28 September, 2008

Charlie

This is a story about a girl. We're going to call her Charlie for the sake of privacy. Most people in my social circle know who Charlie is, but we're going to try and avoid being assholes and throwing around actual names.

I wanted to make this story funny, but unfortunately it's not. No matter how often I laughed about this situation while it was going on, no matter how many jokes we made, in the end I think most of us just have an unpleasant feeling in the pits of our stomachs about the whole thing.

Because mental health is no joking matter.

It's actually ironic that this incident occurred while there seemed to be a great interest in the media about it. The Globe and Mail ran a very long series about mental health and several other publications ran editorials on the subject. It might have been an idea to go over those articles before I wrote this, but it's too late now. The DA is much for the whole 'research' thing. Too much like class.

Charlie is a girl, third year arts somethingorother. IR I think. We, and when I say we I mean my main group of friends, ran into Charlie through a club of which we all were members that shall remain nameless. Charlie joins our club in September. She's a very quiet Asian girl, lost in the sea of new members. She comes out to a number of our events and we notice nothing odd about her. She flitted into our social scene and we didn't pay her too much attention.

After the Christmas Break, she appears to have undergone a change. Some people disagree with me on this point, but she was not really on anyone's radar, so our actual assessment of what she was like before Christmas break is sketchy. There are changes after Christmas though, this is undeniable. She's wearing more expensive clothes and has started using large amounts of makeup, especially eyeliner. At our first meeting of the new year, she makes a beeline for one of the DA's editorial staff and attaches herself to him for the duration of the meeting. He's like 'okay she seems to be acting a little odd, but this isn't so bad.' (He's single at this point)

She comes out to the bar with us afterwards and then to an abode of one of our members. I think she's trying to give me the eyes. I, while single, am not interested at all. I think 'Commodore Cuddles can have her,' and try to arrange seating arrangements accordingly. I go home early. Commodore Cuddles arrives home later with Charlie along side. My thoughts are 'good for Commodore Cuddles. I hope she isn't following him home to try and sleep with me, because her eyes were kinda crazy. I'm going to lock my door tonight.' [I'm not sure if I'm a narcissist, paranoid, or partly psychic as my sole assessment of the girl at this point was that she looked at people funny and was kinda quiet.]

The next morning, after Charlie has left, Commodore Cuddles revealed how she had followed him home sans invitation. She just got on his bus and got off at his stop, never saying a word.

The evidence that something was wrong mounted up the more we saw of her: stolen clothing, lack of understanding space boundaries (she crashed at a friend's house and in the middle of the night climbed into bed with her), Inability to make eye contact in a conversation, stopping in the middle of sentences, interrupting conversations to ask nonsensical questions, camping outside another club member's res room for three hours and stealing an RA's phone in the process till campus security escorted her away, writing in a journal in the midst of social events, further stalking like behaviour towards Commodore Cuddles, etc. I could go on for ages. Every person who met her for more than a few minutes realized that something was wrong, that something wasn't quite functioning for her. There are a lot of socially awkward people on campus, but Charlie was so lacking in the social norms most of us take for granted it was as if she was so unaware of most of them that she didn't even know to be embarrassed by her awkwardness.

Here's the thing about Charlie though:

  1. Her actions, for the most part, were non-violent
  2. When we tried to confront her about her behavior she would run away

So nobody did anything. The club tried to talk to counseling, tried to talk to Charlie about matters. The university mental health services told us that we had to convince her to seek help by herself, but whenever we even tried to bring the topic up, as mentioned before, she would run away and start writing in her journal. (Which apparently contained such lines as 'Must hurt the mean boys' written over and over, but I heard this second hand and much later)

We've no idea what her family situation was like and we presumed that they were out of the picture. The only impression we got of her home situation was that she was in an apartment somewhere in Vancouver and the theory was floated that perhaps her parents had sent her here from China and rented an apartment for her, so now she was living all by herself in Vancouver. In short, there seemed to be no one there capable or willing to take responsibility for her and her condition.

As to what she had, a number of people tried to explain it away as some variant of autism. Having noticed a definite change in her behavior, I couldn't help but think it was schizophrenia. Late adolescence to early adulthood is the usual period where that condition manifests itself, while autism becomes apparent in childhood. Whatever she had, once school had ended and there were no more club events for her to come out to so we assumed we wouldn't have to worry about her for a few months.

Then she fucking stabbed a random girl in broad daylight at a bus stop.

