Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween fun sacrificed by political purists

Halloween has been fun and games for decades. Children dress up in wild costumes and parade up and down their neighbourhoods in search of generous donations of candy. Adults dress up in wilder costumes and celebrate at parties with friends. All around, the motivation in modern North American society has been a simple day of silly fun. Can it be that midget Spidermen or Catwomen running around, or larger adult size Frankensteins be somehow offensive to anyone?

Apparently in today's society the answer more often is becoming a resounding yes. Slowly more and more communities are banning Halloween costumes and celebrations from schools, in opposition of the objections of parents or the children. Why is such a fever growing? Is it that local supermarkets run low on candy supplies, or is the tradition of Halloween somehow frightening?

There is tradition and love behind Halloween, as hard as it is to believe. It is not a dreamt up North American fun fest travelling down a yellow brick road filled with colourful lollypops, foil wrapped caramels and mini bags of potato chips. In fact Halloween costumes are strongly influenced by Christianity and its practices. The celebration of Halloween falls on the evening before the Christian liturgical holy days of All Hallows Day (also known as All Saints, or Hallowmas) on November 1st and All Souls Day on November the 2nd.

In the Christian faith All Hallows Day and All Souls Day represent the celebration and remembrance of the dead, including saints (or hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Family and friends remember their departed, and the church celebrates the memory of saints and martyrs of the faith. An important fact is that Halloween is not an American invention celebrated mainly in North America. Nor is it some wicked black magic fest with witches or wolves howling at the moon.

Haiti celebrates its version on November 2nd and calls it Jour des Morts. Contrary to Hollywood belief voodoo is not a Haitian invention, rather it was brought to Haiti first in the 18th Century by African slaves. The culture that Jour des Morts, or Day of the Dead, is based on and centres on a group of spirits, the rulers of the underworld and followers of Chede. Yet it is not a zombie fest rather it is a festival where Haitians believe they can communicate with the spirits as a celebration of life and humanity.

In Transylvania, Romania Halloween is an open door invitation to the castle of Vlad Tepes, the inspiration behind Bram Stroker's Dracula. Vlad Tepes was born in 1431 and ruled as Prince of Wallachia Romania, from 1456 to 1462. In his short reign Vlad put a new meaning on the word vicious. Now tourists flock to his birthplace and on October 31st all are itching for a glimpse of the undead, for an entry fee naturally.

Halloween in today's world is more about fun. Dressing up in costumes whether as a child or adult allows one to let go of the daily routines, and play. There are still parts of the world where the celebration is still deeply rooted in solemn tradition. In Bolivia the celebration is called Carnaval de Oruro and falls ten days before lent. This festival is observed by the Uru people of Bolivia (the Uru are a Pre-Inca tribe), and has been celebrated in South America since Pre-Columbian times. A main feature of the Carnaval de Oruro is the dance of the devils also known as a La Diablada. With more than 28,000 dancers and a parade lasting some 20 hours, onlookers would need something more comfortable than a folding plastic chair.

Mexico's celebration begins October 31st and continues through to November 2nd. Here the festival is called Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. In Mexico the holiday is still deeply rooted in religious belief and culture, and has remained so for hundreds of years. Regardless in what corner of the world, whether the celebration is called Halloween or by any other name, one common thread ties all together. It is the celebration and commemoration of family and friends who had passed away. Japan's Obon Festival, celebrated on August 15th exemplifies the core meaning, as a peaceful time to reflect and remember. China celebrates a day before on August 14th the Hungry Ghost Festival, Germany calls theirs Walpurgisnacht on April 30th and Guatemala calls their festival La Quema de Diablo, or the Burning of the Devil on December 7th.

Ireland's Samhain is believed to be the early ancestor of today's Halloween. It celebrated the final harvest of the year and paid tribute to the departed, and after the potato famine of 1845 departed for the shores of North America. As anything in history, it has evolved and changed. Few, if any, in North America attach religious symbolism to Halloween. After all it is hard to remain serious with fake blood dripping down one's chin. Yet somehow the political puritans have managed to spoil even Halloween.

Salem, Massachusetts survived the Witch Hunts from 1692 to 1693, leaving in its wake charred bodies of innocent human beings. Today the political purists have put a new 'b' word on their banners, it is 'banning'. For whatever reason those new millennium purists have decided to make us feel ashamed of who we are, our culture and even our own history. All in the name of political correctness and a new rule of 'let's not offend'. More and more schools across Canada and the US are banning children from wearing costumes for Halloween. Instead they have replaced the fun and freaky with the chic orange and black. A child's imagination can run wild now deciding whether the top is orange and the bottom is black, or vice versa.

