Saint Nick, of Winnipeg. A tribute to one of Canada’s most vocal social activists

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Saint Nick, of Winnipeg. A tribute to one of Canada’s most vocal social activists

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Remembering Nick Ternette, my friend and brother (January 1945 – March 3, 2013).

Nick Ternette survived World War Two and later lived in the city of Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba, Canada. During his lifetime he was a fierce critic of unjust laws and became one of the most outspoken advocates for social justice in the history of the city.

By Rodney Graham

 Nick Bullhorn


I spent several years driving Nick each morning on his paper route and we talked about everything imaginable. Every day I would rise at 4 am and walk the two blocks from my house on Ruby St to his house on Evanson St – just two blocks. He hated driving, and never wanted to learn. I drove his little Toyota, while he took the papers door to door in the early hours. I dropped him off at the beginning of a street and then picked him up at the end.

We would collect the papers and head to Tim Horton’s for coffee. Nick would read the Free Press, the Globe and Mail, and the Sun. I would ask him if there was anything that interested him. There always was. Not one single day went by he didn’t have comment to make on some issue or something written in the papers. I think I learned more about politics during those years delivering papers than I ever had in my life. He understood politics and always hoped that it could make change for good in society.

Nick had faith in the democratic process and never stopped believing in it. He worked at it. It was his life. But it wasn’t the ‘mechanics’ of politics he was obsessed with. He was not a politician – he was an activist. It was change for the less fortunate, for the underdog that he wanted. Nick Ternette was the best kind of socialist.

I first met Nick about 18 years ago. I was canvassing for a charity at the time, one of my past ‘moonlighting’ jobs. He told me he was associated with the Green Party so I talked to him for just a few minutes. When I walked away from his door I thought to myself, ‘He sure is one of the more interesting of the many eclectic people in the Wolseley neighbourhood.’ He seemed a friendly and interesting individual. I was to meet with him again and we became good friends within a year. Our interests – our passions – were mainly concerned with social activism as we would discover over the course of the next couple of years.

I formerly worked in the forest/re-forest industry and also for fire-fighting contractors. I often travelled back and forth between British Columbia and Ontario, especially during the summer forest fire season. It was my life for many years. That’s why I decided to get an apartment in Winnipeg which was in the middle of my ‘territory’, as it were. Working in the forests was in my blood, I guess, as my mother’s father was a forest ranger. It was a time when there were no roads so my dad travelled by horse. He gave out permits to cut trees, clear land, and to plant crops too.

My grandfather’s ancestors on my father’s side were farmers from rural Ireland. My dad was also a man of the earth, apparently, a nature lover and he ran his own fishing business in Sturgeon Landing. so it was no wonder I had a passion for the forests.

Even though I didn’t know my dad until the later years of his life, I had a love of the outdoors and it was because of our passions in life that Nick and I became friends over the years and began working together. Our passions were, in part, directed by our experiences growing up. My own passion for social activism was due to estrangement from my family and a troubled youth. I was abandoned at the age of 12. I always tell young people it is good to reconcile with your family – if and when it is possible – but I will omit details of my own past. Needless to say, I’ve written much about homeless youth and related social issues.

Nick’s youth was also a rocky one.  He was born in Berlin, Germany, before the end of the Second World War. Nick hid with his mother numerous times during the frequent air raids on the city. One day his mother heard an air raid siren. They didn’t have time to get to a bomb shelter so they ran down to a corner of a basement. Shortly afterwards, a bomb demolished most of the house and the roof of the basement caved in. If they’d been on the other side of the basement they’d have died as it collapsed completely.

Nick’s father was in the Wehrmacht and served on the Eastern Front. One day after the war a strange man walked into his house. Nick’s mother was not home – only the nanny. ‘Hello’, He said to me, ‘I’m your father.’ ‘I was flabbergasted,’ Nick told me.

His mother was a religious woman and Nick was an altar boy from the age of four at the Russian Orthodox Church in Berlin. As a majority of the congregation were older women – the Second World War had killed off many husbands and brothers – they prayed that Nick would grow up to become their priest. So you see, this is where the ‘St Nick’ comes in as his mother had named him after St Nicholas. The fact is – in many ways – he has been like old St Nick, so maybe their prayers were answered.

Of course, Nick saw all that was happening around him during the war in Europe and it made a great impression on him. “I played among the ruins of the bombed out buildings in my neighbourhood,” Nick said. “I was always the Indian – the other boys were the cowboys.” Nick knew what it was to be the underdog. He was Russian really, not German, and his playmates in Berlin chastised him for being this but when he came to Winnipeg as a youth he was persecuted for being a ‘dirty German kraut’.

“I developed very early an empathy for the underdog.” Nick explained to me.

Nick’s dad came over to Canada in 1954 while Nick and his mom arrived later in 1955. He attended Laura Secord and Daniel Macintyre School in the west end. At Laura Secord, Nick suffered a great amount of racism. His classmates called him a ‘kraut’ and a ‘Nazi’ all the time. He went on to work with disadvantaged natives and was the coach of a teenage football team.

Too many so-called activists are willing to back campaigns and causes while part of a large group, or if it is ‘acceptable’ or ‘politically expedient’ to do so. But Nick was willing to stand alone or with a small group – like us. I remember seeing his picture in the paper, even before our paper started. He was standing alone in front of a bank in an act civil disobedience, protesting an oppressive anti-panhandling by-law, daring the police to arrest him.

