that point, I freaked. I confronted him and said that he was a hacker and that this was a scam. His tone changed. He called me a “lady thief” because I “had wasted all his time,” and he began using FaceTime to flash pictures of me over and over again on my screen. Totally intimidating to say the least. He then told me that my computer was now useless and I should throw it out. I put my iPhone down beside my laptop and used my landline to call Telus support to resolve this rapidly escalating problem.

I’d forgotten that I would have to wait awhile to get through to Telus. Eventually someone answered my query about the internet and I asked to speak with Telus technical support. I spent some time with the Telus operator who was consistently unresponsive to my questions. Obviously she knew nothing about computers. I insisted that I speak with her supervisor or someone in the tech department right away. She asked me to wait. I waited. She returned to tell me that because I did not have a Telus Internet Protection Plus Plan, which costs $50 to start (I think she said), and so much per month, there was nothing they could do. I told her that no one had ever told me that before and that I had never been given an option to buy the Plan or not. She suggested that I disconnect my wireless by unplugging the router. I unplugged the router. But that was that. Without the Protection Plan, it was not a Telus problem. She gave me a number for Apple Support and suggested I should call them.

At that point, the hacker started typing on my NoteBook Page: HEY STOP FOR A SECOND I HEARD THE CONVERSATION THAT YOU JUST HAD WITH TELUS. NOW LET ME TELL YOU. I BELONGS TO ISIS ISLAMIC STATE AND OF IRAQ AND SEREIRA. MY NAME IS ABDULLA BAKR – AL BAGHDAD AND I AM A SERIAL HACKER. NOW I HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR INFORMATION. NOW I WILL SHOW YOU THE CONSEQUENCES. I realized to my horror that I had not ended the call with the hacker on my iPhone. I immediately turned off my phone and called Apple Support.

The Apple Support technician asked my name and my product, and politely but firmly de-escalated my rising panic while emphasizing our mutual need to get my computer up and running again, safe and sound. He told me to turn off my computer. I turned off my computer. (How come I had not done that before?) He then told me to re-activate my wireless and reopen the computer. He told me that the codes the hacker had showed me were their normal codes and said that there was nothing wrong with them. He ran his own scan of my computer, found that it was clean but for a couple of suspicious files, which he removed. He also cleared away a couple of icons of apparently legitimate applications which the hacker had put on my dock. He then installed a malware detection application, and appeared to have the computer functioning within fifteen minutes or so. Fifteen minutes. I had already cancelled my afternoon appointment in the expectation that it would take all day to resolve the problem.

Apparently, I had acquired an extended AppleCare Plan when I bought the laptop and it was still good for a couple more years. He told me that he was going to take personal responsibility for this file and that I should call him should any further problems arise or if I had any questions. He then sent me an email with his name, his direct telephone number, his usual office hours, and an invitation to leave him a voicemail or send him an email, promising that he would follow up no later than his next day in the office. Now that is good service.

That my computer is back operating is a huge relief. I am now in the process of changing all my passwords. I don’t yet know what else I may need to do. For the moment, I am exhausted. Another computer-literate friend said I was lucky. He knows of other hackers who have locked out computers and demanded ransom money from owners to regain access to their own data. I guess security is a really big issue. No kidding.

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The Blessings of a Broken Kneecap

My husband went to extraordinary trouble to bring us the blessings of an extended stay in Vancouver. Now that his care (and mine) is in place, he is exercising every day, taking charge of planning and cooking our evening meals. and using his walker to shop for groceries and visit local eateries. He appears to be making good progress. For all the tribulations, our extended stay in Vancouver is bringing us many unexpected benefits. Just to list a few.

  1. The rain which depressed even me February through mid-April has now stopped, the sun is shining, and the cherry and plum trees, magnolias, and early rhodos are in unbelievably beautiful bloom. At their peak, they are breath-taking. I never would have guessed that our local community here was endowed with such a splendid display.
  2. Living here, grounded, without any possibility of touring elsewhere, has caused us to use the resources and the merchants of the local community as never before. It’s been an eye-opening “welcome wagon” of new experiences.

  3. We live next door to the West Vancouver Memorial Library, but have hardly used it in the past. This week, the Library Foundation streamed, live and free of charge, the 2017 TED Talks which other people paid big bucks to hear at the downtown Vancouver site or in selected theatres. I happened upon a session on “Mind, Meaning” at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and was awestruck by what I heard and saw. Lots of material for posts there.

  4. I have now spent much time with the WVML Information Librarian. When I asked for a couple of books that were out locally, she told me that they were available at the Vancouver Public Library downtown, and that I could pick them up there and return them here. She also did a computer search of recent Globe and Mail book reviews to find an essayist whom I wanted to read but whose name I had forgotten. Once she had identified the author, she put me on a waitlist for both her books which are now on order. Undoubtedly, these same services are available at the Toronto Public Library. I just have never used them before. My loss.