The political purists claim that favouring a specific religious or cultural custom would be offensive to others. Their answer is, let's ban at the stake. Somehow they had overlooked the fact that most of those who came to our shores, did so in search of a better life. After all it was the potato famine that brought with it Halloween in the first place. If it's not the 'let's not offend' edict, then the excuse is based on equality. Here the claim is that children from families where a budget is based on imagination and DIY principles as opposed to a credit card, can feel that they are something less. Sadly these political puritans forget that our children rarely see differences. Children of all races and religions play together it is when maturity sets in that change takes over, and bias and bigotry begins.

We should let our children teach us their acceptance of each other without fear or shame. Halloween today is for fun, for silly costumes and candy. It is enough that going out into one's neighbourhood is not as safe as it may of been in the past. Do we have to add more unpleasant emotion to it? Why are we so busy making ourselves ashamed of who we are, all in the name of not offending someone else?

Christmas decorations have been banned from school buses. Halloween is facing a banning at the stake, being replaced with orange and black day. It seems our children are being programmed into conformity rather than individuality. Yet the malls, department stores and supermarkets across the country are dusting off their holiday decorations and the repetitive holiday music. Is it less offending in a mall, rather than a school bus? Or is it simply that the race for the all important buck supersedes any thoughts that the political purists have of what may be offensive and to who. In the end dollar$ speak louder than the Supreme Court in its decision to not favour any one specific religious or cultural belief!

It's Halloween, so go scare someone! 

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Disabled Body, A Heart Full of Pride - The Bob Hansplant Story

In today's society we have many safeguards put in place which are designed to protect the rights of those who are disabled in our communities. Government legislation both federal and provincial is in place to ensure that the disabled have easy access to all public buildings and facilities. The Human Rights Commission stands as a guardian to protect and ensure equality for all disabled, even the United Nations had tabled its directive on the treatment of the disabled. Billboards throughout the city ask that we see past the disability and instead recognise the ability. All of this has been proven to be empty rhetoric in the case of one double-amputee in the Niagara Region.

If Bob Hansplant was your father, your brother, or a member of your family, or even a friend, none of you would stand by idle and permit the horror of his situation to continue. In fact it is for that very reason that Niagara Regional Housing, (NRH) and the Regional Municipality of Niagara have ensured that no public attention is permitted through so called mainstream media. Niagara Regional Housing had even made an attempt at intimidation to ensure that the facts remain silent. A letter signed by Lora Beckwith, General Manager dated October 8th 2013 had been delivered to Bob Hansplant. It was a blatant attempt to intimidate anyone from public access to the truth.

On October 16th, Bob Hansplant permitted a video interview, which has been posted on YouTube. Bob Hansplant clearly states in his own words what motivated him to record this interview, and it is his own words that need to be heard by all. He says that he wants to ensure that no other disabled person goes through what he has had to endure. Through the interview he says more than once, “I am no different to you, or you...” Though the sadness in his eyes proves he has been made to feel the opposite. Bob Hansplant may have lost both of his legs through illness, he has lost parts of his fingers, and endures dialysis treatment, yet he has not lost any part of his pride or dignity.

Bob Hansplant is a man, no different to any other. He has the same desires and emotions, he feels the same anger and sadness as any other man or woman. He has suffered not only what could be considered criminal indifference at the hands of Niagara Regional Housing, and the Regional Municipality of Niagara, but also threat and intimidation.

On September 9th 2013, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a communication on the issues of the disabled and human rights. He had said, “A world that recognizes the rights of the disabled, ensures that people with disabilities can be productive members of their communities and nations, and provides an inclusive and accessible environment, is a world that will benefit all of us – with or without disabilities.”

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted on December 13th 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and was opened for signature on March 30th 2007. Canada was among the 82 signatories to the Convention, making this the highest number of signatories in the history of a UN Convention on its opening day.

As Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states, “The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”

These were not simply lofty goals by an international document but a spearhead for a movement worldwide where people with disabilities demand that they are no longer seen as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection. In a world where 15 percent of the global population is made up of people with disabilities, change is imperative. People with disabilities want to be seen as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights, and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society. Bob Hansplant has seen little charity at the hands of the Niagara Regional Housing Authority, let alone the most basic right of accessibility to his own bathroom.

