stop the deportation
Photo Credit: Murray Bush, Flux Photo

Vancouver residents will remember the 2009 and 2010 dockings of the MV Sun Sea and Ocean Lady. These ships were intercepted carrying Tamil refugees who had fled Sri Lanka’s brutal (and, some would argue, genocidal) war on Tamils from the Northeast region of the island. Many Tamils felt their historical grievances with the state warranted political independence.

Xenophobia about the landings became a means to bolster Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support among conservative voters, particularly white conservatives. Having won a majority in 2011’s federal election, Harper and his government took the opportunity to pass Bill C-31, among whose provisions was a clause entitling the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism to designate any refugee entrance of two or more as an “irregular arrival.”

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Mayor and Police Chief at Vancouver Police Board (Sept 17th, 2013)

Last week Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson held a joint press conference with the Vancouver Police Department announcing a “mental health crisis” in Vancouver. The press release, and a series of associated reports, could have addressed the barriers and stigma facing people with mental health issues in our communities. Instead, they entrench the worst forms of stigmatization and detrimental stereotypes.

In his press release, the Mayor paints a terrifying picture of violent attacks in the midst of a “public health crisis” on the verge of “spiraling out of control.” Since January 2012, the Mayor writes, “the VPD has identified 96 serious incidents ranging from suicides to random, violent attacks inflicted upon innocent members of the public.” Without specifying the actual number of suicides versus attacks, the Mayor adds, “It is a miracle that many of the people involved in these random attacks have not died.” The City report, which does not attempt to convey a complex understanding of mental and public health issues, resorts to graphic images and anecdotes, repeating the notion that people with severe mental illness are a “threat” to the public.

Electoral Reform Protesters Outside Liberal Democrat Meeting

Vision Vancouver can always be relied-upon to see one thing with clarity: image. While I find many faults with the current city council, their skill as political illusionists never ceases to amaze and entertain. Vision’s currency with the language of façade, symbol, gesture and token won them the last election and makes them formidable adversaries even today.

The scalping of the Ridge Theatre and placement of its iconic sign atop the condos that destroyed it, the greening of the roofs of unaffordable coffin suites built atop once-affordable housing: these are the most physically obvious of Vision’s mastery of these arts. But this artistry extends far beyond the corrupt greenwashing of the assault on affordability and the arts. It is, I would argue, most impressively practiced in the field of civic democracy and public accountability.