  5. The proprietor of the local Kerrisdale Camera Shop referred me to Advanced Digital Training in North Vancouver where I have had two simply superb private lessons on how to operate the mirrorless compact camera I bought a couple of years ago.  Utterly intimidated by the complexity of what is effectively a very sophisticated computer, I have hardly used the camera all this time. Peter Levey at ADT is an enthusiastic and gifted teacher who has made my camera accessible. Next week, he is going to show me how to organize and manage my photo files, something that I should have learned years ago but never did. Finding Peter, and working with him, has been a real coup.

  6. Last night, my husband and I went for turkey dinner and all the trimmings at the spacious Garden Side Café at the Seniors’ (over 55) Centre nearby. Run by volunteers, the café serves breakfast and lunch every day, and full hot dinners twice a week, at a very modest cost. My husband, who has avoided the Seniors’ Centre until now, even conceded that it was a good meal, that the company was congenial, and that the dinner menu for May looks more interesting than he would have expected.

  7. Walking on the Seawalk, the people I run into at about the same time each day are beginning to become friends. As my Sixth Floor Caregiver friend has told me, these early morning walks come with all sorts of benefits, apart from the exercise itself. Among other things, I suspect that these new friends will bring some great stories to inspire future posts.

  8. Last week, one of the texts for the writing program I am starting this summer arrived unexpectedly early. This single book is a revelation which already is making the rewrite of my first book go better and faster. With a regular routine and few distractions, my writing is on a roll. I now think it likely that my forthcoming book will be published this year after all, thanks in no small measure to my husband’s broken kneecap.

  9. As a couple, we have been slow to think of ourselves as “seniors,” an illusion now shattered. We are coming to realize that dealing with the medical issues inevitable with aging requires proactive thought and a modicum of grace. Achieving that, or not, may well be a measure of character, part of “growing up.” Those people who have met the challenges of medical issues all their lives set an example. They are the experts in how to relate to and benefit from the health care system. We’d do well to emulate their courage, resilience and their joie de vivre, no matter what comes. Maybe this is one of the secrets to successful aging. And to successful living?

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Lessons Learned from a Kneecapping

Three weeks ago my husband suffered a kneecapping. His injury was not a malicious wounding as the I.R.A. and the mafia historically imposed on those who’d earned their ire. No. His was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill broken kneecap sustained from a simple fall on the hard cement sidewalk near our local grocery store. Nothing could have been more prosaic. The results, however, have been a life lesson for both of us.

When he fell, he also hit his head and nose on the cement, splattering blood all over and alarming the shocked onlookers gathered around him to help. An ambulance took him to the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. Two hours later, he was released. The good news was that he had no concussion and no broken nose; the bad news was that his kneecap was broken and he had to wear a velcro leg stabilizer to keep his leg perfectly straight until it could be seen by an orthopaedic surgeon. Six days later, he saw the surgeon who ordered day surgery for the next day.

That Friday, he was last on the list to have his knee cap wired, stapled, pinned and stitched together, as only surgeons can do, and was told to keep the leg straight in the velcro stabilizer for six weeks. When we left the day surgery unit, it was 9:30 at night, the lights in the ward were low, all the beds but that of my husband were empty, the intravenous poles were herded together for the next day, and two staff (nurses or aides, we had no idea) were behind the desk. When they finally pronounced him fit to leave, they rolled him down to the car in a wheelchair, he pulled himself and his prone mended leg into the back seat as best he could, and we headed home.

We left the hospital as proverbial babes in the woods. The hospital provided a set of crutches, a prescription for painkillers (which only made us recall with horror a previous very negative experience with side-effects of high-powered opioids), and instructions to schedule a post-op with the surgeon two weeks hence. We had planned a return to Toronto by that time; obviously that was not going to happen. We had no idea what would happen, nor what we would be required to manage.

The past two weeks have been a crash course in “Basic Care 101.” Part A: for the caregiver, and Part B: for the care receiver. Although we did not know it at the time, our first big mistake was leaving the hospital (probably due to the late hour) without any referral to an Occupational Therapist, Home Care Assessor, or to the Red Cross (which apparently loans all sorts of medical equipment to people recovering from hospital stays, all on referral from the hospital or a doctor). We had no family doctor on the west coast, and no referral for that, either. We had to manage as best we could, by trial and error, as the situation evolved.