Now if the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses too lofty a language for the individuals who run Niagara Regional Housing, or who are in the employ of the Regional Municipality of Niagara, then maybe they should be reminded of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 was the first legislation in Canada to develop, implement and enforce mandatory accessibility standards. In the Act, point 5, Accessible Built Environment states:

a) Built environment focuses on the physical features of a building, room, or public space.
b) Aims to breakdown barriers in buildings and other structures for people with disabilities.

Now watch the video of Bob Hansplant and listen to the sound as his wheelchair crashes into the doorway of his bathroom in his apartment. Bob has not been able to use the shower in his fourth floor apartment on Gale Crescent in St. Catharines since he has lived there four years. Instead he is told to go down to the second floor to take a shower. Watch Bob try and manoeuvre into the doorway of his bedroom. Those charitable and caring people at Niagara Regional Housing - and by the way they are paid well from the public purse - have offered to move his bed into his living room, but there is a catch. It would cost Bob some $90.00 to get this done, and Bob lives on a disability pension.

Now back to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, and the prescribed standards under the Act for “doors and doorways,” and for “manoeuvring area at doors.” If the sound of Bob's wheelchair hitting the doorway of his bathroom, or the fact that Bob needs to go down two levels in his building for a shower has not been disturbing enough, simply look at the balcony access.

In order to go out onto his balcony, Bob has to find a way to lift his wheelchair over a stoop that is approximately 8 inches above his floor in the living room. Bob has been told in case of an emergency, such as a fire, he should drop to the floor and crawl out to the balcony!

True the United Nations may use language that is more eloquent, and it may fly over the heads of those at Niagara Regional Housing, or those we elect to represent us equally at Niagara Region. Our provincial government is less eloquent in their Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. Here it states, “The Government of Ontario is committed to working with every sector of society to build on what it has already achieved together with those sectors and to move towards a province in which no new barriers are created and existing ones are removed.”

The entry into Bob's apartment has damage all around the walls. This is from his wheelchair which has little room to maneuver, coming in or going out of the apartment. 

More damage from the wheelchair to the walls and front door.
Should we ask the lads or lasses at the Ministry of Community and Social Services to come and look at Bob's balcony access. Under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, would this be considered as a “new barrier” or an “existing one”? The Preamble to the Act continues with, “This responsibility rests with every social and economic sector, every region, every government, every organization, institution and association, and every person in Ontario.”

Yes less eloquent than the UN and its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but it is straightforward and to the point. It further states, “The Building Code Act, 1992 and the regulations made under it establishes standards for the construction, renovation and change of use of buildings and structures, including standards relating to the accessibility of buildings and structures for persons with disabilities.”

Simple, straightforward laws, legislated and enforced through the Provincial Government of Ontario. These are not requests, or guidelines one can choose to follow or not. Bob Hansplant has absolute rights protected under legislated law, yet that has clearly been swept aside. A friend of Bob's, Jenny, had met Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski and explained the situation to the councillor asking for his help. Jenny then asked on Bob's behalf that Councillor Petrowski attend a July meeting scheduled by Niagara Regional Housing.

Look at Bob's hands, not only has he lost fingers to illness, he bashes his hands in the doorways to his bathroom, entry and bedroom.

Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski is no stranger to ruffling feathers. He is an individual who still believes that he was elected to stand up for the people he represents rather than towing the political line. Such an attitude has brought anger and even open slander and insult by individuals hiding behind fictitious names. Andy will agree that he can be at times a 'bull in a china shop', and that provides a fertile ground for enemies. After all politicians operate under their own agenda and it's only during an election that they try and sell the public a different image. Like him or not, Councillor Petrowski is very much the opposite.

Councillor Petrowski attended the July meeting after seeing the sub-standard living arrangements that Bob Hansplant has had to endure. Bob Hansplant spoke with Councillor Andy Petrowski and provided him with details of his situation. In an interview with Councillor Petrowski regarding the issues of Bob's living conditions, Councillor Petrowski said that Bob was not only open and free about his personal information, but that he “repeatedly insisted I could share it with whomever including going pubic with his information to anyone including the media and the Region.” In his video interview with Mayorgate, Bob Hansplant confirms clearly that he gave Councillor Petrowski full consent to use all his information in any way he could to get help. When asked what happened after he tried to help Bob, this was Councillor Andy Petrowski's response: "Since I advocated for Bob, I have been served with a Bill C-168 Harassment accusation by a Ms. Mary Ellen McClelland of Niagara Regional Housing on behalf (supposedly of 3 Niagara Region Housing employees who attended the July meeting. They are claiming I am interfering with the due process of helping Bob by attending the meeting “uninvited” (which I was because Bob and his friend, Jenny, both invited me) and suggesting that the Region has the financial resources to deal with Bob's immediate sub-standard living conditions. The harassment report was authored by a Mr. Jim Hagar of the Region's HR department and inappropriately copied to several Region employees and a politician (namely, Acting Corp Services Commissioner Debbie Elliot, Acting CAO Patrick Robson, Assistant to the Region Chair Matt Robinson, and Chair Gary Burroughs). The report should have only been sent to me with no one copied. The harassment accusation is currently being investigated by the Region's “interim” Integrity Commissioner, Mr. Robert Swayze. The investigation is pending. I have also been pursued by the Region's Privacy Officer, Ms. Else Khoury, who I believe is alleging that I have no right under the provincial privacy statues to reveal Bob's last name which, of course, is incorrect. Ms. Khoury has asked me to provide in writing proof that I have Bob's permission which is a waste of my time and apparently asked through a Region letter for Bob to the same which is also a waste of time in my opinion.”

