Tara Westlake

A guy in his mid thirties started work as a bus operator in my workplace about 2 years ago. He is such a professional that out of the 50 or so new hires, he became “Rookie of the year”. That speaks to his character as there is tremendous pressure on these new people.

At the award dinner I sat with the rookie and learned that his wife had breast cancer and was fighting for her life. He did not have benefits and was paying out of pocket for these expenses. His name is Jacob and it’s a pretty significant achievement to start a new career, excel at this career, raise 2 kids and support your spouse as she fights for her life.

Well, she beat the cancer into remission and life carried on for the young family. Recently the cancer has come back and it has spread through this mother of 2 high school aged kids like wildfire. The prognosis is that the cancer is terminal.

Jake wants to be with his wife as much as possible in the short time they have left. He is obviously distracted at work and worries about mistakes. Honestly, if it was me, I would be a basket case. Please, if you have the means, make a donation to help this young family as their wife/mother is ripped from them by this horrible disease. Every little bit helps! http://www.gofundme.com/bup0tk?pc=tw_f_m

Blast from the past

One of my co-workers is best friends with one of my cousins. Yesterday we went out to visit my co-worker and my cousin was there. We have not remained close over the years and it was interesting to see where she is now. This was the first time I had seen her in over 7 years and the time before that was even more.

My past was very troubled as a child growing up and I have scars which I will bear for the rest of my life, both physical and emotional. It is the emotional ones that are the hardest to deal with. When looking at my own past, I cannot help but see the ways that it is tied to my other family members. I am not going to get into all the details of her past, as that is not my right. All I am going to say is, nobody would have judged her if she had curled up in a ball and become a drug addict or committed suicide. Her struggles are far worse then I could imagine.

Well it seems like us French Canadians are a pretty tough bunch. Despite my past I am an active member in my workplace and an outspoken social activist. My cousin has a good job and leads a productive life. It seems that members of my extended family go one of two ways after surviving to adulthood. They either become alcoholics or workaholics. I became the latter in an attempt to break from my past.

In the 1950′s in northern Ontario, being a French person meant that you would never really be anything beyond a general labourer. It was and is a form of racism that exists in a primarily English speaking country. My dad ran from the French and would not even teach us the language. I picked some up by osmosis being around my grandparents and other family. This type of closed off culture also leads to secrets. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a horrible man. A raging alcoholic that abused his ten children for entertainment purposes. My father attended his father’s funeral to see him dead. He left a legacy of damage that has trickled down through the generations.

Today I feel depressed. Thinking about my childhood almost always does that to me. I will be ok, but I am sad that I never really had a childhood. I suffer from PTSD and seeing somebody that really knows me and where I came from triggers me. I have no mask of normalcy with my cousin. She knows the reality, as I know hers. She can see me and the scars. She knows what caused them at least in part. Neither of us know the whole story, but we both know enough to be uneasy. She has now met my son and partner. I have met her partner. We were vulnerable and for abuse survivors, it is hard to be vulnerable. My family is very large, but none of us know each other. It saddens me to think what could have been without the substance abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse that happened in my past, but then I realize that I am the person that I am in part, due to the events that have forged me. I am proud of what I have accomplished and hope to accomplish.

To The Senate Committee on Bill S-221

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Yesterday I was in our nation’s Capitol, Ottawa. It was for business, not pleasure but I still had fun. As I have previously posted, transit violence is an ongoing issue. Our brothers and sisters in British Columbia have a serious, driver assault every 2.5 days on average. That is worse than in Waterloo Region, but even 1 driver attack is too much. These are just the reported assaults.

Bill S-221, spearheaded by Sen. Bob Runciman is a bill that would have the laws change so that any assault on a transit vehicle operator would be an Aggravated offense thus, carrying a much stiffer penalty. The Bill proposes that all transit operators be defined as anybody operating a public vehicle. Therefore, it would include Taxi, bus, school bus, trolly, steetcar, ferry, train or subway.

This would be such a victory to those of us in the industry and the general public as well. When a transit driver is attacked while driving a 20-40 tonne vehicle, the passengers onboard, other motorists, pedestrians and anybody else in the vicinity is at risk. This Bill would make the penalties much harsher for those that choose to violate the law. If it passes, it would be a huge victory for the safety of our public vehicle operators.

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This bill passed unopposed through the first 2 readings and a small group of us were in Ottawa to lobby support and testify at the Senate Committee hearing. We spoke with Senators and Members of Parliament with all 3 major parties being represented. The Bill has been fast tracked and there is a good chance that it will be in The House of Commons by the fall.

I said to my friends and family that this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” but I would like to amend that statement.  I am hoping this was a first in a lifetime experience.

Transit violence

Transit violence is a real and ongoing concern for our transit operators. In my own workplace the union fought for transit bans. If a passenger assaults a driver, they can be banned for a time.

Big deal! A transit ban? Unfortunately the police have seldom taken transit assaults seriously and rarely charge the offenders. The police and employer seem to think that getting threatened, spit on, sworn at and hit are just part of the job. Our operators just need thicker skin.

Well I disagree with this mentality and so did the Ministry of Labour. Our people fought for transit bans, but what good is a ban when the driver doesn’t know what they look like.