We soon ditched the crutches and rented a walker, bought a raised toilet seat, and set about to make my husband as comfortable as possible. In a totally understandable post-surgical stupor, strategically sedated with painkillers, he developed bedsores, a bad sign we thought. The remedy? “Keep them clean,” and “Cover them with Mepore pads,” said the pharmacist who sold me a half-dozen dressings. A friend brought some Tegaderm film she had used to good effect for her long-deceased mother years ago. The bed sores healed as my husband became more mobile.

In the meantime, an 89-year-old neighbour who lives on the sixth floor and who has been a full-time caregiver for her wheelchair-bound husband for the past three and a half years, gave me the telephone number (604-215-4700) of a publicly accessible nurse whom she assured me is “always helpful… even in the middle of the night.” That we had a phone number to reach some medical help if necessary was immensely reassuring.

Our biggest mistake was our failure to buy or rent a “Bed Assist” that would help my hubby get up from his bed and onto his walker. Who would have guessed that it would be so difficult? First, I was the ballast as he grabbed the walker to pull himself up. That was difficult and hardly confidence-building. Then, we tried arranging cushions beside him in various configurations to act as risers. That was better, but a nuisance. Ultimately, our next-door neighbour, well into her nineties, who uses a walker, demonstrated on her own bed how she uses her upper arms, wrists and fists to push herself up and how she places her head to get the necessary momentum. If she can do it with such agility, so can my hubby. After two weeks, we finally rented a “Bed Assist,” a curved bedside bar attached to two long metal anchors that go between the mattress and the box spring. Problem solved, at least in the bedroom. Getting off cushions piled on the chesterfield in the living room still requires some care. Getting out of the back seat of the car, using the seat belt and the door for leverage, requires the strongest possible strength in the upper arms. Where are those strong shoulder muscles and biceps when you need them?

At first, we were in a state of shock, overwhelmed by our frequent miscommunications, my husband’s justifiable fear of falling again, my expectation (which he didn’t initially discourage) that I needed to do everything, and our clear incompetence. Neither of us was sleeping at night, except with heavy-duty sleeping pills which were running out. When our dishwasher was overflowing with suds just as the new cleaning woman arrived (because I had used the wrong detergent), that was the last straw. The mistake reflected my state of mind. 

It seemed as if this event was a foretaste of the future. Would this mean we’d have to sell our Toronto house (if only to get rid of the steps)? Or give up our Vancouver cottage (because our primary health care providers are in Ontario)? Must I abandon my writing, just when I’m on the verge of learning what the craft is all about? Apart from the love and devotion caregiving requires, the professional skills involved and the constant attention are bloody hard. I know the statistic that caregivers often succumb before the person they care for. Being a caregiver is a high-risk occupation. 

All that has now changed. A friend who is a professional social worker invited me for coffee, gave me space to vent and shared some practical referrals she could recommend from experience. I have now visited the walk-in clinic she suggested, and had excellent service for my own needs. The doctor sent me to a local LifeLabs where I can get access to the test results myself on the internet. We saw the surgeon for a post-op on Wednesday and, as well as having the staples removed and proclaiming the knee nicely on its way to healing, he gave us all that we asked. We had a long list: renewals of sleeping pills, written orders for physiotherapy, a referral to the Red Cross for medical equipment, and a date for the next visit.

The physiotherapist from local community health came Thursday, showed us how to manage the brace, what exercises to do, which furniture adaptations and equipment additions would work best, how to install new shower heads… altogether a most helpful consultation. On Friday, we secured from the Red Cross Loan Program a shower stool and a tub transfer bench, two possible means to get proper showers. That same day, we plugged into a Home Care Service for a personal service worker or attendant who can help my husband with his bathing routine. And my hubby never even complained. Truth be told, we both came to exactly the same conclusion about our mutual needs at the same time.

Our neighbours, who are nearly twenty years our senior, carry on their caregiving and their personal health challenges with relentless good humour and energy. Who are we to complain?

My hubby is feeling better; he wants to get some exercise, and resume cooking. He has ample time to browse the cookbooks (one of his favourite past-times), can push his walker around the grocery store as he does his shopping, and can manage cooking in the small confines of our galley kitchen. Already he has bought dozens of exotic spices so he can cook from the Jerusalem cookbook a friend gave us. On Thursday, he actually walked all the way home from the grocery store pushing his walker and paying very careful attention to the contours of the sidewalk. The physiotherapist had told us about the practical consequences of neuropathy in the feet, something which may account for his fall and which we should have known before. This successful spurt left him in great good humour. I have resumed writing, taken up walking again and returned to the gym. Friday morning, at 6:00 a.m., I met my Caregiver neighbour on the Seawalk. We are now bosom buddies.

It will be at least another month before we return to Toronto, but the new norm seems manageable after all. And with the sun finally coming out in Vancouver, and the cherry blossoms, early rhododendrons, ornamental tulips in the latest fashion colours, bright yellow and spritely white daffodils, who could want for anything more?