This has not been the end of the attempts by regional staff at putting a tight lid on the hell that Bob Hansplant has had to endure. Lora Beckwith, General Manager Niagara Regional Housing, sent a letter (by courier) dated October 8th 2013 to Bob Hansplant. In this letter Lora Beckwith states, “the Access and Privacy Unit at Niagara Region is conducting an investigation.” The letter was copied to Ms. Else Khoury, Manager Corporate Records & Information Services, Niagara Region. 

Else Khoury was questioned by Councillor Petrowski as to who made the complaint of any supposed privacy breaches, after all it was not Bob Hansplant. Bob had given full consent to the councillor and even confirmed that fact in the video interview. Else Khoury said that no one had complained, that it was self-identified. How can an email, or emails be self-identifying?

In addition to Councillor Petrowski another Regional Councillor, Alan Caslin had also made enquiries on behalf of Bob Hansplant and his deplorable situation. Mayorgate contacted Councillor Caslin and his reponse was somewhat shocking. Councillor Caslin said, “We have been warned by legal staff not to talk about any specifics of this situation, and out of respect for this person's privacy I can't give any detail.”

In effect the Niagara Regional Government has silenced elected representatives of the people of Niagara. When Lora Beckwith, General Manager for Niagara Regional Housing said in her October 8th letter to Bob Hansplan, “Further, staff and Councillor training will be provided as required,” those words echoed the actions of Mao Tse Tung's Communist Party and their infamous re-training camps. 

Bob's wheelchair has no way to go over the 8 + inch stoop at the balcony door.

All that Bob can manage is to sit and look out the glass door. He has never been on the balcony in the four years he has lived here.

Else Khoury, Manager Corporate Records & Information Services at Niagara Region claimed that “no one complained” and that the emails were “identified” as a privacy breach. She also stated that the issue was brought to the attention of the CAO and that “many privacy breaches are self-identified.” Is a logical person then to assume that these emails hummed along the internet highway in order to stand out? Is it possible that emails somehow go where they are not sent and ask to be read by someone else? Either Else Khoury lied and a 'someone' had provided the emails to her, the CAO or Lora Beckwith, or the Regional Municipality of Niagara has some form of surveillance over communications made by elected members of government. Whichever alternative Else Khoury chooses to be her explanation, an ominous alarm should be sounding out loud and clear.

Niagara's regional government and its Niagara Regional Housing management have made every attempt possible to silence Councillor Andy Petrowski. It has not been successful, Councillor Petrowski vows to continue to do what he believes he was elected to do by the people. Another local resident Preston Haskell was so enraged by the situation surrounding Bob Hansplant, he wrote about it in his blog, News Alert Niagara. Recently an individual from the Niagara Regional Housing has claimed that a number of agencies had been attempting to help Bob Hansplant. So the game has begun to shift the blame and responsibility whilst a human being suffers intolerable conditions.

As so often is the case with our publicly paid people, whether those elected, those selected (as employees in various departments) and even those non-elected but granted ascent to heights within politics such as our senators, blame shifting is a well practised art. Simply pay attention to the black comedy surrounding someone like Mike Duffy. Here in Niagara, the Accessibility Coordinator Steve Murphy has decided to shift the blame on the provincial government as to why Bob Hansplant has been left in his situation for over four years.

In early October, Steve Murphy the Accessibility Advisory Coordinator for the Region claims that he had only recently been contacted to look for alternatives for Bob. He also says that all should remember that the Built Environment Standard of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, has not received Royal Assent. It doesn't matter to Steve Murphy that the Act, AODA, Bill 118 received Royal Assent June 13th 2005. Steve just washed his and everyone else's hands squeaky clean.

