September 30, 2006

Last greetings on the streets...

Walking up Beatty street towards SkyTrain, the sun was out, but it was still raining a little - you know that weird combination of sunlight and rain. I saw a nice bright rainbow coming up over the downtown East side, and it made me feel good, like that kind of magic, happy feeling I'd felt seeing a rainbow as a kid.

At Stadium Station, I saw Curtis James, a guy I've known on the street for a few years, and who lost almost all his toes to frostbite last winter. I recently switched jobs, which meant that I wouldn't be working downtown anymore. I told Curtis that I would soon be leaving the area, and that I probably wouldn't see him again.

He said "I dunno. I get around town, you know" and smiled.

"Well, it's out in Burnaby, so I dunno..."

"Well, maybe you'll help one of my brothers then. You're doing God's work, my friend. You really are."

"Thank you. Enjoy the rainbow" I said to him, feeling grateful for such a gracious personal remark. After the past few years, it had only been pocket change, but the weekly chit chats and little conversations about hope and the kindness of strangers had added up to something too.

"There's two of 'em."

"What?" Damned if Curtis wasn't right. There was a second rainbow, right next to the first one. I was really glad that he could notice something nice like that.

September 14, 2006

Coffee with Riki and Patti, Part 1

Robert Wayne Bagnell as a teen.

I had the great joy to meet some of Bob Bagnell's family in person for the first time yesterday.

Bob's sister Patti and his Mum Riki are in Vancouver to attend the Coroner's Inquest into Bob's death. We met at a Starbucks near the office tower where the Coroner's Court is located.

Knowing Bob briefly (but significantly to me) as I did, and having advocated for him in personal and social terms, I've grown to identify with these two ladies, and feel immense sympathy for their loss. I have also felt frustration at the delays and complications that have been imposed upon them while they look for answers and more information.

To me, they've expressed their gratitude for my attempts to promote a sympathetic and human image of their dear "Bobby". In simple terms, through our email exchanges and few phone calls, we've extended our hearts and minds to each other, with Bob as the glue. I suspect Bob might like that very much.

I think we fairly glowed at each other, meeting in person for the first time. They are both such lovely ladies; living reflections of a part of Bob that I had caught glimpses of here and there: humour, sincerity and a plain-spoken heartfulness. Bob has a warm and loving family, and they are still fighting for him today.

We swapped stories for about an hour and a half, many about Bob and how he was as a young kid, and how he decided to go his own way in life and explore his own road.

We talked about their son's love of art and drawing, and of his inner imagery, sometimes dark, sometimes colourful, and always passionately his own way.

We talked about Bob's struggle with addictions, and the people he'd come to know at the Dr. Peter Centre, where he was days away from having his paintings put up in an art exhibition. We talked about the people and programs at the Broadway Church, where Bob had found emotional and spiritual support as he tried to bolster himself and set his life back on the rails.

Riki said that her son Bobby had become "the poster child" for the whole Taser issue. Riki and Patti also could not say enough in praise of their lawyer Cameron Ward, referring to him as "a Wizard". He is obviously a tireless champion of their cause.

The following was reposted (without permission) from the web site of Cameron Ward, solicitor for the Bagnell family in this matter:

Bagnell Inquest adjourned amid controversy
September 14, 2006

Coroner Stephen Fonseca today adjourned the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell and ordered a ban on publication or distribution of a letter dated September 14, 2005 from Victoria Chief Constable Paul Battershill to B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld and Vancouver Chief Constable Jamie Graham.

Yesterday, the coroner's jury heard that the two Tasers used on Bagnell were tested by Intertek ETL Semko and that one of them generated 30.42 joules/pulse of energy in conditions designed to simulate contact with human skin. This is 84.5 times greater than the manufacturer's specification of 0.36 joules/pulse. The author of the report was scheduled to testify today.

Robert Bagnell died June 23, 2004. On July 25, 2004, VPD Detective Faora advised his mother that he died of a drug overdose. On July 23, 2004, after the body had been cremated and the ashes delivered to the family, the VPD issued a media release advising the public of the death and stating that Bagnell had been "Tasered" and had died in police custody. On August 16, 2004, VPD Deputy Chief LePard issued a follow-up media release stating that the Taser was used to rescue Bagnell from a fire in the building.

Tasers are a controversial electrical weapon linked to the deaths of at least 215 people in Canada and the U.S.
Bagnell inquest continues
September 7, 2006

The five man jury at the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell has heard that VPD homicide investigators did not interview any of the 12 VPD members who were at the scene when Bagnell died. Instead, after "decompressing", the police officers submitted brief written accounts later. The four ERT members who were in physical contact with Bagnell when he stopped breathing delivered their statements to investigators on July 9, 2004, seventeen days after the incident.

The deceased's mother Riki Bagnell testified that she learned Tasers had been used on her son about a month after his death, from TV news accounts. She said she asked the investigator why the police didn't just leave her son alone to calm down and his response was "That's a good question, Mrs. Bagnell". A few weeks later the VPD held a news conference to explain they Tasered Bagnell to rescue him from a fire in the building.

The VPD media accounts of the death are archived at

The Province of British Columbia allows police departments to investigate their own members in cases of serious injury and death despite recommendations of a coroner's jury in January 2004 that such investigations be done independently.

It's too easy for people to hear phrases like "drug user" or "cocaine" and place a human being into a negative or dehumanizing frame of reference. There are lots of people like Bob Bagnell in the downtown/Yaletown area, and I have had the pleasure to meet and know some of them a little bit during my daily commutes. They all seem to be struggling with something or other, but without enjoying the same tools and resources that many of the rest of us consider essential.

