Yet here we are in the year 2003 -- collecting blankets for those
without warmth and shelter and serving hot chilli to those without
I sometimes think about how our descendents centuries from now
will look back at our history. I envision them shaking their heads
in disbelief at how backward, uncultured, uncivilized our society
actually was. Because the true test of enlightenment and progress
in any civilization can best be gauged by the treatment received
by the most vulnerable citizens. And it seems, if we look at the
changes that have taken place in British Columbia over the past
couple of years, as a society, we cannot claim to pass this test.
But there will also be another feature that future generations
will uncover – the ongoing resistance of citizens to this
backwardness and regression as well as the determination of tens
of thousands of people across the province to construct a society
that truly meets the needs of all the people. And that’s
why we’re here today – to send a strong message to
the provincial government that we will not stand idly by while
legislation is enacted that will seriously harm the poorest people
in the province along with their families, friends, landlords,
neighbours and, ultimately, entire communities. We recognize that
we are all just one layoff or closure, one piece of legislation,
away from facing the same fate.
People across the province are all trying to address this most
recent attack on the poor in whatever ways are possible. Social
workers and other social service and health workers are trying
to bend and stretch every rule possible to make sure that no one
is left without a means of survival. Neighbours are trying to
help neighbours. Communities are organizing coalitions. Unions
are speaking out both for their members and for service users.
Professional organizations like the BC Association of Social Workers
are lobbying, advocating, drafting letters and resolutions about
how the two-year rule and other social service cuts are wreaking
havoc with people’s lives.
Our concerns are based on our own experiences and observations,
on our own values – values that enshrine the well-being
of people as paramount. But our concerns are also based in law
because the newly imposed time limits on social assistance explicitly
contravene the rights of people in BC to adequate standards of
life, liberty, and security of person as guaranteed in Section
7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982).
The time limits are also contrary to international law following
Canada’s (and British Columbia’s) ratification of
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(1976) which requires governments to respect, protect and fulfill
the rights of all people to an adequate standard of living including
food, clothing and shelter.
These are not small matters. Fundamental rights are being violated.
Gatherings like this and the work we all are trying to do in
our work places and communities, are part of a growing movement
that is saying loudly and clearly –
THIS IS NOT THE KIND OF SOCIETY WE WANT!
Today we are initiating one more action to stand up for our community
and our province. We are doing so not only by being here, but
also by bringing blankets for local agencies who are trying to
help the increasing number of homeless and destitute people in
our community, by providing food for those who are hungry, by
beginning a petition campaign, by lobbying, by advocating, by
writing, by organizing further demonstrations and community meetings,
and by carrying out the less visible day-to-day work amongst our
friends, our neighbours and our co-workers. All of us are seeking
a progressive, enlightened society and we demand that the provincial
government repeal the two year rule – a rule that is not
only in violation of our sense of what’s right as citizens
but also in violation of the charter of rights and freedoms and
the international covenant signed by Canada.
While the current government seems determined to turn back the
clock…WE, AS CITIZENS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, ARE EVEN MORE
DETERMINED TO ENSURE THAT SOCIETY MOVES FORWARD!