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Three Ds to Reduce Delay in the Criminal Courts

Federal Minister of Justice Wilson-Raybould is meeting with her provincial counterparts next week to discuss delay in the criminal courts. I am a fully retired judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, appointed in the wake of a similar Supreme Court induced crisis on the same issue over twenty-five years ago (in the case of R. v. Askov). During my twenty-year career on the bench, I spent most of my volunteer time as a judge on the issue of delay. And still the problem remains. I have three systemic suggestions to throw into the discussion.

1. Download more “hybrid” criminal offences from the Superior Court to the provincial courts. During the 1990s, the federal government amended the Criminal Code to increase the maximum sentence possible for summary conviction on “hybrid” offences. These are offences where the crown has a choice to proceed by the more complex indictable route or by the simpler summary conviction procedure. Before, the highest sentence on summary conviction was six months in custody. When the amendment “supersized” the cap on sentence for these hybrid offences to a potential eighteen months in custody, crown attorneys assessed the facts of particular cases in light of the higher penalty and, if appropriate, often elected to go ahead by a summary trial in the provincial court. That meant that trials were held more quickly, and the accused had no right to a preliminary hearing. The result was that thousands of cases were downloaded from the Superior Court to the provincial courts, even high-profile criminal trials like those of Jian Ghomeshi and Mike Duffy. That downloading was successful. If the maximum sentence for summary conviction “hybrid” offences were raised again so that it could incorporate more aggravating facts, I suspect that many more cases would proceed in the lower courts.

2. Divert simple drinking and driving cases to an administrative enforcement procedure such as British Columbia implemented in 2010, which was upheld, with some changes, by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015. When I sat in the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, post-Askov, drinking and driving offences made up 45% of our caseload. Even today, drinking and driving cases are the most hotly litigated of charges, and take months to process through the criminal courts. In British Columbia, the Automatic Roadside Prohibition (ARP) scheme provides that drivers who register a “fail” on a roadside breath test can have their licenses suspended immediately for up to 90 days, those who register a “warn” can have shorter suspensions of between three and 30 days, their cars can be impounded, a fine and mandatory remedial education imposed. Apparently, deaths caused by drinking and driving in B.C. have decreased since the administrative enforcement scheme was put in place, and criminal prosecutions of simple drinking and driving charges are down by about 85%. Where there are aggravating factors, a high roadside breath test reading, a prior record of administrative suspensions or criminal convictions, driving while disqualified, or any injury to persons or property, the criminal process should be invoked and sanctions increased. Apparently even MADD Canada is in favour of the B.C. model and has been lobbying the Ontario government to implement it. Now that driving while impaired by marijuana is being added to the Code, a rethink on how enforcement is to be made effective without swamping the criminal courts is imperative.

3. Give the Chief Justice of the provincial courts direct access to the Court of Appeal by enacting a power to “state a case.” Prior to the mid-1990s, Ontario judges had statutory authority to put a factual case to the Court of Appeal for an expedited decision on a legal issue. That power was taken away, a change which in my view has proven dysfunctional. New laws come first to lower trial court judges who have a duty to apply them to the fact situations before them. Sometimes those fact situations are clear and uncontested. The only issue is whether the fact situation involves a breach of the Charter, or some narrow legal issue which needs a definitive resolution by the highest court authority, as speedily as possible.

I had such a case in 2000. It was a simple police stop on the street, a conversation between two officers and a young man, a delay while the police did a computer check on his identity, and then an arrest on unrelated charges. When the charges came before me for trial, both counsel agreed on the facts and the only issue was whether or not the stop amounted to “a detention” which had Charter consequences. As a lower court decision, my written judgment, although published in the national criminal reports and argued repeatedly, had no value as a precedent within the hierarchical structure of our court system. But my case crystallized the issue as a systemic matter. With no power to state a case for an expedited definitive decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, the issue of what constitutes a detention on the street churned around the lower courts until finally, nine years later, the Supreme Court of Canada decided the issue. Nine years is a long time. Too long.

That case had to do with detention on the streets. There were other issues: whether a new drinking and driving law had retrospective application to cases currently before the courts? whether the crown had a Charter duty to disclose repair records of Intoxilyzer machines? Both technical legal issues which, in my view, caused what I can only consider constipation in the lower courts. The enema of an expedited Court of Appeal decision was needed. 

