On Demonizing Santa’s Elves and Dreading a Downtown Eastside Covid Explosion

Tea & Two Slices is a long-running local news round-up by NEEDS frontman and veteran dishwasher Sean Orr, who lives and works in Gastown, deeply aware of his privilege.

I’ve said it before I’ll say it again. Personal responsibility is a sham. It’s a sham when it comes to the environment (stop using plastic straws!); when it comes to the drug war (addicts made the choice to be addicts!); and now when it come to Covid (it’s up to you to stop the spread!). Dr. Bonnie Henry op-ed: Why B.C. doesn’t have a universal mask mandate.

With this in mind I watched Horgan’s presser in total horror. For a guy who lucked out on low Covid numbers, called an election about it and won, his plan is to enlist the help of Deadpool again. He said to us with a straight face that kids aren’t spreaders. You know, just how Santa is totally totally immune. Christmas is saved!

Except Santa is dependent on his elves and his elves aren’t immune (I can’t believe I’m following this line of logic), so you can blame people for not wearing masks and write editorial about it, but you can’t provide real solutions? Then you say it’s because you don’t want to further criminalize poor people? What a cop out. Imagine blaming elves for not wearing masks while simultaneously evicting them and…omg…I can’t.

I mean, it’s not like anybody could have predicted this…

Our leaders have the nerve to say that bars and restaurants already following a myriad of safety measures must close at 10pm, and then say social gatherings are responsible? I wonder why. We love to blame Surrey (I’m one of them) but where does your janitor live? Your taxi driver? Your barista? It’s pretty rich that the government is calling for an end of travel within the province, but commuting to and from the city is totally fine.

They treat us like children, thinking we can’t handle neighbourhood-specific data, even though its the norm in most jurisdictions: Downtown Eastside organizations pushed for COVID-19 data transparency — and then cases surged. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has higher COVID transmission than anywhere in BC, and these don’t even include people with no fixed address. I mean, props to Justin McElroy for taking two-week old data and making his own neighbourhood maps, but what the holy hell is going on?

And did City Hall’s community resilience team ever set up this DTES resident network headquarters? If not, why? If they did, why aren’t they warning the hundreds of groups working in the DTES that the dreaded explosion in COVID is already here?

Without sounding like the first year PoliSci student that I am (FML), capitalism is a death cult. In the last 48 hours 21 more people died, 1,479 new cases were confirmed, 209 are hospitalized and 58 are in intensive care. Not announcing any restrictions is the epitome of neoliberalism. It’s complicity. It’s cheaper to point fingers than take bold action. New Zealand, Vietnam, Taiwan. We know what to do. We aren’t doing it. We’re a facade.

But hey, at least we’re not Brampton, amirite? An area in the northeast corner of Brampton has a “shocking” 19 per cent COVID-19 test positivity rate — a rate double that of the U.S..

And when we do take bold action, we jut get it wrong. Part one: Vancouver’s mobility pricing debate dominates council’s approval of emergency climate plan. I mean, we never should have hedged our bets on taxing gasoline to get people out of cars because once they get out of their cars, guess what? You want a bold action? Make transit in the downtown core free and pay for it by putting a 50% tax on every cruise ship that enters our port. But we won’t do that because of our precious economy. We’ll probably bail the cruise ship industry out like we’re going to bail the airline industry out. I mean, fuck bailing out local businesses, right? Fuck bailing out local artists and musicians, right?

Also in the new Money Grab Plan Climate Action Plan: City of Vancouver considering mandatory parking permits for all residential streets. This totally nothing to do with making it more difficult for people living in RVs…

Part 3: Social housing for the rich: families earning over $100,000 qualify at Vancouver West End project. “In the case of the 1055 Harwood development, there will be 44 social-housing units, on levels one to eight of the 32-storey building. The upper levels will have 82 condo units”. It’s like they watched Parasite and thought it would make a great model for a condo.

Same again with that giant moldy outdoor Jenga set of a building at Broadway and Alma. 100% rental? Sounds great, right? But at what cost? Vancouver’s Incentives to Get Affordable Homes Built Are Too Rich. I can just picture a gaggle of Hugo Boss wearing developers lounging on leather chairs in the Vancouver Club guffawing at how they convinced the city that giving them subsidies was the only way to get cheap rentals built.

