Category Archives: Psychology

Need Legal Aid? Get Stuffed!

“Brenner said they were wrong and told them to get stuffed.”
Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun [see below]

Aside from the perverse standards of journalism at the Vancouver Sun, the above indicates that the BC Court of Appeals is not willing to contribute to a humane notion of legal aid for the resource-deprived embroiled in civil cases.

While legal aid for criminal cases was not the issue, after deep cuts across the country to legal aid for victims in civil cases, the Canadian Bar Association wanted the courts to establish a standard of justice that offends the neoliberal budget cutters that are particularly harsh in BC.

People deserving legal aid include those facing unjust eviction, mothers reeling from deadbeat dads ignoring court-ordered financial support and scores of others find themselves unable to afford effective representation in civil matters.

Of course, the rich do quite well since they can afford counsel to pursue their legal issues. Civil legal aid, however, is becoming far less civil than it deserves to be.

And in one sense, it all comes down to freedom. Political philosophers talk about negative and positive freedoms. Negative freedom refers to a way of defining freedom where individuals are free from “needless” meddling by the state, where we are not regulated and impeded in our pursuit of our liberty. Hyper-capitalists, libertarians and neoliberal governments look for ways to keep society from interfering with our god-given right to go about our business, regardless of how many people or watersheds we abuse.

Positive freedom defines freedom as a way of enabling those who are socially disempowered to have access to opportunity to function as well as those who are socially gifted: often groups like white, upper or middle class, English speaking males. Positive freedom efforts include things like affirmative action, or using tax dollars to fund legal aid for those not wealthy enough to pursue civil legal justice.

Obviously these two conceptions of freedom are mutually exclusive in their pure form. They also form a core conflict in our society: deregulate to the point where we have no society or gather together social and financial resources to empower those who are structurally vulnerable, thereby undermining the power of the economic, social and political elites.

The Court of Appeals has chosen to reject this effort to pursue positive freedom. It is not an isolated incident and it allows a neoliberal regime in our province and country to continue gutting social programs that allow people who aren’t white men to have a better shot at success or even meaningful survival.

Legal aid not a right, court rules
B.C. Appeal Court judges quash lawyers’ bid to force government to pay civil legal costs of poor people
Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

The B.C. Court of Appeal has backed B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Brenner’s decision to kill the Canadian Bar Association’s landmark attempt to force governments to provide adequate civil legal aid to poor people.

In a majority ruling Monday, the court agreed with the province’s senior trial court judge and said he was also quite right to assess costs against the CBA.

Susan McGrath, past president of the bar association, said she was saddened because the decision means access to justice will continue being denied to those least able to help themselves.

“We’re disappointed we continue to confront procedural hurdles trying to bring this case,” the Ontario lawyer said in an interview. “We’re going to have to study the ruling and consider our options. We had hoped the courts would have been more responsive to this novel approach. We’re not giving up the fight.”

The Appeal Court said the association failed to meet even the minimum threshold for launching such an action — a reasonable claim.

“Although the action is intended to assist low-income members of the pubic and its spirit is commendable, I do not consider that the altruistic nature of the action should be afforded much weight until at least the [bar association] has established it can meet the minimal test of disclosing a reasonable claim,” Justice Mary Saunders wrote.

Supported by Justice Peter Lowry, she quoted the Supreme Court of Canada saying there is no fundamental right to access to legal services:

“Access to legal services is fundamentally important in any free and democratic society. In some cases, it has been found essential to due process and a fair trial. But a review of the constitutional text, the jurisprudence and the history of the concept does not support the respondent’s contention that there is a broad general right to legal counsel as an aspect of, or precondition to, the rule of law.”

(Justice Allan Thackray, the third member of the appeal panel, heard arguments in the case but retired in October before the decision and did not participate in the ruling.)

In a clear and well-reasoned judgment, Justice Brenner said the bar association was the wrong group to launch such a lawsuit, and the remedy it sought was far too sweeping. (The Appeal Court didn’t rule on whether the bar association was the proper body to bring such a lawsuit because it found its arguments had been so unpersuasive that that question didn’t need to be answered.)

“Instead of considering a specific statute or a specific administrative act or expenditure for constitutional compliance, this case would ultimately require the court to define a constitutionally valid civil legal aid scheme and order its provision by the [federal and provincial governments],” Justice Brenner wrote.

For almost two decades, legal aid across Canada has been a growing concern because of government cutbacks.

Provinces have curtailed legal aid services, narrowing the types of cases they cover, raising the eligibility criteria, making it harder to qualify.

At the same time, the federal government assumes little responsibility, with the primary exception of serious criminal matters.

