Calgary's Joint Encampment Team (JET)

by Mark Zaugg 17. May 2018 23:10

I haven't written in a while now. But tonight I discovered something truly incredible within this city I love.

First, let me commend my Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra and his team for getting an invitation out to me through his Ward 9 Newsletters. If you live in Ward 9 in Calgary, I encourage you to sign up for it. I find it interesting, informative, and worthwhile to receive. You can get on the list at Other wards have similar lists, go find yours.

Second, if you do NOT live in Calgary please don't stop reading. This is a really interesting approach to homelessness and encampments and there is a lot here worth sharing across Canada and around the world.


This story starts two years ago when my dog adopted me. Being the perfect dog that she is, she insists that I walk twice a day for a total time of no less than 60 minutes. As caring as she is, she is most insistent that I also spend a little time on my own in an off-leash environment so she can get her personal time sniffing about and doing her business.

This arrangement works great, we walk most nights in the off-leash area just south of my home along the irrigation canal in a beautiful grassy area with scrub brush and a few trees. Also a beautiful and convenient area for an illegal encampment. It's somewhat secluded, but still has access to water, a short distance to services which can be found downtown or in the more local area. Now, encampments are a big problem all over the city and are a notoriously hard problem to solve.

The wrong answer has been out there for years: Go arrest the people, ticket them, take away their stuff, run them out of the neighbourhood so it becomes someone else's problem a couple miles down the road, meanwhile someone else from a couple miles up the road moves into the newly vacated spot and the cycle repeats itself.

So at some point last year, I came across a newly set up encampment. I didn't like that it was there, but at least it was better than being under the tree in my front yard. And, quite frankly, it was a nice looking set up that looked more like a camp site than a squatters camp. I certainly didn't want to get them in shit and get their stuff confiscated, so I walked on. A week or so later, I noticed that things were looking a little more ramshackle and blown about. "I hope someone's okay," I thought, "Someone needs to tidy that place up or they're going to catch Hell" while I kept walking. Three weeks or so in, the place began to take on that unkempt and abandoned look. It was now time to call. I called 3-1-1 (Calgary City Services phone line) and reported an abandoned camp. It wasn't dangerous, it wasn't an emergency, at best is was a bunch of junk left behind and at worst there was someone hurt or dead down there, so 3-1-1 was the right number to call.

A day or two later, I got a call from Jody. He started by asking me questions I wasn't quite expecting. Now, I don't remember the exact conversation, but it went something like:
"Can you see anyone there?"
"No, I think it's an abandoned site."
"Have you seen someone coming back and forth lately?"
"No, it looks like it's falling down."
"How long has it been there?"
"About three or four weeks."
"THREE OR FOUR WEEKS? And you're just calling now?"
"It didn't look like a problem until recently."

I could feel his exasperation through the phone. I didn't know why. So when I got the email a couple weeks ago from Councillor Carra, I put it in my calendar and made a point to attend to find out what I should have done.


Things I learned:


The very first thing I learned was that I'd be terrible at estimating how many "rough sleepers" (people who don't have proper shelter overnight) there are in Calgary. In a city of roughly 1.4 million people, I would have guessed there would be about 1000 to 2000 people camping out every night. Maybe more in the summer, less in the winter. I was way wrong, it's more like 120. And most of them are nice people with some big problems, although there are definitely criminals and drug addicts we don't want in our neighbourhoods, too.

The second thing that shocked me was that Calgary has about 60% of the overall homeless population in Alberta. Probably in part due to our climate and having the Trans-Canada Highway run east-west through the city. It did not surprise me to hear that homelessness is a problem throughout all parts of Calgary (and Alberta, and Canada, and North America, and... well, you get it.)

The third thing that truly surprised me is that all of those numbers are uncertain. We just don't track the data well. Previously in Calgary, an encampment may be called "road side debris" when it fell under the Roads department, or a "pathway disturbance" on the pathway system, or just plain trespassing when it was on private property.

Calgary's new pilot project is building from a lot of the work that's been done over the past 8 or so years, and they've rolled it up into the Joint Encampment Team. Their web page reads as so sterile compared with the enthusiasm I feel about it. (It's actually not that bad, I'm just really excited about it and thinks it needs more trumpets.)

First off, that Jody I spoke to earlier: He is Jody St. Pierre and he is flat out incredible. He is the person who has been working at finding solutions for the past 8 or so years and I am incredibly proud to have met him. Together with his partner Melanie Thomas (I hope I got that right, I didn't meet her tonight) they are trying hard not to simply kick the can down the road into the next neighbourhood. I found a nice write up on them from the Calgary Homeless Foundation's website. They have been on the front line, know how to interact with people, try to set up contacts and supports and get people out of encampments and back into their lives. Life's real capeless heros.

The approach is basic.
Respond to an encampment complaint.
Try to provide immediate help for the person.
Try to find alignments for the person's needs and an agency that provides support services.
Encourage the person to follow up with the services they need.
Follow up as well as possible to keep the person moving forward.

In the meantime, this program is helping bring a lot of other pieces in the puzzle together, too. Agencies have been always been meeting to help each other out, but this is another specific means to find those places where all the organizations can find synergies. The Joint Encampment Team is also focusing on data collection and serves as a centralized place to collect meaningful data which will be massively helpful with determining the true size of the problem and how we should set our priorities. Knowing where encampments are helps to follow up and ensure people are actually getting the services they need. We can track problem sites and do a better job remediating them. When the can does get kicked down the road to the next neighbourhood, the JET team can understand better who is just playing for time and who is serious about getting help and getting on with their lives.

My fears of getting someone in shit - now I think they're pretty much unfounded today in Calgary. We do have support for people in this city. Now it's not enough, but it's a start. The focus is less on handing out tickets then taking away their stuff and much more on resolving the homelessness. Not that we don't have problems with drugs and crime and people who are going to get themselves in shit on their own. But quite simply the first step is to try to help first. "We can't enforce our way out of this problem," said Jody. He's absolutely correct.

Three things to do:

Remember when I said I called Jody and he sounded frustrated that I called so late? I could have handled it so much better had I only known.

1) When you discover an encampment in Calgary, the very first thing you should do is to call 3-1-1 and report it. When you make your report, it is more helpful if you can give GPS coordinates to the exact site. (The 3-1-1 app will automatically do this for you!) Encampments should be called in to 3-1-1 unless a crime is in progress (then call 9-1-1). Simple, central, and helpful to everyone.

2) Record the serial number from your bikes, mark your property, and should it be stolen, report it. If my bike got stolen and chopped up, I may not want to get the parts back. However it gives the police more options when they can show someone has property which is known to be stolen from you. It may not be much, but it may give more tools to the good guys so they can get help for the bad ones.