She'd never seen this girl before. She simply said something to her, stabbed her, got on the bus, and put the knife back in her purse. The police caught her a few blocks down. She didn't seem to really think about running away. All said and done, it was about the worst case scenario you could have gotten out of this situation. (Okay, it actually could have been worse, because she didn't get her hands on a gun, but still)

Thankfully, the girl involved made a full recovery and Charlie is now in a mental hospital. We got a letter from her actually. There's nothing really we can do for her at this point, other than perhaps pay a visit, because perhaps no one else will. Hopefully she'll get the treatment she needs, hopefully she'll be able to get her life back on track.

However this sad story brings an important question to the fore, which is how the hell we get people like Charlie to seek treatment before they hurt themselves or other people. Let's face it. We should have been able to see this coming. Whatever Charlie had – clearly not autism – it was obvious to everyone she had issues and her condition was hampering her ability to function in society.

We've entered the 21st century. I think that, as a society, we should start thinking of serious new ways to deal with the issues that have plagued us for years, problems we've typically swept under the rug, or given half hearted solutions to. I think that we need to devise new mechanisms with which to handle the mentally ill, not merely in terms of treatment, but in how we bring bring those people to treatment.

Because the underlying problem with our dealings with Charlie was that, in addition to not taking the problem as seriously and maturely as we ought to have - and the majority of us definitely could have handled it better – we could not get her to seek treatment because she either didn't want to talk to us about it and, like many mentally unwell people, probably wouldn't have wanted to seek help even if we had been able to sit her down and talk to her about it. While members of your family can check you into a mental hospital, if you don't have family, or they're not around, that option of having someone else make a decision for you is simply not there.

Now, there's already a whole rigmarole about forced institutionalization, which I'm not going to go into now, because that would involve me actually reading the wiki on the subject and then some law students would poke gigantic holes in my argument and then no one would suggest anything better.

So I'm not going to do that.

Instead, I'm going to suggest that the University Administration get off its lazy collection of asses and maybe have a little more interventionist policy when it comes to mental health.

After all, if Charile had stolen a rifle from the shooting range she apparently went to, this might have been a little more like Dawson's College or Virgina Tech, and nobody wants that. The BioSci scare was quite enough.

The University isn't there to hold our hand in everything. When we've got our 'regular' illnesses or other issues it's up to us to go to the doctor, or we find the appropriate help ourselves. If we've got mental illness however, and friends and acquaintances can't just call an ambulance for us or make us go to the doctor. Often the afflicted person in these cases doesn't recognize their own need for help and in the situation of a big university, especially one with such a large commuter population, it's easy to get lost in the crowd.

I believe that the University has a responsibility to its students, both to ensure they are able to get the care they need and to provide a safe environment in which to study (and occasionally party) The status quo, in which students who do not have the support of family or friends to help them - a big problem for international students or students whose parents are abroad - in the case of mental illness and in which no meaningful action can be taken to prevent a possibly unstable person from hurting themselves or others is simply unacceptable.

Given the fact that a mentally unwell or depressed person can pose a threat to both their own safety and that of others, I think a reasonable compromise can be reached in terms of the rights of the individual to accept or refuse treatment and the duty of the university to ensure both the health and safety of its students. To this end, I think it should be possible for students or faculty who recognize a potential sufferer of mental illness, to alert the UBC (AMS?) health services to the issue, at which point, these programs would be authorized to contact that student and attempt to assess if there is a problem. If they believe that there is one, and attempts to convince the student to seek help are not successful, then the family can be alerted.

It's also been suggested that the University make such an identified student's enrollment dependent upon them seeking treatment, especially if it believed that they pose a risk to other people. This would be reasonable within the context of providing a self learning environment and I think that guidelines could be put in such a program to prevent it being abused and that most people would only use it in drastic cases, like Charlie's.

Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe this is a terrible idea and horribly infringes on privacy or something or people will use it to torment people they don't like, but it's a thought and a starting place and maybe someone can come up with something better.

And if you can't, well you can shut up. I'm tired of people wringing their hands and saying 'but we can't do anything'. Because we can and we should.

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24 September, 2008

Slander 101

The esteemed University of British Columbia, like many other establishments of higher learning in this fair country, has an active student body who likes to organise themselves into awesome (!) clubs. Students, being an industrious bunch (at times) enjoy getting together with fellow people of their ilk, coagulating into student groups that think they can change the world...particularly during Clubs Days, organised by the AMS, where student associations jostle with one another to compete for membership.

Of course, combine this enthusiasm with an ongoing federal election, and you've got some fertile soil for political activism in every colour.

