Fact-checking failures in recent coverage of New West issues

New Westminster City Councillor Jaimie McEvoy
New Westminster City Councillor Jaimie McEvoy

This is a guest post by New Westminster city councillor Jaimie McEvoy, in response to a link we shared on Facebook from a Metro Vancouver political blog, City Caucus, about a proposed New West trade junket to Korea. Inaccuracies and assumptions in the City Caucus article revived earlier frustrations about misleading Vancouver reporting on New West issues, so we invited Jaimie to set the record straight.

There has been a wave of coverage about New Westminster by Vancouver media, in each case forming judgements about the city’s actions based on little more than a hunch. And frankly, in each case, the issues in New Westminster pale to similar issues in Vancouver itself.

If a New Westminster story is of enough interest to gain regional coverage, then it is also of enough merit for the media outlet to provide the same background checking and balance in coverage that they do for a Vancouver story.

Here are some of the factual errors in the City Caucus article, all of which could have been prevented with a simple phone call to City Hall:

Council is not going to Korea

Korea is off the table and is not part of the trip, precisely because the return at this time would not be adequate. This was the case since before the article in the Record, which seems to be the article’s only source.

China trip is part of a coordinated provincial strategy

The article says the trip is a waste of time unless it is coordinated with a Metro strategy. In fact, it is part of a coordinated provincial strategy in which municipalities have agreed to participate. That’s why the large majority of the funds have come from the provincial government for other overseas missions. Provincial trade representatives are making many of the overseas arrangements for the delegation. There was absolutely no reason for the writer to incorrectly conclude that the trip is being planned in “a haphazard way” and without coordination with other areas, that was simply an assumption, and an incorrect one.

Personally, I would like to see a development component to the Sister city program. What would be wrong with having, for example, a Sister city in the Punjab, or Southern Sudan, to raise awareness and promote development? These are areas where large numbers of New Westers hail from. Given our multicultural nature, our 100 languages, our high number of refugees and immigrants in the city, the call for a parochial isolationism at the international level hardly reflects our community.

Education & health funding crisis won’t be solved by refusing to participate in foreign trade efforts

Returning the provincial monies for this program would be tantamount to New Westminster withdrawing from foreign trade efforts in partnership with the province.

The idea that funding for health care and education can be funded by withdrawing from trade and economic efforts seems odd to me. And in fact, the crisis in funding for health and education is not caused by the current economic crisis, which has improved significantly since last Fall, but by the decision to give large tax breaks for corporations in the province, to the extent that, for example, higher education now recieves more funding through tuition fees than it does through corporate taxes. The decision by the province to cut in half the industrial school tax throughout the province was particularly harmful to education funding.

‘Back-of-the-napkin’ journalism must end

“I would venture to guess not,” City Caucus’ Daniel Fontaine says at one point in the article. Guessing isn’t journalism. And the revival of journalism has been one of the great things about blogs. At another point, Fontaine writes, “This back-of-napkin economic development planning must end.” As must back-of-napkin journalism.

I am unclear on why the article comes to the conclusions that it does based on guesses and supposition, but it better represents the writers cynicism than it does the process for choosing sites. Potential new Sister cities are identified and developed not by the city on the back of a napkin, but through the work of provincial trade officials. It is a provincially coordinated, trade-based and planned process.

Personally, though, I don’t feel that trade should be the only consideration. Our city has a long historical relationshiops with China for example. The first Japanese in British Columbia arrived at New Westminster. And the city has a large and growing Korean population. For many, the idea of crossing our largest border – the ocean – is a cause for hysteria. But for most of the world, foreign delegations of elected officials are part of the natural engagement with each other, and part of the promotion of cultural and mutual understanding.

Elitist stereotypes about smaller towns like New West breed inaccurate assumptions

The writer calls for more of an economic plan for Metro Vancouver, formerly the GVRD. New Westminster City Council has already issued a similar call.

Rather than stereotyping and incorrectly making assumptions about one of the Lower Mainland’s small towns, the writer would have done well to ask Vancouver, and other Metro Van cities, why there is not more support for New Westminster’s position.

I have seen this more than once. For example, calls from Vancouver for a regional police force when Vancouver is the only police force in the region that does not participate in the existing regional integrated teams. Calls from Vancouver calling for New Westminster to apologize for its treatment of the Chinese, when part of that history was the receiving into New Westminster of large numbers of Chinese refugees from Vancouver’s race riots. Targeting one of the local small towns from Vancouver, without so much as a phone call or a fact check, seems elitist to me. And so it is.

