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(en) Occupation at Glen Clark's Office

From Jaggi Singh <jaggi@tao.ca>
Date Mon, 19 Apr 1999 21:56:56 -0400 (EDT)


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BRITISH COLUMBIA PREMIER'S OFFICE OCCUPIED BY ANTI-POVERTY ACTIVISTS

OCCUPATION ENTERS THIRD DAY AS POVERTY ACTION NETWORK DEMANDS INCREASE IN
WELFARE RATES

by Jaggi Singh <jaggi@tao.ca>,
for the Direct Action Media Network, A-Infos and TAO Vancouver
posted from Vancouver (Canaduh), April 18, 1999, 16h50 PST

[This article is based on firsthand reporting in Vancouver, and interviews
with members of the Poverty Action Network (PAN).]

VANCOUVER, Sunday, April 18, 1999 -- The occupation of BC Premier Glen
Clark's constituency office is entering its third day, with members of the
Poverty Action Network (PAN) vowing to stay until their demands are
substantively addressed by the provincial government.

Clark's office has been re-decorated by its new inhabitants, with coloured
streamers, balloons and a banner hanging outside. A new sign on the office
door reads, "Welcome to the PAN Office ... HOURS: Friday, April 16th, 10am
... until Glen Clark meets our demands!"

The occupation began on Friday morning, as about 25 members of PAN took
over the Premier's small riding office, located at the corner of 23rd and
Rupert in East Vancouver. PAN was attending a meeting with Premier Clark's
executive assistant at the riding level, Terry Taylor. The meeting had
been arranged by the Premier's staff to ostensibly pre-empt a
demonstration planned at Glen Clark's home next Saturday, April 24.

PAN members declared the meeting with Taylor a failure. It the words of
PAN activist Shelly Fahey, "The whole meeting seemed like a farce." Fahey,
along with other PAN members, considered the encounter with Clark's
executive assistant to be a condescending stalling tactic.

According to another PAN member, Tina Arsenault, "Being here to listen is
not enough. We want real dialogue." The occupiers have stated that they
will not leave until they receive a "substantive proposal" from the
government. They are also demanding a meeting with Glen Clark himself.

The current occupation, and the demonstration at Clark's home planned for
next Saturday, is part of an ongoing campaign by PAN to end "5 week
months" for welfare recipients. During these months (which includes the
current April), welfare recipients in British Columbia are forced to wait
an extra week between cheques, with no correspondinng increase in welfare
rates.

As part of their campaign, PAN has temporarily occupied two local welfare
offices, in addition to their basic awareness raising and advocacy work.
PAN also publishes a monthly newspaper called "The Class Antagonist".

PAN's key demand during the current occupation is a 25% increase in income
support during 5 week months. They have specified that any proposal from
the Ministry of Social Services must be on paper. PAN has also outlined
further demands of interest to the "welfare-involved," a term referring to
the tens of thousands of BC residents engaged in some way with the welfare
system [the demands are included in detail below].

At the time of the writing of this article, PAN has received no formal
request by either the police or office staff to leave. However, PAN
members who are currently occupying expect an order to come this evening
or Monday morning as the working week resumes.

Yesterday evening, 15 people slept over at the office, and the number of
occupiers has fluctuated during the day from 25 to 5. Vancouver is
enjoying beautifully sunny and warm weather, so many of the occupiers have
been spending their time out-of-doors, chatting with passers-by or talking
with the media who have been covering the occupation since it began on
Friday morning. Security guards have been present throughout the entire
action. One guard openly expressed sympathy with the occupiers, and has
spent most of his time watching TV.

PAN has also engaged in discusssions with various office staff and
volunteers. One such person, Bill McMichael, president of the local New
Democratic Party (NDP) riding association, was genuinely shocked as he
heard members of PAN describe the difficulties and indignities faced by
people who are engaged with the welfare system. He described PAN's
information as "educational" and, after hearing about 20 minutes of
first-hand accounts by welfare recipients, he volunteered that, "These
stories are horrible."

However, PAN's decision to demonstrate outside of Glen Clark's home next
weekend has been criticized by NDP supporters and even the new head of the
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Craig Jones. The opposition
leader of the right-wing Liberal Party also condemned the tactic.

Premier Clark's response at the Parliament Buildings in Victoria to the
planned protest was somewhat melodramatic. He made reference to the ninth
birthday party of his daughter that will occur on the same day. To this,
Aiyanas Ormond of PAN was quoted in the Vancouver Province as saying,

"What happens when my daughter's birthday falls on a five-week month? I
can't even buy her a good meal." He added, "The whole issue of the
Premier's privacy in ridiculous. Welfare recipients' privacy is invaded on
a daily basis."

PAN's literature asserts that the policies of the NDP government against
the poor have necessitated their direct action tactics. According to one
pamphlet, "Glen Clark may do well to have to explain to his children why
poor people are mad at him. Many of us with children have to try to
explain why we are treated like criminals for no other reason than we are
poor."

Geordie Birch of PAN, in a telephone conversation from Glen Clark's office
late this afternoon, made clear that the current occupation, and the
demonstration next Saturday, will proceed as planned. PAN will only end
their occupation if a serious proposal, in writing, is forthcoming from
the government which will increase welfare rates by 25% during 5 week
months.

Birch's comments are consistent with PAN's literature which reads, "[Our]
actions represent welfare-involved people collectively fighting back, not
the usual media coverage of welfare recipients and the poor as passive
victims." [end]

[This article will be updated, and re-edited, as more information becomes
available.]

ADDENDUM: PAN's Partial List of Demands

PAN's main demand for the office occupation and upcoming demonstration at
Glen Clark's home is an immediate increase of 25% to welfare support
during five week months. However, PAN has more wide-reaching demands that
are part of their ongoing work in East Vancouver.

PAN's "A list" of demands, which would not cost the province any money,
includes: an increase in earnings exemptions so that recipients can make
up to $500 per month without having it deducted by 75% (which effectively
makes welfare recipients trying to earn a little extra money the highest
taxed citizens in the province, and encourages fraud); an end to
humiliating "job clubs" and early intervention seminars; a full rent
portion to all welfare recipients, thereby helping end landlord
discrimination against recipients; and, free bus passes to all welfare
recipients, which will greatly help in job searches and cost the province,
which already heavily subsidizes transporation, virtually no money.

PAN is also demanding the protection of the fundamental rights of all
welfare recipients, including the right to privacy. That means an end to
intrusive home visits, and the right for welfare recipients "to sleep with
who they want" without the Ministry of Social Services determining who
constitutes a common-law spouse. PAN has consistently asserted that the
rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN
Declaration of Human Rights are systematically violated in BC in the case
of welfare recipients.

PAN's "B list" of demands are more substantive, including: an immediate
increase to welfare rates; access to childcare for welfare parents; free
and universal education at all levels; free basic local telephone service;
the lowering of the age of eligibility with no parental consent to 16; an
end to the provincial grab of welfare parents' Federal Child Tax Benefit;
and the reinstating and expansion of volunteer incentive programs.




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