The existing criminal appellate process in Canada proceeds in a non-systemic, random manner, totally dependent on whether the crown or a defendant has any interest in an appeal. For many pragmatic reasons, neither may want to appeal a particular case, and the issue churns on, wasting endless hours of redundant argument in the lower trial courts. This ad hoc, leisurely and languid appeal process contributes considerably to delay in the courts. If speedy justice is in the public interest, then the Chief Justice of the provincial court has a systemic interest in cutting through the verbiage and getting some authoritative direction on these types of issues on an expedited basis. For this reason, the Chief Justice should be able to “state a case” for a definitive decision from the Court of Appeal. The faster the provincial Courts of Appeal deal with the issues, the faster they will reach the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary, and the faster the lower courts will know how to deal with the trials before them. What’s the downside?

This post was also re-published on my other blog, Re-view From the Bench, on 20 April 2017.

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A Response to Sean Fine and the Supreme Court of Canada on “Justice Delays”

It was gratifying to read Sean Fine’s overview of how Canada’s criminal “Courts [are] shaken by search for solutions to delays” in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. In an intelligent and engaging analysis, he set out the essential message of last July’s Supreme Court of Canada 5:4 decision in R. v. Jordan: that criminal charges are to be tried within 18 months in provincial courts, and within 30 months in Superior Courts, and delays beyond those time periods shall be presumed to be unreasonable. He described the differences of opinion between the different Supreme Court justices, the reaction of the criminal justice system across the country to the new timelines, and the context of this particular decision over time. I commend his report to you.

This is not the first such crisis in the criminal courts. In R. v. Askov (1990), when the Supreme Court also defined what constituted “a reasonable time to trial,” the Ontario crown withdrew thousands of charges because of obvious delay, and thousands more came before the courts when accused persons made their own applications for a stay because of delay. In Ontario, I was one of 36 new judges, and at least two dozen new crown attorneys, appointed by the provincial government to help deal with the existing backlog in the criminal courts, and avoid the situation from recurring. Over 25 years later, Jordan is another SCC decision on the same subject, and another “kick in the pants” from the Supreme Court to all the courts across the country bound to apply their ruling. Equally if not more important, the Supreme Court decision is a clarion call to the federal government responsible for defining the criminal law and to the provincial governments charged with the administration of criminal justice. The Supremes are saying that delay in criminal courts must become a priority.

Sean Fine points out that the Supreme Court agreed on the facts of the particular case before them (that 49.5 months to trial on a charge of possession for the purpose of trafficking is unreasonable), but disagreed on almost everything else. In the fall-out from Jordan, all sorts of questions are being discussed. Some say there is a need to change “a culture of complacency” which exists in the court system; others deny that any complacency exists. Do away with preliminary hearings, implement a triage system, divert less important cases out of the system, require crown attorneys to lay charges and not the police, inject more resources into the system, speed up appointing judges; all are bandied about as obvious “solutions” to the problem.

Finding enduring solutions, however, requires appropriate empirical data about the different ways the system is actually working across each province and across the country. As Professor of Criminology Tony Doob noted in a recent Globe and Mail article with respect to preliminary hearings, such data is non-existent.

Throughout my 20 years on the Ontario Court of Justice, the 1990 Askov “kick in the pants” was a continuing incentive to reform within the Ontario criminal court system. The provincial government appointed more judges and crowns; the provincial bench became more diversified. In 1991, the Supremes mandated full disclosure of the crown’s case to the defence. For a variety of systemic reasons, making that aspiration real took more time and effort than would ever have been anticipated, and still sometimes falls short in particular cases. Thousands of charges were downloaded from the Superior Courts to the provincial courts, eliminating the possibility of a preliminary hearing and inherently ensuring a more speedy trial. This was done by the simple statutory expedient of “supersizing” the possible penalties available for “hybrid” charges (such as assault and sexual assault) where the crown can elect to proceed by summary conviction.

Numerous practices were attempted to reduce delay. We tried two tiers of courts: one in the morning and another in the afternoon; that didn’t work. Special plea courts with judges known to be lenient on sentencing were set up; that helped. Plea courts for early resolution of cases are now the norm. We implemented an intake cycle system where a single judge and crown took ownership of blocks of cases coming into the system with the expectation that they would be resolved or adjudicated within four months. That system was abandoned after several years without any formal outside evaluation. The administration monitored “time to trial” statistics and, routinely, assigned temporary judges to run “blitz courts” to clear local backlogs of cases in overworked or understaffed courts. “Shadow courts” were established with “shadow” dockets of cases which were fed into the trial courts offering help after their regularly assigned cases were completed. Experienced crowns were placed into intake courts to “take ownership” of cases, encourage early resolutions and ensure that multiple adjournments did not bog down the set date process.

