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And an update on SFU's contract workers
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MONDAY, May 10
Good morning, Burnaby!

It's a weird thing writing personal musings for the following morning's newsletter. It borders on surreal trying to tap into Monday energy on a Friday. Present Me is riding high on the possibilities of the weekend before me and all the different naps I can take on my couch. Future You is staggering through [insert # here] cups of coffee just to get through the day. Friday energy simply isn't the same as Monday energy, and is it really fair of Present Me to try to stoop to the energy of Future Me? Does Future Me even exist?

Presentist theorist A.N. Prior wrote tha—

Editor's note: Dustin's intro-writing privileges have been taken away for at least 2 business days. We apologize for these mad ramblings.

Dustin Godfrey, reporter

HAVE A STORY BURNABY NEEDS TO DIG IN TO?TIPS@BURNABYBEACON.COM
 
TODAY'S EDITION:
SFU CONTRACT WORKERS
UNRELEASED COVID DATA
STUTTERING AND STORIES
 
Photo of two young reporters standing side by side smiling.
SFU has so far resisted calls for contract workers to be taken in house, saying it needs to wait until more financially stable times to assess the issue. 📷 SFU
Support 'snowballing' for SFU contract workers
Burnaby's mayor and two north Burnaby MLAs have signed a petition calling for the workers to be taken in house by the university

Support has been “snowballing” for SFU contract workers to be employed in house by the university, including garnering signatures from several local politicians.

Mayor Mike Hurley and north Burnaby MLAs Janet Routledge and Katrina Chen have all signed a petition calling for SFU president Joy Johnson to hire all contract workers—largely food services and janitorial staff—directly.

On Thursday last week, Chen tweeted in support of the cause after a “productive” conversation with Contract Worker Justice, the group behind the petition.

“These workers are an essential part of our community - but they've struggled with low wage, insecurity & precarity for way too long,” Chen wrote. “Time to end this + find solutions.”

But one of the academics leading the charge, alongside the Unite Here! and CUPE locals that represent the janitorial and food service workers, said a meeting with Johnson left them “somewhat disappointed.”

“We felt that the response was one that was very reluctant to seriously entertain the demand that we had made at the time. It wasn't clear, even at the end of the meeting, whether they were willing to engage in a further process with us for the meetings,” said John Calvert, associate professor of health sciences, who attended the meeting with Enda Brophy, associate professor of communications.

“Our sense was that, while they sympathized with what we’re trying to do, they were really concerned about the cost implications.”

In a statement to the Beacon, SFU vice-president of finance and administration Martin Pochurko, said the university administration “has been a progressive and innovative leader working with contracted providers, and we wish to remain a leader with respect to progressive working conditions.”

“We committed to work on a case for change in fall of 2021, when we hope there will be less uncertainty and the university will be on a path to recovery,” Pochurko said. “This work will look at the costs, benefits, potential savings, required support structures, and competitive landscape on our campuses and in our region, among other key insights.”

Calvert said those sentiments were better conveyed to him and his colleagues in a letter after their meeting, including the commitment to looking at the situation during more financially stable times.

Some of the reasons for the higher costs, Calvert noted, would be having to offer benefits afforded to all the other staff at SFU, including a strong pension plan, accessing onsite child care, accessing the university’s library, and enrolling their kids at SFU.

“They're getting none of these entitlements that everybody else in the community at SFU is currently receiving. … The problem of the contracting system is that it suppresses wages and suppresses benefits,” he said.

“As long as there’s an unorganized contractor out there who will bid on the work at a lower contract priced than the existing contractor, then there’s always a possibility that the contract may be shifted to someone who is providing less in the way of wages or benefits or whatever.”

Calvert said he wasn’t sure what the endorsements from MLAs—who are part of the governing BC NDP—or the mayor will have in terms of direct pressure on SFU administration, but he said there’s a symbolic importance behind their support.

“It is significant that the president will know that they’re looking at this issue,” he said, adding that the hundreds of signatures “is a signal that, in the community, … there is a consensus that this is what should happen.”