Now more questions demand answers from Steve Murphy and the NRH, and the Regional Municipality of Niagara. Breaking Down Barriers Independent Living Resource Centre, provided a report titled 'Accessibility in Ontario'. This report examines the AODA Bill 118, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, its importance and implementation. It further examines the Standards Council of Canada, and the Canadian Standards Association. Four major points are made regarding the Standards Council of Canada: 1) the Standards Council of Canada has an approved document, 2) is 200+pages about accessible built environment, 3) there is more detail and higher standards of accessibility than the Ontario Building Code, and 4) that it is preferred over the Ontario Building Code for accessible building designs. Surprisingly it does not require Royal Assent and must of slipped Steve Murphy's mind. 

If the Standards Council of Canada managed to elude Steve Murphy's mind then surely this document could not of, the Accessibility Plan 2012-2017 for the Niagara Region. Steve Murphy's name appears on page three of this document.

Regional Chair, Gary Burroughs wearing his ceremonial chain makes this opening statement in Section 1, Message from the Regional Chair - “Since the introduction of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 Niagara Region has worked to ensure our responsibility to legislated compliance for accessibility standards while also looking to exceed the minimums set out wherever possible. Niagara Region recognizes our responsibility to accommodate all of our residents and visitors with disabilities in order to remain a premier destination for visitors, as well as a great place to live, work and play.”

source: Accessibility Plan 2012 - 2017

This 2012-2017 Accessibility Plan is intended to serve as a compendium of Niagara Region's compliance with the legislated requirements of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, at the same time introducing a number of programs, services and initiatives already underway as we look to not only meet but exceed standard requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).”

Under Section 5, Legislation and Interpretation it defines 'Barrier' as: anything that prevents a person with a disability from fully participating in all aspects of society because of his or her disability, including a physical barrier, an architectural barrier, an information or communications barrier, an attitudinal barrier, a technological barrier, a policy or practice (“obstacle”).

Further in Section 5 under 'Other Organizations and Agencies Participating in this Accessibility Plan', it lists and describes the Niagara Regional Housing (NRH): “As administrator of affordable housing for Niagara Region. Niagara Regional Housing (NRH) is dedicated to providing and advocating for quality affordable housing in Niagara. Affordable housing in the region includes more than 2600 units owned and managed by NRH, more than 4000 units operated by non-profit and cooperative housing providers, more than 700 units provided by private market landlords, more than 170 rent supplements and new communities through new development. NRH is governed by a board of directors and representatives from the housing sector, the community and Niagara Regional Council.”

Steve Murphy is busy looking to find excuses and someone to blame yet his name is on this document. It is not only Steve Murphy, but Regional Chair Gary Burroughs and all on the board of directors of the NRH, particularly those who are Niagara Regional Councillors, who have failed a human being! There is enough law, legislation, enough cute sketches as guides and even the Niagara Region's own document in the Accessibility Plan 2012-2017, to enable those in authority to help this human being. Each and everyone failed, and that must be questioned.

Bob Hansplant is a man who has had to endure conditions that an animal would not be permitted to endure. He has suffered through frustration, anger and stress. Every attempt he made to get help from the “several agencies” fell on deaf ears. For as long as he has lived in this apartment he has not been able to take a shower in his own bathroom. Instead for four years he has had to go down from his fourth floor to the second floor to do so. He has continued to bash his wheelchair and his hands attempting to maneuver into the bathroom to use the toilet. His bedroom has no room to move his wheelchair with safety to get into his bed or out of it. There is no safe emergency exit in the case of fire, as the balcony has an eight inch elevated stoop from the floor.

The bed has difficulty staying in one place as Bob tries to get in or out. You can see the damage it has created to the wall.

Accessibility in the bedroom has been a very serious issue for several years for Bob and his attempt at normality.

Now there is a claim that Bob has refused the offer of moving his bed from his bedroom into his tiny living room. Though there is no mention of the point that Bob, a pensioner, would have to pay 80 or 90 dollars for such an immense privilege. But then the bedroom would have plenty of room for the wheelchair, except there would be no bed! People with disabilities want to live as normal a life as their disability permits. A bedroom without a bed is an empty space, a living room with a bed is something other than a living room.

