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Saskatchewan

Column: War on drugs wrong approach

Today’s column for The StarPhoenix

Unlike politicians who are riding high in the polls, I have never used pot, or any other illegal drug for that matter. That puts me out of touch with voters both north and south of the border, which more or less is the story of my life.

I am in good shape locally, as Saskatoon has the highest percentage of arrests for pot possession in the country. In Halifax you have an 82 per cent chance of being let off by the police if you are caught with a small amount of marijuana, while in Saskatoon you have an 82 per cent chance of being charged. You are 35 per cent more likely to be charged if you are in possession of some pot in Saskatoon than anywhere else in Canada.

It’s hard to disagree with the Saskatoon Police Service. The service is open about having a zero (well, 12 per cent) tolerance for illegal drug possession. Pot is an illegal substance, and police are doing what they are sworn to do, which is to uphold the law. The added bonus is that it also keeps the chip and snack aisle at my local convenience store

safe from being plundered.

Drug policy in North America historically has been that we want to punish those who have illegal drugs. Police officers make the arrests and the courts decide on punishment, which often is probation or a fine for small amounts. Larger quantities of drugs often are connected to trafficking and offenders are treated more severely.

Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government attempted to take a different approach, which was to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. You would be fined, but not charged with a felony offence for possessing small amounts. That notion died when Paul Martin’s quest for power forced out Chrétien.

The tough-on-crime Conservatives have cracked down even more on drugrelated offences including possession, and introduced mandatory minimum sentences. More people are sent to jail, but with the reduction of funding to Corrections Canada, drug treatment behind bars is even harder to get. If the goal is rehabilitation and a reduction in drug use, the government’s approach isn’t working.

While Colorado and Washington have received a lot of attention for doing what Chrétien failed to do in decriminalizing marijuana, there is an interesting example that we should look at. Portugal has decriminalized all drugs.

In 2001, the Portuguese government was faced with a rising number of drug abuse-related deaths. Instead of cracking down further on drug use, which had proven ineffective, it decriminalized not just marijuana but even heroin, cocaine, LSD and other Schedule 1 drugs.

By focusing on treatment and prevention rather then jailing people it hoped to reduce the number of deaths and sexually transmitted infections. However, the laws related to selling drugs were unchanged. Law enforcement would come after drug dealers, but addicts were allowed to have a small amount of drugs in their possession – defined as enough for 10 days.

By changing the focus to prevention and treatment, overdoses related to drugs fell by more than half. STIs declined by 75 per cent. Drug use fell as well, with more people able to seek treatment without fearing criminal penalties.

The War on Drugs has shown that jail time isn’t an effective deterrent to drug use. The United States government has published several studies that show the approach has never worked, and made drug dealing more profitable. While the supply of drugs ebbed and flowed, use remained about the same.

The risk of STIs and other societal issues that come with drug use haven’t been a deterrent, either. Saskatoon has the highest rate of drug possession charges in Canada, yet the province also is known internationally for its high incidence rate of HIV and STIs.

After decades of the futile war on drugs, do we think that cracking down even more will work? A growing chorus of leading political figures are calling for a better solution to combat drug use and addictions.

Former UN secretary general KofiAnnan, former U.S. secretary of state George Schultz, a veteran of the war on drugs, and even embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who made a name for himself as a criminal prosecutor, are calling for approaches ranging from regulation to decriminalization. Even the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs is calling for the option to issue tickets for pot possession instead of laying charges for minor pot possession.

If our goal is to reduce drug use and its consequences, then we should be taking steps toward that end. The way to win the war on drugs is to stop waging it and have Ottawa look at alternatives that actually work.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Downtown Saskatoon at Night

Downtown Saskatoon at night

Waskesiu

Kayaking at Waskesiu

Power lunch

Oliver at LunchHeavy Drinkr

Cracking up

Cracking up

Trapped by the ice

The Prairie Lily

I wandered down to the Mendel Art Gallery and took some photos of The Prairie Lily as I played around with my 28mm lens.  I was kind of curious how it handled being in the frozen South Saskatchewan River and from what I can see, it has such a shallow draught that very little of it is in the water (according to the website, only about 4 feet).  The other thing that impressed me was that despite being kind of abandoned all winter long, no one seems to touch either one of the boats which is pretty cool.

OurYXE Neighbourhood Guides

OurYXE was never intended to just be a podcast and if you have been paying attention at all, you will notice we are adding new features to the site in 2014.  We have started with adding Saskatoon neighbourhood guides and have the intention of creating a guide of the best and worst of each neighbourhood in Saskatoon.  So far we have done one for downtown, Riversdale, Nutana, and Mayfair.  

Creating them takes a lot of time and even more time is needed to take the photographs needed to bring the project to life.  I have been able to cheat by using some public domain images of Wikimedia, most of the photos have been taken by myself or those submitting to the growing OurYXE Photo Pool on Flickr (if you haven’t yet, please join and add your photos).

