Monday, October 28, 2013

What if it was me?

Photo courtesy of
On Wednesday of last week, Harley Lawrence, a 62 year old homeless man, died in a suspicious fire in a bus shelter in Berwick.

This story has haunted me for several days now and my heart goes out to the families and community that knew and loved him. It’s been heartening to see the outpouring of love and support.

I don’t know what has struck me the most about this story; the sadness at such a lonely and unfortunate end to a life; the cruelty of it possibly being deliberate; or maybe it is the part of me that is reminded that there are homeless men, women, teenagers, children and veterans across our province that suffer every single day.

I hand out change on street corners or intersections. I’ve bought coffees and sandwiches. But, at the end of the day, I don’t do much to change it or to help in any big way. It’s easy to forget. Because it’s not me.

But what if it was me? What keeps me from a life on the streets?

It is said an enormous percentage of Canadians are only two pay checks away from being homeless.

I have lived much of my adult life only one or two pay checks away from not being able to make ends meet. I have struggled from time to time myself to pay a heat or power bill or buy groceries but I have always managed.

I am lucky to have family and friends who would never allow me to end up on the streets. (That’s not to say Lawrence didn’t. From all accounts he had family that cared for him very much and I can’t pretend to know the details of that.)

But not everyone has people who care.

I have no issues with addiction, I have a decent education that will continue to increase my pay as I get experience.  

I don’t think I have any mental health problems. At least the voices in my head tell that me that I don’t…

In short, I am not homeless because I have been lucky.

I realize there is prejudice and misunderstanding that exists around the issue of homelessness. There is even more prejudice and misunderstanding around the abuse, addiction and mental health and financial issues that can lead to homelessness in the first place.

It is likely this prejudice, mixed with pure cruelty, which led to Lawrence’s death being suspicious.

Imagine, believing that someone is less than you because they are down on their luck.
It can all be hard to understand from the outside looking in.

But if you are unable to understand abuse, addiction, or mental health issues than you should count yourself lucky.

If you are unable to understand what its like to lose everything and find yourself on the streets with no one to turn to, with people feeling it’s OK to hurt or harass you or to simply avoid eye contact, than you should be grateful.

Because all that means is that you have yet to find yourself in their shoes.

With fall quickly turning into winter, there will be men, women and children who will not have a hot meal, a warm coat or a bed to sleep in. You can help make one day, or two or three, a little more bearable.

Many of our homeless are veterans, so celebrate Remembrance Day by helping out at a shelter.

Celebrate the season of giving by donating old coats, boots or mittens. Shelters are also in need of bedding, toiletries, and other items.

There are a million ways to help.

To me the best way to remember Harley Lawrence is to help others in need. Someday it could be you.

If you don't know where to start, here are a couple of links for you to check out.

Can’t donate? Send some warm words. They are free and will be passed along to those in the shelter. You might make someone’s day.

Friday, October 18, 2013

What the frack? (Otherwise titled, longest blog post ever)

Unless you have been under a rock, it has been hard to miss the insanity that unfolded in New Brunswick this week between RCMP and protestors of an American company looking for natural gas in Elsipognog, New Brunswick.

Rather than rant, although you may find a touch of sarcasm here and there, I will give a quick and dirty so people can make up their own minds. A Cliffs Notes of the fracking insanity if you will.