Still none of this was enough, the NRH decided that threat and intimidation would become their weapons against a double-amputee senior. As anyone can hear in the video interview how Bob Hansplant was forced to sign an agreement or be evicted and not have an opportunity to move to a more accessible apartment. In the video interview with Mayorgate Bob Hansplant explains of an accident he had after visiting with friends on his birthday. The result was that Bob was threatened that if he did not sign the agreement he would not only be evicted but would have no chance to move finally to a new apartment, one that would be more accessible for his wheelchair and needs.

Look at what a scooter is and what Bob uses!

The Landlord and Tenant Board provided a document with nine separate demands, these demands were not decided on and simply drafted by the Board. These were demands requested by the Niagara Regional Housing through their legal representative Judith Callender. In the second and third demand Bob's motorized wheelchair is called a “scooter.” Bob Hansplant requires a motorized wheelchair as he would not be able to propel a manual wheelchair with the loss of several fingers. Comparing actual photos of what a scooter is (as per the Shoppers Drug Mart catalogue) and Bob's wheelchair it is difficult to understand how could Judith Callender representing the NRH make such an error, or for what purpose.

Demand number seven is for $170 to be paid by Bob Hansplant to reimburse the application fee by the NRH. Bob could not afford to pay the cost of moving his bed, now he has this to pay. Threat and intimidation became the tools which the NRH employed against this double-amputee senior. The NRH even demand, in written formality, respect from Bob Hansplant, or else. Have they, the NRH treated Bob Hansplant with respect for some four years? Have they at the NRH and the Niagara Regional Government treated Bob Hansplant as an equal human being for the last four years?

Looking at the tiny living room, can the bed fit without making this room impassable?
Steve Murphy claims that Bob is “not residing in a building that is owned, operated or leased by the Niagara Region.” He further says, “In the event this landlord chose to renovate part or all....” Steve Murphy should look at the provincial document, issued by a provincial body such as the Landlord and Tenant Board to see who is the landlord of record here – it is Niagara Regional Housing! What is the real job description for Steve Murphy at the Region, clean-up? What has Regional Chair Gary Burroughs got to say about all of this after his pompous opening message on the Niagara Region's Accessibility Plan 2012-2017?

In the end this threat and harassment was not enough. So Lora Beckwith and Else Khoury step in as Bob seeks the help of Regional Councillor Petrowski and others. Now a farce of an investigation of privacy begins to shut down Regional Councillor Petrowski and anyone willing to help Bob Hansplant, and bring the glare of public exposure to the conditions he has been forced to live under. Bob has made it clear that he asked for Councillor Petrowski's help and gave consent for personal information to be used. Yet no real medical or personal information had been made public except what was openly obvious. Bob Hansplant is a man without legs, has lost parts of his fingers and has been treated in a manner devoid of dignity or respect. It would seem the NRH would definitely want this kept silent.

Finally Bob Hansplant received a letter from the NRH on October 23rd confirming his upcoming move in February 2014. With the potential of public attention looming over the NRH and regional government they must look like they 'care'. In the second paragraph it is mentioned that Bob refused changes to his bathroom and bedroom. After four years and after such intimidation and threat of the Mediation Agreement and its demand, who in hell would blame Bob to want to remain as quiet as possible. Bob Hansplant simply wants out of this hell he has endured, but he still is willing to be outspoken so as to be the catalyst that may prevent another human being treated in such a fashion. 

Bob Hansplant had continued to maintain his normality regardless of the difficulties he faced with his disabilities. In recognition of this he had received numerous certificates of recognition, some of which were from – Community Living Fort Erie, Certificate of Achievement in training in Hazardous Materials Information Systems; Community Living Fort Erie, Certificate in Fire Extinguisher Training; Certificate of Recognition from Port Colborne and District Association for Community Living; Niagara Training and Employment Agency, Certificate for Health & Safety Workshop and Certificate of Recognition from Port Colborne and District for his service and support on the Board of Directors.

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Silent Splendour - A time for daring, a time for freedom

A small cottage garden in St. Catharines, Ontario has been transformed from stark emptiness to a lush oasis of beauty and serenity. Its journey of evolution revealed in a six part series following a caravan of change towards a destination opposed to convention.

Timid and predictable may have described the early footprints we had imprinted upon our surrounding environment. Still reward was bestowed on us and the starlets of 2002 brought with them not only a splash of colour onto a barren canvas, but became the kindling to a flame that has found no end. Our new shovel was no longer a novice, it had cut through clay, mixed rich black soil with peat moss and manure to provide a welcoming home for infant planting. Now it stood ready at our side bolstered by success, to reach out for freedom from convention.