Numerous task forces and commissions (both local and province-wide) were set up and recommendations made for changes in practices: early vetting of cases by experienced crowns, early resolution discussions, diversion of simple cases out of the system and to special programs, mandatory judicial pretrials to narrow the issues and encourage resolutions, rules requiring notice about witnesses and issues to be addressed on prelims, prelims moved out of courtrooms and witnesses examined on the record without a judge being present, special training and procedures for complex cases and for dealing with unrepresented accused, the use of trial coordinators to set dates outside of court, specialized crowns handling specialized courts with specialized procedures (e.g.: domestic courts, courts for children, drug courts, mental health courts, courts for Indigenous people), dealing with impaired driving administratively rather than through the courts.

There has been no shortage of problems identified nor recommendations made about how the system could be improved. The problem has been making reforms happen, and the systemic failure to evaluate the effects.

The criminal justice system, like the health care system, is a very complex institution with multiple ever-changing stakeholders, little routine outside evaluation, and, in my time, a woeful lack of institutional memory. The federal government defines the criminal law but it is not responsible for the administration of justice. Our constitution makes provinces responsible for the operation of the courts. The actions of one affect the other, and vice-versa. One obvious example: When the federal government cut its financial contribution to the Ontario Legal Aid Plan, the number of defendants able to obtain counsel through Legal Aid went down, and the number of accused persons representing themselves went up. Without counsel, there were fewer pre-trial resolutions and the time taken for trial, even for simple matters, increased. What else would one expect? Defence counsel are essential players in the system. Apart from the detriment to individual rights, cutting them back removed the grease that makes the legal system work.

Don’t get me started…. It’s a big issue. How the time limitations imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada will withstand the reality of fact situations coming before Canadian courts in the immediate future, only time will tell. Maybe, as in 1991, the jurisprudence will become nuanced. In my view, it is a very good thing that the Supreme Court has put on the pressure to make “speedy justice” a priority. We’re finally talking about delay, the real issue which has faced our courts for decades. Maybe this time, there will be a major rethink.

This post was also re-published on my other blog, Re-view From the Bench, on 14 March 2017.

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A Super Fun Sports Gala

Another gala? It’s been a long time since my husband and I have attended a fund-raising gala of any sort, let alone a sports gala. I had a ball. Two organizations jointly sponsored the event: the Rotary Club of Coquitlam in aid of their local and international projects, and the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) to support their sports leagues for children and youth not normally involved in organized sports. Apart from the congenial company, the excellent meal, the interesting silent auction and the plenitude of games designed to extract $20 bills from everyone in sight, there were for me three highlights of the evening.

The first was that I met, and had my picture taken with, Lui Passaglia, a legend in the Canadian Football League and denizen of the national and provincial Sports and Football Halls of Fame. During his 25-year career as a placekicker/punter for the B.C. Lions, he scored more points than any other football player in the history of the league. He also kicked the last-minute field goal which enabled the Lions to win the 1994 Grey Cup against the Baltimore Stallions by a score of 26:23. He and I both admired the Hall of Fame display which included the No 38 jersey worn by By Bailey, my very favourite Lions football player in the 1950s. Then I was a passionate football fan. Listening to all the Lions games on the radio, I used to track the plays with a pencil in a paper scribbler so that, at the end of each game, I had a visual record of everything that had happened. Meeting Lui Passaglia was a bit of a sentimental journey to my youth.

The second was that we all met Robert Gagno, 28 years of age, from Burnaby B.C.  Did you know that he is the world’s best pinball player?  I certainly didn’t. He placed first at the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) World Championships held in Pittsburgh in April 2016. Chris Koentges has written a wonderful story entitled “The Charmer,” published November 13, 2016 in ESPN The Magazine, about how Robert, a child whom some doctors said might never talk, read or write, discovered pinball. He did it at five years of age and became “a pinball savant.” Apparently, as the machines have become more advanced each year, pinball has grown and now has 45,000 ranked competitors. A video tracing Robert’s progress in the sport, from his first victory in the 2009 California Extreme to his recent world championship, was an absolute inspiration for all of us to see. For fun, Robert challenged hockey player Kirk McLean to a pinball game. I know nothing about the sport nor how it is scored, so have no idea who won, but Robert clearly got as much of a kick  from the competition as we did watching them go at it.

And the third highlight? Because of my shrewd spending at the silent auction table, I actually won a raffle. And the prize? Two tickets to a hockey game at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena next Thursday night, between the Vancouver Canucks and the Dallas Stars. My husband and I have never been to a NHL Hockey Game before, and certainly not to the Rogers arena in Vancouver. We are not hockey fans, except when a Canadian team is in the Stanley Cup, or Canadians are playing Americans or Russians in international competitions, but this will be fun. As I said before, this was quite the gala.

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Preliminary Hearings: Prohibition or Reform of Practice?

