Thursday, June 08, 2006

 
The Terrorist Brand
West Coast Warriors lose rifles but win PR battle

By Andrew MacLeod, Monday Magazine, July 7-13, 2005

When heavily-armed members of the country’s anti-terrorism security force, along with Vancouver police officers, staged a full-scale sting on three first nations activists on Monday, June 27 and confiscated a van load of weapons from them, it provided a window into two murky worlds. The first is that of the West Coast Warriors, a group dedicated to standing up for the rights of first nations in disputes over land and resources. The other is that of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, a body created after September 11, 2001 to fight terrorism. Of the two, only the Warriors have so far provided a credible explanation of their actions that day.
At a Vancouver press conference the day after the sting, two of the Warriors involved, David Dennis and James Ward, explained that the weapons—14 Norinco M305 rifles and over 10,000 rounds of ammunition—were for a program to teach members of the Tsawataineuk First Nation in Kingcome Inlet, on the mainland across from Port Hardy, how to hunt and survive in the woods. They had the paperwork to show the weapons were legally attained and they were joined for the conference by Eric Joseph, a Tsawataineuk chief. That left the INSET, which is still holding the weapons while the investigation continues, with some explaining to do.
“It’s literally blown up in their face,” says Taiaike Alfred, the director of the indigenous governance program at the University of Victoria. “If you’re criminalizing these people, then you have to criminalize every hunter in northern B.C. . . . There’s nothing that went on that’s illegal. I know that for a fact, because I know the people who are involved.”
Ward was one of his students, he says, and through him he met Dennis. Though not a member of the Warriors, Alfred says he supports their goals and has played an advisory role for them. “They certainly weren’t in Vancouver to purchase illegal weapons or pick up supplies for terrorism.”
But while the Warriors have shown some dexterity using the strange events in Vancouver to get their message out, the INSET has been more or less mum. “It’s an ongoing investigation so I can’t make any comment about that,” says Lloyde Plante, the officer in charge of the INSET in B.C.. Nor would he say much about what the agency is up to in general. Over 90 people in the province are part of the INSET now, but he refuses to say how many cases the agency is following or what it’s budget is. “I’d just as soon not talk numbers.”
He will say that INSET follows a variety of groups. “We obviously consider Al Qaeda etcetera a real significant concern to Canada, so we do put a focus on that, but we do have domestic issues, of course.”
When it’s mentioned that the INSET has managed to stay out of the news for several months, he laughs. “I don’t know what to say to that.”
Since 2001 the force has only had the light of the press shone on it a handful of times. They were called in by the FBI on cases involving David Barbarash, a former spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front, and Tre Arrow, an Oregon activist accused of arson whose extradition grinds on. The INSET also raided the Port Alberni home of John Rampanen in 2002, acting on an incorrect tip that the then-member of the West Coast Warriors was hiding a cache of illegal weapons.
It’s this last case that’s the most interesting in light of last week’s confrontation. “It’s probably part of the same investigation,” says Cliff Atleo Jr., a former member of the Warriors who left because of “creative differences.” The warrants from the raid on Rampanen’s house remain sealed, he says. That could mean the INSET is protecting a source, or that the investigation continues. “I don’t know. It’s curious, I think.”
Things changed after 2001, he says, and he believes a lot is happening under the surface with INSET. “For some people it could be disconcerting to see how this body is being used,” he says. “In general the concern is the far-reaching power of the anti-terrorism legislation and the new body that comes out of that.”
The way UVic professor Alfred sees it, the INSET is being used to intimidate people. It happened that way with Rampanen, he says, who left the Warriors not long after the raid on his home. And it may happen again with the people of Kingcome Inlet.
“It’s really an attempt to isolate the community [the Warriors] are dealing with now over in Kingcome Inlet,” he says. “I think it’s ludicrous actually. I think it’s clear the political authorities in the province are trying to use this as a wedge between the communities and groups like the West Coast Warriors who are more militant on indigenous rights . . . I think a message is being sent, more than any legitimate concern being acted on.”
Kingcome Inlet does have a number of issues simmering with the potential to escalate into conflict. The band is concerned about salmon farming in the waters near their home, as well as the logging of old growth cedar from their traditional territory. In February, the band put up a blockade to prevent International Forest Products Ltd. from building a road into the Holden Creek valley, the site of a 6,000-year-old village.
Last week’s crackdown, says Alfred, can be seen as the government trying to deal with “uppity” natives. “It just seems to be part of a campaign of stepping up pressure on that community,” he says. “I think . . . the police will have succeeded in stopping, hopefully only for a short time, the efforts of that community to protect it’s resources from clearcut logging.”
So are the weapons, and the Warriors’ presence, about more than teaching people to hunt? “They need to know how to survive when they’re surrounded and isolated,” says Alfred. “They’re getting Warriors to help strengthen their people for whatever is happening.” When there is violence, he adds, it is always precipatated by the state. “The West Coast Warriors know how to deal with that. They’re sharing their knowledge.”
Still, he says, the government is over reacting when it treats the Warriors as terrorists.
“This may be an example of a make-work project,” says Murray Mollard, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. “These people [INSET] have to do something, right?”
He is concerned INSET is being used to investigate what appear to be regular criminal matters. He says, “It remains to be seen what charges if any remain to be laid. I’d be shocked to see any charges under the anti-terrorism act, which begs the question of why they used the national security apparatus.”
The anti-terrorism act is up for review this year, and the BCCLA will make a submission to the committee looking at the legislation in the fall. The use of the INSET, which “may be using policing resources to brand political groups with the terrorism label,” will be a big part of that submission, he says. “There’s a real impact on the ground,” he says. “It’s a natural fallout of politicians clamouring to be seen to be tough on anti-terrorism.”
The government rushed the legislation through after the September 11, 2001 attacks on buildings in New York and Washington. Now, Mollard says, is a good time to take a sober second look at those laws. M