We came up with the idea of a banning book. I’m sure all of you have seen pictures posted somewhere in businesses that say “bad cheque” and have a photo. This is what we wanted. This is what we got:

John Doe male 24
5′ 8″
Caucasian
Shoulder length brown hair
Blue eyes

Great, so as the guy is beating the driver up, they can check his eye colour? What a joke! We had the Ministry back in. Well privacy laws in Canada are such that your right to privacy may trump my right to not be assaulted. How wrong is that?

The Ministry agreed and we now have a banning book with photos. It is kept in a secure location and can be viewed in the presence of a supervisor or security staff.

This issue is important to me for a number of reasons which I will explain. I carried a passenger that had been banned. I picked him up and had no idea. He had assaulted ticket staff. He swore at me when I picked him up and when his groceries fell off the seat, he threatened me with bodily harm. He was the only person on the bus at the time. I learned subsequently that he suffered from mental illness but often did not take his medication. I had no idea what I was getting into.

We had a driver that was very witty, but also quite sarcastic. I am not sure what was said, but a passenger beat this person with the edge of a cell phone. His injuries were quite severe to his face and eye socket.

We have had weapons on the bus and drivers assaulted do to race. It is not acceptable in any way. Now the police are called in all violent situations, but the laws are not very strong. Next week I hope to participate in a change to the laws. I will write more about that later!

Campaign aftermath

I’ve been too busy to post. I worked in an election campaign in 2012. This one was very different being province wide. I canvassed thousands of homes and that is not an exaggeration. I found out that I am actually quite good at talking to people about their issues. I think I see more politics in my future, but maybe as a candidate.

I have much to say and share, but today we begin cleaning up the hundreds of signs and closing the campaign office. I got to sleep in after the victory party. Yes my candidate was victorious.

I walked a crazy amount of kilometers, my feet cracked open and I got tanned. We never got rained on at all. I got to meet my fellow citizens because I live in the riding we were fighting for. Most people were great, but there was a few slammed doors. These things happen. I am more driven and inspired than at any other time in my life thus far.

The candidate I worked for said something in her speech that moved me greatly. “We can return politics to an honorable profession!” That is my belief as well.

Election time

I live in Ontario and we have a provincial election coming up June 12. This is to elect the Premier of our province. It’s sort of like the governor for those in the US and other jurisdictions.

The one guy is named Tim Hudak and he has modeled himself after the Tea Baggers in the States. He is bad news for Ontario. He is bad news for anti austerity. He is bad news for unions. He will have us all working for Walmart wages in no time while the 1% gets richer and richer.

I have the unique opportunity to work for a candidate that I fully support for 3 weeks of this campaign. I am honored and excited to fully throw my support behind this candidate. I have passion and skills that I will use to sway as much of the vote as possible.

I will try to blog from time to time about this process. I love to see democracy in action. It’s exciting that somebody like myself is getting a chance to participate. I was involved in a by-election before, but this will be bigger. It is a very good warm up for the Federal elections which will be coming soon as well.

If you live in Ontario, educate yourself. Learn about your candidates. Most important: cast your vote. Voting is a privilege we fought for! If you are so inclined, consider casting your vote for the NDP candidate in your riding!

Mother’s Day reminds me of what my mom did for me

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This is my second Mother’s day without my mom. She was taken by gastric cancer at the age of 57. It still hurts everyday. She never got a chance to see where I am today; she would have been so proud.

My mom taught me to fight for what I believe in. She always encouraged me to stick to my beliefs if I thought they were right. She scolded me for being a “follower”. She did not know that she was planting seeds that would make me into the activist I am today.

I speak out for what I believe mom. I fight against abuse. I fight for safety in the workplace. I support political candidates I believe in, not just with my vote, but by going door to door to spread the message. I don’t follow others; I show leadership, solidarity and empathy to my fellow workers. I have become what I am today by sticking to my beliefs. You taught me to stand up to injustice and I am making it my career.

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When you died, I was already an activist in health and safety. The death I saw in the workplace and almost losing my right index finger enraged me. The fatality and my own injury were both totally preventable. The supervisor that died never got to go home and see his kids. I spent over a month after surgery not being able to hold mine. Mom, I fight for safer workplaces now! I even became an instructor so I can teach others. I won’t ever back down.

A few short months after you died, I was elected Local Chairperson of my union local. I am paid to fight for my brothers and sisters! I support change in the Canadian Labour movement. I get to bargain on behalf of all the workers in my workplace, but the political activism benefits all Canadians.

We still have so far to go mom. Harper is still Prime Minister and is selling our country’s resources to foreign investors. Hundreds of people still die in the workplace every year. Many people still get paid welfare wages while the owners of the companies reap all the benefits. I will never back down from the fight for a living wage.

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Today is a glorious spring day! I am going to take the dogs on a hike in a place you and dad showed me many years ago. I wish you could come with me. I am sorry for being such a headstrong and difficult child. I did learn it from you though and it is what defines us as people. I did not always know how to show you I loved you and respected you, but I did. You created the person I am and I am proud you were and will always be my mom.