I should add that I like City Caucus and the work that they do. Fair treatment of the other municipalities outside of Vancouver, accuracy, fair comment and modest research will enhance their progressive efforts.

Welcome Newsleader readers

Will’s post on Bill Chu and his organization Canadians For Reconciliation was picked up by the New Westminster Newsleader, and an edited version ran in the paper today as a guest column. Chu has been very successful using the power of the press release to get ink on historical mistreatment of Chinese Canadians in New Westminster, but as Will points out in his post, the other side of the story has been underrepresented in the media. If you’re here from the Newsleader, you may want to read the original, which includes a point-by-point breakdown of Chu’s claims and demands.

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Farmers’ Market Set to Kick Off

Admittedly, I’m a little biased. I was recently appointed as the market manager for the Royal City Farmers’ Market, but I am so excited about the market’s reopening coming up!

The second incarnation of the Royal City Farmers’ Market is about to kick off June 25th with a special “Welcome to Summer Vacation” market, featuring kids’ activities including toys and crafts, a magician, face painting, and a special appearance by Mayor Wayne Wright who will start the market season off with a bang! The market runs June 25 to October 8 and is on Thursdays from 3-7pm in Tipperary Park, which has got to be one of the nicest urban parks around.

The market had it’s first year last year after a 25 year hiatus in New Westminster and it was so successful that registered vendors for this year have almost doubled. Farmers’ markets are an essential part of your local economy and by shopping at the market, you are supporting the “little guys” and you know you are getting fresh goods. You’ll also reduce your carbon footprint by buying goods produced / grown / made here in BC (most are from the Lower Mainland).

Aside from the shopping, the Royal City Farmers’ Market encourages you to bring a blanket and hang out in the park. The market isn’t just about shopping, it’s also a great place to meet up and socialize with your friends and family. What better way to spend a summer night?

RC Farmers Market 02

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A Critical Eye on ‘Canadians for Reconciliation’

Our Chinese Canadian Pioneers

I am having a real problem writing this post. I am a white guy and as my ancestors came to New Westminster in 1909. I am one of the very, veeery few New Westminsterites whose oldsters may have actually participated in active or passive discrimination of Chinese Pioneers in this city’s past.

I fully understand my position in this story but as a bleeding heart liberal and as a BC elementary and secondary student whose history education consisted of French Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians, Chinese Canadians and South Asian Canadians to the exclusion of all else, I have been fully conditioned to feel guilty, sympathetic and responsible.

I understand that by simply raising the following issue here, I could be branded a reactionary or a racist but in fact, I would be the first to support reasonable measures to honour the contributions of historically marginalized groups. I would feel more comfortable, however, if the voice calling for action also had an echo of credibility. It is time for a critical view.

By a critical view, I mean to be open-minded and not take anything for granted. I am not here to criticize per se, but I do believe there has been a real lack of true reporting on the claims and demands made by Bill Chu, founder, chair and spokesperson of ‘Canadians for Reconciliation,’ a Christian organization dedicated in the past to a religious reconciliation, and more recently to the reconciliation of ‘society’ with the stories and worth of Chinese and Aboriginal Canadians and the past abuses of those groups by historical British Columbians and now, New Westminsterites.

Like any good spokesperson, Chu is great at getting press releases published and getting interviews in local media. I have heard him on the radio twice and he has had articles and news stories in the local papers more times than I could count (Record, Leader, Georgia Straight, Province and I think the Sun). In all such cases, the report is simply a blind acceptance of the position and opinion of Bill Chu, a Canadian arriving from Hong Kong in the 1980’s, and no actual investigation into the veracity of what he says. I say, there should have been questions asked that were not.

  • Are the remains of early Chinese Canadians buried at the NWSS site?
  • Did New Westminster turn the Chinese Benevolent association building into a dog park?
  • Has the education of our children excluded the story of the Chinese Community?
  • Has nothing been done to reconcile our past and honour the legacy of Chinese Pioneers?
  • Is Mr Chu a descendant of the Chinese Canadian pioneer community? Does he officially represent the claims of this community?