—By Dustin Godfrey

Photo of two young reporters standing side by side smiling.
Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonne Henry. 📷 BC Government/ Flickr
BC'S TOP DOCTOR SAYS SYSTEMIC SOCIAL ISSUES 'ARE NOT PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES'
Drs Bonnie Henry and Reka Gustafson grilled by reporters after leaked report reveals BC collects far more data than what it publicly releases

Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry and deputy provincial health officer Dr Reka Gustafson defended BC’s data collection and release procedures around COVID Friday, after an internal BCCDC report lhttps://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/covid-19-leaked-reports-show-health-authorities-withholding-data-from-the-publiceaked to the Vancouver Sun revealed that the province is collecting far more information than what they publicly release.

Henry and Gustafson, however, in a last-minute press conference called to take questions on the leaked report, insisted that the majority of the information contained inside is made regularly available in BC.

That’s simply not true. While the province does regularly share the number of cases and outbreaks in long term care homes, some of the analysis of BC’s situations, and while information about other jurisdictions that’s included in the report is readily and publicly available online (though not by BC), BC has never shared positivity rates, incidence rates and vaccination rates by community health service area.

It’s also never shown British Columbians the modelling of possible scenarios by case, hospitalization, and deaths, nor the estimated proportions of specific variants of concern by health authority—both of which are included in the leaked report.

Nevertheless, Henry and Gustafson repeatedly claimed that the “vast majority” of the data is released to the public in different forms, once it’s been “validated” and contextualized by public health officials.

"We make as much data as possible once validated and turned into meaning available publicly," Gustafson said.

This, they said, was simply a working draft of the report that goes out weekly in different forms.

“It's a work in progress [that] we share with our public health colleagues for validation—to go from data to information to meaning and then eventually to understanding. And again, the vast majority of it is released. I think it was helpful to hear that people found the format and the way in which it was presented helpful. And we're working with our public health colleagues to see whether that's a useful way of releasing information,” Gustafson said.

The purpose of data collection and surveillance, they said, was to recognize patterns and trends and share them with public health “for the purpose of making decisions”. Henry, Gustafson, and their colleagues then discuss which information included is “most meaningful” and can be released without fear of being misleading or of misinterpretation by the public.

But when a reporter pointed out that other provinces provide the same information publicly on an almost daily basis, Henry claimed BC is just as transparent as those other jurisdictions, if not more.

“We are releasing more than what other provinces are releasing,” she said.

That’s categorically untrue.

If you’re looking for transmission rates or vaccination rates by neighbourhood, disaggregated racial data, data on school exposures and transmissions, infection rates by occupation, or regularly updated information on variants of concern—to name just a few areas in which experts and advocates have called for far greater transparency—you can find it in other jurisdictions like Ontario, Alberta, Toronto Public Health, Ottawa Public Health, Edmonton, Manitoba, and Quebec. You cannot find any of that information in BC.

Henry and Gustafson were asked why it took a leak to the media for British Columbians to find that information by community health service was in fact being collected in BC—information that reporters have been trying to simply confirm the existence of for weeks with no response.

Gustafson objected to the characterization of the report’s release by an anonymous source to Postmedia as a “leak” to begin with.

“That word ‘leak’—the deck that was shared with you is actually shared with quite a broad range of people, [and] we always assume that it might become public. So I think I just wanted to make sure that we don't mischaracterize it, that there was sort of a particular concern about it being shared,” she said.

That, despite the fact that many of the report’s 45 pages are stamped with the words “FOR AUTHORIZED INTERNAL PUBLIC HEALTH USE ONLY - NOT FOR PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION”.

The report shows more granular data on transmission rates and positivity levels than BC has ever released and reveals huge disparities in who is getting infected by neighbourhood. The Surrey communities of Whalley and Newton, for example, had a startlingly high positivity rate of 20%+ (a narrower range of values was not provided) between April 23-29. Compare that with the nearby White Rock, where the positivity rate was between 1 and 2%.

Advocates say this further reinforces what they’ve been saying, and asking for proof of—that COVID does in fact discriminate along socioeconomic lines of race, income, sector, and neighbourhood density.

“And in order for us to keep these communities safe, we needed this granular data, so we could target resources and support to ensure that they were, we were protecting them as much as possible,” Dr June Francis, director of the Institute for Diasporic Research and Engagement at SFU, told Burnaby Beacon.

“But of course, we never got that data.”