Nick was an activist for some 40 years. “Yes, of course, there is oppression as there has always been but it’s not the same as before, it’s more subtle, but it is there.” he said. “People know that we are not all equal as we should be. But no one is willing to do anything about it…until we all agree that something should be done, injustice will just continue!’

One of Nick’s earliest activities in Winnipeg was leading one of the first protest marches against the war in Vietnam. With this, he played the role of ‘grand marshal’ for many years. He was arrested on at least three occasions but beat the charges each time. He said that one of his more interesting battles was testing the new freedom of information laws when they came into force in Canada. The Calgary Herald wanted to test the new laws out and asked Nick to ask the government for files they had on him. It took ten years. “I had to go through the courts – the government tried to stop me as much as they could. By 1992 I got many of the files they had on me. There is (sic) still about 200 classified pages which they refuse to relinquish. They claim that it might be harmful to Canada’s safety if they were given out. The Globe and Mail ran a story on the matter that made the front page in 1987.”

Having been a critic of politicians and the political process for many years, Nick says that his favourite politicians were Joe Zuken, the local city councillor, and Pierre Trudeau. The latter because of his personality and aggressive and progressive manner, and Zuken because of his brilliant socialist politics at city hall.

With regards to the Squeegee Kids, I talked with Nick briefly about the unfortunate issue of how this group of individuals were criminalized even though a task force was formed to find a ‘solution’ for them, or more precisely for the merchants. Nick agreed the business community was almost solely against them from the start. For the majority of citizens, squeegee kids were definitely not a problem. “Interestingly”, Nick said, “it was a tie vote at city hall in regards to passing the law against them.”

The task force formed to find a solution to the kids came up with an interesting ‘solution’ – to licence them! And leave them in peace! The Social Planning Council  – not part of government – did a good job of researching the issues facing youth on the streets in general and even some other cities took note of the findings. But against all advice, city hall implemented the law against the squeegee kids – apparently those in power would have most likely passed the legislation anyway despite real concern and protest. The fact that similar laws have been passed successfully all across Canada shows that.

History will record the first repressive law against squeegee kids was implemented in the city of Winnipeg so it’s rather ironic that an expensive tribute to human rights is to be built here in Winnipeg – ironic to say the very least. Nick campaigned for many things and against many things including the anti-panhandling by-law that was initiated in 1995 in Winnipeg. He may not have always been successful at fighting injustice and oppression but he tried and did bring attention to the injustice of these laws.

His greatest success has been in inspiring others. He has inspired me. It is a good thing that he lives as an honorary tenant of the University of Winnipeg. Maybe he will inspire some there because he is an independent thinker, a leader and a true protestor – not a follower. In a world where the status quo measures success by accomplishments, position and wealth, Nick stands out as a lighthouse of inspiration to those of us who view success by what is right and what is wrong. We should view success by the impact we make on eternity.

What we do in life echoes in eternity.

Remembering Nick Ternette, my friend and brother (January 1945 – March 3, 2013).


Rod @ April 30, 2013

The Industries of Misery

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The Results of their greed, ineptitude, and ineffectiveness


By Rodney Graham for Street Sheet (Canada)  March 4th, 2012.

Why is it that in North America, in every city, there are countless young homeless, desperate citizens?  Youth who fall through the cracks and end up on the street.  The machinery goes to work when a person is in trouble in order to make a profit off their backs – The system doesn’t seek to “help” the homeless youth but to profit from their misery.  Many of us have heard this before.  You don’t see it in the mainstream media so much – but in underground zines, and also, but not so often anymore, “street papers” too.


I first heard the term “poverty pimp” at a convention in San Francisco in 2002.  I was new to social activism at the time.  But I’ve seen it grow over the years – and become more sophisticated and entrenched.  In this article I aim to show, more precisely show an example, so you may understand how it works as well.  When, out of the blue, the mainstream media “uncovers” a troublesome issue dealing with poverty which they think the general public will be sensationalized/titillated with, the machinery starts grinding away.  First, the social services/activist industry start shouting for more funding – more money – then, they yell for more money.  Then it begins.


There never seems to be a point at which these less fortunate are helped in a way that puts them in a comfortable position – on the road to a better life if you will. Neither are there any apparent aids that help young homeless people who are in urgent need in Canada – Such as a 24 hour emergency center where they can come in and shower, eat, and perhaps search the internet for jobs.  No aids that are “permanent” at least.  No aids that seem to drastically help them – If there were, believe me, the mainstream would be touting it in the mainstream press on the front page!  they seem to plug any “positive” thing to come out of programs – but seldom do the forage into  “failures”, “ineptitudes”, “systemic corruptions” of which there are many – and ongoing.


We have some “band aid” programs that address the issue.  And when we can’t shovel the “issues” under the  rug anymore, as with the squeegee kids – kids who wash car windows at intersections for money in Canada – What does the system do?  Well, it’s simple.  The “professions” who work in the social services industry cry for more money – then some other “professionals” offer to do assessments – then more “professions” – politicians go to work making the public believe that the “system” cares and is working very hard to help these less fortunate citizens.


Back to the squeegee kids.  What about the “issue?”, well, when the merchants complain (and maybe a few snotty pedestrians) about any “street people” the politicians get on the phone with the chamber of commerce (who really run cities) and they then call the police and tell them to continue to or to increase the harassment of our counties most vulnerable citizens.  Not to minimize the morality of persons who merely beg for money on the street – when the issues become truly “moral” and “equity” “justice” issue as in the case of the squeegee kids, the hypocritical and two faced system machinery goes to work.