Spring 2003 felt like it was taking its time to arrive. During winter's slumber new ideas had been discussed, photographs provided a visual through a blanket of snow to guide planned additions to our young garden. Finally crocus, daffodil and early tulips peaked through the yawning ground. Life and colour was beginning to burst all around bringing with it a bubbling excitement to feel the soil once again in our hands.

At the front of the house we decided to stone face the short retaining walls to add strength and substance. Two new beds were laid out in the wide passage way. Both of these beds were raised above ground level, first to avoid excessive digging and collision with a gas line, and second, to avoid a war with the giant maple tree's roots. Unlike the front garden these beds were shaded by the cement block neighbour and our own little house, providing an opportunity to choose plants which complemented, yet were accustomed to part shade conditions.

It was in mid-season that we finally decided on a major change. I had become tired of the ups and downs of mowing over the maple tree roots. Neighbours would roll out their two-stroke partners for the bi-weekly man ballet. One would even bring out the rolling pin after mowing to ensure no blade of grass stood taller than other. We had decided on a more radical step.

The lawn removed, we went about changing the total look of the front garden.

Finally Christopher Lloyd's words come to roost in our hands. We had decided to “do something outlandish, to splash out, and be freer than ever.” The front lawn, as such that it was, was removed. As the shovel worked hard under the bright sun lashing and cutting at the blades of grass, two neighbours stood only feet away and watched. One came from across the road, the other from the cement block tall boy next door, and stood arms folded on the sidewalk. They ridiculed and laughed at what was outlandish and insane in their opinion. We continued undaunted.

The decision to remove the lawn was not something that was done to shock those around us. Nor was the removal planned without an alternative design. Frank Ronan said of Christopher Lloyd, “Who would go to the enormous trouble of making an exotic garden only to see dismay on the faces of people you thought little of anyway.” That was absolutely true of both Olivera and I.

Strong evergreens were planted to ensure straying paws knew their limits. 

Our front lawn was not what could of been called a lovely accent of a green area rug. It was uneven and difficult to mow. Removing the grass opened the doors of opportunity for imagination. Now the real work was to really begin.

So what was the plan? First, with the grass removed very large stones were brought in to create a path leading through to the passageway. Some of these stones were up to 30 inches in diameter and were chosen for their tough and rugged look, found near a disused railway line. Much of the local stone used in the evolution of this garden had been recycled local stone brought in for the beauty of its natural strength.

The thirteen and a half foot long path leading from the sidewalk to the front steps had a soldier course of Munstead lavender planted, with two evergreen cedar balls at the head of the steps. A white picket fence was definitely out of the question, yet we needed to separate our space from the public sidewalk. Two young juniper bushes were strategically placed in the middle of each section to the left and right of the path. In time these would grow to provide a natural border to keep straying feet or paws from losing their way.

It was time to turn our attention to the giant umbrellas nature had provided, after all it was their root system which ran deeper than the underground freedom railway that prompted such a dramatic change. We had formed two frames with lavender, evergreen cedars, junipers and the stone faced shorter walls. The giant maples were the outside perimeters of these frames, which felt somewhat empty needing a splash of Pollock style exuberance.

Lavender, iris and purple liatris to bring life and colour.

I was prepared to do the root tango when laying the large stones for the path, though to continue this dance again was less appealing. Instead two circular beds were designed to apron the trunks. As each of the trees were at the edge of our property, these beds could not fully encircle the base but were large enough in diameter to provide ample space for planting. Stone again was used only this time in a dry stacked style. Each bed raised some twenty inches from the surface to ensure enough depth for root growth for the new plants.

Giant alliums peeked out above the sweet scent of lavender. 

Choosing what to plant in the circular beds was a little more challenging. Plants that normally co-inhabit well under trees such as hosta or fern would require sunscreen lotion greater than 1000 SPF, personal sunbrellas and a constant supply of water. Instead daylilies and sedums were chosen as the base for the beds, with additions on a seasonal cycle.

To complete this full frontal transformation, black cedar mulch was spread to cover the surface remaining without plants. It was not only for the visual aesthetic that the mulch was used but also to avoid a mud bath after each rainfall. Though I'll admit that the black looked darn good against the stone and maturing plants.

At the end of all the work we were pleased with what we had achieved. Our front garden was unlike any within our area. True some laughter and ridicule came our way in the beginning, but soon changed as our garden matured. Changes would come, in time, additions and subtractions are part of any gardener's equation. For now we were satisfied and turned our attention towards the back.