3) Donate directly to the agencies that help people instead of giving money to panhandlers. It's a big problem to resolve, get the resources into the hands that make a difference. Yes, I'm overdue to sending a donation to the Mustard Seed or the DI, but find someone who you can support and actually donate to help out if you can. Everything helps.


Finally, at the end of the night I spoke to Jody and said I was sorry I called too late and I promised to do better next time. I told him I'd write a blog tonight and asked if there was anything particular he'd like me to say.

"Mention that it's just junk. It doesn't hurt anyone if it's left alone. Please be patient and we'll get it cleaned up properly as soon as we can."

Mayor in 2017

by Mark Zaugg 9. October 2017 23:07

One thing I was really looking forward to was the showdown this year. Even before the election was on I was asked, "What do you think about Chabot running against Nenshi?"

Not to spoil the punchline, but Nenshi has absolutely met my expectations and I have absolutely not a single hesitation endorsing him again. I have a good view of Councillor Chabot. I absolutely dislike everyone else in the race.

I'm a guy out here that chose Mayor Nenshi in 2010 after some hard soul searching. I'm just another slob that should have no meaning with him whatsoever, but Mayor Nenshi actually knows who I am and cares that I accomplish something positive in my neighbourhood. He is one of six current members of city council that has spoken with me directly on Twitter.  Frankly, I could do with never hearing at all from a couple of them. I very much appreciate that communication and willingness to be open and transparent.

For those who aren't aware, I was part of my Community Association for about five years, culminating with a year as CA president. This came, in part, at Mayor Nenshi's challenge to do three things for Calgary.  That meant working directly with Councillor Chabot and that brought quite a few nice surprises with it for me. My relationship with Councillor Chabot started with him ignoring my offer to get him on Twitter, and help him feel comfortable enough to answer the Tweet Debate held in 2010. He continued to unimpress me at the Ward 10 debate that year. But after knowing him, I can say Councillor Chabot works hard, he is very earnest in his efforts, he is a true fiscal conservative and he is unquestionably very knowledgeable about Calgary and my neighbourhood in particular. He has definitely earned my respect and I view him favourably. But there are two points where Mayor Nenshi stands out more.

I strongly believe in Mayor Nenshi's views about secondary suites in Calgary. Councillor Chabot has opposed them from the start and has at best proposed vastly inferior options.  In fact, years back I originally lived in an illegal secondary suite in this very ward - long since repaired and made legal, but I'm still grateful I don't have to live there any longer.  I argue long and hard that our current system is not working, is not safe, and it magnifies the problems by dumping all the secondary suites into fewer neighbourhoods. The push for affordable housing is very much what causes the over-the-top problems that we see over here in my area.

I believe secondary suites need to be allowed city wide, and not be restricted to specific areas. I'm believe a secondary suite registry is a good idea, but inspections should be required. Registering is not enough - I don't think a registry alone will be enough to ensure homes meet building code and safety code standards. That's going to cost more.  Maybe not as much as it costs us now to waste time in City Council meetings as a homeowner pleads for the right to rent out their basement.  I really do believe our current system is unbelievably stupid and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

As I discussed last week, my primary concern is the working relationship in City Council. Mayor Nenshi has had his hands full with what appears to me to be a divisive council with childish infighting. (Right now I'm specifically thinking of the "knife-in-the-back" gesture, but there are plenty of terrible examples.) It hasn't looked good to me and I expect much better from my representatives overall. I've seen Mr. Chabot directly in high conflict situations, and I do not have confidence in his ability to bridge differences and actually resolve conflict.  Hey, our entire Community Association was a high conflict situation, worse than City Council -- I hope! Mayor Nenshi was the one to offer advice and encourage me to try my best. I thank him for his effort. I felt somewhat abandoned by my Councillor.

I cannot imagine a better communicator than Mayor Nenshi during a crisis. He needs that skill daily. Could you imagine the zoo City Council would be without strong, respectful leadership? Respectful matters in that phrase. Voting down the other side time and time again is just tyranny of the majority and is a sign of poor judgement lacking any thought from council. We need those viewpoints represented and heard, we need to have all the options on the table! Nenshi's my guy to do that.

My shock has been seeing the swell for Bill Smith. I have serious doubts on that swell and very serious questions about his skill, ability and leadership.

Mr. Smith doesn't have a City Council record to stand on. His stance on secondary suites is shocking vague for something discussed in Calgary for literally decades.  In fact, his stance on everything is vague. The Green Line needs a rethink? We've been working on this project for a while now, and yes I would like more, but I want to see it happen. Mayor Nenshi and Councillor Chabot have both put significant time and effort into making the Green Line a success and I trust either one of them over someone taking pot shots at a very high budget line item. His take on affordable housing entirely skips secondary suites and focuses on the private sector. The private sector sometimes performs terribly, please see the above note of living in an illegal, dangerous secondary suite. Let me copy his section on "Biking" directly from his website:


Biking is one of those issues that is important to some, and not important to others.

We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic. A lot has already been invested to make Calgary bike-friendly. We can’t just rip it up.

But, I only support bike paths where it makes sense. Safety and community must always come first.  Any new paths must also be built at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

First, this is critically important to some of us who are afraid to cycle and be killed on the streets. This is also critically important to drivers who don't want to kill cyclists they can't see and can't predict. The separation between cars and bikes makes it better for all of us.
Secondly, "We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic" is terribly disingenuous. There has been little to no accommodation of bicycle traffic in the past. Bicycles have been shunted to out-of-the-way side roads or the MUP along the river we are told is for enjoyment and not commuting. We need to twin all major routes of the MUPs and make safe routes for bicycles that go where cyclists need to commute. Those are Cycle Tracks in the downtown area.

This is where bike paths make sense! And the cycle tracks are cheaper to build than equivalent roadways and much cheaper to maintain. Don't give me crap about reasonable cost to taxpayers. I'm a taxpayer too!

As for my primary concern of City Council getting along well enough to function, Mr. Smith may add a cheery section of political dialogue and fair treatment, but his and his team's behaviour has belied that. Sketchy polls being released is not respectful political dialogue, you are throwing up your elbows trying to make yourself the conversation. Mr. Smith's presidency of the Progressive Conservative party during one of it's least transparent and least productive periods does not give me confidence. My dealings with that government are some of the most frustrating, agonizing processes I've been through ever, without any hint of exaggeration.

Mr. Smith is throwing out FUD -- that stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. It's relatively easier to whip up FUD over what we have instead of putting forward real ideas of your own. There is nothing in his record or on his policy statement that says he has the smallest interest in what's important to me, in the services I require, or in a true ability to actively listen to the full diversity of Calgarians instead of his own circle of influence.

I'm open to a conversation, I'm willing to have Mr. Smith turn my opinion around as Councillor Chabot has. But there's a lot deeper hole that you're starting in.