Aren’t there enough resources?  Yes, there are some good organizations out there – but far too few.  Many only allow the youth to only stay three days, or one night even.  Then there are the troublesome “procedures” of being “processed”   For example, in Canada if you’re are under 18 years of age you must get a parent or guardian’s consent in order to receive welfare.  Most kids on the street will tell you they are on the street because of their parents!  Over 90% of girls on the street have suffered sexual abuse for example.


Perhaps the answer isn’t that simple.  Or is it?  I’m no expert when it comes to economics, management, or planning – but over a period of twenty odd years I’ve been an activist I’ve been alarmed at the number of organizations that are formed in order to rectify a problem – then they fold after all the funding has been spent.  It’s also interesting that in Canada most of the money goes to administration – salaries, and in the case of the following article “studies” and “assessments”.


The following article is an example of how this machinery works – And it answers the question, why is there not enough resources/help for homeless youth in Canada?  It will show, I hope, that this kind of thing is the reason other ‘programs’ fail to effectively deal with the issue.  It’s because the motives are wrong.  Instead of desiring to help the youth -  Help them off the street.  Enable them to get a leg up and into something better perhaps – the motive is to make money.  It’s probably why no programs can gain root and really benefit those who deserve/need the help – homeless youth!


On a personal level – I grew up in foster homes and group homes.  Moving from one to the other.  Kids in the child services industry often end up living in twenty or more “homes”.  Not because of any fault of theirs either.  These places are processing mills that’s all they are.  Not for the benefit of youth .. but they are a means to an end.


The betrayal of the squeegee kids in Winnipeg.


The following article is over ten years old – but it is still highly relevant to today’s issues of homelessness and youth – and of issues regarding the other less fortunate on the street too.


In the mid 90s it was a popular thing for homeless youth to wash car windows at intersections for change.  As with other homeless people, the system began a campaign to eradicate the citizens from the street -especially away from merchants businesses.  By-laws criminalizing the poor are increasing in every city in North America and have been for several years. No sleeping, no laying, no begging near banks and various other places, no blocking passageways.  these laws are all to target the poor – not the well offs.  the laws, when in place are enforced unethically and unfairly.  for example – if you’re a lawyer wearing a suit sitting in a public area you won’t be fined, but if you’re in a group and wearing leather and studs and have green hear you will be.


In exchange for banning squeegee kids, the city “promised” to initiated “Powerhouse”, a multi- use opportunity centre for youth.  Before this , however, the city held meetings in which various professionals, academics, and intellectuals spoke with council members about possible ‘alternatives’ for the poor kids. This, of course, is always the first step in the process of whitewashing the systems devilish plans to push the poor into the cold cement.  By the way – it took three long months time to come up with Powerhouse – In that time the city councillors, professionals, academics, and others made their wages and sat in comfy armchairs all day.  The squeegee kids were hit with a ‘temporary By-law’ banning them from work.


Back to the Powerhouse – the red herring they were formulating – It was to be located in a 50,000 square foot former brewery.  It was to ‘assist’ youth in meeting basic needs, ‘entrepreneurial training’ and ‘personal development’.  Impressive sounding huh?  It was to address ‘safety issue’ of ‘at risk youth’.  These are the fancy words from their ‘white paper’ written by academics.  I believe – in the end – the two major ‘studies’ done, cost well over $100,000.00.


the city approved a $40,00 grant to do a ‘feasibility study’ on converting to cavernous and rustic old brewery into the fancy dream solution.  Professor Gordon Reeve indicated that the plan would take about 6 months.


Slated for inclusion in this centre was Operation Go Home (reuniting ‘street kids’ with their families) , a short term ‘hostel’  Literary Partners, Health Affiliate (with nursing and medical programs from U of M providing staffing), a commercial rooftop restaurant, Odd Jobs For Kids Centre, and ‘Squeegee Co-op that would make and sell articles such as costume jewelry, t-shirts, and other art objects on consignment.  As well there was to be a Seniors Multi-Purpose Room for area residents, a Buskers’ Union office, and coffee shop/drop in.


We discovered that two years after the study – and after the poor youths were harassed , bullied, beaten in some instances, and fined – no one knew were the ‘feasibility study’ was!    Even more surprising was that it never went to city council or executive policy committee for debate and approval.  All we know for sure is one copy was filed with the W.E.D. where it gathered  dust for two years.


The original brewery Powerhouse feasibility study and business plan prepared by Martin Itzkow and Linda Kutcher in October and November of 1999, as well as the Prairie Architects’ capital development plan for Powerhouse Youth Village in December of 1999, indicate implementing phase 1 of the project (workshops and offices) would cost @250,00.  Redevelopment  of the main floor would cost $1045,00. and the redevelopment for the uppers basement came in at $1,580,00.  At a total cost of $2875,00, perhaps this is why they didn’t go to eh city to ask for the funds.


So what happened?  Dudley Thompson of Prairie Architects was asked to do yet another feasibility study on the Schmecker’s building to determine whether it was possible for development of a Powerhouse e Village.  It wasn’t so the ambitious Powerhouse Project was allowed to shrink to nothing – a holding pattern  called Powerhouse, which is drop-in centre.  It isn’t clear how much this final study cost, but the question is, ‘why spend all this money on feasibility studies instead of on the kids themselves?