Fracking is the process used to extract natural gas from shale. A well is drilled thousands of feet down and then a cocktail of chemicals and sand is poured in to fracture the rock and allow the gas and oil to be removed.
Dangers of fracking include disruption to wildlife and their habitats, contamination of groundwater, methane pollution, air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, blowouts due to gas explosion, waste disposal, large volume water use in water-deficient regions, fracking-induced earthquakes and infrastructure degradation.
Opposition to fracking isn’t new. Quebec has gone so far as to impose a moratorium on the practice, calling for more information and proof that it is being done safely before any more companies can drill. Because the current practice of hydro-fracking only became popular around 1999, less than 20 years ago, it is hard to tell the full extent of its damage on the environment.
In recent years, New Brunswick has begun to allow American companies to explore for gas. One of these companies is Southwestern Energy Co. based out of Houston (SWN resources). Reportedly, they have already faced lawsuits in the United States where communities have claimed that their drinking water was destroyed by chemicals and waste left by the company.
That means over 100 communities in New Brunswick are potentially looking at the same fate.
The provincial government can’t be blamed for having a bit of a hard on over the whole thing. In their minds they see the potential for a big economic boom. I see a province asking its people to take enormous risks with vague promises of reward.
New Brunswick has legislation allowing it to hold referendums on significant issues and there have reportedly been public calls for a vote over the fracking issue.
From what the media has been reporting over the last few years regarding this issue, despite his election promises of more public consultation and opinion, Premier David Alward has decided a vote is not needed. He feels he is protecting the safety of the province already. That is hard to believe. Research, policy and regulation can take years to build, so these companies can be in and out before the province even knows what the damage may be.
Meetings with protestors have been refused. Meetings to go to the U.S. to chat with oil and gas producers have not. 
Limited resources and time hold back the people who protest the fracking, facing a government who won’t hear them and big business with a wealth of power and resource.
David and Goliath.
What the protestors want, what the supporting MLA’s want, what the communities want, is a moratorium imposed until more information is collected. They also want to be part of the conversation and the decisions being made. There is likely more, but as an outsider looking in, I can't be their voice. 
I do know they want to be heard by the government that they elected. The one that promised they would finally be heard. This is not a lot to ask.
While protests have been going on for a while, one group, the one making the news, has taken up residence outside of SWN Resources since the summer. Much of the group has consisted of Mi’kmaq and Maliseet who fear for the environmental recriminations of fracking, but their movement has been supported by hundreds of other community members, MLA’s, human rights organizations and citizens from around the world.
They also claim to have rights to the land while the government claims it's crown land. I don’t pretend to know who is right here or to be knowledgable about that issue. 
This had been a peaceful protest up until yesterday when the RCMP showed up in the early morning to enforce an injunction allowing SWN Resources to go back to work.
They were there to support the rights of SWN, who was losing an estimated $60,000 a day, over the concerns of their own citizens who feel they are not being heard.
That quick and dirty brings us to yesterday's events. 
Ok I lied, here is where I rant a little.
Yesterday was a disgrace.
I understand the job of the RCMP is to be an unbiased third party who is asked to enforce the law and keep the peace. I understand that it would not be fair of me to point out the number of times the RCMP has been investigated for excessive use of force in these situations, so I won’t bring that up…ahem, and we will just focus on what happened here.
My opinion is that the RCMP showed up ready for war, not for keeping the peace.
They enforced media black outs which made it hard for reporters, or anyone other than RCMP, to document what happened.
There were snipers, dogs, and 300 to 700 armed officers in police carriers.  
Numerous reports state that the violence did not erupt until the crowd was sprayed with pepper spray and the RCMP got aggressive. According to some sources, one RCMP officer declared, “the Crown land belongs to the government, not fucking Natives.”
Unbiased third party indeed.
There was no previous violence to support the type of police presence that arrived. There were reports of two security guards exchanging words with the protestors and feeling threatened. That is it. 
Many believe they moved in not to enforce the injunction, but to avoid the October 18th planned day of action. 
Supporters were calling for people around the country to rally together and provide a flood of phone calls and letters to government in support of the protestors.
Letters and phone calls? Those violent protestors.
The events this week are hard to watch. I don’t agree with violence. It breaks my heart. I also believe that the RCMP encouraged, rather than discouraged it. But I have surprised myself this week by understanding the frustration, fear and anger that it stems from. We have become a very apathetic generation, hardened to the news. We react one day but, as government and big business know, we will quickly forget what angered us on the supper news the night before. When we do, they can do what they want, lining their pockets while we, and the generations after us, suffer for it.
Almost every major change in history has only developed after it exploded into violence. That is unfortunate.
It is also unfortunate that Alward allowed this situation to escalate to this point. He has had years to have these conversations, allow a vote, allow public consultation, to listen to HIS province’s concerns but rather than extinguishing these fires in advance and working to the best benefit of everyone, he has hidden behind his financial dreams for the future and an RCMP SWOT team.
What we have to remember is that this didn’t blow up because of a few days of being ignored, or a few months, its been a few years of the issue being skirted in New Brunswick.
I, for one, am thankful that there are still people out there standing up for my rights. 
Because I can be just as apathetic as the next person. 
Because it isn’t just their land or their communities or their water that will be affected, it is mine and yours as well. 
Violence is unfortunate, but until there is a government that is more willing to stand behind the concerns of its own people, before they stand behind an American corporation, this is what will continue to happen.
That’s my two cents.