Thus, the Devil's Advocate is pleased to present to you the finest in political commentary, the Coultie Awards: the most prestigious prize in Canadian political slander, mudslinging and general brown-nosery. These awards are named after esteemed political columnist (and occasional crazy wench) Ann Coulter, who has - on occasion - suggested that America goes into Muslim countries, kill off all their leaders and convert their peoples to Christianity. She's also an author: one of her most famous books is Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right, where she portrays all progressive Americans as wealthy, white Democrats with a penchant for taxing you for the sake of taxing you. An accurate vision, perhaps, if you consider all liberals to be Michael Moore, Jane Fonda and Stephen Spielberg.

In any case...

First off, we have the New Democrats' booth, oh-so-firmly staffed by Mitch Wright and Vancouver-Centre candidate and UBC professor Michael Byers. Despite the fact that I constantly make inappropriate passes at young Mitch here - it's hard to resist such a charming, baby-faced young lad - he showed us what Canadian socialism is made of.

The NDP has been promoting itself as a defender of the working- and middle-classes, what with a strong slant towards social justice and a re-distributive economy, where the wealthy give to the poor. Of course, this is in the guise of taxes and regulation, so it's giving to the poor by force. That being said, their goals are pretty feel-good, so I have nothing too bad to say on that front.

Their propaganda is pretty straightforward: calling for a $10 minimum wage in BC and more women and visible minorities in Canadian legislatures. I didn't see any kind of obvious slander or attack, beyond saying that the BC Liberals - with no obvious mention of Gordon Campbell - had to go. Gosh darn it, those NDPers are pretty nice! They're like having a nice, warm (but not too hot) cup of herbal, non-caffeinated, fair-trade, carbon-neutral Balinese tea after a night of hot, consensual, safe-worded vanilla cuddling with your girlfriend.

In the end, I left with a small stack of flyers, including one from Mr. Byers asking me to come to a rally with Jack Layton and to volunteer on his campaign. (Between classes, work and the occasional Craigslist NSA hookup, I barely have time to sleep.)

Slander Grade: D

Next up, we have the Green Party. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Dan Grice, an old colleague of mine, who's now carrying the Green banner for the Vancouver-Quadra riding. In the
entire time we chatted, we spoke about a democratic deficit (curable through electoral reform), a weakening environment, the need to invest in overwhelmed public transit and a revival of rail across this country.

One piece of propaganda that caught my eye was the "Shift Happens" pamphlets that I've seen all over campus over the past few months. Now, this was well before the Liberal Party published its "Green Shift" policy. Could it be that the Liberal Party is stealing material from the UBC Greens? The plot thickens so much I could eat it with chopsticks.

Dan made sure to remind me that Elizabeth May was coming to Vancouver to start her cross-country whistle-stop tour by train. He said I should come, even though political rallies are quickly becoming displeasing to me. As much as I'm for the environment, public transit and pretty much everything else this party stands for - I figure that "rape the planet" is not a prudent policy statement - I was slightly relieved that an attractive young woman had managed to captivate Dan with her presence more than I could do with my shaggy Jewish locks.

Slander Grade: D

Around the corner, to the Federal Liberals. I have never voted Liberal myself, nor do I plan to do in the near future (in no small part thanks to Bob Rae's recent musings on how a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Tories - bold words for the turncoat hack of a party that effectively props up Stephen Harper's government by refusing to vote against it!), but I have to say, the political swag started to improve.

The Grits started by gluing a bunch of partisan slogans to condoms. Using cute lines such as "private members bill" (with "bill" referring to the latex prophylactic in question and "private member" referring to a man's Pride and Joy) and "Stand Up for Canada" (which, in fact, was the Conservative Party's campaign slogan in 2006), they attempted to use humour to get people to join! Humour! Something to make you laugh! Like how far down the Liberal Party has slid in recent times!

(On another note, the Liberals have taken to stealing campaign slogans from other countries, too - apparently, their theme in French is "Ensemble, tout est possible" - together, everything is possible. This is pretty similar to the 2007 slogan for the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire - the party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Whoever's manning the helms on board the HMCS Liberal, they should really be fired. I can't stand much more of Stephen Harper.)

Their provincial counterparts were not much better. We have Colin Simkus, politico-ladies' man extraordinaire, who's handing out some pretty neat swag, such as pins of the BC flag and latex bracelets with the provincial government's logo and slogan "The Best Place On Earth" - these were created to inspire pride and joy in this province's accomplishments over the past 150 years of existence. Of course, BC as a province has only existed for 137 years, and the thought of having a provincial identity analogous to that of, say, Newfoundland and Labrador, or Saskatchewan, or - dare I say it - Québec is a pretty far fetch. I've said this before and I'll say it again: there are two types of people in this province: hicks and hippies. Deal with it.