In spite of all these failures to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with homeless youth, Powerhouse has somehow succeeded in receiving approximately $450,000 from all three levels of government, with little or no results.  It’s unfortunate when a good idea like Powerhouse INc is turned into a make-work project so that few professions and academics make a good deal of money and the supposed beneficiaries get nothing but abuse and treachery.


According to our sources, Powerhouse has had two lawsuits filed against its board of directors over the past years.  Caron Barton, former executive director, was recently terminated for “just cause” (though she has not been informed of the ‘just cause’) Ms Barton has never had an evaluation, nor did she have a job description.  The outreach workers are unable to provide services due to lack of directing and lack of funds to provide emergency services, and the youth advisory committee is not allowed to communicate with members of the board.  Constant staff and board member turnover (only one member remains from the original board of directors) is extremely detrimental to the operation of organizations such as Powerhouse.



Finally, Powerhouse’s operating budget for2000 – 2001 indicates that it received $48,218.55 from the Government of Canada and $149,301.42 from the Province of Manitoba for a total of $201,967.99 Out of that, salaries, staff expenses were $1,100.  professional fees (including consultation) came to $9,200.10, consultant fees were $1,070 and an architectural study totalled $2,196.41.  Furthermore, there were board expenses of $8,735.90.  The total amount spent on programs resulting in services to street youth?  It was $39,550.  The numbers speak for themselves.  This article is based on information obtained in 2001.


Backtracking a bit now – the following article was based on information Peter Carlyle-Gordge and I obtained in 1999, about a year after the ‘squeegee kids’ became news in Winnipeg Manitoba.


Back in 1997, when the city had started talking in the news about the ‘squeegee kids’, I was a rather new activist really – I was involved in a bit of environmental activism at the time only in my neighborhood of Wolseley in Winnipeg.  But after I got involved in covering the situation I became more and more interested – and outraged as I learned these things and saw this red herring – which was whitewashed quite easily later taking place.  It is also a major reason that I started the street paper called Street Sheet.


Nick Ternette and I sat through the various meetings and watched closely for the few yours all this transpired.  The first ant-squeegee by-law in Canada was passed in 1997 in Winnipeg Manitoba.


Earlier, as the issue grew more and more in the local papers  ( who painted the squeegee kids in a bad light mostly) Peter Calryle-Gordge and I also watched the beginning stages of the bullshit.  This was in 1996 and 1997.  Now, since I was homeless as a youth myself, I was very interested – I was also getting more pissed off every day as I saw something that looked more like a sham every day.   After they passed the law in 1997, then dragged their feet with their bullshit studies, that by now we didn’t believe were meant to work I called Peter and asked him to help me put together a story – maybe if we could tell the public there would be honest effort put into giving the kids a fair shake – no luck.


Going back to before the phony feasibility studies and inept bureaucracy meant to fail this is what happened in city hall.


Hey squeegee kids welcome to unfriendly Manitoba!


The only city councillor who voted against the by-law to outlaw squeegee kids was Al Golden.


“The task force set up look at the squeegee kids ‘problem’ should never have accepted a compromise,” said Al Golden.  “They recommended a sensible licensing system but instead allowed a total ban while assessments were made.  Now I doubt the by-law will be overturned.”


golden is not the only politician who thinks the squegeee kids have been sold down the river.  Shirley Lord, a member of Choices, a major Winnipeg social justice group, says “the whole business been handled very badly, ” and notes that “squeegee kids behaved very responsibly and participated fully in coming up with solutions that included recommending some system of licencing and code of conduct.”


Many believe the kids have now been criminalized and victimized, becoming fodder for trendy social workers and to make grant applications for grand training schemes (which is what exactly happened!) which isn’t what the kids asked for.  They asked for freedom to be self employed and do the work they wanted to do, rather than be forced into poverty and crime.


Last year several kids were harassed and were fined $25 for daring to offer their cleaning services to passing motorists.  Most were eventually intimidated enough to stop work and move on to other cities.   This happened over the course of several years in Canada until most major cities had laws against squeegeeing.  This is also the pattern in Canada for youth in general who are less fortunate and find themselves on the street.  They are fined, harassed, and in many cases beaten by police.  So they become nomadic, more destitute than before because of merchants, businessmen, and politicians and police.


One of them, Andrew La-Liberty (ironically) had his head smashed on the top of a police cruiser until a bus driver intervened.  No charges were laid and La-Liberty moved on to Calgary, where he had a few hassles at that time. But his home in Winnipeg and he’s recently returned , plying his illegal trade – near the downtown area – away from the Osborne Village area – which had most of the merchants there attending city hall meetings and back door meetings at city hall demanding the city get rid of the scruffy looking citizens.


“We’re going to defy the law until they force us to stop,” he said.  To be ont eh sae side, he and his partner Ryan “Moss” Peatson only work an hour at a time.  So far they haven’t been arrested and many passing motorists have honked in support of their rebellion.


Even the occasional police person has smiled and waved, but it’s still a precarious existence and a politician may any day order the police to enforce the law.


Meanwhile socially conscious politicians who were once in favour of local squeegee work, are strangely silent on this matter.  Mayor Glen Murray, once closely tied to the Dew Democratic Party and the unions, has declared himself to be really a supporter of small business and free enterprise.  His recent opposition to the entrepreneurial spirit of the squeegee kids is unfounded.


the squeegee kids who just wanted to work, are about to become “clients” as the bureaucrats prepare to spend thousands of dollars on reports, studies, and coordinator salaries.  (of course this is what happened!).


