Slowly but surely, the Western Standard is truly becoming the “Western” Standard. Breaking out beyond our original base of operations in Alberta, our bridgehead in Saskatchewan, and new bureau in BC, we are proud to announce that veteran journalist Linda Slobodian is joining the team as our new Manitoba Senior Columnist.
Linda comes to the Western Standard as a veteran of the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and the Alberta Report.
She will enter the increasingly large vacuum of strong political analysis needed in Manitoba, as the government-funded media there – as elsewhere – loses relevance and readers. But her passion isn’t just political journalism, but human interest and crime stories. Her first feature will dive deep into the world of organized crime plaguing Winnipeg’s neighbourhoods.
This is another big step for the Western Standard as we continue our expansion plan across Western Canada to provide a non-government-funded alternative media that Westerns want.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher, President & CEO of Western Standard New Media Corp.
FILDEBRANDT: How I beat City Hall over a ticket for shovelling my already cleared sidewalk
Calgary bureaucrats tried to bill me for (not) clearing my cleared sidewalk. They did not expect me to lawyer up & go to Court of Queen’s Bench.
George Carlin once said, “You can’t fight city hall, but you can goddamn sure blow it up.”
I disagree with Carlin. You can fight city hall, but only if you have the resources, and sustained anger to do so.
This winter, a local Karen took it upon herself to make dozens of complaints against me and my neighbours for failing to shovel our sidewalks. At least half-a-dozen times, City of Calgary by-law officers paid a visit to my house to inspect my sidewalk and that of my neighbours. They normally pointed out that it wasn’t perfect, but was generally in good shape. Under questioning from me, they normally admitted that there was a serial complainant in the neighbourhood wasting everyone’s time.
On March 6, 2021 however, I received an “invoice” of $215 for the cost of the City to come and clean up my sidewalk, ostensibly covered with ice and snow.
It was a curious fine levied by the City. I was in Banff with the family that day, enjoying the high of 6 C. I shovelled the sidewalk before leaving that morning and, when we returned home that afternoon, we didn’t notice anything different about the sidewalk.
We only knew that anything had been “done” when we received the $215 invoice in the mail. Surely, some error must have been made.
Not content to pay the City for doing nothing, I appealed the invoice. On April 6, 2021, they responded in writing. The letter, and attached evidence, sent me in to rapturous rage.
The City’s Community Standards Panel had reviewed my appeal, denied it, and ordered me to pay the invoice post-haste. To support their decision, they attached a series of photographs taken by the by-law officer.
The photos didn’t show a morsel of snow or ice on the sidewalk. They didn’t show the sidewalk obstructed in any way. They showed my beautiful sidewalk so clear and clean that one could eat off of it, if one was so inclined.
The evidence used to convict me of failing to clear my humble sidewalk was evidence I could submit to a lower court judge to prove the City was incorrect. Any sober judge would agree that the City was clearly trying to fleece me and my family for no wrongdoing, and no work done.
Unfortunately for me, there was no further means of appeal through regular channels. Unlike regular by-law infractions, which have tickets appealable in a court, this was an “invoice” and could not be appealed to the municipal courts.
The next morning, I had a meeting with the Western Standard’s lawyer and former Alberta Minister of Justice, Jonathan Denis, about an unrelated issue. At the conclusion of our meeting, I told Denis about the fiasco and showed him the pictures. The otherwise dignified man nearly fell out of his chair with laughter. He proceeded to pass the pictures around the law office, asking people what they thought was wrong with the sidewalk. The only answer was “it’s cracked.”
Himself long frustrated with city administration, he informed me he would take on my little $215 invoice pro bono (for free). We would wage nuclear war with the City over this molehill.
Back at the Western Standard’s Calgary office, I called the inspector listed as the contract on the denial of my appeal. She politely repeated the letter’s notification that my appeal had been denied, and that I was ordered to pay up.
I, in turn, informed her I had retained Jonathan Denis as counsel for the matter and would be appealing the invoice to the Court of Queen’s Bench immediately, and requested the contact information for the appropriate city lawyer.
Baffled at the response, she said that she would get back to me later in the day.
She did. Without request of a formal re-appeal the same panel — that decided days earlier that photos of my spotless sidewalks was enough to make me pony-up $215 — reversed itself and graciously found “there were sufficient ground to grant the [re-]appeal.”