That’s the best part of the project.  Exploring Saskatoon neighbourhoods that no one thinks of or cares about.  Last year I was researching a project for Stewart Properties in what is the most uninspiring neighbourhood in the city.  As Wendy and I walked the neighbourhood, explored the parks, found shops and businesses that I never realized were there, I realized that I would really enjoy living there.  I later followed the same process for my own neighbourhood and created a site for Mayfair.  When you stop, sit down and write it out, there is far more to our neighbourhoods than you realize.

That is the plan for these neighbourhood guides.  I want to explore all of Saskatoon, find out what is cool, and share it with others.  I am already excited about visiting and writing about several parks, hidden stores, and exploring some odd urban planning decisions just to see what is there.

Of course my fear is that I find a neighbourhood that has no redeeming qualities and absolutely nothing of interest worth exploring.  If that happens I’ll make Sean or Hilary write that neighbourhood guide.

The inspiration for the OurYXE Neighbourhood Guides is Norm Fisher’s amazing guides that he has created for his real estate site.  His work is the foundation for many Wikipedia entries and our course our own guides.  While our focus is different, his neighbourhood guides are a great resource for anyone wanting to know more about their neighbourhood.

Hi-Grade Furniture

Hi Grade Furniture

OurYXE Neighborhood Guides: Downtown Saskatoon

OurYXE would like to take you for a tour of Saskatoon and are launching local neighbourhood guides that are full of history, interesting sights, and even things to avoid.

The first neighbourhood guide is Downtown Saskatoon.

Downtown Saskatoon in 1950

You may know it by it’s formal name, the Central Business District or just simply as that place where they park on angles.  However you know it, we’d like to dig deeper and show you some of it’s nooks and crannies.  From there we will head west and explore Riversdale before heading to the old site of the Temperance Colony and visit Nutana.  The goal is to create a guide and photograph each of Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods by the time 2015 rolls around.  Wish us luck.

Column: City must go beyond status quo

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

I would love to shut the door on 2013 and move on, but there are always loose threads as you move into a new year.

Some things just never get dealt with and can linger for years, such as replacing our maligned Traffic Bridge that’s been sitting idle since 2010, slowly falling apart. Actually, it has been falling apart for longer than that, but we ran out of cheap repair options in 2010 and had to close it. The bridge’s collapse was said to be imminent.

It didn’t collapse as predicted, and the decision was taken in 2012 to remove an eastern span, which would have been a far more useful tourist draw if Evel Knievel were still around. Eventually city council tried to pressure the provincial government into paying for both a replacement Traffic Bridge and the north commuter bridge.

The province looked at the cost of two bridges and its shrinking bank account, and declined. The result is that we enter 2014 in the same position as we were in back in 2010, dreaming of bridges that no one else cares about.

Even as a public we have stopped caring. The intense rage we had at being stuck in traffic for 10 minutes each day because both the Idylwyld Bridge and the Traffic Bridge were out of commission has passed. We quickly moved back to our default mode of not acknowledging failed projects, hoping they will just go away or resolve themselves.

Chances are that the Traffic Bridge issue will not resolve itself, and we will have to go it alone. The thought so far is that we replace the old bridge with a wider version of it. The status quo wins again.

If we were to look around, we would see that other options have been very successful elsewhere. We could build an iconic pedestrian bridge on the existing piers to connect downtown and River Landing to the east side of the Meewasin Trail system and, more importantly, to the Broadway Business District.

Pedestrian bridges aren’t unique. Minneapolis has them. Calgary has the Peace Bridge. Montreal has a great one connected to its flood-control gates. Even the town of Outlook has one.

The Peace Bridge was controversial when it was installed but has since become a landmark in Calgary. It draws people from all over, and joins together two of Calgary’s vibrant communities. You could realistically see the same thing happening here with the South Downtown and Broadway Avenue.

Critics of a pedestrian bridge point out that there are sidewalks on the bridges. However, if you have ever tried to walk or ride on our bridges, it is less than a pleasant experience. These walkways are rarely swept, they are full of gravel, and they place you right up against traffic. Other cities have bridge sidewalks as well, but people flock to their pedestrian bridges.

There is a reason for it.

People are drawn to a space that is scaled and built for them.

Research from other cities has shown there are business reasons for a pedestrian bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists spend more money when out and about, especially at stores that provide bike racks. Whether it is stopping into a shop or grabbing a coffee for the walk home, the money spent locally is good for all of us.

Creating a pedestrian bridge on the old Traffic Bridge piers also would give Saskatoon an amazing prairie plaza.

Anyone who has been down in River Landing or across the river when the fireworks festival takes place understands how exciting it is to have a place where thousands of us can gather. There are the fireworks, water taxis, concerts and the buzz of tens of thousands of people coming together. Linking those two areas would allow for more events, but more importantly, it would be an important link across the river for more than just motor vehicles.