It’s common knowledge that city hall wants to the streets cleaned up in time for the Pan AM games, which begin July 23 of this year.  Squeegee kids might offend tourists and other visitors or so the politically correct thinking goes.


On March 8, a small group of squeegee supporters who believe the kids have been manipulated and sold out made a presentation to the city’s protection and community services committee.  they were urging them to legalise the squeegee kids and spend $10 – 15,000 to set up a special curbside lane specifically for squeegee kids.


But no one expects any action to be taken because the real squeegee issue – which involves economics and freedom to work has been hijacked by bureaucratic professionals with their own social service agendas.


All this is good news for business persons who belong to the Osborne Village business Improvement Zone Association, which initially pressured city hall to ban squeegee kids work

the tourists are a comin’.


It’s now fifteen years since the merchants of Osborne Village – the trendy money making side of town demanded the squeegee kids be outlawed.  Today every major city has a by-law making washing car windows at intersections illegal.


It would be very easy to simply leave these people alone and let them work.  But that’s not the society we live in.  The system cannot tolerate the less fortunate to get their heads up – to allow them to improve their situation.  Can’t allow them to be free even!  Everyone who has no status has to be kept down!  We are living in an absolute class society.


It’s disgusting society – a hypocritical and sinister police state run by the chambers of commerce from one coast to the other.  the poor must be kept down – repressed even.  the squeegee kids are an example – a very good example of how the system crushes the poor – by the letter of the law – by legislation.  Legislated poverty.  As the Canadian squeegee kids were put down, so were the panhandlers, hawkers, and now even buskers are harassed every day.  It is no different in America as in Canada.


When will there be a system of government in North America where the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the American Constitution be honoured?  It looks like only revolution will bring that – and maybe the Occupy Movement will succeed in that – We can hope.  And we can act.  We should act.


We desperately need an atmosphere where the poor are treated with the same dignity and respect that everyone else is – They definitely are not!  then we need to put in place practical avenues of escape for the less fortunate.  the squeegee kids themselves even asked for it! To allow them to work, doing the kind of work they choose to do anywhere in Canada – And if you check the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of Canada it says exactly that!  Yet the powerful people in our country are allowed on a daily basis to repress, oppress and abuse the poor.


The squeegee kids and the law.


If the two articles above haven’t persuaded you that the law targeting them is unjust here are some passages from the Canadian Charter of rights and Freedoms.


The Charter clearly shows that the squeegee kids rights were infringed upon.

Consider this:  Under the heading “Mobility Rights,” the section reads -Section Six of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:


Section 6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has   the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

(2) Every citizen of Canada and every   person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.


But – squeegee kids are singled out and deprived of the right to ‘move to and take up residence in any province AND to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.


If the Charter effects the despotic desires of the chambers of commerce and city hall – all they have to do is CHANGE THE LAW!  Enact laws that directly go against the spirit of the law, so to speak , of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of our nation!  You will, with little searching, find that the Charter is infringed upon by the squeegee kid by-law in these areas:  The right of freedom of association; life, liberty and the security of person. (Life, liberty and security of person

Section 1. 7. ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’  Squeegee kids are hounded and harassed continually.  As are all street youth, no matter WHAT they are doing.


That the law(s) targeting squeegee kids and panhandlers is unjust is further shown in my article Desperate But Not Criminals – this is in regards to panhandlers but reflects the issue of a person’s right to communicate in a public place:

“It’s a comfort issue”, said Arlne Peltz, Lawyer for NAPO; the group that successfully challenged Winnipeg’s panhandler law five years ago, ” That’s what we’ll show in court, Peltz had said.

The NAPO statement of claim against the Winnipeg panhandler by-law had argued that the true purpose of the panhandler by-law was to distance and separate panhandlers from the rest of the population – to avoid discomfort of proximity to indigents on the street. That’s the story you will get from many an activist — it’s about comfort and aesthetics. Many cities even called their downtown ‘revitalization’ projects ‘beautification’ projects.

Desperate, but not criminals

Every generation thinks the present generation of kids worse than the previous. That’s according to a study done by two Guelph researchers in Ontario -O’Grady and Sprott. They also stated that most people have already made up their minds about homeless youth but they would like to know if the “experts” agree. I’m not a big fan of “experts” especially when it comes to social issues. I have seen their work before and have disagreed many a time but O’Grady and Sprott seem to have made some good points.

Sprott stated that fear is fueling the passage of laws designed to keep schools and society safe from violence, policies that Sprott says are often based more on anxiety and assumptions than reality. Recent examples include the Ontario provincial Safe Streets Act that allows police to ticket people for squeegeeing and outlaws panhandling in spots where the right-of-way is impeded (such as near bank machines and transit stops).

Legislation that dictates where and when street youth can panhandle does not even begin to address the real problems kids face O’grady and Sprott’s study showed that hysteria and paranoia have much to do with people’s perceptions of youth today, especially homeless youth. For example, he believes that people’s consternation with squeegee kids does not have a lot to do with the youths themselves.

His study on squeegee kids included interviews with more than 50 Toronto teens who were involved in squeegee cleaning and 50 who did not clean car windows for money.