The point that I wanted to really drive home, however, is the honest-to-God philanthropy of the BC Liberal Party, as they paid money out of their own pockets to print up these Government-designed wristbands - with the BC logo on them - so that they could single-handedly promote a love of This Great Land! At least, I guess they did! Not a single penny of public money went into this booth. Why do I say that? 'Cause I trust Gordon Campbell. That's why.

Sadly, Colin's booth was next to the Conservative Party's booth, which was staffed by a pretty hot chick, so he really couldn't help himself in chatting her up. This is not a good thing if you're trying to promote party solidarity.

In any case, the thought of having Stéphane Dion or Gordon Campbell as my leader makes me pretty limp in the 'nads, so I'm gonna pass on this one. Props to the Liberals, though, for having a good swag idea with the condoms, and for being the first party I saw to actually criticise another.

Finally, the BC Young Liberals don't have a logo. This makes Colin sad. Apparently, if you design a logo for them by next Friday, you might be able to win a trip to their provincial convention! Nothing makes me more hot and/or bothered by that! I might need to run back to the Federal booth for a few condoms, just in case.

Combined Slander Grade: C+

Next door, to the Conservative booth. The hot chick that Colin was chatting
up must have sniffed some socialist blood in the air - admittedly, there's a tiny, tiny Marxist buried deep down inside - so she soon turned stone cold. You would not believe how hard it was to get her to point to her bloody party sign and smile. Her friend was even less thrilled at the prospect. Seriously, if you guys are the Conservatives of the future, you might want to get a bit more enthusiastic about fucking over the poor! Come on, guys, just say it...just say that two-tiered health care is a good thing...and that two separate water fountains just means shorter lines for everyone...

And that's just their booth. Take a look at their propaganda:


Apparently, if you're a Green, New Democrat or Liberal, you don't like to keep promises, you like to slack off and you enjoy paying more for everything. Seriously, guys. Did you really have to insult people's intelligence? Since when did honesty become a big-C value?


And what about this one? It's Conservatives that question authority? I didn't see too many of you people down at Knoll Aid helping pry the cops from the arrested protesters.

I have a question: who hired the Republican Party to coach the Tories on how to campaign negatively? And don't they understand that by pushing this kind of line on a campus, they're effectively alienating, oh, I don't know, say 95% of the campus population? When American conservatives say that there's a left-wing bias on campuses across their country, they're damn straight. Conservatives are supposed to protect the social status quo, last time I checked, which is not the job of the academic world. Questioning authority was not their job. So I figure that they are probably a bit misguided in their mission.


I also love how they insinuate that Liberal Party hacks control the academic establishment. Y'know, like how Deborah Meredith, their candidate for MP, is a prof here at UBC. But that's just me.

As much as I'd like to tell the GOP to go take a shit in their own pool, having them here makes it so much easier to lambast Stephen Harper. So kudos, Tories! When I say "ABORTION!", you say "BAN!" Keep it up and I'm sure the Christian Taliban will be running the show pretty soon.

Slander Grade: A-

And finally, the winners of this year's Coultie Awards are none other than the Trotskyist League!

Their table was staffed by two people, one of whom refused to allow their picture to be taken. That's so great, for someone so certain of the fact that capitalism needs to be abolished, he sure is a little camera-shy. I'm sure he'll have my back when we're on the front lines of the worker's revolution!

Apparently, they were not giving away any swag. Some folks at the Yanks Anonymous table told me that they were selling their crap newspapers for $2 a copy. These guys can't even get their shit together to give away their swag for free? So much for spreading Marxism to the great unwashed!

Apparently, us white males are still repressing the québécois with our anglo-chauvinism, and the NDP is the tool of the bourgeoisie, whereas our friend down south, Barack Obama, is leading American Imperialism. Blacks are repressed by capitalism, Mumia Abu-Jamal never killed a cop, I'm screwed for thinking Jews deserve a homeland, anti-war protesters in the USA are responsible themselves for the failure of their movement to stop the War in Iraq and peacekeepers hardly keep the peace as much as they keep the gears of imperialism running smoothly. Astounding: they've managed to alienate every single sector of society, of course. Well, except themselves. I wonder if they actually think that they'll win one day.

It's really a miracle what a bucket of wheat paste and a bit of piss-and-vinegar can do!