I won't end on a negative note, but I feel this past council performed poorly. The counterbalance to that has been a city administration, city staff, and some truly incredible city employees that have shone. As a citizen, I have received better, more relevant, generally helpful services over the past seven years than I ever had before.
3-1-1 remains fantastic.
The people who worked with our CA with me were genuinely top notch.
I especially have praise for Councillor's Chabot's office staff who are second to none and bent over backwards to make this part of the city a better place.

We are on the right track. We need to stay there.

Vapour lock at City Hall? The 2017 edition.

by Mark Zaugg 1. October 2017 17:12

Back in 2010, I figured I had my city council vote figured out when Dave Bronconnier decided not to run again.  I was quite frustrated with what seemed to be constant fighting between the aldermen (as they were known at the time) and my sense that city council was lost in the wilderness and not accomplishing what it should. There was one guy on city council that stood out to me: his nickname was "Dr. No" and I thought he would be the guy with the fortitude to end the bickering and get things back on track.  Until the time when I thought of the "street festival" guy opposed a street festival that didn't match his parameters. It turned me off when he qualified what made a good street festival strictly to his own standards and divisively diminished a festival I thought was pretty neat. The harder I looked, the more our views diverged, so I decided to look at my other choices.

To make a very long story short, I made an alternative choice, got behind him early enough to campaign, and got to participate in seeing this guy who was barely on the radar become the mayor I'm still proud to support. A lot has changed in seven years; I've become involved in different ways, I've met a lot of great people along the way and got a very different perspective on how the city actually operates (and needs to operate!) in order to function. I'll write on the mayoral side of things in a week. This week I'm focusing on the councillors.

Snap forward to 2017. A continual theme I'm hearing again is that city hall is dysfunctional - AGAIN. It's not a small concern, it costs every one of us when we don't have representatives working collegially and effectively together. I have no particular insight into how big or how small the issue is now, but this was my concern in 2010 and remains my concern today.

One thing I've heard often is a Calgarian from any given part of the city claiming their councillor is not the problem; it's always some particular other councillor from the other side of the city. Some of this rang true to me: I didn't love my councillor, nor did I outright dislike him. However I hold very strong opinions of some councillors in other wards.

The difference is I don't have to work with them every day. Our councillors must work together better.

I'm aiming to make two points today: How I think we can help as voters, and second what I hope from my councillor.

First, Calgary is a big city. We are well beyond our small city status and we absolutely need to acknowledge that the city continues to change as it's grown. Some of us are four-generation Calgarians whose great-grandparents rode across the prairie to settle here. Some of us just arrived looking for a home safe from war and literal chemical weapons. Who we are and the way we all live differs here, in the very same city.

That diversity is very much our strength. This is a city wide enough for us all to live here, with enough opportunity for all of us. There are Calgarians much more exceptional than me that come from every single corner of this city. Our city hall needs to be big enough to allow a voice be heard from everywhere. But it could be more receptive to each of our needs along the way.

The challenges of inner-city life are very different from a new community in the suburbs. My back alley is unpaved, and was likely built 100 years without a proper base ever being laid. It cannot be graded frequently enough to prevent massive potholes forming.  Fixing that will be expensive, time consuming, and a hard sell in this neighbourhood. On the other hand, my commute to downtown takes somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes and I have four good, convenient choices of how I'd like to get there.

Or how about a more topical issue: Green carts were just delivered to our neighbourhood. I live in a four-plex. We now have 12 different carts to line up along the alley. Seriously! This is just six of them, we can't fit all of them in.
Garbage carts in the alley
And here's a picture of how much garbage I generate over two weeks.

Two weeks of garbage right here!

This is crazy! Now in all fairness, most of my waste consists of glass jars, tin cans, cardboard or plastic that goes into the blue recycle bin. But any organic matter will be coming out of that half-bag of trash - it would take me a full six months before the garbage man would even consider stopping for me! Even if I didn't compost (which I do). And I have to pay full freight for a service from which I will barely benefit. I'm not getting a discount because I throw out so little.

It's fact: City Council has to make these decisions. They must balance the cost of pickup, the cost of expanding or replacing landfill sites, the cost of waste management (including mass composting), the cost of trucks, maintenance, and staffing to remove garbage. That was not going to be an easy choice.

I personally am getting screwed over by the green carts. I simply don't create enough waste and will never get fair return for what it will cost me, and no, I'm not happy about it. But if your thoughts simply end there, you've entirely missed the bigger picture. It would be utterly irresponsible and insane to continue to buy new farmland on the perimeter of Calgary in order to build new landfills. Also, there are people in the city who need the green cart service desperately who generate more organic waste than they could ever compost.  Our capability to compost more items when we pool our organic waste increases with the volume, as we can use better equipment to compost bones and dog waste I cannot compost safely at home. Less goes into our dumps, extending their lifespan. I may be overpaying for what I get, but overall this is a good thing for Calgary.

We need people in city hall that can spot that when I'm getting a raw deal on green carts, I at the very least deserve consideration to getting the back alley where those carts are sitting fixed to modern standards so my car doesn't get rattled apart every time I drive down it.

So now is the time where we, the citizens, have our opportunity to try to fix the jam at City Hall. Maybe you can't fight City Hall, but there are precious moments in time when you can fix it - if only a little, for a short period of time.

This is the time to grill your candidates. If your candidates only complain about sky-high taxes, it's time to press that candidate on the services that matter to you.  Don't forget to mention the services that don't matter to you, too.
If your candidates have grandiose plans about residential snow clearing or new yellow carts for your oil collection or building a new manicured park and pathway along your front yard, it's time to press them about how they'll fund it and how their ideas will benefit us, as Calgarians, as a whole.

Every single candidate that gets elected to City Hall this year should be able to recognize inner city and suburban issues and be able to speak coherently on real issues for Calgarians regardless of the ward they come from. They need to be able to understand facts presented to them, and to be able to communicate both what those facts mean to them and to their constituents. It would be fantastic for every councillor to be able to separate themselves from their ward and be capable of empathizing the opposing position. It would be over-the-moon fantastic to have all councillors speak respectfully towards one another, but I fear I carry myself away.

Please, please think carefully when you vote for city councillor this year. And please consider adding another criterion to your decision process: How well will each candidate work with City Council at large? Will that candidate add productively to the debate or will the candidate behave with immaturity and intolerance? Can that candidate speak to you clearly, does the candidate baffle you with B.S. or does the candidate simply insult and degrade any opinion that varies from his or her own?

Most of you can stop reading here. The remainder is applicable for Ward 9 residents.

With the shuffling of boundaries, my neighbourhood was moved to Ward 9, and I am truly ecstatic about it. I was on-board from even before the change was official and I'm optimistic again to live in my neighbourhood.