The findings revealed that squeegee kids were less likely to sell drugs, commit crimes and engage in violent behavior than other less-visible street youth were. Squeegee kids also had a better mental outlook… Ironically whole new laws are being implemented to criminalize these people and prevent them from working. The first law was implemented in friendly Manitoba. There are several new laws targeting poor youth in Canada. These laws were brought into being with relative ease with the business communities attending all the city hall meetings across our nation to be careful and make sure these “criminals”‘ are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In the space of a few short months the anti-squeegee kid by-law in Winnipeg was implemented.

Just to enlighten the general public about homeless youth, these are statistics from Michael Kennon Author of “Memoirs of a Runaway –  Motivations for running away:

47% of runaway/homeless youth indicated that conflict between them and their parent
or guardian was a major problem.

Over 50% of youth in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either told
them to leave or knew they were leaving but did not care.
80% of runaway and homeless girls reported having been sexually or physically abused.
* 34% of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported sexual abuse before leaving home and
43% percent of runaway youth (girls and boys) reported physical abuse before
leaving home.

Childhood abuse increases youths’ risk for later victimization on the street. Physical
abuse is associated with elevated risk of assaults for runaway and homeless youth, while
sexual abuse is associated with higher risk of rape for runaway and homeless youth.
Risk factors associated with running away: Over 70% of runaway and throwaway youth in 2002 were estimated to be endangered, based on 17 indicators of harm or potential risk. The most common endangerment component was physical or sexual abuse at home or fear of abuse upon return. The second most common endangerment component was the youth’s substance

12% of runaway and homeless youth spent at least one night outside, in a park, on the
street, under a bridge or overhang, or on a rooftop.

7% of youth in runaway and homeless youth shelters and 14% of youth on the street had
traded sex for money, food, shelter, or drugs in the last twelve months when surveyed in

32% of runaway and homeless youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

Approximately 48.2% of youth living on the street and 33.2% of youth living in a shelter
reported having been pregnant.50% of homeless youth age 16 or older reported having dropped out of school, having been expelled, or having been suspended.


Demographics of runaways:

Runaway youth are 50% male and 50% female, although females are more likely to seek
help through shelters and hotlines.

 40% of youth in shelters and on the street have come from families that received public
assistance or lived in publicly assisted housing.

It has been estimated that one-third of Canada’s homeless population are youth. On any given night, that means close to 65,000 young people are without a place to call home.

Abuse and neglect are two of the major reasons why young people leave home. Several studies show that nearly 70% of homeless youth have experienced some form of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Homeless youth are exposed to significantly more physical abuse, sickness, injury and mental health problems than their non-homeless peers, with often long-term implications for their self-esteem, relationships, and ability to become self-supporting. A Quebec study found that the death rate among homeless youth was 11 times higher than in the general population..

Groups like National Coalition for the Homeless in the States have been successful in challenging unjust laws and in spreading the word: “Instead of the compassionate responses that communities have used to save lives in the past two decades, the common response to homelessness is to criminalize the victims through laws and ordinances that make illegal life-sustaining activities that people experiencing homelessness are forced to do in public,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who is himself formerly homeless.

As it becomes increasingly difficult to afford housing, this country is turning to jails instead of creating affordable housing. These individuals and families are arrested for committing such illegal acts as sitting or standing on sidewalks and napping in parks. Whitehead stated, “At the national level, we see a relationship between municipalities’ efforts to make homelessness a crime and the increases in hate crimes and violent acts directed at homeless people in those cities.”

Rod @ May 17, 2012

Tango, Jason, and the Dirty Dozen

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By Jason Ortiz.

Edited by Rodney Graham. 

For Street Sheet (Canada)  January 27th, 2012

Montreal QB –  A mix of young people – as well as a few dogs combined to transform my young life the summer of 2007.   It was early summer – in Montreal Quebec, Canada.  I met a couple on the street in Montréal who wanted to travel.  We were getting along well.  Steve had two beautiful Rottweiler’s – one was blonde, the other, the more traditional black and brown.

The yellow was named Godzilla – He was taken from a farm in Saskatchewan I believe.   The other one, who would become the most affectionate dog I ever knew, was named Kylie.  She was taken by Steve from a crackhead at a very young age.  So here we were in Montreal.  I had just hitchhiked back from Vancouver B.C.  We decided to take a trip to Saskatoon – a place where Kylie was going to have her babies  (she was pregnant when I met them).

In order to arrive quickly we separated into two groups.  Me and my girlfriend, him and his girlfriend, Allyce.  She had convinced him to let me take one of the dogs.  They said the experience would teach me how to travel with a dog.  They told me that if I would help them they would give me a puppy.  I was surprised they trusted me to take Kylie.  for some reason Allyce trusted me.  And it turns out she was not wrong.

Steve was a train hopper.  I had a bad experience with train hoppers in Montreal and I didn’t like them actually.  Allyce was some punk-rocker chick from Quebec who was be-bopping down the street when I met her.  A free spirit.  Steve was an introvert – actually had a kind of a bad attitude.  As for me, just an average kid – ignorant of many things, trying to enjoy life in a deceitful world.

The adventure begins

We hitchhiked toward Saskatoon.  It was summer, and my girlfriend and I were leaving for a new game.  We had a lot of arguments along the way.  Who was in charge of the dog… and other things.  At one point she wanted to separate in order to travel quicker.  Problem was, however, Steve and Allyce had put me in charge.  I couldn’t let her take Kylie.  More importantly, she couldn’t look after herself!  She had no experience being on the road.