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

 
Off the Caseload
Since 2001, more than 6,000 people have died while on welfare. Why isn't the government investigating?

By Andrew MacLeod, Monday Magazine, December 1-7, 2005

For several weeks now, the province’s politicians and mainstream media have been illuminating how Liberal budget cuts in 2001 resulted in at least 713 deaths of children going uninvestigated. Remaining in the shadows, however, is the question of what happened to another group of people who got the brunt of a Liberal budget cut and who have also died in surprisingly large numbers.
Between June, 2002, and January, 2005, a 32-month period, 6,065 British Columbians who were receiving welfare died. Monday reported the figure, obtained through a freedom of information request, in August. Since then, efforts to find out what caused the deaths of so many have been stonewalled.
It would be possible for the government to find out why people are dying, but it would require the employment and income assistance ministry sharing information with the vital statistics agency, which is part of the health ministry. This co-operation can’t be forced through the freedom of information act, since the request would necessitate the release of welfare clients’ names, and that kind of personal information is protected. That means the employment and income assistance ministry needs to share the names willingly with vital statistics, for this kind of cross-referencing to happen. But Andrew Wharton, the assistant deputy minister responsible for policy and research in the ministry of employment and income assistance, is yet to respond to an August letter from Monday requesting that sharing. Nor has he responded to at least half a dozen phone calls on the subject.
The chief executive officer of the vital statistics agency, Andrew McBride, says it would be possible for him to ask for the names of the welfare clients and run a report about why they died, but it’s not a priority. “I don’t have an interest in that,” he says.
McBride, by the way, lives on Beach Drive not far from Willows Beach. In 2004-05 he was paid a salary of $91,854 and was reimbursed $7,328 for travel. The company McBride and Associates Management Consulting Inc., run out of the Beach Drive house, received another $64,410 from the government that year, at least $36,000 of it from the health services ministry where he works as an employee.
A single person on welfare gets $6,120 a year.
And just as the ministry hasn’t questioned the number of deaths of people on welfare, neither has the subject come up in the legislature since the house returned—with a repopulated opposition—in September. In fact, income assistance hasn’t come up at all, aside from a few issues related to people with disabilities. “Basically we’re yet to hear where the NDP stands on the whole welfare question,” says Stuart Hertzog, an advocate for welfare reform who’s experienced the system. “There’s been a disappointing silence so far from the critic on this.”
Former NDP MLA David Schreck offers the following explanation for why the NDP has been quiet on welfare issues: “Nobody wants to be associated with it.”
As it happens, the NDP’s critic on income assistance, North Island MLA Claire Trevena, finally had her chance to put minister Claude Richmond through his paces on November 21 during debates looking at the ministry’s budget for the year. The question of deaths was on her list of things to ask about, says Trevena, but the four hours of discussion wasn’t long enough for everything she wanted to cover and they didn’t get to that topic.
During that debate, however, Trevena raised questions about employment plans, the difficulties people face when applying for help, several of the eligibility requirements that are used to deny people assistance, and the inadequate rates for those who do get welfare. The rates, of course, are closely related to recipients’ quality of life and therefore their health. “The rates are punitive,” says Trevena. While she hesitates to say how much an NDP government would raise them, she says, “The rates are too low. There’s no question about it . . . They are cruel and punitive. You cannot live on less than $100 a month [after paying rent], especially when you’ve got a government demanding you eat five fruits and vegetables a day.”
Minister Claude Richmond was unavailable for an interview. But according to the record of the budget debate, he says the ministry has made its request to the treasury board and “as the budget allows, rates are increased.” He warns that the ministry doesn’t always get what it wants.
“Rates are obviously a huge basic issue,” says Sarah Khan, a lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which has brought a complaint about a number of welfare issues to the B.C. ombudsman on behalf of a group of 15 community organizations [see sidebar]. “For people on basic assistance, nobody can live on $510 a month. It’s just not possible.”
BCPIAC also represents clients in their disputes with the ministry. Frequently, says Khan, her clients’ health suffers from living in poverty. “We’ve certainly had clients passing away. It’s not uncommon, unfortunately,” she says. While it’s hard to know if people are sick because they are poor, or poor because they are sick, she says, “It certainly doesn’t help to live on small amounts of money, particularly people living on $510 a month who don’t have money to take care of themselves properly.”
With the government taking no steps to find out why people on welfare die in such high numbers, it would appear to be yet another question to which they don’t want to know an answer. M