As of 2016, Whalley had a population that was 52.2% South Asian. 10% of its population were refugees. A document from the Provincial Health Services Authority referenced data from the Canadian Index of Multiple Deprivation, which measures factors that result in some populations experiencing “health inequalities and marginalization”, and ranked Whalley on the high end of its scale for situational vulnerability and ethno-cultural composition, with moderate levels of economic dependency and residential instability as well.

Meanwhile, South Asians also represent 58% of Newton’s population. 49% are immigrants. 25% of Surrey’s Aboriginal community lives in the neighbourhood.

That’s what we know from census data. BC has thus far declined to collect or release disaggregated race-based data on COVID, so we don’t have any way of knowing the true impact of the pandemic on racialized communities.

Public health has said releasing that data could increase the risk of stigmatization or discrimination of certain communities. They have also pointed to a lack of resources available to collect that information.

Francis told Burnaby Beacon that response fails to acknowledge or address the institutional discrimination against racialized people, especially Black and Indigenous people, already rampant in the public health system.

Henry and Gustafson agreed that the data in the leaked report reveals huge socioeconomic disparities.

But when Burnaby Beacon asked what their message was to people living in the poorer, high-density communities of Whalley and Newton, with positivity rates of over 20% but minutes away from the affluent city of White Rock, where there is a positivity of 1%, neither Henry or Gustafson would take responsibility on a public health level. Henry called our reporter’s queries “societal questions”.

“This is not new. This is what we have been talking about through this entire pandemic. And these systemic inequities are not a public health issue,” she said.

“They are what has been revealed by this virus and this pandemic—that we don't value low-wage earners, that they don't have the ability to stay home. Part of the response that we have been doing through this whole pandemic has been trying to find ways to support workers. That's one of the reasons we prioritized food processing workers for immunization, because we recognize that these were high risk environments where people had no choice, but were being exposed to this virus.”

Neither Henry nor Gustafson included in their answers a rationale as to why the public health system under their stewardship doesn’t prioritize fixing the “societal” questions that would make workers at food processing plants in Surrey more at risk of COVID than office workers in White Rock.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Fraser Health declared a new outbreak at Sunrise Poultry Processors Ltd. in Surrey, where 29 staff had tested positive for COVID.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s newsletter, where the Beacon will go deeper into what the leaked report reveals about COVID transmission in Burnaby.

—By Srushti Gangdev

BURNABY BULLETIN

🗳️
Federal NDP names Burnaby North-Seymour nominee
: The New Democrats have picked former North Vancouver District councillor Jim Hanson as the candidate in the upcoming federal election. He'll be running against Liberal incumbent Terry Beech, and 31-year old Kelsey Shein, who grew up "in and around" Burnaby North-Seymour and has been named the Conservative candidate.

➡️ Burnaby shooting: The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) is investigating after one man was killed in Burnaby on Saturday evening. The incident took place at around 7pm near 13th Ave and 6th St. Anyone with information is asked to contact Burnaby RCMP or IHIT at 1-877-551-4448. On Sunday, another shooting occurred at Vancouver International Airport where one man was killed near the domestic departure terminal.

➡️Day Against Asian Racism: Burnaby has declared May 10 as a Day of Action Against Asian Racism. This comes after recent data from the Burnaby RCMP highlighted that anti-Asian hate crimes in the city increased by 350% from 2019 to 2020. This initiative is spearheaded by Burnaby resident Doris Mah, who is also an organizer with the Stand with Asian Coalition (SWAC). Read more here.

Photo of two young reporters standing side by side smiling.
Burnaby author Kim Block wants to change perceptions around disability with her picture books. 📷 Kim Block and one of her books/ (Canadian School Libraries Journal/ Supplied)
'PEOPLE LEARN THROUGH STORIES'
How one Burnaby author is using her books to create understanding and acceptance

When Burnaby resident Kim Block was in school, she thought she was the only person in the world who stuttered.

I [thought I] was the only one and when you think you’re the only one, you think that there is something wrong with you and that’s why visibility is just so important,” Block tells Burnaby Beacon.

But Block says it’s visibility around people with disabilities that has been missing from mainstream books and media.

To foster that visibility, Block decided to write her own series of children's books titled Adventures of a Stuttering Superhero.

