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In brief

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WEST END NEEDS



A new committee of West End community groups, merchants, police officers and others may soon focus on the area’s growing number of street people-and then again, it may not. Councillor and MLA-hopeful Tim Stevenson, who played a key role in striking the city-sponsored committee, says it will be up to the group’s members to identify the area’s most pressing needs and how to address them. But he is personally hoping the group chooses to focus on street people’s needs as one of its priorities. For starters, he says, he’d like to see resources put into treatment centres, mental health resources, addiction services, affordable housing and the like. “What we need is safer streets through detox centres and treatment beds. These programs change lives. Jail just makes a difficult life worse.” Stevenson says he pushed for the city’s pilot coalition to focus on the West End because the area has suffered as a result of the recent police crackdown on the Downtown Eastside drug scene. So far, the coalition has only had a few meetings so it’s too soon to say which issues it will decide to focus on.



Meanwhile, the area’s Liberal MLA, Lorne Mayencourt, isn’t waiting to hear his constituents’ priorities. He is pushing ahead with his own private member’s bills to outlaw most forms of panhandling and street squatting in front of private property. Mayencourt says his bills are already making their way through the legislative process so he can’t put them on hold while the coalition develops its own approach. But British Columbians can still contact the Victoria legislature if they want to comment on the bills before their final reading in October, Mayencourt points out. His Safe Streets Act and Trespass to Property Act passed their second reading in May.



MLA Lorne Mayencourt: 604.775.2484



Premier Gordon Campbell: premier@gov.bc.ca



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MAXIMUS CONCERNS MOUNT



Remember the provincial government’s proposal to privatize the administration of BC’s medical and pharmaceutical insurance plans? Well, the province’s information and privacy commissioner just got an earful about it from the public. In fact, David Loukidelis got so much feedback, he had to delay his report long enough to sift through it all. Loukidelis has been looking into allegations that the Maximus deal would violate British Columbians’ privacy rights ever since the government began negotiating with the US company in March. The concerns stem from the fact that Maximus, like all US companies, is subject to the USA Patriot Act. Critics say the act gives US law enforcement agencies unprecedented surveillance powers, including the power to access data banks from all US companies-data banks that could soon hold all kinds of information about British Columbians, if the government’s deal goes ahead. Last month, health minister Colin Hansen told Xtra West he hoped to finalize the contract by the end of August. But he also said he wouldn’t sign off on the deal until he’s convinced that the public’s privacy will be protected. Xtra West called his office Aug 13 to see if he would delay his decision until Loukidelis presents his report. Hansen was on vacation but a ministry spokesperson said the late August deadline is “not cast in stone.” The people’s privacy rights are more important, Lisa Brewster says, suggesting the minister may amend his original timeline to address such concerns.



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MURRAY WARREN EYES NDP



The man who helped lead the charge for same-sex marriage in BC wants to enter provincial politics. Murray Warren (who recently changed his last name to Corren to combine his own name with that of his new husband, Peter Cook) announced his intention Aug 16 to seek the NDP nomination for Vancouver-Burrard in the next provincial election. Corren will challenge city councillor Tim Stevenson, who held the riding for the NDP from 1996-2001, and newcomer Allison McDonald, a longtime West End resident and education activist. Whoever wins the NDP nomination will then go up against Liberal incumbent, MLA Lorne Mayencourt, to represent the riding. Corren, 58, currently teaches elementary school in Port Coquitlam. The election will take place May 17, 2005.



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SLOT MONEY FOR QUEERS?



Council’s recent decision to add slot machines to the Hastings racetrack could be good news for local queer groups. The city is expecting to gain about $6.5 million from the gambling revenue the slots are expected to bring in. That’s money that could be used to support organizations such as The Centre on Bute St. It’s an idea that’s apparently already close to councillor Tim Stevenson’s heart. “The only legitimacy for having slots would be to take that revenue and put it into areas like treatment centres and seniors centres and, in our community, the lesbian-gay community centre,” he told Xtra West in February. “It’s the only way it makes any sense to me.” Stevenson was among the five city councillors who voted in favour of the slots during the tight vote held Jul 22. Lesbian councillor Ellen Woodsworth joined the ranks of the opposed and cast her vote against. Mayor Larry Campbell cast the deciding vote in favour.



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NO JAIL FOR SVEND



Canada’s pioneering gay former MP, Svend Robinson, won’t be going to jail. Robinson pleaded guilty to stealing an expensive ring from an auction in April. A provincial court judge gave him a conditional discharge Aug 6. That means Robinson won’t go to jail and won’t get a criminal record, provided he meets certain conditions. The conditions include 100 hours of community service. “I’m satisfied that what he has gone through is enough,” Judge Ronald Fratkin reportedly ruled. “He’s fallen a long way and embarrassed himself.” Robinson publicly confessed to his crime, took responsibility for his actions, returned the ring and has been on medical leave since the incident.