Sidebar: Advocacy group pushes welfare changes

Until the start of November, the provincial government required people who were over 65 years old to go through a three-week work search before they could collect welfare, even though they were legally too old to work.
The requirement is just one of several that the employment and income assistance ministry has quietly dropped over the past few months. “The minister certainly has been showing some signs of making some positive changes,” says Sarah Khan, a lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre. “We want to acknowledge that. These aren’t all the changes we want, but these are certainly some steps in the right direction.”
In February, BCPIAC made a complaint on behalf of 15 community organizations to ombudsman Howard Kushner about unfairness in how welfare is delivered. Kushner says he plans to report on several of the issues in January, but there will be more to follow. In some cases the ministry has fixed problems where staff were not following policies correctly. “How do you make sure that doesn’t happen again?”
Khan says she’s been told that a number of welfare ministry staff are working on issues raised in the complaint, and there have been small changes already.
Not requiring senior citizens to look for work before being able to get welfare is one such change. Similarly, people fleeing an abusive spouse or relative are now exempt from the three-week wait, as are children being looked after by a relative. Same with “people with a severe physical or mental condition that precludes the person from completing a search for employment.”
Employment and income assistance minister Claude Richmond was unavailable for an interview to explain why children and seniors had previously been required to look for work before receiving welfare. In budget debates last week, he said the change brings the ministry policy in line with what it was already doing anyway.
Says Khan, “It has not been our experience that these are a few anomalies. We wouldn’t have filed a complaint over a few anomalies.”
Other recent changes that seem to be driven by BCPIAC’s complaint include new procedures around home visits and the appeals process. As of August 30, ministry staff are not allowed to enter a home to make sure an applicant lives there, and an October 19 change says that staff need to provide a brochure on the appeal process to anyone who applies for welfare. Says Khan, “It seems like a basic, self-evident thing to do, and we’re happy they’re going to do it now.”
While it’s good to see these changes made, Khan says, there are still many more to go. “We’d like to see the three-week wait abolished,” she says. “It’s a wonderful way for the ministry to deny people assistance.” The rule requiring applicants to make $7,000 a year for two years before they are eligible also bars many people who are in need of help, she adds. “We see those two rules as being a real source of the drop [in the welfare caseload]. We don’t think there are less people in need of assistance. We just think they are having trouble making it through the front-end eligibility requirements.”
She also argues that the rates need to be higher, and funding has to be returned to providing legal aid for poverty law. “We’re expecting many more changes. We’re hoping this is just the beginning.”
—A.M.

 
Better Off On Their Own?
Jobseekers not necessarily helped by program, says report