In many of his interviews and articles and statements, I have found the claims of Bill Chu to be misleading and sometimes false and his demands to be irresponsible, irrelevant and made without the input of the descendants of early Chinese Canadians. He seems dismissive to the needs and welfare of the community here in New Westminster and I am of the opinion that no matter what commemorative or reconciliation activities may have happened in the past, if it was not at the hands of Bill Chu, they just won’t cut it.

Claims

City of New Westminster shows “reluctance to acknowledge” historical discrimination against Chinese residents”

I don’t see it. It is covered in all of the museums, a special feature is about to be unveiled in the Fraser River discovery center and every review of our city’s history had a prominent position for the stories of our Chinese Pioneers. The subject is covered endlessly in our city’s schools, our Mayor and Council have reached out to communities in China and elsewhere and a committee for multiculturalism works actively in the city. What is more, New Westminster is a multicultural city with a pluralist view and population. Our city includes Chinese Canadians as equals, not as outsiders.

New Westminster Senior Secondary built on Chinese Graves

Kind of true. There was a Chinese Cemetery in part of the cemetery that is under part of the NWSS school site. The practice was to inter the body for a few years and then ship the exhumed remains to China for final burial. It is projected by city historians and by Chu himself that the likelihood that remains still exist is low. This cemetery and the other grave areas on the site were built over during WW2 by the federal government for use by the army as a camp. After the war, NWSS was built. The fact that there was a (multi-ethnic) cemetery there was not forgotten, but it did not stop the building of the school. There is a lesson in that.

Chinese Benevolent Association Building site turned into a dog park by City, Mayor and Council

Well there is a dog park there. Apparently, before the 1920s, the swampy semi-tidal land that is now between the Spaghetti Factory and the old London Drugs site was a China Town. I remember a story that McInes St was built with rail road ties that had to be replenished every few years as the swamp sucked them up. I would bet there is not much left to find after a century of suction and the construction of the Quay, New Westminster Station, the overpass, 8 high-rise towers, Fogg Motors (gone) London Drugs (gone) and various industrial and automotive businesses. The idea that the dog park was built over the Benevolent Association site is a real stretch as that site has been a crackilakin’ weed patch for the last 5 years and a light industrial building before that.

Carnarvon dog park emotionally damaging to Chinese Canadians because of whites only dog parks in China’s past

I don’t even know what to make of this one. China made dog parks that were for whites only? Why? Is that something we should have known about? Is the suggestion that we are intentionally rubbing salt in the wounds of Chinese Canadians? Is the multi-ethnic, pluralistic society of New Westminster now to blame for this bizarre occurrence in China that took place decades ago?

Demands

City of New Westminster: Enact a Chinese Heritage Week

OK, I am sold on this one. Lots of ethnic communities put a real great events together in this city.  Our position as an affordable, central and dense community with lots of community service institutions means that we have large populations of new Canadians from Africa, the Caribbean, East and South Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. We also have vibrant Aboriginal and Western European populations. I think council should proclaim a Chinese Heritage event. Like the Caribbean community does, the Chinese Community could organize a family-oriented public event that is fun for everyone and promotes inter-cultural understanding.

During this Chinese Heritage Week, Schools in District #40 will be taught all about the Chinese Story in New Westminster.

Besides not being in the power of City Council in the first place, I should point out that there is precious little local curriculum of any kind in the school system in the first place. When I was in high school, when Provincial and Canadian history was taught at all, it was focused almost exclusively on the history of our marginalized and minority Canadians until about grade 11 and 12.

All excavation of Chinatown area be accompanied by an archeologist

Way too expensive and it only serves the interests of the group demands it as the whole area has been built over at least once already and anything else is under the 10 meters of fill used to make the land a former swamp

A memorial park to Chinese Pioneers must be built on the NWSS site.

Chinese Nationalist League Building, New Westminster 1946

In a city as dense and small as ours, where almost every contentious community issue comes down to the lack of available land, we have already been told that a portion of the New Westminster Secondary School site must be reserved as a passive park, over the Cemetery. Despite what the needs of the community are, the status of portions of that site as an active cemetery mean that this must happen. Ideally, this passive park will include a monument that will honour all of the pioneer populations that used the space as a cemetery and it will be incorporated as part of the graceful open spaces used by the students and teachers of NWSS.