So we stayed together , at least until we arrived at  Wawa Ontario.  It’s an Army base – also a Native reserve nearby.  It was raining.  We took shelter in an abandoned Motel.  Next morning she went out to the highway and got a ride in five minutes.  Women who are alone always get picked up fast.

But I was quite lucky too.  Two drunk truckers in a semi.  They were real jokers – But I wasn’t sharing their joi de vive.  They told me they were going to ‘steal’ the dog.  Then the guy was swerving back and forth on purpose.  I survived, however, and made it alive with Kylie.

Winnipeg and westbound.

Winnipeg was a new beginning for me.  A happier beginning I should say.  For a couple of reasons – One was the best friend in my life – Yes, Kylie had puppies in the ‘Peg -  my best friend ‘Tango’ was born there.  The second ‘wonderful’ thing was my first train hop.  Where I discovered true freedom, adventure,  – and life!  From the day Tango was born till now we have never been separated – except for short periods.

It wasn’t all peasant though.  Not till we left town anyway.  Once Kylie and I got into the ‘Peg we met up with my girlfriend – But she promptly left to go see her sister’s graduation in Vancouver.  She really wasn’t prepared – or suitable to street life.  Something fairly common actually – they call them “oogles”.  They latch onto experienced people like us – but don’t end up roughing it.  Sometimes they might, for example, call their mom and dad and have them send a plane ticket.  Something most vagabonds like us usually could not count on – or may not even want, to be honest.

So she left.  I was hanging out at the Bell Tower.  A spot in the trendy area of Winnipeg called Osborne Village.   All of a sudden Kylie began to shake.  I got mad, thinking somebody had give her something.  But this guy named Randy said to me, “Hey, she’s going to have her babies now.”  He sat and watched her with me for a couple of hours.  He was a good friend of Steve’s.  I thought I was very fortunate.  But he said, “This is going to be a very long night for you.”  Then he left.

Finally she had the puppies.  We put all the puppies in the shopping cart and headed to our usual camping spot.  We made a cage out of two shopping carts and waited.  As usual, I went and gathered some abandoned couches and furniture from a nearby apartment building.

Kelly showed up in town and expressed her desire to have a big dog.  She took a female dog.  She named her Ursula.  There were five puppies.

The cops weren’t happy with us – as usual.  They didn’t like the idea of us having furniture there.  Hey – everybody knows only criminals want to be comfortable – huh?  After a week they forced us to move.  We moved to a forested area not far away.  The pups loved it in the bush.  Everything was nice there until a week.  The cops came again and talked to us – harassed us is a better word for it.  Yelling at us and telling us we should be ‘ashamed’ of ourselves – The typical bullshit of course.  Obviously – knowing how superior they were to us morally and how ‘caring’ these ‘public servants’ were – we hid the dogs each time they came, knowing they would have promptly taken the dogs away from us without batting an eye.

In pounds in Winnipeg at least 4,000 cats and almost as many dogs are euthanized each year.

So we moved yet again.  The cops would not leave us alone.  Yes, they left us alone for a period of time – but merely to watch us from a distance, in hopes of arresting and convicting us of something.  This is very common in every city in Canada.  Anyone  who is scruffy at all – different, doesn’t fit in – the cops pester them – harass them.  Being dirty – being young, apparently is a crime in Canada.  Neither do they tolerate puppies!

The last area we were in we put our tents n the bushes and hung out in the open area.  The puppies were beginning to see well and running around all day..  It was nice.  I had chosen Tango, Spaz had chosen Siren, Kelly had taken Ursula.  But there were two remaining dogs.  We wanted to wait till we met two decent people who would care for the puppies.  But – the cops came again.  This time they spotted the puppies and told us if we didn’t go away this time for good – out of the neighborhood – they would take the puppies.  So here we were – about five of us, and the two adult dogs – and the five puppies, trying to get out of town.

It was getting dark outside.  We were walking towards the Bell Tower in Osborne Village, and we ran into two traveling kids from Ottawa.  We didn’t have a lot of time to give them a character check – Moik took Wretch and Mitch took Dirt.

Freedom at last

It was my first train ride!  My very first train with  three week old Tango!  We all boarded a freight train with no trouble at all.  This is when the beautiful adventure with Tango began.  From that time on we have hardly been separated.   Up until this very day we haven’t been separated for more than two weeks.  Tango and his mother have seen a lot of each other in their lives.  I actually stayed with Spaz and Steve travelling with them for two years.

People have tried stealing Tango.  The cops threatened to shoot him several times.  But I was always there for him.  As well – people have tried to rob me, and beating me – but Tango was there for me. The love between us is greater than any love I’ve had in my life.  I would die for him and he for me.

He always eats the best food – even if I have to eat out of the garbage.    I always make sure he is happy.

When I started working I got him a companion named Flamenco.  He is now a year and a half.  Tango is four and half.  Tango was born on the 24th of June 2007, in Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada.




Tango's sister Ursula



Tango's brother, Dirt



Tango's brother Wretch


Tango's brother, Siren.





Rod @ January 31, 2012

Last battle for a happy warrior

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Published On Mon Aug 22 2011

By Joe Fiorito, City Columnist.  Toronto Star.

Toronto Ontario – Jack Layton, a happy warrior, led a group of activists and journalists on a tour of homeless shelters one night some years ago. The evening began at a notorious burger joint in the east end. The burgers were not as great as their reputation, but Jack attacked his with gusto, which is what good pols do in public at all times.