No formal re-appeal was actually made.
On April 6, I was guilty, and my appeal was denied. On April 7, I was innocent and my second appeal, that was never filed, was accepted.
There is only one reason that this ended well for me. I fought back against a process which is not accustomed to people fighting back against.
An “invoice” of $215 isn’t cheap, but it certainly isn’t a sum that would justify a full-blown court fight.
Since there was no municipal court with which to directly challenge the invoice, my lawyer would have had to file the appeal through the Court of Queen’s Bench at a application fee of $250. Without any other cost whatsoever, it would have cost $35 more than the ticket itself just to be heard by a judge.
With affidavits and other minimal legal fees, costs would easily have exceeded $2,000-$3,000, not including the application fee itself.
When a ticket or invoice is $215, and the cost of fighting it is $3,250, not many Calgarians would bother. But not many Calgarians have the former minister of justice as a friend, willing to drag the City into court just to make a point.
We decided to make this point because I am not the only city taxpayer that deals with ham-fisted bureaucrats, impervious to the real lives of the people paying their salaries.
If our case had gone forward to the courts, we would have required the testimony of the dozen-or-so by-law officers who had their time wasted visiting our block to respond to Karen’s complaints over the winter of 2020-21. We would have used the City government’s own photographic “evidence” as our own to prove that the sidewalks were clear. We would have required the testimony of the contractor who did the backbreaking labour of cleaning up, well, nothing.
It would have been an embarrassment for the City administration as we probed into how they operate. Surely, the judge would be unamused with the City for wasting his time, and punitively fining taxpayers to fill its coffers.
The $215 may have been a relative mole hill, but we felt it was worth making a mountain over because the City of Calgary does this to its people, and the vast majority of them have no real recourse. It may not be a serious criminal matter, but it is a matter of access to justice nonetheless.
The City bureaucrats dropped the case because they know this.
The easiest way to correct this kind of imbalance of power is to remove the appeals process from the self-appointed prosecutors (bureaucrats), and give regular taxpayers access to the municipal courts.
It was admittedly satisfying to fight city hall, but I would have been better for the City’s taxpayers to goddam blow it up.
Derek Fildebrandt is the Publisher of the Western Standard
65 signs that you might be an Albertan
Crackmacs, prairie oysters, Stampede, rat genocide, caesars, and weird small town kitsch are just a few of the signs that you might be an Albertan.
Albertans are a special breed. There’s no one quite like us anywhere else in the world.
What makes us unique as a people? That’s the question the Western Standard Editorial Board has been contemplating since going to a bar after work is illegal.
We spent some time on the project, and with the help of some brilliant friends across the country, came up with a still-growing list of some of the things that make us just a wee bit different.
65 – Crackmacs
You should avoid going there.
64 – Prairie Oysters
You have to try them before you can become one of us.
63 – Newcomers
You are a more fanatical Alberta patriot if you weren’t born here.
62 – Quebec
You don’t know why, but you really don’t like it.
61 – Saskatchewan
You don’t know why, but you like it.
60 – Newfies
They might talk funny, but they’re the best Albertans around.
59 – Toronto
You may not like Quebec, but you hate Toronto.
58 – Vancouver
You both love and hate Vancouver.
57 – Ottawa
A place your money goes to be spent somewhere else.
56 – Getup
You wear a decent pair of cowboy boots, a Stetson, and a pair of Wranglers on at least one day during Calgary Stampede or whatever Klondike days is calling itself these days.
55 – Boots
You can pull off cowboy boots at a downtown office any time of the year.
54 – Rodeo
It’s not your first one.
53 – Cowboys
You think you’re one because you dressed up for Stampede and have been to the Last Chance Saloon outside Drumheller.
52 – Calgary Stampede
It’s redneck Oktoberfest.
51 – K-Days
Something Edmonton does because it doesn’t have Stampede.
50 – Rat Genocide
You live in the only place on earth (other than Antarctica) with zero rats because your government has an actual department called the Rat Patrol. Killing them is a civil duty, and you don’t think this is weird at all.
49 – Trailer Park Boys
What you think the East coast is really like.
48 – Hail Caesar
You drink caesars, not bloody Marys. And you drink them with pride knowing they were invented in Calgary by Walter Chell, at the Owl’s Nest in the Westin Hotel.
47 – The Metric System
You’re still not completely sold on it.