There's not much mystery here, Gian-Carlo Carra has been my favourite councillor for years. I see him as a highly productive, highly knowledgeable member of council.  We both hosted Jane's Walks, on attending his I got a glimpse of his expertise of urban planning and I admire and respect his viewpoints. I also value his knowledge because I see my neighbourhood potentially getting hammered by redevelopment and gentrification on a level this community is not even remotely prepared for. I know of several occasions where Mr. Carra has had to deal with high conflict situations and while I don't think he's always been perfect I feel he's done a good job overall.

Councillor Carra was the second councillor I followed on Twitter (the first being Brian Pincott who found me first!) where I consider him to be interesting, helpful and a good communicator. Twitter happens to be my favourite social media venue - he can communicate where I am rather than making me come to him. Being a good communicator matters to me when we disagree on an issue. I don't want to be written off, I don't want to be spoken down to, I want to be informed about whatever information I'm missing that has convinced him. No, we don't always agree, I respect that.

We've never really had a conversation about what I want from Mr. Carra as my councillor. To me, it's an easy question: I love my neighbourhood, as dysfunctional as it can sometimes be. We have some things that need to be improved - alleys for one, an out-of-touch CA for another. I don't expect miracles, but making things better would be great. Otherwise, I very much want you to continue as councillor as before, and represent me proudly at City Council again.

Thank you for making my choice for Councillor an easy one this year.

The Full Buyer's (remorse) Experience

by Mark Zaugg 10. June 2017 12:26

I know, I'm getting really curmudgeonly lately.  I don't think this is entirely my fault.

My son's Magsafe Apple Adapter finally completed it's long, slow, death.  Wait, tangent time right now:

I love the Magsafe adapter.  I love it beyond reason.  It releases with enough of a tug that it has saved my computer from being pulled off a desk when someone trips over the cord.  It comes apart cleanly from the computer so I don't have to worry about the tip of the charger getting bent and no longer fitting into the laptop.  It's solid enough to hold when I'm typing in bed and shuffle a little one way or the other.  Apple found a great compromise with how to make it work for charging and detaching.  Then Apple did what Apple does and kept it proprietary.  No one's licensed it, you can't find a laptop that uses one that isn't a MacBook.

Then Apple did what Apple does and came out with the Magsafe 2.  Which is obviously not compatible with the original Magsafe except that you can get a Magsafe to Magsafe 2 adapter (although ghod forbid, you can not get a Magsafe 2 to Magsafe adapter which is just lunacy because no one would want one of those!)  [Sub-tangent, I think the proper naming here would be "Magsafe Power Adapter to Magsafe 2 Power Adapter adapter", but I would like at least one of you to be able to read to the end of the post.] 

Now, to be fair, there are sometimes good and compelling reasons to force upgrades and break backwards compatibility and that may be the case with the Magsafe 2 upgrade, but Apple fails full force here.  They have 45 watt, 60 watt and 85 watt options, all of which are the same size and they are definitely not equivalent.  I have used a 60 watt adapter in a MacBook Pro 15 - it'll sort of work, but it's not up to the job, it won't provide all the power you need, and you want to stick with the 85 watt option.  Meanwhile the 85 W Magsafe Adapter is compatible if you get the Adapter adapter.  Hoo boy.

I don't know for sure if Apple needed to change to the Magsafe 2, but if they can't stick with one, they definitely should provide better distinction between what is currently on offer.

THEN Apple did what Apple does and has killed the Magsafe adapter for USB-C for charging.  It makes sense -- if you're willing to throw all all the great things Magsafe had to offer for detachability.  I'm not willing to do that.  Thanks Apple.

Back to the main story, which at this point is still two sentences long.

I need one (1) 85 Watt Magsafe Adapter.  Forget ordering it online from Apple, they've purged it from their retail memories.  Clearly they can not stop making Magsafe Adapters, there are a lot of older Macbooks still being put to good use.

Okay, I'm driving the boy to band today, I happen to be going past Chinook Centre, I'll swing past the Apple Store and grab one in person.  I know what I want, it's early in the morning, I'll be quick, right?


The first point to mention is that I aggravated my left hip again this morning, so to begin with I'm walking slowly.  Naturally, I park at the wrong end of the mall and have to walk nigh the length of Chinook.  That's on me.  I'm starting off grumpy and impatient.

I find the Apple Store, walk past the gizmos and gadgets I don't much care about and head to the wall at the far end of the store that will likely hold the power adapters.  Success!  On my first go!  I am a geek, after all.  So I reach around the people blocking access to what I want, pick up the adapter I need and then...

Where the hell is a cash register?  How the hell am I supposed to pay for what I want to buy?

A woman in a green shirt cradles an iPad in front of her.  We get each other's attention and she asks if I need anything.  "Yes, how do I pay for this?" I ask.

"I'll find someone."

'Are you NOT someone?' I think to myself.  I mean, the whole idea of a greeter playing traffic cop is fine, I guess, but I tend to find the experience creepy.  The premise is the traffic cop can triage the customer's needs, direct them to an appropriate sales rep (ahem, customer service representative) and flow people through the store more efficiently.  In my experience, it feels more like an intelligence gathering operation where the iPad wielder gathers my name, email address, phone number, social insurance number, credit card information, mother's maiden name and the middle names of all my children both born and unborn.  Yes, an exaggeration, but I have literally had name, email and phone number collected at this point which is also literally creepy.  It's also really creepy when the traffic cop is collecting this info when I'm the sole customer in the store, or when there are multiple people I can actually see standing around waiting to help customers.

She gestures to one of the people who were blocking my way to the adapters in the first place and throws a "When you're done there" nudge.  Again, there are other people standing around.  I'm wondering if I had the sad misfortune of having to wait for the one person who has authorization to take payment on Magsafe adapters that day.

Did I mention my hip?  It's really starting to hurt from standing around now.  I'm shuffling around, trying to not appear too anxious while not supporting all my weight on my sore leg.

Someone walks up behind me and asks, "May I help you?"  Aww, yiss!

"I just need to pay for this."

"Did you find everything you need today?"

Now...  REALLY?  Hold on.  I'm the guy that walked (well, hobbled) into the store, walked directly to the one thing I wanted to buy, got it off the shelf and immediately looked for a way to pay for it.  This IS what I needed today.  Shut up and take my money.  I think I managed to keep it to my inside voice, but I'm sure my dirty look gave me away.

"The price will be $103.95.  Will that be okay?"

My silence was stunned.  We all know that Apple as a company is foundational to the barter society we have today.
  "Ah, the lady is a friend of Rick's?  For friends of Rick we have a small discount.  Did I say 700 francs?  You can have it for 200."
I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to talk down the price or have you throw in a new MacBook with every power adapter, so how about we just run this and get me out of here, okay?

"Is an emailed receipt good enough?"

"Uhm...  No.  I need a printed copy."  Also, it's just creepy when everyone expects to collect my email address for everything.  I get enough spam.  Stop it.