What he did better was to display an appetite for information: he hit the street running, asking questions all night long that were designed, not just to get to the heart of the matter — or to show off in front of people who might write nice things about him — but to increase his own keen understanding of the issue.

And to make the rest of us smarter.

I was also touched by how many people he knew well enough to greet by name, people who seemed to know him as more than just a face.

His concern was real.

As was his zeal.

There were several younger people on the tour. He wore them out, which I suspect was a point of pride with Jack. He could have gone until dawn. He may have, for all I know. I called it quits at 2 a.m.

We don’t yet know what kind of cancer killed him, but we do know a bit about his medical history. All I can tell you is this: my father died of an aggressively metastasized prostate cancer, I have an uncle who died the same way and, from the family stories, I suspect my grandfather did, too.

I’m older than Jack. I know what my own odds are. I shudder. And yes, I get regular checkups.

A friend is in the hospital at the moment, after a serious operation, and then another, for a very difficult cancer. The outlook is good. His wife, also dear to me, is vigilant in her care and fierce in her love; what a marvel is our love for each other.

Olivia’s, for Jack.

Among the things that sadden me is that Jack said he was going to fight his illness and beat it. Does his death mean that he didn’t fight hard enough? His will wasn’t strong enough?

I don’t know what fighting means when it comes to illness. I do know what it means to be human. When my uncle Dave, an iconoclast, got his diagnosis — he was, I think, in his 70s — he started eating massive amounts of vitamins, and then he cobbled together enough money to go to Mexico for laetrile. He’d have been better off eating peaches.

Dave fought his cancer as hard as anyone ever has. His attitude was fierce. Didn’t save him, but he died with a marvelous head of jet-black hair, thanks to the vitamins.

Let me point out a miserable truth: We do not fight cancer. We take treatment and if we are lucky, we get the right treatment from the right doctors at the right time.

Yes, we are hardwired to hope. Many people, when they learn they have cancer, turn the rest of their lives into a display of cheery willpower. Alas, length of life depends primarily on genetics, good luck, sensible habits and timely medical care.

The lesson?

We keep our spirits up, more for others than for ourselves. And now we mourn the man, just as we grieve for his family.

I will remember him for his willingness to fight — not for his life; we all have that spark — but for his willingness to fight for the causes he believed in.

He was our happy warrior.

Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Toronto Star

Rod @ September 6, 2011

Where Have All the Squeegee Punks Gone?

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By Rodney Graham

 Street Sheet – (Canada) 18 April 2011

  The answer is simple. They were outlawed. Just about every major city in our nation went to great length to pass laws targeting these citizens. Over the years I’ve kept in touch with several I interviewed in Winnipeg in the 90s. (667 Words) – By Rodney Graham

One couple have two kids now and are close friends – and I visit them in B.C. every year. Many others have kids of their own now and are doing just fine. In a way these rebels were soldiers of democracy whether they did so purposefully or not.

In the 1990s there were hundreds, if not thousands of traveling kids washing car windows at intersections all across Canada. They were as ubiquitous at major intersections as the Dickie Dee ice cream carts on a hazy city summers day.

People still do it, but they are more likely to be locals who have learned the practice over the years from the pioneering punks. Traveling kids still do it while in transit – Until they are ticketed and hounded out of town.

Why did they do it? Simple again – Lack of resources for youth. Especially for youth who are termed ‘fallen through the cracks’. But I would say that there was never a firm foundation to help abused and neglected youth in Canada anyway. The Industry is more like a spiralling route that descends towards your eventual exit. Then you were no longer a ‘client’. Having been a homeless youth myself thirty five years ago I had a hell of a time in the system. Panhandling, couch surfing, begging off relatives, and being processed through the revolving doors of the children’s aid system then spit out at the age of 16.

One may ask, ‘Where do gangs come from?’ When society rejects you – you create your own. The squeegee kids were often kids who were mostly abused and neglected kids and they created their own resource. Societies answer for both was and still is equally brutal. Instead of treating them with respect and equality it uses the heartless force of law and the mindless self serving system in place to force them into more desperation and poverty.

The irony of it is that even though these resourceful Canadian kids used this form of self employment and were criminalized for it – they benefited others in each town and city they went to and were kicked out of.

They’ve done more to improve the democracy in our nation than most of us ever will. Local people of all ages across Canada now go out and squeegee for spare change – Because they saw the squeegee punks do it. There are a few more resources as a result (But still not enough) front line resources for homeless youth. There’s one in Winnipeg where kids can seek resources for jobs and use computers and phones. They stirred up activists and got them talking about the issues of youth homelessness. In this way, in my opinion anyway… they were true soldiers of democracy.

Personally, I have written, debated, and battled about the issue of youth homelessness since they passed the very first anti-squeegee kid by-law in Canada here in Winnipeg in 1997. The solution may not come soon. First we have to strive towards building a culture where less fortunate youth, and the less fortunate of every age are treated equally. We can start by repealing the squeegee kid by-law and the ubiquitous panhandling by-laws in Canada today.

In the long-term, cities continual ruthlessness against the less fortunate costs… In regards to lives, finances – in every area… They should overhaul the entire ‘system’ that deals with these things It’s ironic that these vagabonds share a few things in common with the hippies of old…

Yes, it’s ironic that these citizens have contributed so much to our country – yet they are treated like outlaws. Perhaps that’s just the way things work in our rather complex world…

- When will we ever learn?

Rod @ September 1, 2011