Instead of settling for the status quo, Saskatoon must think outside the box. Hold a design competition for a pedestrian replacement for the Traffic Bridge and see what happens. Put a $15 million price tag on it. Local design group OPEN has already drawn up a pedestrian bridge idea that features separate access points for bikes and pedestrians, a public space, a community garden and a zip line.

I think we would be amazed at the ideas that would come forward.

We talk about wanting to be a world-class city. Worldclass cities are not that by population size alone. They are cities with great dreams for themselves, which are expressed by great public spaces. Building a great pedestrian bridge downtown would be a good way to start.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Why cycling is so dangerous in the United States (and Saskatoon)

Americans are not only among the world’s least avid cyclists; they are also among the most likely to get killed. Here are a few interesting—if morbid—takeaways. Pedal safely!

  • Roughly “17% of all cycling fatalities were involved in a hit-and-run crash in which one (or several) of their crash opponents fled the scene (2005-2011, FARS) – presumably the motorist(s). This is nearly four times the rate of hit-and-run involvement for all recorded traffic fatalities over the same period in the United States (4%).”
  • “Investigating officers on the scene of fatal bicycle crashes in the United States found no contributory factor on the part of the motorist in 46% of cases.”
  • “An overwhelming majority of fatal bicycle crashes occur in dry or clear atmospheric conditions – 94% in the USA and 87% in Europe.”
  • “One quarter of (deceased) cyclists for which an alcohol test was performed returned blood alcohol values above 0.08 mg/ltr which constitutes a drink-driving offense in all 50 US states.”
  • “In the United States, most fatal bicycle-vehicle collisions involved a passenger car or light truck (Sports Utility Vehicle) though 10% of fatal bicycle collisions involved a large truck.”
  • “In the United States, 36% of all fatal bicycle crashes for the period 2005-2011 occurred in junctions with another 4% in driveways (commercial and private) most likely caused by entering or exiting motor vehicles.”
  • “In the United States, the share of fatal bicycle crashes occurring in low-speed zones was lower than in Europe – possibly because low-speed traffic calmed zones are relatively less common in the United States.”
  • “In the United States, 27% of deceased cyclists for which helmet use was recorded wore helmets in 2010 and 2011.”
  • “Red light running by cyclists … is an often-cited contributory factor in fatal and serious injury bicycle crashes (at least in the United States).”
  • “Motorists were charged with traffic violations in nearly one third of all fatal bicycle crashes and investigating officers identified a crash-contributing factor on the part of the motorist in over half of all fatal bicycle crashes.”
  • “Data from the United States indicate that cyclists were imputed with an improper action in 68% of fatal bicycle crashes (though, as noted earlier, this may be biased as the cyclist was not able to give their version of events).”

13 Most Popular Photos of 2013

Flickr tracks your most popular photos based on page views, favourites, and comments.  Here are my 13 most popular photos of 2013 that I have posted to Flickr.

Fish Creek Church

Fish Creek Church

The historic and abandoned Fish Creek Church.  We first photographed it a couple of years ago and returned this year on a trip up to Prince Albert.

Ukrainian Catholic Ascension Church

Ukrainian Catholic Ascension Church

A rural Ukrainian Catholic Church on Fish Creek Road north of Saskatoon.

Midtown Plaza

Midtown Plaza

Village Guitar & Amp

Village Guitar & Amp

If there was a sign that Riversdale’s revitalization was here to stay, it was a high end boutique guitar store moving onto 20th Street.

Nikon Df

Nikon Df

The 525

The 525

RCMP Dragonfly Quadcopter Drone

RCMP Dragonfly Quadcopter Drone

Safeway on 33rd Street

Safeway on 33rd Street in Saskatoon

Carl Zeiss Spotting Scope

Carl Zeiss Spotting Scope

The Saskatchewan Legislature

Saskatchewan Legislature

Behind the Scenes in Riversdale

Riversdale

Ground & Pound

Ground and Pound

La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Project

La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam

Inspired by Dave King’s 12 most popular photos of 2013

Prairie Wind

Prairie Wind

This landmark consists of 25 15m-tall steel poles, each on a rubber bearing pad. This allows the poles to sway in the wind, giving the impression of prairie grass. Sixteen LED floodlights illuminate the landmark from the base, and can be programmed to change colour.

Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink at PotashCorp Plaza

Cameco Skating Rink at Potash Corp Plaza

Wendy and I went for a walk down to the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink at PotashCorp Plaza (that’s a lot of sponsorship for an outdoor skating rink) and took some photos Thursday night in the balmy -6 degree Celsius weather.  It was a great night to be out and about.  Sadly I had both my 50mm 1.7 lens and tripod with me but decided to shoot this handheld.  I was planning to go back tonight or tomorrow and take some sharper photos but with the weather the way it is, I’ll wait a bit.

My most popular photo of 2013

Most popular of 2013

This was my most popular photo on Flickr in 2013.  It is the marina at Arlington Beach and I snapped it while out of a walk with Wendy, Mark, and Oliver on Thanksgiving weekend.  Click here to see an enlarged version.