By Andrew MacLeod, Monday Magazine, August 11-17, 2005

One of the main arguments for privately run welfare-to-work programs like JobWave and Destinations has been that they don’t really cost the taxpayer anything, since they actually save money by moving people off welfare. But an 11-month-old report prepared for the provincial government, quietly added to the province’s website this week, shows that people in the programs do only marginally better in their job hunts than people who aren’t in the programs. The government won’t start saving money because of the programs for six or seven years, if ever.
As recently as January, premier Gordon Campbell was at JobWave’s Victoria headquarters for a public relations event congratulating the company on placing 30,000 welfare clients in jobs. Past human resources ministers Susan Brice, Murray Coell and Stan Hagen all pointed to the program as a big part of the government’s strategy to move people into work. Hagen even raved about JobWave to Ontario officials who recently adopted a similar program.
Now it turns out they’ve had a report for almost a year that raises serious questions about the program. Peter Adams and Cathy Tait, from a company called Victoria Consulting Network Ltd., wrote the report, Evaluation of the Job Placement Program and the Training for Jobs Program. The report is dated September 9, 2004—but it wasn’t released until August 3 this year. The summary is 32 pages. A spokesperson for the employment and income assistance ministry, Richard Chambers, said a requested copy of the full report would be available Tuesday, too late for a thorough reading before press time.
According to the summary, the researchers looked at four key questions. They wanted to know whether the program was really helping people “achieve independence through sustained employment” and whether it was equally effective for all clients. They also looked at what characteristics of the program made it successful, and at the net cost of the program. What they found was not encouraging.
There are four contractors with the job placement program. The largest is WCG International Consultants Ltd., which runs JobWave out of its Fort Street office in partnership with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. The next biggest is the accounting firm Grant Thornton, which runs Destinations, a program that focusses on the tourism industry. The government spends about $100 million a year on job programs, with JobWave and Destinations taking up nearly half of that. The researchers didn’t compare contractors, but looked at the whole program.
Part of the report includes a client survey. While 72 percent of people who found jobs through the job placement programs said they were satisfied overall, fewer than half said they felt more employable or that they’d gained job search skills. As many as 34 percent said the job leads didn’t help them get a job. “This finding reflects the fact that many of the people placed could have found work even without any help from the contractors,” write Adams and Tait. “The contractors have a financial incentive to accept the most employable people even if they need very little assistance.”
For people who did not find work through the program, not unexpectedly, the satisfaction numbers were even worse. More than one out of four disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “I was satisfied with the service I received.”
Adams and Tait also say, “A large number of people referred to [Job Placement] do benefit from the program.” Nearly 30 percent of people who are referred to the programs don’t show up, and of the ones who do, many don’t get a job even for a month. “More than 40 percent of people accepted by contractors do not achieve independence within the program timelines.”
It may be, they add, that many of the people being referred aren’t ready for the program. “Some persons are being referred simply to ensure that referral targets are met, not because they are suitable for the program.” They recommend, “The referral process should be changed to ensure that referrals are determined by the best interest of clients not the need to meet contractual referral obligations.”
The training for jobs program, by the way, had a similar problem. “Without these persons to help ‘make up the numbers’, some contractors would not have been able to offer training to the most suitable clients. However, it is clearly not in the interest of the Ministry or the client to spend money on training that is not beneficial.”
As the authors point out, that’s not easy to measure since many people do find their own jobs. So they compared people participating in the programs to people who had been referred to the programs, but who were not accepted. Representatives of JobWave have said in the past that they won’t accept people with “barriers” to employment such as drug addiction or not wanting to work. They admit to taking only the people who are easiest to work with, so the two groups are unlikely to be very similar.
The authors acknowledge this in their July, 2005, update, saying, “These estimated savings may be somewhat overstated because persons accepted into the program are likely to [be] more employable than those not accepted.”
They are also clear about the incentives that exist for the contractors to only work with the most employable clients, and that there is nothing built into the contracts to reward them for working with people who may need more help.
“Because payment to the contractor is linked to independence achieved by the clients, contractors may receive the largest payments for clients who were easiest to place and for whom they have had to provide the least support, they write. In contrast, they may earn very little from providing a large amount of support to a client who finds it difficult to find a job or sustain independence.
After 34 months, says the update, people who’ve been through the program have been, on average, independent of welfare for an extra 1.4 months. Based on that, they say, the ministry will save $18 million on welfare payments. However, the program will have cost $31 million to make that saving. That amounts to a loss of $13 million on a program that was supposed to break even.
They also write, “It is unlikely that the Ministry’s savings in [welfare] payments will exceed the cost of the program for some time. In this respect, actual performance falls well below some of the more optimistic expectations for the program. However, actual performance of JP reflects the inherent difficulty in designing an employment program that would pay for itself.
Fortunately, they had a number of suggestions for fixing the program. One was to allow people to collect welfare a little longer before referring them to a job contractor. They also suggest rejigging the performance targets that determine how much contractors are paid. “The structure of performance incentives in the contract should be fundamentally redesigned,” they say. “Contractors are currently paid on the basis of independence achieved by some individuals. However, success of the program can only be measured by the incremental performance of all persons accepted into the program.”
Finally, they say the government needs to get better documentation from the contractors. “The Ministry should require contractors to provide regular monitoring reports on services provided and routine financial statements that clearly identify the costs associated with providing the service.”
The report raises a number of interesting political questions. Why did it take so long to figure out the programs were wasting taxpayer money, why wasn’t this caught after the pilot program? Why did it take so long to release the report, and why was only a summary released? What changes have since been made to the programs in the wake of the report? What changes are coming?
Claude Richmond, the new minister for employment and income assistance, was unavailable. The ministry’s spokesperson Chambers says Richmond will be out of town until the end of August and unavailable.
Chambers did, however, point the way to the answer on the question of what changes are coming to the programs. On August 5 the ministry issued a request for information looking for companies interested in running a new, revamped suite of employment programs. The job placement contractors will stop taking new clients in January, 2006, and something new will be in place by April. It will be interesting to see whether the new program includes the contractors the government’s report now says did such a lousy job. M

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