Our first project had to be to move the back fence and reclaim over twenty feet of depth lost for no reason. But now Mohammed could no longer ignore the growing mountain of soil. As each of the beds were cut out of the vast emptiness of our backyard, bucket after bucket of clay mixed soil mounted. Trucking this soil to landfill would result in a ridiculous cost, so another idea at recycling had germinated.

Recycling has become a popular catch cry in North America today, for both environmental and even profit reasons. To us it was simply common sense. The original boards of the fence were removed carefully so as to be used again, their length at four feet was a perfect fit to the design planned. A stone wall was dry stacked to be the outside corners of a square. Here as in the pathway it was limestone that was chosen, only in this application smaller stones that had size for stacking. This wall was two feet high and 17 feet by 22 feet, the remaining height of the fence was filled with four foot long fence boards.

The mountain levelled and stone walls to encase the newly raised patio. 
Inside the new fence the closing two sides of the square were also dry stacked stone. In this case a pink/grey sandstone used throughout much of Canada was selected. This stone has been used in the construction of many public buildings such as churches, the old Merritton Town Hall and commercial buildings such as the restored Keg Restaurant, once a rubber factory of the early 1800's and a stop on the famous underground railway in St. Catharines.

Finally the mountain was levelled out within the stone walls to form a raised patio area, but the patio had to wait. A watermelon seed decided to germinate and before we identified it the vines began to spread throughout the raised area. In time we had more watermelons than we could eat and were giving them to neighbours.

Part of the transplanted hedge with cannas and dahlias. 

With the last of the watermelons being handed out and autumn closing in, it was time to prepare plans for the next stage in the shaping of the garden. Olivera had decided to begin a visual diary of sorts as both a planning tool and a record of the gradual changes taking place. This became a log not only to record the types of plants which had become part of the overall design but also ones that failed. Looking back at the sketches today it has become a wonderful source of memories of earlier plans and ideals. Then with a new spring approaching it was time to breathe life into the sketches.

Honey toned stone became the floor for a resting area for weary bones. 

The front garden found itself settling in well by the spring of 2004, it was time to devote more attention to the larger space in the back. Our neighbour had decided to remove a large six foot high section of hedge which sparked our recycling juices. As the rose garden was still in its youthful stage reaching only some three feet in height, the transplanting of the hedge along the chain link fence provided much needed privacy. A wonderful honey toned sandstone had been unearthed locally so the cart and muscle rolled again. This rather beautiful stone became the base for a seating area in front of the newly transplanted hedge. Later as the roses reached maturity and stature, combined with the hedge and a transplanted lilac, this was to become a favoured resting spot, secluded and serene.

Several pieces from the transplanted hedge were brought up to the top corner of the raised area. Now with the mountain levelled and watermelons gone, two long raised beds were constructed at the perimeters along the fence. Large stone was used in the construction of the same pink/grey tones as the walls. More stone was chosen to lay out a flooring throughout the surface of the raised patio area. One of the raised beds was chosen to be the home for canna lilies and the other for dahlias. This was an ideal part of the garden for such sun lovers, the cannas reached heights of six feet plus, and the dahlias produced an over abundance of cut flowers for the home.

Empty space and a kidney shape. 

Small pond for some water lilies and still enough room for more.

Our attention was drawn now to the opposite side of the raised patio. It was a large enough area with the lily garden in front, and abundant sun exposure as the neighbour's garage was far enough away from the fence. Overall we were becoming satisfied how the garden was taking shape, though such an opportunity could not be overlooked.

Along one fence line the curved beds were filing out, peonies and a Bonica rose developing strength. The transplanted hedge developing its roots and presence. Our lily garden, though at this time still separated into four individual sections, flourishing with colourful exuberance. Asiatics appearing first, bright and cheerful allowing the orientals and trumpets more time to stretch towards the sun.

Curved beds along the fence filling in nicely. 
A lily garden with its watchful maiden, shy and demure. 

An empty space would simply be out of place, both in Olivera's visual log, and in our eyes. Yet we needed to do something different here. A solution came in the shape of a kidney. Olivera and I decided that a small pond would satisfy all the begging requirements. Adjacent to the newly settled pond room remained for dahlias, zinnias, roses and clematis.

The climbing roses become a screen for a house that was waiting for its time for attention.

We were heading towards the close for 2004 and we were pleased with how much was achieved. A barren empty space was being dressed to please. Sitting back now looking at the early photos memories flood forward. Buckets of soil dug to form new beds filling with life and beauty, a mountain flattened, stone found and moved with sweat and muscle. Our garden was becoming an island on which peace and rest could be found from the everyday challenges. We knew that changes and additions were only around the corner. For now it was time for rest and contemplation.

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