NATIONAL NOTES

January 20 1986

NATIONAL NOTES

January 20 1986

NATIONAL NOTES

Poverty revisited

Raised in New Orleans, where his mother worked in domestic service, Emery Barnes is no stranger to poverty. But last week Barnes—a former British Columbia Lions defensive end and a New Democratic Party member of the B.C. legislature for 13 years—began a new experiment in making ends meet. Accepting a challenge from an antipoverty group, he moved u from his comfortable suburban home to Vancouver’s skid road to try living for one month on $350, the standard welfare payment for single men 25 and under. Barnes, 55, who earns $40,000 a year representing his Vancouver Centre riding, rented a $200-a-month room whose only amenities are a hot plate and a tiny sink. After spending $40 for a bus pass, he had $110 left for food and other expenses. His experience, Barnes suggested, might help spark debate about poverty in British Columbia, where the unemployment rate is over 14 per cent and welfare benefits have not risen since 1982. “I sit in the legislature and wonder, what do I know about this life?” he said. “It’s a challenge I’ve got to try.”

Pawley’s comeback

Like thousands of other Canadians, Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley spent part of his winter vacation enjoying the sun and surf of a Florida beach. But the NDP leader was not completely relaxed. After more than four years in office, Pawley, 51, is preparing to call a provincial election—perhaps as early as next month. Recent public opinion polls indicate that the goverment’s timing is opportune. Only 14 months ago, the party trailed the Conservatives in the polls by 35 percentage points—largely because 75 per cent of Manitobans were angry about an NDP plan to extend French-language services. However, the French issue has faded from the headlines and now, as Manitobans enjoy an expanding economy—a growth rate of five per cent last year—the NDP leads the Tories by five percentage points. Pawley’s re-election chances have also been strengthened by the weakness of Conservative Opposition Leader Gary Filmon, a Winnipeg businessman eight years his junior. Soft-spoken and personally popular, Filmon has been faulted by his own party members for failing to build an effective Tory platform. The New Democrats have one other reason for opting for an early vote: Manitoba’s harsh winter will likely keep turnout low in critical pro-Tory ridings in the countryside.

A new street law

A Halifax undercover policewoman, equipped with a hidden tape recorder, staked out a spot on the downtown Hollis Street strip commonly worked by the city’s prostitutes. Soon she made an arrest—not of a prostitute, but of a potential client. Armed with a new law that makes it a criminal offence to try to buy or sell sex in public, police across the country last week began cracking down on street prostitutes and—for the first time—their customers. Under a 1978 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, solicitation had to be “pressing and persistent” before charges could be laid. The

new law, passed by Parliament in December with an increased maximum sentence of $2,000 and six months in jail, is designed to make it easier to force prostitution out of city streets and neighborhoods. But Halifax lawyer Robert Barnes, acting for a man charged with trying to buy sexual services from an undercover policewoman, said that the wording of the new law refers to obtaining the services of a prostitute. “Apparently,” said Barnes, “the lady in question was not a prostitute.” Still, as Dartmouth defence lawyer Brian Smith noted: “There wasn’t another hooker on the street that night. I think the legislation has already had its effect.”

Sitting on principle

When his classmates in MacGregor, Man., stand up to recite the Lord’s Prayer every morning, 17-year-old Chris Tait remains in his seat. An avowed atheist, Tait contends that he should not be required to stand. School authorities disagree. Last week the principal of MacGregor Collegiate handed the Grade 12 student a second five-day suspension for his behavior and told him that he would be expelled if he continued to disobey regulations. In response, Tait said he would take the issue to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. “I am hoping to get a lot of help from the public on this,” said Tait, who already has the support of his family. His father, Fred, a nonpractising Christian, says he is proud of Chris for standing up for his principles. During an angry confrontation, school superintendent Joseph Mudry accused Chris of disrupting classes and defying school discipline. Retorted the elder Tait: “I’m not going to have my son ordered from the class because of his religious beliefs.” Under Manitoba law, students may be exempted from joining in prayers if they bring a note from their parents and stand outside the class while the prayer is being recited. But many of Tait’s schoolmates say that he should be excused from the regulation. About two-thirds of the school’s 240 students have signed a petition of support.

Suspicious suitcases

Early this month Jean Roy Lévesque received a postcard from India, where his mother, Micheline, and his aunt were enjoying a three-week vacation. The weather was hot, the postcard said, and the beaches magnificent. But when the engineering student from Jonquière, Que., next heard from his mother he was shocked and disturbed. En route home last week, Micheline Lévesque, 53, and her sister Laurence, 56, were arrested on charges of smuggling heroin. Authorities at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport—suspicious of two red suitcases with unusually thick sides—found 6.6 kg of pure heroin, worth an estimated $6.3 million, hidden in the sisters’ luggage. In Jonquière, 500 km northeast of Montreal, residents voiced disbelief. Micheline, a high school teacher, and Laurence, a retired school board administrator, are regarded as model citizens. Their reputations did not impress law enforcement authorities in Italy. Officials said that after they were questioned by an Italian magistrate on Thursday, the sisters would stand trial at the earliest possible date.