Okay, now I'm sore, I have what I need, I just want to get the unholy hell out of there, head home and soak in the tub for an hour.

Crazily enough, there's a reason behind writing this.  Apple has spent so much effort crafting the Buyer Experience that they've made an entirely craptastic experience for me, the guy that knows exactly what I want and wants to get in and out as quickly as possible.  Somehow I've fallen so far off Apple's target audience that they just don't care I exist any longer.  And I'm a geek and I'm supposed to be one of the people they rely on for positive recommendations!

That iPad traffic cop is supposed to be the person who figures out 1) I know what I'm doing, 2) I don't intend to stick around a second longer than absolutely required and 3) I won't delay a sales rep from helping someone else who actually wants the full Buyer Experience.

I thought Apple was famous for a good User Interface that was intuitive.  Not having registers or even a check out area is breaking that shopping expectation.  Some people are going to like that, I just want to get in, get what I need, and get out.  If you can't allow me to have what I want, at least do not throw up barriers seemingly at every step to keep me in the store longer than I want to be.

Next time I'll take my curmudgeonly self out of my way and go to WestWorld.

Dismiss Robin Camp now.

by Mark Zaugg 20. September 2016 20:45

"Lady Justice is an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems.  Her attributes are a blindfold, a balance and a sword... Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of money, wealth, fame, power, or identity; blind justice and impartiality."  - Wikipedia

 Lady Justice

Scales of Justice, Vancouver Law Courts. The blindfolded Lady Justice symbolizes the impartial manner in which our laws are administered: blind to all considerations but the facts


Every single person walking through every single court room in every single courthouse across the entire country deserves at the very least the expectation that upon entry into chambers that person will be treated fairly and equally to everyone else.

That expectation is not met in reality, to the detriment of our court systems and ourselves.  Privilege is not always stripped from the powerful.  Race taints the outcome of trials, leaving an entire group of people disproportionally sent to prison

Let me be clear - every single person has a stake in this.  You, the reader, may find yourself in court tomorrow.  You may be accused of a crime.  You may have even performed a crime, minor as it may be - speeding, littering, smoking less than 5 metres from a doorway.  Not everything will land you in court, but some things most certainly will.  Or maybe you haven't been caught in a crime, but you're getting divorced from your former spouse.  Or your parent passed away.  Or you were simply a witness to an event someone found noteworthy.  Or you did literally nothing

You are involved.  Every single one of us needs to care about this.  Right now it is probably only theoretical that your life and well-being are at stake.  For a few of us, this literally matters at this exact moment.  The line between being pulled into court could be as fine as a police officer's mood.

That is why everyone deserves to be treated fairly in court.

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp has demonstrated how he treats people walking through the doors of his court room

No, he has not treated everyone in the same way that he treated that one particular witness in his court room.  The premise of Lady Justice is that he will do so.

In Mr. Camp's case, treating every person in his court room sinks to the putrid depths of the lowest common denominator.  Every witness becomes "The Accused."  Everyone witness under the microscope to examine every misdeed.  Pardon me; every person present in that room is treated that way.  Not just the witnesses, but the lawyers, the police officers, the court workers, the observers, the people there for other cases -- everyone.

It is ridiculous hyperbole - no judge could treat everyone in such a way.  However if we're going to believe in the principle that every person attending court be treated equally, then no one attending court should ever have been treated in the manner that Mr. Camp did on that occasion.  These are diametrically opposing, it can not be both ways.  Without question or doubt, Mr. Camp has demonstrated how he sees fit to treat people in his court.

"He's not a misogynist, he's not a racist," said Justice McCawley in Mr. Camp's defence.  No, Ms. McCawley, his actions were misogynist and racist and unacceptable.  It does not necessarily mean that Mr. Camp treats all people, particularly yourself, in such a manner.  But the fact that he behaves in such a manner to anyone demonstrates that Mr. Camp can not be expected to treat everyone fairly and equally.

That is pure poison in a role of justice that bears the power of actual life and death.  Mr. Camp cannot be trusted to treat all persons fairly.  If you can not walk into his court house with the trust that you will be fairly heard, he can not sit on the bench.

In the case of Lori Douglas, I argued that her poor decision making and the blind denial that confidence in the court was shaken from her circumstance meant she could no longer stand as an effective judge.  I said, "No one knows better than I that bad things sometimes happen to good people."

Unlike Lori Douglas, I believe Robin Camp has definitively shown that he is not a good person.  While in a position of great power, he treated a woman shamefully.  His own shame.

Mr. Camp is fighting for his job.  We, the citizens need to be able to trust the judgement of the judges.  When a justice can not be trusted to recuse himself when he fails to understand the very law he's passing sentence on, he (or she) has no right to sit on the bench.  If Mr. Camp does not understand his actions have disqualified him to sit as a judge, his very judgment cannot be trusted.

Robin Camp is fighting to retain a job he has no right to hold.  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops.  He must be fired immediately.

Have after. To what phone will this come?

by Mark Zaugg 8. August 2016 23:57

There’s something rotten in the state of mobile phones.  It saddens me a great deal.

I’ve had yet another problem with my keyboard on my BlackBerry Q10.  The A key has given out again and the C and K keys insert 0’s when I type.

Now, you’re not going to know this by reading it, but I type relatively quickly.  By no means am I the fastest out there, but my typing speed is limited only by the speed of extruding thoughts from my brain.  Yes, that makes me about 10 words per minute.  Hardee har har.

However, when I got my Q10 you’ll remember that I was really, really thrilled with it and typed an entire blog entry on that very keyboard.  The responsiveness is fantastic.  My BlackBerry doesn’t dick around with the words I type trying to autokorrupt what I type into senseless stream of consciousness.  (Or, quite literally according to my work phone, “A senseless stream of the year and a half hours of sleep and I have to be a good day to be a good time to get a new one.”)

I can actually put two thoughts together in my head and I do not want a phone getting in the way.  Nor do I want to press glass hoping the phone can anticipate what it is I’m trying to express.  My BlackBerry stays out of my way and for the bargain I can get those thoughts out quickly and efficiently.

So I am now in a quandary.  I have to choose to pay to fix my Q10 or look towards getting a new phone.  My choices are bleak, and I’m finding it very depressing.

My first criteria is a physical keyboard.  They’re faster to type on, I’m a great speller who is not reliant upon auto-correct, and they give great physical feedback and I prefer them greatly to pushing glass.  That leaves me…  The BlackBerry Classic or the Priv.  Crap.

The Classic leaves me stuck on the Dead Horse BlackBerry 10.  By no means am I ignorant of what my beloved BB10 has on offer, but the developers have dropped it in droves and although I need very, very few apps that don’t come with my phone the ones that I do need now are quite important to me.  So I’m looking at the Priv.

