BY IAN PATTISON
Thunder Bay city councillors got wound up over the word “loitering” this week and failed to act on a problem they mustn’t lose sight of. There are people on the city’s streets who are up to no good. That’s a given. But some of them are marginalized people and some marginalized people are victims of the no-gooders. The fast-changing social and criminal makeup of Thunder Bay has outpaced its government’s ability to respond.
The well-meaning, oft-maligned Coun. Aldo Ruberto tried to get his colleagues to act on rampant drug dealing, some of it within sight of City Hall, with a loitering bylaw to give police the ability to act quickly when they suspect street dealing.
Ruberto spoke for residents and business owners who have long complained about crime, drunkenness and vagrancy. Since drugs are at the heart of many of the city’s social ills, Ruberto contended that arresting dealers loitering on the street could help to alleviate the problems.
“The people who live there have to put up with it,” he said. “What about the rights of people who pay their taxes and go to work and come home and want to live a quiet quality of life?”
Therein lies a sentiment held by thousands of city residents who risk being labelled as insensitive, or worse, by saying so.
Coun. Rebecca Johnson spoke for the majority on council: “ . . . this is not really addressing the whole basis of the problem . . . We can have a loitering bylaw, but my concern is are we really getting at the root of what really needs to be done.”
What really needs to be done, of course, is to fix the complex social issues that underpin the crime and drug use and vagrancy that plague just about every city in this country. Thunder Bay has been centered out because of two transient populations -- drug-dealing gangs from southern Ontario, and aboriginal people who move here, or are cast out, from remote First Nations resulting in a culture clash with often terrible consequences.
Council, police and public agencies press the province and Ottawa to partner in meaningful responses, but senior governments hear the same thing from many communities, and know they don’t have the resources to respond adequately to all of them, and so none of them get the level of help they need.
Kenora city council also dealt with a proposed loitering bylaw this week, and came to the same conclusion. First Nations leaders said it would unfairly target homeless and transient people, most of whom are Indigenous, and many who suffer from mental health and addictions issues.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission chimed in to say that Kenora can't solve its social issues by pushing the homeless out of sight. "Local leaders must work with Indigenous leadership and service providers to ensure that the needs of service users are accurately identified and appropriately met," said director Raj Dhir, stating the obvious.
Grand Council Treaty 3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation “acknowledge that these problems are incredibly complex and that solutions are not easy to accomplish. However, unilateral measures such as this proposed bylaw . . . will cause further harm to vulnerable members of society and create further divisions in the region.”
Homelessness, crime and addiction have long been a reality on Kenora streets and Coun. Andrew Poirier insisted they still need to be addressed. "We've heard from a lot of people. Talk is cheap. We still, without this bylaw, have an issue downtown that everybody's aware of,” he said, sounding much like Ruberto.
Both cities haven’t a chance of crafting the “complex solutions” alone. People wishing that we could ‘all just get along’ are sincere but utterly hopeless in the face of social clashes that result from local and global inequality. Expecting our governments to solve that may be expecting too much. But they’ve got to do more than they’ve done so far.
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When Canadians learned that their prime minister had engaged in approving his family’s pet charity as executor of a nearly-billion-dollar student aid program they thought, here we go again. Justin Trudeau just can’t seem to separate himself from conflicts of interest.
Almost an afterthought in initial reporting in the issue was that Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughters worked for the WE Charity. That wasn’t the half of it, for Morneau’s family, too, is deeply embedded in this otherwise worthy cause. So much so that they travelled to Kenya and Ecuador on WE’s dime in 2017. Morneau re-paid the flight cost but somehow forgot about $41,000 in related travel expenses.
Summoned to testify before the House of Commons finance committee this week to explain failing to recuse himself from voting on the contract, Morneau used his opening statement to reveal his other stunning oversight.
One could surmise that a man this wealthy (estimated net worth $40-50 million) could overlook a mere $41,000 expense. A minister who oversees billions in spending might be forgiven for failing to account for something so relatively trivial. Indeed, it appears that he did only discover it in preparation for his testimony. Which is no excuse for having forgotten about, overlooked, ignored it. Whatever version one chooses it still boils down to a dereliction of duty by the man holding Canada’s pursestrings.
Morneau says he made a mistake and apologized. Conservative attack dogs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Cooper say he’s a criminal.
Trudeau will testify before the finance committee, perhaps next week. The ethics committee also called on the PM to testify as it seeks to gain access to Trudeau family records regarding WE speaking arrangements. The ethics commissioner is looking into the actions of Trudeau and Morneau. The committee on government operations voted to hold its own study.
Still to be uncovered is the extent of the Liberals’ relationship with the Kielberger brothers, Craig and Marc, who run WE and its associated foundation. They’ll also testify next week. Major WE sponsors are bailing on the organization suggesting the affair may be worse than we know at the moment.
With so many eyes on this mess, and an opposition that smells blood, we shouldn’t be surprised if a lot more muck is dug as the Liberals’ political enemies seek to remove Trudeau and Morneau from office.
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Thunder Bay may have a second chance to get its hands on a majestic piece of its rich marine history. The passenger steamer SS Keewatin, which plied the Great Lakes between Port McNicoll and the Lakehead for 60 seasons, was retired in 1966 when an enterprising Michigander bought the ship and opened it as a marine museum.
As he aged and sought a buyer, Thunder Bay looked at bringing her here as the centrepiece of its evolving marina park project. It dithered too long. Port McNicoll snapped up the Keewatin and brought her back to Canada in 2012.
Last month, Port McNicoll council learned that Keewatin’s owners, Skyline Investments, may be looking to move the ship to the marine museum in Kingston where, ironically, Thunder Bay acquired another piece of its marine heritage, the icebreaker Alexander Henry. Skyline has run into problems around adjacent land ownership and the Friends of Keewatin say a decision on the ships’ fate -- sale or scrap -- is imminent. Is there a Henry-esque rescue at hand?
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.