46 – Prairie Chinese food
You’re proud that the best Chinese food in the world comes from the other side of the planet from China: prairie ginger beef.
45 – Chinese and Western
You don’t think there’s anything strange about a small village’s only eatery being a ‘Chinese and Western’ restaurant that serves ginger beef alongside hamburgers and fries.
44 – Breakfast beer
You don’t see anything wrong with pouring some Clamato in your beer to take the hair off the dog.
43 – Four Strong Winds
You tear up when listening to Four Strong Winds, by Ian Tyson.
42 – Four Strong Winds (II)
You burst into rage after listening to Four Strong Winds, by Neil Young.
41 – Alberta Bound
You’re unable to remain composed or resist singing it at the top of your lungs whenever it comes on.
40 – All Hell for a Basement
You stand up proud at attention as Big Sugar’s Alberta national anthem plays on the radio.
39 – Nickelback
You either want to forget about it, or think that it’s our greatest cultural export.
38 – k.d. lang
When she belted out Hallelujah during the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver, you were sure she’s Alberta’s patron saint.
37 – “Cal-gree”
You know when someone isn’t originally from here, because they pronounce it ‘Cal-ga-ree’ not the proper ‘Cal-gree’.
36 – Banff
The reason Calgary thinks it’s better than Edmonton.
35 – Jasper
Where Edmontonians go to pretend they’re in Banff.
34 – The River Valley
The reason Edmontonians think their city is better than Calgary.
33 – Red Deer
It’s neutral meeting ground for Calgarians and Edmontonians.
32 – Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
An actual place.
31 – Tar Sands
You’ll murder anyone in cold blood who calls them that.
30 – Fracking
Something you do to extract oil and gas, or with your significant other.
29 – Separatism
You want to separate from Canada when you’re 10 beers deep, but sing O’Canada when you sober up.
28 – Canada Day
A day off to get ready for the Calgary Stampede
27 – MPs
People we send to Ottawa to forget about.
26 – Anyone named Trudeau
You, your parents, and grandparents hate everyone with the name.
25 – National Energy Program
You will never forget.
24 – Petro Canada
You remember when for decades the Petro Canada Tower was the largest building in Calgary, and you hated everything it represented.
23 – The government
You worked for four years to vote out the NDP, and still hate the government.
22 – Federal elections
You, your parents, and grandparents federal voting history is a straight line.
21 – Your provincial vote
You don’t care that you voted for the Conservatives federally and voted Wildrose or NDP provincially.
20 – Spring blizzard camping
You’re so sick of winter that you don’t care if there’s a snow storm when you go camping on the May long weekend.
19 – Patio season
You take the patio furniture out of the garage and hit the local bar patio as soon as the temperature soars to a high of 10C.
18 – Summer
There is no such thing. Only construction season.
17 – Labour Day
You know Labour Day has been set aside as a CFL Battle of Alberta. And winter starts tomorrow.
16 – Winter BBQ
You don’t think there’s anything strange about firing up the BBQ to grill some steaks when it’s -30C.
15 – Cabins
You go away for the weekend to a cabin, not a cottage.
14 – Gun Control
You think ‘gun control’ means being able to shoot a moose at 100 yards with iron sights.
13 – Lindsay Park
You refuse to call it the Talisman Centre.
12 – Weird, giant small-town kitsch
Your idea of a romantic first date is to drive to Beaver Lodge to see the big beaver.
11 – Ukrainians
You don’t really know why the Ukrainians in Alberta are the word leaders of weird small-town kitsch, with the giant pysanka (Easter egg) in Vegreville, the World’s largest kielbasa sausage in Mundare, or the massive perogy in Glendon.
10 – Pinto Beans
You’ve seen the Bow Island Pinto Bean, and it scared the hell out of you as a child.
9 – Vulcans
You don’t have to be a Trekie to make pilgrimage to Vulcan and take in the small town’s fanatical devotion to Commander Spock, and its own weird, giant small-town kitsch: a massive model of the USS Enterprise.
8– More Aliens
You know that there’s an actual UFO Landing Pad in St. Paul, and you don’t think there’s anything weird about that.
7 – French
‘Poutine’ is the extent of it.
6 – The Great Ones
You know who Gretz, Mess, Lanny, Iggy and Kipper are.
5 – Vegetables
Your potato salad on the side of your beef-on-a-bun is sufficient.