It looks pretty good on the face of it and I’m impressed with the camera (although perhaps less so after reading a bunch of reviews), but I really don’t think I want to buy a slider.  I’m concerned about build quality (remember, this is my second keyboard failure in my Q10) and my concerns double with a phone that’s meant to move over it’s keyboard.  I really wish BlackBerry stuck to the Canadian persnicketiness they used to be famous for.

However, the real problem I had with the Priv is that my Thumbs of Thunder simply mashed against the edges of the slider and it was uncomfortable to type on the Priv’s keyboard.  I gave it my best shot and I really wanted to love the keyboard, but I hated it.  I hated the slider.  I hated the onscreen keyboard that just wasted space.  Can I get a physical keyboard there instead?  Please?

If I give up on the physical keyboard, I could go with the DTEK50 I guess, but I may as well go with any other phone.  My son has a Samsung S4 and seems pretty happy with it so far, so I spent nearly two hours tonight comparing the Priv against the S7 and S7 Edge.  No, sir, I am not in the market for a middling BlackBerry phone.  So I think I’m stuck in a waiting game hoping they produce something that doesn’t suck soon.

And here, in a nutshell, is the horrible situation BlackBerry has been stuck in for years now.

People who need 10,000 apps that do nothing have jumped long ago.  People who were willing to accept atrocious battery life in favour of big, shiny screens have been gone for ages.  People who don’t mind mashing glass or those that actively disdained the physical keyboard have already left the station.

But there’s a whole lot of us who are fiercely loyal to BlackBerry for the very reason that a physical keyboard is efficient and conducive to communication.  The Hub remains fantastic and a glorious point of contact with all things important to me.  Can I not get what I love with software that isn’t horrendous to use?  Apparently not.

So, Mr. Chen, we need to have a serious discussion.  I’m one of your loyalists that really wants a new BlackBerry.

I want a physical keyboard as good or better than my Bold 9900.
I want a great camera - not just a big megapixel number, the entire camera needs to be responsive and workable.
I demand my phone accept an SD card.  Size is less important to me, I can buy two cards.
I want a replaceable battery.  I shouldn’t have to take it into the shop when the battery goes bad.
I know I can’t have BB10, but I’ll settle for Android with the Hub.
And I need to know if this is coming down the pipe or not.  I have to make a decision now, damn it.

You’ll note what I’m not asking for is the cost.  Give me the great phone that I want and I will happily pay full cost.  A good BlackBerry is worth it.  Unfortunately, it seems a good BlackBerry is pretty hard to find these days.

So you want to be a Calgary Band Parent?

by Mark Zaugg 18. June 2016 22:01

Well, chances are, you may or may not want to be an actual "band parent" but maybe your child is interested.  There are a number of routes to getting here.  If you've played in a marching band while you were growing up, you'll probably already know much of what I'm talking about and this is probably not meant for you.  But if your child comes home clutching an application to join the band and you don't really know what you're in for, I want to share some of my experience over the past three years to encourage you to say, "Yes, absolutely you can join!"

A little background: I've always been musical, but I've never played in a marching band myself, so almost everything I came across was new.  Everyone who knows the Calgary Stampede knows of the Calgary Stampede Showband, but I wasn't sure of the relationship of the two or how Calgary Round Up Band or Stetson Showband fit into the mix.  I knew they were in the parade each year, and they popped up all over the place during Stampede.  I also know that musically, they're pretty good performers and you have to be talented to play with them.  Beyond that, I filled in a lot of the detail with supposition.

Going to the parent orientation meeting helped me and if you have a child remotely interested in band, attend one if you can.  A couple meetings have just wrapped up, but ask the bands if you're interested, there will probably be more over the summer.  You're going to hear glorious stories about how wonderful of an experience it is for the students, you might not hear how great it feels to be a Band Parent, too.

On commitment

Participating with a marching band is not (and should not) be for everyone.  It takes a lot of time and effort from your child and if they lose their desire to be part of it, it's completely fine to say, "That's okay, let's find something else that is for you."  As a parent, please understand you'll probably see the most apprehension over the first three months.  If it's totally not for them, you'll both recognize it quickly.  However, by the time you get to about Christmas the butterflies start settling out, you all start understanding the rhythm and flow around you, and it becomes more enjoyable and the waffling tends to go away.  In our case, I knew my son loved it once he started talking about what it would take to audition for Showband.  There has been no looking back, and I'm grateful he stuck through the early apprehension.

Practising at home

Part of commitment is the desire to become good at what you play.  My musical career ended when practice became unenjoyable rather than just playing what I loved.  I never have to tell my son to practise.  Usually I'll hum along and he'll correct me when I get a part wrong.  Or he'll stick a melody in my head and catch me whistling one of his songs while I'm washing dishes.  Playing his instrument is fun - it is play!  The people who go are interested in bands will find it within themselves to practise.  The rest of the band rallies to help everyone around them get better.  Let that encouragement come from the band, all you need as a band parent is a little patience and willingness to let them play the songs in their heart.  The squawks and screeches you loathe vanish quickly when they love what they're playing.

Flutes are pretty easy on the ears played at home.  The brass instruments can use mutes to keep it bearable in the house.  I feel a little for drumline parents who don't like constant drumming.  Personally, when I rode the bus with the drumline, I slipped into the groove and bopped along all the way home.  It can be comforting having a steady rhythm tapped out around you.  Find enjoyment in your son or daughter's practise.  Which leads to:

Instrument choice

In my case, my son had to carry his instrument up a steep hill every day so he chose something light.  Smart kid.  There is an instrument and role for every child - leave it up to them as much as possible to choose what they like.  It leads to better commitment and makes the practising easier.  Choosing an instrument might happen in school, long before you have any input.  That's a good thing!  Let your kid find something that works for them.

Rent your instrument through the school program, at least to start with.  Give your child the flexibility (and the safety) to change instruments as their interests change -- or even grows!  Multi-instrumentalists are fantastic musicians, but there's no way you can afford to buy everything up front.  When they settle on a favourite, buy one if you can.  There are some great beginner's instruments available.  Don't settle on the cheapest either, they're going to have to sound good out there.  In our case, we got a beginner's flute and we're currently saving for an upgraded model.  It's been a bargain for the amount of time he's got on it.

And most importantly, I've heard of a band member deciding to stop playing an instrument and join the Colour Guard.  You do not need to be a musician to be part of a marching band, Colour Guard is an essential role, too.  The work put into choreographing the Guard got my attention early - they work every bit as hard as the musicians into honing their craft.  The visual effect during a parade or a field show makes the difference between a good band and a great one.  My stereotype was crushed early:  Colour Guard is not for girls in goofy outfits.  They carry replica guns for good reason!  Boys in Colour Guard can massively increase the range of things Colour Guard can do.  If your son is interested, encourage him to try it!