Her colourful picture books, which feature illustrations from early childhood educator Cheryl Cameron, follow the stories of children who stutter and how they find a sense of belonging in the world.

But trying to get her books into the mainstream publishing world has proven to be difficult.

Block has had to resort to self-publishing because of the barriers she’s experienced trying to get her stories picked up by big publishers.

“I think being a self-published author under the topic of disability, there are a lot of us out there—and I have found groups on Facebook of a variety of people having to write their own books for the exact same reason,” she says.

“The topic of ableism is really the defining force or the big challenge that I have to deal with. Not just with publishers, but with schools and libraries, because the publishers only want to produce something that they think will appease the masses—that will create or generate the amount of book sales that they want. So if they don't see dollar signs attached to your book ... they devalue it.”

When it comes to libraries, Block says she gets a mixed response with some librarians telling her they love the books, and others sometimes saying there is not enough shelf space and they have to prioritize the books that get read the most.

“And I’m just like, are you kidding me?” says Block. “Show me a book in this library, any story of a child who stutters, and you’re not going to allow a book that has a child who stutters that’s written in a positive way. You don't want that on your shelf because you don’t value it. You think it’s taking up space. It’s like a stab in my heart.”

Despite these challenges, Block’s books are making a change.

They act as teaching tools to help children who stutter feel seen, and help children who don’t stutter learn about people with different abilities.

Block has shared her stories in classrooms and says she sees an immediate shift with students who hear her read out loud.

“The kids could come in and they’d sit down in front of me and I would start stuttering. I’d notice that they’d not be making eye contact with me, some of them would be laughing. And I would start to read the book, and then when the book was over and I would open up the floor … and they loved the story,” she says.

“And then, all of a sudden, hands are up and kids are making comments … they are making eye contact with me. No one is laughing. So the kids that came in that room, 20 minutes later, walked out not the same kids. It really doesn't take a long time to change how they think.”

That shift is caused by the power of storytelling, says Block.

“People learn through stories. You can pound them with factual information and it will go in one ear and out the other. But if you’ve got a good story, it will change them.”

You can learn more about Block and her books here.

—By Simran Singh

COVID-19 UPDATE

BC
  • 722 new cases. Total 134,341
  • 7 new deaths. Total 1,602
  • 6,757 active cases (-45). 445 people in hospital (-12), 157 in ICU (+3)
  • 2,042,442 vaccine doses administered. About 45% of eligible British Columbians have received at least one dose.
FRASER HEALTH
  • 523 new cases in Fraser Health (72.4% of BC). Total 77,293
  • 4,391 active cases (64.9% of BC)
  • 266 people in hospital (59.7% of BC), 87 in ICU (55.4% of BC)
COVID-19 NEWS

  • Saskatchewan NDP proposes paid sick leave: Bill 603 would provide 10 paid sick days a year for each worker, and 14 during the pandemic. The cost of the sick days would fall under the employer's responsibility, but the NDP said it thinks government should support those efforts to avoid unduly burdening small businesses. The NDP is now calling on the Saskatchewan Party government to pass the bill.
  • Nova Scotia schools to remain closed for at least the rest of May: That province reported 227 new cases, but warned that at least 200 others had been identified but not processed, and so were not included in the count. Starting Monday, the NS border will be closed to people entering from PEI or Newfoundland and Labrador as well as other provinces.
  • Manitoba entering 3-week lockdown: Restaurants, bars, and patios will have to halt in-house dining, while other businesses like fitness centres and libraries have been told to close entirely until at least May 30. Retail stores can operate at a 10% capacity. That's amid what provincial health officer Dr Brent Roussin called a "dramatic" rise in cases and hospitalizations.
➡️ National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism - On May 10, join the Stand with Asians Coalition (SWAC) for an online session to raise awareness and combat anti-Asian racism. Find out more here.

♻️ Zero Waste at Home - Join BCIT for an online session on May 11 about how to incorporate waste at home. Find out more here.

🍎 Mayor's Food Bank Challenge - Throughout the month of May, Burnaby is competing against other Metro Vancouver municipalities to see who can raise the most money for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. Find out more here.
Remember that tree with a strange face in Central Park Srushti mentioned in last week's newsletter? A Burnaby Beacon reader found it! 📷 Louise Larochelle/ Sumbitted
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