Sunday, August 15, 2010

Victoria in the News: Breaking and Updates

Suddenly all the fun in BC seems to be right here in Victoria. :)

Of course the big story around here is the recent arrival of a ship of Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka. Remarkably, they are generally in good health (490 of them, eight needed some form of medical attention, nothing serious though) for having been some 90 days at sea.

Canadian forces intercepted and boarded the vessel and helped steer it to safe harbour just a few miles away from us in Esquimalt (es-KWAI-malt) lagoon.
The MV Sun Sea being escorted past Fisgard Lighthouse by Canadian Navy vessels.

Canada will detain the refugees for a few days while checking their backgrounds and other claims for immigrant status. Assuming they can clear those hurdles, they will probably be allowed to stay at least temporarily. They will not be sent back into a civil war, as they would be in the US. Canada already has taken in some 300,000 Tamil immigrants over the years, most of whom have settled in the Toronto area; they now make up about 1% of the total population here.

Most Tamil refugees so far have been integrated into Canadian society very well, probably due to rigorous background checks and our various other requirements. The Canadian government is put in a difficult position with situations like this; the people aboard are largely war victims and should be treated humanely, but they don’t want to encourage human smuggling which finances the Tamil Tigers, considered a terrorist organization here.

As long as these sorts of arrivals remain unusual, refugees who arrive this way will likely get a fair and healthy welcome from Canada.

In other news, the city council has finally settled one of the most contentious issues facing the downtown area: they have voted to replace, rather than repair, the large blue Johnson Street Bridge. It has been a contentious issue, with some people complaining about the cost (with some grounds, it must be said) while others opposed because of the historic age of the bridge (86 years!) or because they like the colour. Polling reveals that most people prefer replacement over repair, even though its cheaper, because the fact of the matter is that the bridge is gawdawful fugly and almost totally rusted out to the point where its a genuine safety hazard.

The “Big Blue Beaver” as we call it. The “teeth” seen here are counterweights for the drawbridge.

As someone who has to look at the thing all day every day, I couldn’t be more pleased with the council’s decision (which must still pass a public referendum on Nov. 20th). The current bridge was built in a hurry as a basic functional replacement of a bridge that collapsed, killing many dozens of people because nobody wanted to do anything about it until it was too late. I fear history may repeat itself if the referendum doesn’t pass, not to mention that the cost of any other options will rise dramatically due to timing and grant issues.

The new bridge will have expanded facilities for pedestrians and bikers as well as the ships that sail under her, but omits the rail link that currently exists (unless another source of funding can be found for that). This is the only part of the project I’m opposed to: rail is already criminally neglected as a transportation option here, and should be expanded rather than jeopardized. That said, the urgency with which the bridge needs replacing renders the objection moot. I’ve seen the underside of that bridge, and I think most people who have would agree with me that replacement can’t happen fast enough.

Finally, we wanted to update you on a story we have written about before: animal activists have won a court order to stop the culling of the bunnies on the UVic campus, at least temporarily (the college is fighting it). The activists say they are fighting for more time for alternate facilities to get certified to take the rabbits; the college says they are stalling so that returning students will be more mobilized to stop them come the fall.

In either case, we can see both sides of the arguments regarding the animals. We think they add a charm and unique vibe to the campus, but the population needs to be strictly controlled and not allowed to roam freely. There should be a better option than the draconian plans of the college, and the students (and community) are right to hold their feet to the fire to think more creatively. That said, its certainly true that the bunnies are unwelcome pests that can be a safety and health risk, and students have an emotional “blind spot” about this, so something does need to be done.

But we sure would hate to see no bunnies when we drive through the campus. They are an instant day-brightener and part of the overall greater connection to nature we feel living here.