As an aside, this post is very much inspired watching the Stampede Showband's Colour Guard come off the field beaming triumphantly after a performance, then I saw them go through 30 seconds of recovery realizing they spent every ounce of energy they had, then forming up and proudly leading the band to their muster area.  I will never think of Colour Guard as anything but gifted, graceful, talented, and elite endurance athletes.  Which leads me to:


I have always believed that everyone needs to do one sport passionately throughout their entire life.  Sometimes the sport will change, sometimes you'll do more than one or play sports seasonally, but one's physical and mental well-being requires a sport.  If you're concerned about raising a console crazed couch potato because they're not interested in sports - encourage them to join a band.  To paraphrase Matt Dunigan, "Nothing goes together better than marching bands and football!"

Marching band fully qualifies as a life sport.  Those kids are working hard, not only exercising chest and lungs but also stepping in time, sliding to one side or walking backwards - all at the same time!  They don't just walk a parade, they are walking a parade blowing full tilt into a tuba!  When's the last time you walked a couple miles?  How about doing it at a set pace, carrying something heavy, while modulating your breathing and embouchure?  (Your embouchure is basically using your face muscles to provide a good sound.)  They are all athletes.

Personal development

I touched on it a bit when I talked about practice, but much of what I've observed is the band improving by supporting other band members and a growth of the people within it.  If I told you that in just three years your 12 year old kid will turn from awkward and apprehensive to a solid, upright person who is proud of who they are and confident in their skills would you be shocked and amazed or clamouring to sign up?  All adolescents are going to grow leaps and bounds over those years, but kids in Round Up are light years ahead of the average kid.  Having been around Round Up these past three years makes me proud of each and every one of them.  They are well behaved, polite and decent people - it is my honour to know those people.

The practical

Okay, you're child's interested, you're convinced it's a good idea to give it a shot.  What are the practical things to know?

Calgary Round Up is for students Grades 7 through 9 and Stetson Showband takes students Grade 10 through 12.  Both bands will accept any student, and you can (and should!) join even if your child missed the first year of eligibility.  Stampede Showband requires auditions, and I see a lot of interest in wanting to eventually play with them.  Round Up and Stetsons each have great pages on joining the band and I'll send you there to answer your questions.  The instructors are mostly people who have been through the program and are professional and top rank musicians.  This is a Grade A, top class organization from instructors to support staff to parent volunteers.  In my experience, the board is always thinking about what's best for the band families.

Fees this year are $850 for both bands.  On top of that you'll be paying for tour and some incidentals like show tickets.  Tour varies each and every year - my recollection is Round Up tours have cost $1200 - $1500 depending on the year.  They have optional fundraisers to help defer tour costs, they have been high quality fundraisers and I usually buy plenty of burgers, Spolumbo's sausage and steaks to help me get through performance season.  The fundraisers helped me out on several levels.

Call it around $2500 that I spent last year on band.  I'm not wealthy by any stretch, so that's a significant cost to me, however the outright value behind that has been immeasurable.  Not only has it been a weekly (and towards Stampede, daily!) activity, but it's been a fantastic way to plug kids into events in and around Calgary.  Parent's don't go on tour as a rule, but the kids have gone to fantastic summer adventures where they become better musicians and fantastic people.  I think most band parents will tell you they get extraordinary value for what band costs.

Time-wise you'll have to get back and forth to practice every week.  Thursday for Round Up, Wednesdays for Stetsons.  The bands try to keep it as central as possible for parents across the city and you will learn the venues very quickly.  Most months they will hold a band camp over a weekend.  Band camps are often centrally located, but treat them all as special, weekend-long events you could potentially chaperone (more on that soon!)  You will also need to set aside time to work 7-10 Bingo's, possibly a casino, and one day during Stampede to help with Kinsmen lotteries.  If you have a flexible schedule, it's easier to pick up Bingo's on short notice.  I try to book about half my bingos early on, and half later in the year on weekends or evenings (if possible).  It has always worked out, so far.  Extended family helps a lot (and I thank them for the help!), but if you're like me, you'll find all of the Round Up community becomes an extended family in it's own right.

The performances are incredible.  Yes, there's the Calgary Stampede, but there are also parades in several towns around Calgary that are also fun and fabulous.  There is an annual Christmas concert at the Jubilee.  There are several "Field Show" competitions in and around Calgary where the bands put on a themed performance.  They're a joy, and bands compete against each other - usually as a way to test their own progression.  You'll regularly see six or seven really great bands playing one after another.  You're going to want to attend as many as you can to watch the band play.

It all takes volunteer time and effort to put the whole thing together.  You can offer as much of your time as a volunteer or chaperone as you wish.  I really enjoy being around the band and love being a parent chaperone on weekend band camps and as many performances as I can hit.  "Hell Week" occurs just before the band puts together their final performances, and the kids work incredibly hard to polish their show and make it as wonderful as possible.  The final opportunity of the year is to chaperone on tour.  I haven't made it yet, but I know a bit about how much work and fun those tours are by the photos and the stories.  Show your kid how proud you are, go volunteer and make it possible for them to be part of a magnificent band.

My son is moving up from Round Up to Stetsons this year.  Ultimately, this is a thank you letter to everyone involved with the Calgary Round Up Band for the incredible program they've put together.  I sincerely hope that I can encourage other parents to let their kids enroll and be part of something historic in Calgary, current in song and style, and one of the best things imaginable for your child's future.

Let them try it.  It'll be magically for them and you.

Join the band.

To Gordie and the Hip, with deepest love.

by Mark Zaugg 4. June 2016 19:58

Gord Downie will almost certainly never read this, but if he does, what I’d most like to say to him is this:

Gordie, baby, I know exactly what you mean.

Well, in fact I don’t and never really did.  But I’d love to tell you something special and precious and as dear to my heart as I can possibly get.  For years I have heard people discussing what “New Orleans is Sinking” really meant.  Mr. Downie (forever “Gordie” to me, although we’ve never met) I need to tell you what it meant to me.  Not want, this is a need.

In the early 90’s I was just out of university, typically underemployed, working extremely hard, and struggling to find a way to a career that would sustain myself and my fledgling family.  I was working in crop research not too far from where the Great Plains ended, and there was never a day me and my crew didn’t go out into the field without the Hip keeping us company.  There were the radio hits, and the songs off the albums that meant just as much to each of us.  For me there was especially Bobcaygeon, Thompson Girl, Wheat Kings and Fifty Mission Cap which was the first song I sang to both my kids.  But there was particularly a song so powerful and so special to me that it changed my entire life.

My memory is muddled, what’s this river that I’m in?

I was 32.  I had a two year old daughter and an unborn son on the way.  I was not in a happy place for a guy that wanted nothing more than to be a Dad and a family man.  New Orleans is Sinking took a very special place in my life.  One day, my ex-wife happened across me out of context just as I was singing, “Hey North, you’re south / Shut your big mouth” and shot me the foulest dirty look I ever got in my life.