People often have no legal assistance even when critical issues are at stake and no government is accountable.

The legal community fears we are creating a system for the rich and stacking the deck against those without resources, yet extensive lobbying has proved useless.

In 2002, the bar association launched this lawsuit. It chose B.C. for the unique test case because of the deep, deep cuts to legal services by the Liberal government when it first took office.

“Our concern has always been access to justice,” McGrath said.

The association filed a statement of claim in June 2005, alleging the provision of civil legal aid in B.C. is inadequate and those inadequacies amount to breaches of the Constitution and international human rights conventions.

It maintained that coverage was limited, that financial eligibility guidelines excluded many poor people, and that the services provided are too restrictive.

As the voice of some 36,000 members of the country’s legal profession, the association said it was the most appropriate party to bring such a suit.

It maintained it was unreasonable to insist that poor individuals — denied legal aid in cases where they are unjustly evicted or when they are threatened about the custody of their children — be required to mount constitutional challenges themselves on a case-by-case basis.

The association wanted court-mandated civil legal aid across Canada with judges deciding what was necessary while taxpayers footed the bill.

Brenner said they were wrong and told them to get stuffed.

He said there are other ways to tackle the problem facing the poor, and like the Supreme Court of Canada, suggested individual litigants could raise their need on a case-by-case basis.

The Appeal Court agreed that this lawsuit as put forward by the association was the wrong way to proceed.

“We knew there would be setbacks,” McGrath said. “But I don’t think people without the financial resources and often without the emotional resources should be expected to mount this type of challenge and argue this case before the court. We’re not giving up.”

imulgrew@png.canwest.com

Society’s Celebrity Bloodlust Complex and Britney Spears: Part 2

In Part one I compared society’s fascination with Britney Spears to the new movie Untraceable where people visit a website to accelerate the murder of a prone victim. Now that she’s out of the psych ward, there seems to be a new level of intimacy between Britney and the “journalists” out to get the best shots of her. It’s almost as if whatever pretense there had recently been about not literally swarming and stalking her has evaporated.

These two stills from CNN video are courtesy of a media helicopter that followed her car away from the hospital. It was stopped at least twice on the road for the swarmings.

It’s hard to imagine how much of this a person can take. If she “snaps” we would get to say, “yeah, that figures” but how much of a chance does this woman have to be able to regain mental health.

It reminds me of a tunnel in Paris in the late 1990s, except this time it’s not taking place in one evening of speeding drivers, but stretched out slow motion over weeks and months, almost as if someone is storyboarding it for maximum extraction of images during her whole descent into madness.

On one level she has merely drifted from one entertainment sector to another: pop music to tabloid spectacle. Once a Disney prop, she’s now a media character. I wonder if she’s ever had much time to be a self-contained individual.

Society’s Celebrity Bloodlust Complex and Britney Spears


Last Saturday, I sadly missed a special presentation of something called “The Fall of Britney Spears” or something like that on E! Channel, a sad commentary on our society that used to be Vancouver Island’s TV station.

I don’t like Britney Spears’ music or PR thing very much at all, but we are both parents of two children so suddenly I have a good degree of empathy for her. I’ve also always been rather concerned about celebrity microscope effect, long before the death of Princess Diana.

But this show on E! Channel was about reviewing recent events detailing Britney’s “fall.”

Though I missed the show, I thought about it every time I saw the trailer for the film Untraceable. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it seems that one of the plot elements of the movie is that some killer fellow has set up some sort of murder machine that will kill someone at some point, a point which accelerates closer when a greater number of people visit some website. So people’s participation in the spectacle makes them complicit in a murder.

You can even try out http://www.killwithme.com and take part in the movie/murder/complicity spectacle on your own in an ironic, self-reflexive nod to the plot device.

It seems to me that everyone who watched that Britney Spears show on E! Channel last week [and every other act of celebrity obsession] is complicit in the struggles she is now enduring. And while we can callously wipe it all away by saying she voluntarily chose to become a celebrity, that is insufficient to excuse what truly appears to be a celebrity bloodlust complex. We like to build up people to be larger than life, but at the same time we are always looking for excuses to bring them back down to earth to make sure they aren’t better than us.

I expect sociologists have much more to say on this, and those who have seen Untraceable will be able to confirm how much this observer complicity is significant in the movie, but in the end, the movie may be a strong metaphor for our role in Britney Spears’ tribulations.

Child Sexual Abuse Treatment: BC Government Lies About Underfunding


Some lessons to heed from question period this week:

1. BC’s neoLiberal party abuses Freedom of Information requests to make themselves look good and justify leaving abused children vulnerable.