Slander Grade: A++

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This election, make sure you go out and vote. Whether you vote for higher taxes, institutional corruption, bigotry, a ban on soap or Québec separatism - or even for an independent candidate - make your voice heard, 'cause the people in countries where democracy is not so observed get really confused and angry when we don't do what they're dying - literally - to do.

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19 September, 2008

Democracy Dome Haiku Contest

Democracy Dome appears to be missing. Perhaps murdered, perhaps recalled to greener pastures by its creators. Whatever its fate, I miss it. I propose a Memorial Haiku Contest. The best haiku will win some sort of prize (to be determined - it will be nifty)

My entry:

Democracy Dome
Broken dreams and bonfires
Missing from my life

Good luck!

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17 September, 2008

RCMP and Accountability

In a recent Ubyssey article (volume 90, number 5), photographer Jorge Amigo describes being assaulted and threatened with arrest by RCMP outside of a fraternity party. Hopefully Jorge got a badge number and the settlement will pay for his grad school (criminal charges against the officer would be nice, but will never happen in this country) but my experiences today in trying to contact the RCMP in order to write this article raise some troubling concerns.


I figured the best way to approach an article on the RCMP would be to first look at the issue from their perspective. In the 'States, it is fairly standard practice for law enforcement to take journalists (and curious citizens) on a ride along. You spend several hours riding shotgun in a squad car, talking to the officer and seeing how he or she goes about the daily routines. In my experience, police enjoy doing this sort of thing. When my high school newspaper approached our local police department following a series of controversial incidents, they happily accommodated us. From their perspective, the chance to positively interact with members of the community and get their side of the story heard was well worth the while. From our perspective, we got a good story as well as increased the accountability of the local police department - they're less likely to shoot minorities in the back when there's a 17 year old watching.

With this in mind, I figured it would be a win-win situation if I scheduled a ride along with the University RCMP detachment. I gave them a call and was told, "oh sorry, we don't do that anymore." I then asked if I could schedule an interview with someone to discuss current issues facing the RCMP and was told I would have to talk to the RCMP's national media centre. After a bit of searching, I found that number, called it, and ended up with voice mail.

What concerns me about this incident is that the RCMP (not just the Campus Detachment but the organization as a whole) seems completely unconcerned with maintaining good relations with the community. By ensuring that the only possible contact a citizen can have with the RCMP is a negative one, they only help to polarize the "us vs. them" dichotomy that has become so prevalent at UBC these days. In order for this to change, the RCMP needs to adopt a more open policy towards community based policing.

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Oh CVC

Well, I'm not really 'in touch' with the UBC campus anymore, but I got linked to this video:

http://www.vimeo.com/1656522

which I think is just hilarious. No, it's not simply because it makes a mockery of people who haven't been able to acquire a high fluency in English yet. (Though I laugh at those jokes because I'm a terrible, terrible person) It's because I think, more than anything, this video mocks its makers.

Because the best way to show you're a multicultural club is to have an Asian girl be your representative in your ad.

We so believe you now.

I mean, I went and looked at their website and found the group picture on this page:

http://www.ubccvc.com/about.php

And sure, I think there's a white guy and maybe a hispanic guy on the right. But it's about as ethnically
diverse a jar of raspberry jam with a blueberry thrown in.

I also fail to see the attraction in a ski trip with eight hundred people. That's about as helpful as joining more first year classes to make friends. You really just have more people to ignore you.

On the other hand, I'm not going to yell at CVC for trying. They want to be inclusive. I respect that.
They failed utterly and had to apologize for the video, but their hearts were in the right places. Still, I can't help but feel they're fighting an uphill battle when they have 'Chinese' in their name. Even if they only refer to themselves by their acronym. Trying to be multicultural is probably a lost cause for them, or any other Asian club on campus.

Heck, I'm not even going to yell at Asian clubs in general. I mean, I don't really like the idea of racial or ethnic clubs on principle, but if you're coming over here from China or Taiwan and you barely know the language, a group of people in the same boat is what you want. (yes, I'm pretty sure there's some people like the poor sap in the video in your club. Especially if it's got 800 people in it) Not to mention the fact that people with similar cultural backgrounds tend to congregate together, no matter who they are. It's just the way shit happens.

However, I can't help but see the beautiful symmetry inherent in the existence of Asian clubs. After all,
they are the equivalent of a couple of western institutions where one pays for friends, only without dividing people up by sex. It's like some bright Asian sat up one day and thought

'What if we could combine a frat and the sorority into one entity?

And for that, I salute them.

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