The joke’s on her.  I wasn’t telling her to shut up.  "Now Orleans is Sinking” was a metaphor for my marriage to me.  It was going down, and I really didn’t want to go down with it.  As my world eroded around me, one of the very basic things that kept me going through literally one of the very darkest moments of my life was the realization that as my marriage / New Orleans sank, I didn’t have to swim it out.  I could, and did, take another route through life.  It hurt, it sucked at times - and still does on several levels - but I tried as hard as I could to be true to myself.


“Ain’t got no picture postcards, ain’t got no souvenirs,
My baby she don’t know me when I’m thinking ‘bout those years.”

More than just stuff, I left behind a whole lot of hopes and dreams in that time.  And I’ve accepted that no one is going to even care about it beside me, so I need to stop caring and move on.  No bullshit, this is a man alive because of words you crammed together.  More than just alive, I’m trying to make my corner of the world a hell of a lot better than the New Orleans-in-my-mind that I left behind.  Not to be confused with the real New Orleans which is definitely on my list of places to visit.  I’ll pay my dearest tributes to you once I get there.

Today I’m in a much better place.  If you will, my hands are in the river and my feet up on the banks.  I’m feeling pretty good.  Good enough to scream.  That’s okay by me.

I’m definitely sad I won’t see you play live.  I won’t go knowing some profiteering fuckbot scalper took advantage of us.  Gordie, please understand that my heart’s there.  My heart will be working backstage and doing all it can to ensure you and the boys put on the best show of your lives.  I would do almost anything to be there live.  But not that.

I don’t swear much on this blog, but fuck the scalpers.  Fuck Ticketmaster for their shitty process.  Fuck the unadulterated greed.

Please Gordie, you make sure you and the boys put on the show of our lives.  Let’s get the last one televised.  And I swear to ghod, I won’t be there in person, but I’ll be there in spirit to say thanks for everything you’ve given me.  You know you mean the world to Canadians.  You mean my very life to me.  Rock on.

A long road trip for a short view of an old piece of sheep skin.

by Mark Zaugg 27. December 2015 08:42

Today after my son and I woke up, we packed ourselves into the car and headed on a three hour drive north of here to visit Edmonton.  A copy of Magna Carta is on display for the 800th Anniversary of its first signing.

Magna Carta means “the Great Charter”.  It’s sometimes oversold and sometimes undersold in terms of it’s historical meaning.  It is not, as sometimes told, the foundation of all of English Law.  Most of the provisions have been repealed or diminished in importance.  However there are four incredibly importance principles that trace directly back to Magna Carta.

First, no one, not even the King, is above the law of the land.  Every single person in the land deserves equal treatment under the law.  Always and without exception.

Second is the principle of habeas corpus - the principal that one’s self should not be held without charge. 

Trial by a jury of one’s peers was established and is still held today.

And a woman could not be forced to marry against her will, forcing her to cede her property, one of the earliest examples of women's rights.

It was not a magic document that made life better for all people.  But it is a document that is foundational to building our current law.  Unquestionably we, as citizens, draw benefit today.  No one can properly claim immunity to the law.  No monarch, prime minister or president can abrogate a law at their  whim.  There are rules by which we change our very rules, and Magna Carta is one of the earliest of documents to establish those rules in writing.

Habeas corpus is still debated, as recently as the G20 protests in Toronto or with respect to prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay.  On the whole, in Canada one is not hauled to prison without charges laid in a timely manner and the courts, although grindingly slow at times, at least make attempt at a speedy trial.

Trial by jury remains today.  Juries remain imperfect, sometimes rendering incorrect or skewed verdicts.  But all in all, I believe a jury trial remains a proper and beneficial tool in our justice system.

The life of a woman did not instantly change and become a life of equity and abundance in 1215, and our society continues to struggle with equality in gender balance.

So…  WHY?

Why travel three hours to see an ancient text written in Latin that I could not even read?

If you value even some of the above values, you have Magna Carta to thank.  Should you be aggrieved by bad law, you should remember Magna Carta and consider that binding every citizen under the law will survive bad kings and rulers - in this case for 800 years.  Bad laws will be overturned and together we as citizens will forge a better future for ourselves.  Every citizen in every country that holds credence to Magna Carta derives some of their freedom to a group of English Barons forcing King John to accept an unpalatable agreement.  This is not a document derived from a Kumbaya moment, this is literally the peace and freedoms won from war.  When Canadians talk about defending freedom and liberty in war, this is precisely the earliest of the agreements we talk about.

Your life as it is stems directly and indirectly from a parchment signed 800 years ago.  If that is not compelling, I don’t know what could convince you.

Secondly, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a copy of this magnificent document.  The truth: I’ve had two opportunities in my life.  In the late 1980’s a copy of Magna Carta was displayed at the Nickel Museum at the University of Calgary and I missed it.  I have regretted it ever since.  I was determined to not miss this opportunity.  Even better because I was able to take my son and I’m sure it had a positive impression on him.

Go if you can, and go quickly because it will not be here much longer.  It is at the Federal Building on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature until December 29, 2015.  If you can make it in the next two days, seriously go.

You may face a line up to get into the hall.  It’s worth the wait.  We were in line about 30 minutes, the line was somewhat longer by the time we left.  I salute each and every person waiting.  I saw a true assortment of every Canadian in that line today, and every being there deserved the equal treatment meted out from Magna Carta.  Only 50 people are allowed in the theatre in order to keep temperature and humidity proper for the parchment.  You will enter and circle clockwise, seeing a display explaining the times and circumstance when the charter was signed.  I knew the story, I just wanted to see the parchment itself.  Don’t touch the cases, don’t take photographs, just go to enjoy being bathed in history.

First you’ll come across the Charter of the Forest - in it’s own right a document probably as practical if not moreso than Magna Carta.  You’ll see Magna Carta to your right, but we held off and circulated.  The next section speaks to your values and invites you to consider which are most important to you.  Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest are ultimately about values that bind us all.  Take a moment to reflect on what bridges 800 years. 

The translations are posted, but I have already read it (and planned to purchase a translated print) and there was an opening at the case showing Magna Carta, so my son pulled me towards it and I admired the script.  It remains ancient and beautiful, with significance even today.  There and then, my eyes took in 800 years of justice and core values of our society.

It was so worth the trip.

A few notes:  There are many existing copies of Magna Carta.  The one I observed today was from Durham Cathedral.  This copy was made in 1300 and is beautiful in it’s own right.  My humblest and deepest gratitude to Durham Cathedral for allowing us this great honour.  May I see it again in situ.

Lastly, if you are one of my British friends reading this, if you have never taken the time to visit a copy, please do so.  Magna Carta is a treasure beyond value and a gift to mankind and deserves to be honoured as such.

As a bonus: The Legislature looked beautiful today under a cloudy sky.