2. BC’s neoLiberal party has lied about the need for better funding for treating children who have suffered sexual abuse.

3. The installation of a Representative for Children and Youth last fall should be viewed in this new light.

4. The government should actually hold legislative sessions for public accountability.

5. Tom Christensen’s offices are just gorgeous [see above] with their new renovations using money that could have paid for child sexual abuse counsellors.

It was a sick, sick Halloween when in question period, Minister of Children and Family Development Tom Christensen tried to dance around being caught by the Times Colonist [see below] in redacting critical elements of a report, thus allowing the Ministry to deny providing poor service to child sexual abuse victims.

Christensen, with no sense of irony: “It’s unfortunate that the opposition is choosing to politicize this issue.”

Then NDP MLA Rob Flemming followed up the questioning, “Sadly, it isn’t the first time they’ve tried to cover up failings when it comes to protecting children. Last fall the opposition revealed an FOI which was sent inadvertently to the opposition, complete with handwritten sticky-notes. That FOI about child protection in the Coroner’s Service had a handwritten note from the Deputy Solicitor General asking for more severing because it ‘contradicts what we’ve said to this point.’ The FOI also showed the public affairs bureau has been given sign-off authority by this government.”

Christensen’s ass-covering reply: “I can tell you that the Ministry of Children and Family Development receives well over a thousand FOI requests each year. I have nothing to do with a single one of those, but in fact we have a piece of legislation that balances access to information with a number of other considerations.”

So much for ministerial responsibility. I know he doesn’t process FOI requests, but the minister is responsible for the ministry’s actions. Further, the FOI legislation isn’t designed for the government to sever information in FOIs that contradicts their public messaging to keep from appearing duplicitous.

Christensen, later: “I’m proud of what this government has accomplished for children and youth with mental health issues across this province — a child and youth mental health plan that is the envy of jurisdictions across Canada.”

I wonder if those jurisdictions envy the BC neoLiberals’ ability to redact documents to justify defunding child sexual abuse treatment programs.

And now I think back to last November when the government reluctantly decided to actually hold a legislative session to appoint a Representative for Children and Youth, a session that the NDP stretched out to a whopping 3 days. Knowing now that at that time the government was hiding the report that was critical of their funding of child sexual abuse treatment, maybe that helps explain why that Representative appointment was enough to justify actually holding a fall legislative session.

2006 report identified problems with B.C.’s child abuse programs
Lindsay Kines
Times Colonist
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The B.C. government has known for 18 months that its program to help sexually abused children is in trouble and needs help, documents obtained by the Times Colonist show.

Long before stories broke last spring about children waiting months for counselling, a review by the Ministry of Children and Family Development uncovered extensive problems with its Sexual Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP).

The April 2006 review concluded that the 47 agencies and societies helping abused children felt neglected, isolated and short-changed by government.

“Providers were unanimous in their view that program funding is insufficient to meet the needs for SAIP services,” the 26-page review stated.

The report said the program was a “critical element” of services related to child and youth mental health and “deserving of a more explicit focus.”

“There is a pervasive view among providers that the program has been neglected by government decision-makers over the past several years,” the report stated

The ministry blanked out those comments from a copy of the review released under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

But the TC has obtained an unedited version of the report that shows many of the agencies complained about a lack of money for training, poor wages for counsellors, an inability to travel to provide services in remote geographic areas, isolation from decision-makers and deteriorating relationships over the past 10 years.

“A more intensive focus on sexual-abuse intervention programming should yield greater satisfaction among providers and improved access and quality of services for clients, resulting in a more consistent standard of care across the province,” the report said.

The province’s sexual abuse program made headlines last spring when Victoria’s Mary Manning Centre was forced to issue layoff notices to three part-time therapists because of a lack of funding. The subsequent publicity prompted public donations totaling more than $130,000 that allowed the centre to re-hire therapists and eliminate a waitlist for sexually abused children.

A TC investigation at the time found that other agencies were also struggling, that sexually abused children were waiting up to six months for treatment in some regions, and that the program’s budget had been frozen at $3 million for 17 years.

Children’s Minister Tom Christensen expressed concern last May that the budget had been frozen for so long.

“I’m asking my staff questions about that to see if it’s something we need to be looking at more closely,” he said.

The ministry’s review a year earlier, however, had already identified key areas requiring attention, including “establishing appropriate funding.”

“Providers maintain that funding has not kept pace with population growth, particularly in high-growth geographic areas, or inflation,” the review said.