The media has been full in recent weeks of proposals to do away with preliminary hearings (called prelims for short) and so, reduce delay in the criminal courts. The 5:4 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Jordan in July set presumptive deadlines of 18 months for trials to be concluded in provincial courts, and 30 months in Superior Courts. Several high-profile cases have occurred where judges applying the new guidelines have stayed very serious charges because the time taken to get to trial was so long. When accused persons are not tried on the merits of their charges, the public is understandably upset.

The Ontario Attorney General is apparently encouraging more “direct indictments” whereby the crown refers serious matters directly for trial in the Superior Court (without a prior prelim in the lower court) and making demands to do away with most prelims. Manitoba’s three Chief Justices and its Attorney-General are proposing to eliminate all prelims. Minister of Justice Wilson-Raybould is saying that “Preliminary inquiry reform is a divisive issue…” and that committees in both the House of Commons and the Senate are looking at the issue.

What is a preliminary hearing? The Criminal Code provides that any person charged with an indictable offence (typically a serious charge to which a more elaborate procedure applies) has a choice: 1) trial by judge alone in the provincial court, 2) trial by judge alone in the Superior Court, or 3) trial by judge and jury in the Superior Court. If the accused elects trial in the Superior Court, he or she may request that a prelim be held. This means that a judge of the provincial court will conduct a hearing to decide if the crown has enough evidence for the defendant to be committed to stand trial. The “test for committal” is low: whether there is any evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly instructed could convict the accused of the charge or charges before the court. The prelim judge cannot assess the credibility of witnesses, nor can he or she hear any application for any potential Charter breach.

The limited jurisdiction of the prelim judge does not mean that prelims cannot be useful. Although the defendant will have received full written disclosure of the crown’s case well in advance, there may be much relevant information that defence counsel (and crown counsel for that matter) will not have. Neither will know, for example, how the complainant will appear as a witness and how he or she will respond to cross-examination. Neither will know information from the arresting officer or other crown witnesses that the defence might use to support a later application for exclusion of evidence under the Charter or otherwise. A prelim provides a chance to examine and cross-examine witnesses on essential points and get their responses on the record. Should they later testify differently at trial, the inconsistencies would go to their credibility. After hearing the evidence on a prelim, some judges offer the parties an opportunity to resolve the matter there and then without the need for any further trial. Resolutions at this stage are not uncommon.

It was also my experience, sitting as a judge in various courts in and around Toronto, that the use of prelims as a delay tactic has almost entirely disappeared. In the 1980s and early 1990s, defendants routinely elected prelims and then consented to committal at the prelim “without hearing any evidence.” The practice clogged court dockets and was then a primary cause of delay. In the 1990s, the Criminal Code was amended to allow higher penalties for certain offences (e.g.: sexual assault) where the crown could choose to proceed by the simpler summary conviction procedure. Thereafter, thousands of cases were downloaded to the provincial courts for trial and the defendant had no right to a prelim. Still later, court rules were put in place requiring a judicial pretrial where anyone seeking a prelim had to show precisely what witnesses he or she needed to hear and what issues were in play. If committal on the very low test were not contested, the crown might not need to call any of its case. Where multiple defendants were joined together and there may be little evidence relevant to one or two, the only evidence heard at the prelim would be with respect to those defendants. The prelim weeded out many problematic charges and focused the issues, both measures that would save time and resources down the road in the Superior Court.

The most intelligent piece I have read yet is the article by criminology professor Anthony Doob in the Globe and Mail on February 27th entitled “Preliminary inquiries: a debate that needs better data.” His essential point is that practice on prelims varies widely across the country and that what little data exists (reported in 2005) shows that prelims are often used instead of trials, and involve very few court appearances. He says that it is not clear why prelims “are seen as the Achilles heel of the court system” with respect to delay. He concludes that “data such as those provided by Statistics Canada in 2005 are no longer available. For explicable but stunningly short-sighted reasons, Statistics Canada has made it almost impossible to get a good picture of the use of the preliminary inquiry in Canada… (so that we know) less now than we did in 2005. … Those… on all sides of the debate can all claim that they are correct. They can make their arguments without even being forced to resort to the use of alternative facts, since the alternative—real up-to-date facts—don’t exist.” Someone is finally calling for “evidence-based” policy development with respect to delay in the courts. It’s about time.

This post was also re-published on my other blog, Re-view From the Bench, on 14 March 2017.

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CN Rail versus District of West Vancouver: Another Corporate Cash Grab?

The front page headline in Thursday’s Vancouver Sun caught my attention: “CN fights West Vancouver Over Centennial Seawalk.” CN Rail is demanding $3.7 million dollars in annual rent from the district of West Vancouver for public use of the seawalk built on the CN right-of-way to celebrate Canada’s Centenary 50 years ago. Since the district has refused to pay such a sum, CN has terminated its lease on the property, and started a lawsuit against it in the B.C. Supreme Court.