And then there’s this announcement about decriminalization: Plan unveiled to make Vancouver first jurisdiction in Canada to decriminalize simple drug possession. Again, sounds great. It’s something I’ve been calling for for decades. But it still reeks of facadism. Here’s why:

Both the VPD and crown prosecutors have already effectively decriminalized small amounts. And yet they continue to harass, mostly people of colour, under the suspicion of trafficking, which would remain illegal under this plan. Second, unlike Portugal, which provides “whatever its citizens need to be as healthy and as fully engaged in society as possible”, we don’t have the social infrastructure to support this. Giving a summons for possession without having masses of recovery beds will just be tantamount to further criminalization of poverty. Third, without this being a regional initiative, criminalization will just be ramped up in the surrounding suburbs. Fourth, without the input of drug users themselves, this will be another top-down bureaucratic failure.

Donald MacPherson points out that “any decriminalization plan will be threshold limits – how much is considered personal possession – and whether sharing or selling small amounts will still be considered criminal”. So far it all just seems like Kennedy Stewart making a campaign promise by asking the Feds for permission, and when they say ‘no’ he can throw his hands up in feigned exasperation. Without any systemic changes that address equity and social justice this is just more fanciful ideological posturing.

I mean, can we trust the VPD to do anything city council says? Can we trust them when this is the kind of shit they pull? Vancouver Projects Give Weed to Curb Overdoses. Police Just Raided One. That being said, let’s not allow perfection to be the enemy of good. The massive psychological shift this will have on people who use drugs should have many upstream benefits. Considering the incredibly toxic atmosphere right now around any issue to do with harm reduction this is genuinely a bold move for them to make. Hopefully this will galvanize activists at the policy level and give the right tools to people on the frontlines like Pivot and VANDU.

If anything, at least it will give the mouth-breathing public safety chuds some entertaining keyboard mashing fodder.

To wit: Flyer opposing homeless shelter circulating in expensive Vancouver neighbourhood. Homeowners: “We must do something about the Strathcona tent city! Council: “OK, we found a hostel in Point Grey”. Homeowners: “That’s not what we meant!”

I mean, how these pearl-clutching Karens can’t connect the dots between a staggering loss of SRO units and a frozen shelter rate is beyond my pay grade: After Two Disastrous Decades, Vancouver Gets Serious about Protecting SROs.

Under the plan, city staff will also explore how the city can tie rent control to the unit rather than the tenant. That would mean that SRO owners would no longer have an incentive to evict tenants or pressure them to leave in order to be able to raise rents dramatically.

Meanwhile, the empty parking lot where Namegans 2.0 Tent City was violently evicted by VPD in June, and where council voted to put an Indigenous Healing Centre, is now being used to store massive tanks of god knows what.

Nah, but it’s cool, y’all. The City is hiring more communications staff!

Landlords are scum, part 978: Vancouver renter facing 233% parking fee hike says landlord trying to skirt rent freeze.

Billionaires are scum, part one billion: Loblaw raises shareholders dividend but won’t be reinstating ‘hero pay’ to front-line workers. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the Terror.

Maybe Loblaws workers should take a cue from this hero: TransLink bus driver allegedly didn’t let riders board so that he can do pull ups.

Speaking of heroes, Chilliwack just gave an award for “going above and beyond to make our community a better place during the COVID-19 pandemic” to a guy who who thinks Covid is a WHO conspiracy: Conservative MP Defends Giving ‘Community Hero Award’ to Controversial Anti-LGBTQ School Trustee. The best parody writer in the world couldn’t make this shit up.

Uh oh, the Island is quickly becoming some weird isolationist Qanon cottagecore outpost: Mass gathering of 150 people in Coombs shutdown by Oceanside RCMP. “The group believed to be involved in leading the meeting are a newly formed assembly who believe they are no longer under the jurisdiction of Canadian law and are not bound to abide by it, including public health orders installed during the pandemic”. Look, just because you put some goats on a roof doesn’t make you special, ok. Also, how fucking privileged is your life that wearing a mask is the most oppressed you’ve ever felt?

Design is important: Stock image used in BC Ferries mask sign getting attention for the wrong reason. What a bunch of dickheads.

Also on the ferries: My Wife Is Disabled. BC Ferries Left Us Out to Sea. This story is hearbreaking. Give your heads a shake, Transport Canada.

This isn’t an airport, kid. You don’t need to announce your departure: I’m Moving. Here Are the 5 Places I’ll Miss Most Near Fraser and Broadway.

UBC’s Students are hosting this wholesome event: What’s the Deal with White Women?. Read up on this misogynistic MRA knuckle-dragger, create an alt account on Youtube, and spam the comments! This is a normal thing to do on a Friday night now, right?

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  1. I looked up the definition of “Mealy Mouthed”, hoping I’d find a photo of Dr. Bonnie Henry. Alas, Merriam Webster hasn’t updated their visual dictionary in some time. At least not since Covid…

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