Christensen said in an interview this week that he did not know all the details of the review last spring, though he was aware his ministry had been looking at the sexual abuse program. The review was done about five months before he was appointed minister.

“Having said that, quite frankly my answers in the spring wouldn’t have been any different,” he said.

Christensen said it’s no surprise that when the ministry surveys agencies to see if they have a shortage of cash, “you get the answer, ‘Yes, there is.'”

He noted the review found little consistency among how agencies run sexual-abuse counselling programs across the province, and stressed the need to establish standards before dealing with money matters.

“That’s the work that’s been underway for the las
t number of months,” Christensen said. Draft standards are ready for review, and the ministry recently held a training session on trauma counselling, he said.

“We are moving forward in terms of trying to ensure that this is an effective program and that the public can be assured of quality services, regardless of where they may access them in the province, and that there’s some consistency of standards,” he said.

Once that’s done, he hinted at a possible budget boost for the program in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. “I didn’t make any secret of it in the spring that I was surprised that the funding had been frozen, and I certainly am of the view that when people have suffered sexual abuse and we have effective counselling that can help them to deal with that, then we need to be working hard to make it available.”

Note to TransLink: Your Riders Are Not Customers

I went to the TransLink website just now to search for the word “customer”. I found 376 references.

I also have noticed that in recent days a canned announcement pops onto Skytrains regularly asking “Skytrain customers” to not leave their lame faux-news free daily newspapers [Metro, 24] lying all over the trains cluttering them up and creating a slipping hazard for most everyone.

As part of the large trend to commodify all things public and common, riders are no longer riders, we are customers purchasing a service: mass transit. As customers we are told the class of our existence on what used to be public transit.

Now the new TransLink board is being appointed by a gang of mostly business-folk, a board not accountable to the token Council of Mayors who will be “consulted” on decisions. Public money spent by unaccountable directors appointed by mostly business interests.

If you resent being classed as a “public” transit customer instead of a co-owner of a commonly held public “public” transit system, you had better start paying more attention to the Campbell neoLiberal government’s agenda to sell us [and everything held in common] down the river.

And it would help to read Naomi Klein’s new book to get a primer on the last few decades of rationale behind the premier’s manifestation of neoliberal cancer. And if you don’t have time to read it all, you can get the 6 minute primer here.

And a few facts to make you wonder just what price we pay for a privatized, deregulated world.

I’ve Decided to Become a Paris Hilton Fan, So Should You!

The Old, Debauched Paris:

The New, Squeaky Clean, Adorable Paris:

I’m sold!

It is clear to me that Paris Hilton has embraced a tone of contrition. She has embarked on life after incarceration with a brand new image of humility and a sparkling new girl next door haircut.

Perhaps she is concerned that it is time to grow up and leave her partying ways behind her. She was rebellious and disrespectful of her adoring public. She is “serious about leaving her famously party-loving past behind.”

Perhaps jail was her equivalent of Drew Barrymore flashing her boobs at Letterman, but now Paris seeks the kind of respectability and success that Drew now knows.

In the end, you be the judge. Media has nurtured a month-long boner over her tribulations. It lives to create an international obsession to milk ad dollars with a compliant public.

Paris is doing her job. She is keeping the “news”[sic] industry/business rolling right along.

God bless Paris Hilton.

Canadians: Far More Than Global Warming Victims

“A much anticipated and some say definitive report on global warming is due to come out of Paris tomorrow. What could this mean for our country, our province, our future?”

This is what I heard tonight, February 1, 2007, on CTV promoting the 600pm news on February 2nd. They are refering to the UN’s release of nearly conclusive evidence that humans are a significant source of global warming.

“Some say” suggests a large number of people, but “some” is less than “many”. And “some” suggests less than half. “Most” would be more than half.

Since the science is supported by a virtual consensus of scientists not funded by the fossil fuel industries, I’d say that is more than “some”.

What could this mean for our country, province and future? I think the whole problem with how most of “us” deal with “some” who think the report is definitive is that it’s all about us. Bangladesh will likely largely go under water like much of many Oceania countries. Or would that be “some” of Bangladesh…

The focus on us is the problem: Canadians, OECD-world folks, us inhabitants of the industrialized rich world, and the comprador rich of the majority world. We can afford to move somewhere if our bioregion changes too much. Most people [not some] will be victims of global warming without the means to easily find a healthier climate.

And since “we” are by far more responsible for global warming than the majority world, I get a little tired of “us” talking about how this all may affect “us.” it’s time to wake up to the rest of the world and see how we’re abusing it all. Then we need to admit [to ourselves and the rest of the world] our complicity and guilt and scrub the whole Gateway Program…just as a start. If we think we really need to twin the Port Mann Bridge for more auto traffic, our worship of personal liberties is becoming homocidal. Getting rid of your car will help too. It’s going to take far more than just putting on a sweater, Mr. Gore.