CN wants a judge to declare that their termination is lawful, that the seawalk, gazebo, gardens and parking spots built by the district trespass on the railroad corridor and must be removed, and that the district (and presumably the public) must be restrained from further use of the right-of-way. Oh yes, they are also asking for damages for arrears of rent.

The district has responded by applying to the federal Canadian Transportation Agency which resolves public transportation disputes. The district says that nothing is owed to CN Rail at all because of the long public use of the right-of-way, the lack of any damage to CN’s property, and the district’s ongoing and expensive enhancement of the shoreline which provides added protection to CN’s tracks at no cost to the corporation. To settle the matter, the district has offered an annual rent of $12,500.00, indexed to future inflation. Apparently, that’s not good enough for CN Rail who want a rental value based on the very expensive real estate in the area.

My Vancouver rental “cottage” is very close to the seawalk and the gazebo in dispute. I have written about the seawalk in prior posts, and am one of the thousands of locals who use the seawalk every day. The 1.7 kilometre seawalk may be the single most popular attraction on the entire Vancouver North Shore. Tourists and residents from all over the Lower Mainland flock to the short walk along the seashore that links Dundarave Pier with John Lawson Park, Ambleside Park, and the Capilano River to the east. Beside the seawalk is a separate “dog run,” unique in the area, which allows dogs to pace their owners leash-free without interfering with other users of the seawalk, including many seniors with mobility issues.

I only have “the facts” as set out in the newspaper article, taken from documents filed by the district. Here’s the history. When the seawalk was built in the 1960s, the government-owned Pacific Great Eastern Railway also owned the right-of-way. The PGE became BC Rail, also owned by the government. In 2004, the B.C. government sold its railway operation to CN Rail but retained ownership of the right-of-way which it then leased on a long-term lease to CN.

I gather that the government-owned railway must have leased the right-of-way to the district when the seawalk was first built. The district paid an annual rent beginning at $25 and increasing to $300. BC Rail requested rent increases up to $9,523 in 1999, but the district paid nothing at all after 1994. BC Rail made no further demands for any payment after 1999. When CN Rail purchased the rail line in 2004, it would have taken its own lease subject to the pre-existing lease to the district. Apparently CN Rail made no demands for rental payment from the district until September 2015 when their officials met with the district “to regularize the lack of a written agreement, deal with compensation and risk allocation.”

Without the benefit of hundreds of hours of costly legal advice which, undoubtedly, CN Rail has available and which the district will have to incur on behalf of the taxpayers, the issue seems pretty straightforward to me.

Why is CN Rail doing this? It seems that CN Rail wants to play hardball with the district of West Vancouver like CP Rail did for fifteen years with the city of Vancouver over its abandoned Arbutus Corridor which runs for nine kilometres from False Creek to Marpole on the south side of the city. There, residents had used the right-of-way as a community trail and created community gardens which CP Rail then bulldozed as leverage to force the city into buying the property. CP initially said that the land was worth $400 million. The city ultimately paid CP $55 million to buy it. 

But the Arbutus Corridor situation is entirely different from the West Vancouver seawalk. There, CP Rail actually owned the land, no trains had run on the right-of-way for fifteen years, and no public money was spent to enhance the value and use of the right-of-way. Here, the right-of-way is still owned by the province. The railroad and the seawalk have co-existed for nearly fifty years. I have no idea how much the district of West Vancouver has spent on the seawalk, its protection and amenities but it must be a lot. The seawalk is stunning and the anti-erosion enhancements have been substantial.

Who is CN Rail? CN Rail is the largest railway in Canada, with 32,831 kilometres of track extending from coast to coast and even into the United States (both to the Gulf of Mexico and to Alaska). According to the internet, the largest individual shareholder of CN Rail in 2014 was Bill Gates. The latest internet CN Rail Ownership Summary shows that the largest institutional investors in CN Rail are the Royal Bank of Canada, Massachusetts Financial Services, the Wellington Management Group, the Bank of Montreal and TD Asset Management In. The President and C.E.O. of CN Rail is Luc Jobin. He joined CN Rail as a senior executive in 2009, responsible for, among other things, “strategic planning.”

Some strategy. The court and/or the Tribunal should throw the Greedy Grouts out of court, and impose all possible legal costs against CN Rail and in favour of the district. What’s CN going to do? Impound all the cars from the parking spots? Tear down the gazebo? Bulldoze the seawalk? Their position is ridiculous, if not shameful, and will only serve to waste scarce public resources better spent on something else. What kind of corporate citizenship is that?

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