This city is in a gut-wrenching stage of its history as our school system seems to be imploding, buildings are falling apart, recently forgotten cemeteries stymie plans to move ahead while we are forced to slash teachers, support staff and even close schools. While it is important to give honour where honour is due, can we allow it to be at the expense of the whole community; a multi-ethnic community that we all belong to? Should the voice or claims of one person outweigh the needs of a city?

I think no. I think the city should reach out to the actual descendants of our Chinese Canadian pioneers to determine if the last few decades of correcting our history and understanding of the Chinese Canadian story has allowed them to feel like whole citizens. Should we ask them whether we need to gnaw over old bones and dig up old wrongs or is this just needless self flagellation?

If there is a real feeling that a commemoration should occur, let’s look to one that doesn’t pit one ethnicity against another or ascribe shame to a pluralistic city filled with people whose ancestors, except for me and perhaps a hundred other citizens, had nothing at all to do with the challenges or opportunities of the past.

Post Script: Look, this is my opinion here and it is not necessarily shared by the blog Tenth to the Fraser or by the other authors. There is a comment section of this post. Fill it up if you disagree or agree. I am an even minded type of person. I can admit if I have some of this wrong. Share some evidence with me if you think I should know about it. Until then, “I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

Sources:  much of what I am quoting and referencing here has been on the radio, in the Record, Leader and Province but for right now, I am only referencing this article in the Georgia Straight and this one in the Record.

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New Westminsterite In Space

This morning a Canadian astronaut blasted off successfully in the Soyuz spacecraft from Khazahkstan (low res video here, high res video here) as part of a mission called Expedition 20/21. This expedition is a Canadian milestone, as it is the first time a Canadian has taken part in a long term space mission. That Canadian’s name is Dr. Robert Thirsk, and although most of his growing up was elsewhere, Dr. Thirsk was born here in New Westminster. He has been in space before, and is a highly respected member of Canada’s Space program. Here is Dr. Thirsk’s mission patch, designed by BC artist Bill Helin:

Which I personally think is AWESOME. There is a great long design rationale here. Dr. Thirsk (aka: Bob) has listed his musical tastes here, and his space menu is also posted online because us Canadians need to know not only what he’ll be humming along to while he conducts experiments and takes care of some maintenance at the International Space Station for six months, but what he’ll be consuming for that same duration. 

I read the pre-launch interview with Bob, and I have to say that Bob Thirsk strikes me as the type of guy I’d love to sit down and have a beer and some nachos with. Check back to the Expedition 20/21’s page for updated content as the mission progresses. 

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LA Times gives props to local balcony veggie-gardening program

New West’s Biggest Little Garden program has attracted attention from the LA Times, which has published an article about the innovative community gardening initiative. The program is the brainchild of Fraserside Living Well Program director Diane Cairns, who had to find a solution to increase local food production in a city where 70% of us live in apartment buildings. She wanted to revive the old ‘Victory Garden’ concept of growing your own fruits and vegetables – and sharing the harvest with your neighbours – but how could it take off when so few residents had backyards? 

There was only one solution: Bring the dirt to the people. Despite having no gardening background, Cairns designed a compact, three-tiered planter made of a handsome (and rot-resistant) cedar — just the right size for a small balcony. The 32-by-8-by-8-inch planters are narrow enough to squeeze through small apartment doors, raised high enough so no stooping is required for planting and picking, and built with a trellis on the top tier to support bean and squash vines.
The garden, soil and plants are delivered for free to whomever opts into the program. In return, participants promise to water and weed and to share leftover produce with neighbors.
Cairns hoped to have eight to 10 pilot Biggest Little Gardens in 2007, but the project was so popular in that first year, she wound up with 54. Two years later, 108 gardens are in operation and Cairns has secured funding for an additional 70 in the coming growing season. A community service group in nearby Surrey is planning to copy the program.
– LA Times | Balcony Vegetable Patch

 

The program is completely free for low-income apartment-dwellers in New Westminster, however you must sign a contract in which you pledge to care for the plants and ensure the produce doesn’t go to waste – any excess must be given to family or friends or donated to the food bank via New West’s Plant A Row, Grow A Row program administered out of St. Aidan’s Church.

I’m one of the lucky ones with a yard in New West, but since spotting the planter and reading about the program last year, I’ve thought I’d like to buy one for my back deck! Those who don’t qualify for the free program can buy a planter for $175 (proceeds go back to the program). 

For more info the Biggest Little Garden, visit Fraserside’s website

 

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