4 – Brooks
A place where cattle go to die.
3 – Valhalla
A place where the glorious dead feast, and a few guys farm wheat.
2 – Dinosaurs
You think you know all about them because you went to the Drumheller.
1 – Deerfoot Trail
You agree that it is one of the worst-designed roads in the history of Western civilization.
So that’s a less-than-scientific rundown on what makes Albertans. But have we missed any? Let us know at email@example.com and we will run a list of some reader-inspired “You know you’re from Alberta when …?”
Western Standard Editorial Board
SLOBODIAN: Winnipeg mother who lost two children to overdoses speaks out
In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019.
Winnipeg’s Janis Gillam vividly recalls walking into her daughter Phoebe’s Grade One classroom on the parent-teacher night and seeing a wall decorated with pictures of turkeys, coloured by the students. One rainbow-coloured turkey stood out. She immediately knew it was Phoebe’s.
With so many colours, there was no need to just use brown, orange and black like everyone else, explained Phoebe. Admiring her own creativity, she added: “So beautiful, it can’t help but make you smile, mommy.”
So, what happened to the joyful little girl who coloured a rainbow turkey all those years ago? She grew up to become a statistic in the grim findings recently released by Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019. The majority of these deaths involved opioids, including fentanyl. Death by methamphetamines came in second.
These are preliminary findings. The number of deaths in the age 10-19 category is pending confirmation. One victim was over 81.
Manitoba’s hike was particularly sharp, but drug deaths in 2020 increased across Canada. Experts agree that COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, coupled with increasingly toxic street drugs laced with fentanyl, contributed to this crisis.
The ravages of addiction took Gillam’s daughter away from her, long before last July 26, when mother of two Phoebe Wilson, 31, died of a fentanyl-related overdose in the apartment of someone she’d met hours earlier – one day before she was scheduled to enter treatment.
“This addiction takes over and they aren’t your child anymore. She wasn’t my baby anymore. She was a different person,” says Gillam.
At 18, Phoebe injured her back and used opioids to ease the pain. When the prescriptions stopped she fed her addiction with easily available street drugs.
It didn’t take long for the personality of the beautiful, bubbly, gifted artist, who won an art award in her senior year, to disappear. Her abstract works became dark and sad, then ceased when she could no longer use her hands to draw.
Those with loved ones struggling with severe addictions pray, try to help, cling to hope, yet fear the day that dreaded phone call may come.
Police didn’t call. They arrived in person to tell Gillam her daughter was dead and handed her a Ziplock bag with Phoebe’s ring in it.
“She led a torturous life because she was using. Someone looked down on her and said enough,” says Gillam.
“Phoebe fought hard. She was a warrior. She fought a tough battle with addiction and mental health issues. She was in and out of programs and rehab many times. She was a crash-and-burn type of addict. She could be clean for a year or longer, then use.”
Still reeling from Phoebe’s death, another drug overdose death shattered Gillam’s family last December when her stepson Chris Read, 37, a father who lived in B.C., died of a fentanyl-related overdose. No one knew he was using drugs.
“He was at a party. They were in a circle, drinking and having a gay old time. He just collapsed. We lost two children in less than five months,” says Gillam.
On holidays, Gillam decorates a tree in her front yard and sets up a memorial for Phoebe and Chris. Many people stop to talk about someone they know battling addiction, or someone they’ve lost to overdoses. So, the 87% increase in deaths in 2020 doesn’t surprise Gillam.
She belongs to Overdose Awareness Manitoba, a support group lobbying the province to offer medically-assisted detox and long-term treatment, as well as, set up safe consumption sites.
Premier Brian Pallister recently said the province is investing more resources into dealing with wellness and healing, but safe injection sites are not planned for Manitoba.
The government isn’t alone in its opposition to safe injection sites. Many argue they support drug use and infringe on the rights of area residents, posing a threat to their safety by attracting drug users and predators.
More resources are definitely needed to help people heal their emotional wounds enough to find the hope and strength to beat addictions.
More police resources are needed to crack down on the thriving illegal drug trade.
Until greedy dealers, who lace drugs with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to increase their profits, are mercilessly hunted down, the problem will prevail.
Until then, more current addicts, as well as innocent little ones now safe in classrooms, will eventually become statistics on a medical examiner’s report.
Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard
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