And in watching the news since the Paris release, watching the person-on-the-street interviews, we have a long way to go. My favorite idea to help the environment was that someone said they recycle. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycle is the residual LAST thing to do after we reduce our consumption [especially resource hogs in the industrialized world like us] and reuse far more than we do. And when I was writing about it being in our own best interest to not embrace a drastic reduction in standard of living to make up for our [the industriazlied world] great responsibility for global warming, to avoid a significant critique of our own system, we say that we recycle.

How completely inadequate.

The truth is not inconvenient for us. It is utterly damning and when CTV news continues to say “some” think this is a definitive report, we have still a long way to go.

Your Ignorance and Lack of Empathy

To Mindelle Jacobs:

Your lack of empathy for structural abuse and discrimination against women is only superseded by your ignorance of the realities of the plight of millions of women in Canada.

Despite many reality-challenged “facts” you seem to believe, the fact that you believe Canada to be a nation that has moved beyond racism and colonialism means your qualifications to comment on Canadian society are completely lacking. I am ashamed of your ability to spout such ignorance in Canadian media.

http://www.edmontonsun.com/News/Columnists/Jacobs_Mindelle/2006/09/24/1888704.html

Despair over cuts to women’s groups

By Mindelle Jacobs

The way critics are wailing over possible cuts to women’s programs, you’d think the Harper government was preparing to force females into burkas.

One group, the National Association of Women and the Law, closed down earlier this month because it didn’t get federal funding.

The little-known Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action thought it was going to have to close last week. But its grant application was approved on Thursday, it announced on its website.

So much for those women-bashing Tories, eh?

Still, the movers and shakers in the women’s movement are waiting with baited breath to see if Status of Women Canada, a federal agency that bankrolls women’s groups and promotes gender equality, is on the chopping block.

If it gets the boot, will the rights of Canadian women be in danger? Will their life choices be curtailed? Hardly. Women in this country are better off than ever before.

This endless quest for gender equality is quite tiresome at a time when virtually all the significant barriers to women’s accomplishment have been smashed.

In my mind, the one major remaining roadblock in the path to women’s equality is the lack of a national day-care program. But, given the Tories’ unwavering opposition to such an initiative, that is a battle for another day.

That issue aside, the left-wing crowd is working itself into fits of despair at the thought of cutbacks to women’s organizations.

“This government clearly has no interest in the status of women,” bleated NDP MP Irene Mathyssen on Wednesday.

That’s right. The Harper government will be banning girls from school, prohibiting birth control and ordering up burkas any day now.

Get a grip. Yes, some women are having a hard time of it. And women’s groups are quick to blame systemic societal barriers. Nonsense. Bad choices lead to miserable lives.

If a woman studies hard and goes to law school, she will have far more financial autonomy than most men. Her decision to challenge herself is the key.

A woman who gets pregnant, drops out of school and hangs out with losers has less opportunity in life. But that’s not society’s fault.

One of Status of Women Canada’s main goals is improving women’s economic autonomy. But do we need a federal agency to tell women to stay in school and make wise career choices?

The agency also puts out mind-numbing reports, like the recent one on gender equality.

The paper harps about the ongoing pay gap between men and women, without pointing out that men tend to choose higher-paying jobs because they’re socialized to be the breadwinners.

It’s disingenuous to complain that women working full time only earn about 70 cents for every dollar men make if you’ve deliberately chosen to work as, say, a low-paid restaurant hostess.

Status of Women Canada also supports the loony idea of placing “gender specialists” in federal departments to measure the impact of proposed policies on the equality of women.

I’d say that’s not the best use of our tax dollars.

Before it lost its funding, the National Association of Women and the Law worked “to end racism and colonialism.” Yeah, there’s a lot of that happening in Canada.

Poverty, violence and discrimination “which still affect all too many women” require specific legislative measures, the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action wrote Bev Oda, the minister responsible for the status of women, recently.

The open letter was signed by 31 women’s groups that supposedly represent Canadian women. But 22 of the organizations are from Quebec.

If we really want to help marginalized women, let’s put money into concrete initiatives like Head Start programs, affordable housing and retraining grants. Enough of the gender-equality navel-gazing.

– mjacobs@edmsun.com

E-mail Mindy Jacobs at mjacobs@edmsun.com.
Letters to the editor should be sent to mailbag@edmsun.com.