People are complex and contradictory, and cannot be reduced to a sound bite. I knew Bob Bagnell on and off for about a year or so, and saw a slightly messed up guy who was also an artist. He was struggling with his own problems, yet had a friendly nature and a sense of humour about life. He lived downtown, yet was one of the people in my residential East Van neighbourhood.

I saw the evidence of Bob trying to pull himself up into a clean, drug-free, more spiritual way of living. He was still HIV positive and apparently had some form of cancer. He had a lot of strikes against him, but with the help of people and various agencies or programs that cared about him, he'd gotten free of heroin and then methadone, and had begun seeking counselling and spiritual support. He had been actively involved in putting himself on a better, more hopeful path. If you or anyone you've known has struggled with an addiction, drugs, alcohol, or even tobacco, you must know that it can be difficult to stay clean. It can be a daily challenge. I'm certain Bob fought with that same thing, and that it was not easy for him. He was on the right path, except for his final fall from grace and his tragic, violent end.

Read more about Robert Wayne Bagnell here if you are curious:

September 10, 2006

Dalai Lama: Dialogues in Vancouver, September 2006

The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

World peace must develop out of inner peace.
- Dalai Lama

On Saturday September 9 2006, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet spoke to 12,000 people at GM Place in Vancouver, BC. The title of his talk was "Cultivating Happiness.
The Dalai Lama is the only person for whom I would personally use the word "role model" - someone whose words, examples and actions have inspired me on a personal level.

My wife and I were seated in the top-most row of the upper level of the stadium - right up in the "nose bleeds", but the large-screen monitors made it very easy to see everything happening down below. The event began with performances by a Vancouver-based Tibetan Children's Choir, a group of kids ranging in age from 5 to 14, who had learned traditional Tibetan songs, dance and musical instruments. For me, the highlight of this performance was the duet of a 5 year old boy singing, accompanied by a 10 year old boy playing an eight-stringed instrument that looked like a bass guitar. At one point, the older boy played a kind of guitar solo, plucking his strings for all he was worth. His obvious joy and proud, almost swaggering body language showed on the big screen for all to see, and the crowd roared and applauded his performance with the loudest cheers of the event.

Next, Emcee Kevin Newman announced Vancouver's Mayor, a federal minister and His Holiness. He was then told that they were delayed. After telling some stories and joking with the patient crowd of 12,000, there was a few minutes' pause while the organizers deliberated on bringing out the Tibetan children's choir again.

Then, quietly from the other side of the stadium, we all heard the murmur of a familiar song. It got louder and more definite, and swept around to my wife and me like a gentle wave. The entire audience in GM Place had begun gently singing the Canadian national anthem. It was a lovely and moving moment of spontaneity.

Not long after, everyone finally arrived on stage. Author and organizer, Victor Chan, a long-time friend of the Dalai Lama and a Director of the Vancouver-based Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, spoke of the way his life was personally transformed by meeting the Tibet leader 30 years ago. Mr. Chan wrote an excellent book entitled The Wisdom of Forgiveness.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan spoke warmly of his private meeting with the Dalai Lama, and of the singular honour bestowed upon our city to be the first and only one to have an education centre named after the Tibetan leader. The Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education is due to open in Vancouver in 2009.

While he personally might be genuine in his respect and admiration for the Tibetan leader, I believe that Mayor Sam Sullivan's office also has a vested interest in cultivating stronger trading and tourism relations with China. The Vancouver Mayor's office has been criticized publicly for asking Falun Gong members to remove a makeshift shelter and protest signs from in front of the Chinese Consulate. The speculation was that this was an attempt to appease Chinese government officials. It must be a real challenge for a politician to balance trade, politics and ethics where China is concerned.

Federal Immigration Minister Monte Solberg took the stage, and told us that the Canadian Parliament has unanimously voted to sign a motion granting His Holiness with honourary Canadian citizenship, and that this honour had only been granted two times previously in our history. Kevin Newman the Emcee, joked that any Canadian would attest to how difficult it is to get members of our Parliament to agree about anything.

At the federal level, China and Canada have long had differences over Tibet. Recently, China has made slightly threatening remarks in response to the Harper government's unanimous decision to grant honourary citizenship to the Dalai Lama.

The presentation at GM Place, and indeed the tone of the Dalai Lama's entire visit, was very non-political and not limited to one particular culture or nationality. Nobody mentioned the ongoing Tibetan crisis, or the new Chinese railway which will help move tourists and Chinese citizens into Tibet faster than ever before. The rail cars were built by Montreal-based Bombardier.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of millions of Tibetans, a recipient of the nobel peace prize and and an internationally recognized promoter of peace and non-violence. By his own admission, he is a simple Buddhist monk. He spoke in general terms about achieving peace of mind by exercising compassion and kindness in daily life. Praying for peace is a nice idea but achieves nothing without concrete action, he stressed. Referring to Muslim Terrorists, he reminded us that the actions of a minority of "mischievous" people claiming to act in the name of a religion should not spoil the image of that religion for everyone else. He also said that since 9/11, he has become the unofficial spokesman for persecuted and victimized Muslims everywhere.

On this trip, his primary mission seems to have been to open dialogue with citizens about the benefits of peace, love and compassion and to raise awareness for the new centre which will bear his name. Vancouver was chosen because of it's combination of Eastern and Western influences; a multicultural makeup, which includes Chinese and Tibetan. So we may hope this will be the right place to open educational dialogues and learn to live together and work for peace.

The Dalai Lama's 2006 visit to Vancouver, BC.

Dalai Lama to build education centre

Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education