Islanders show and tell their pandemic home improvements
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Can Islanders and Atlantic Canadians take a victory lap in the coronavirus war?
It’s been 10 months since the coronavirus pandemic hit our shores and life hasn’t been the same since.
But with the dawn of a new year things are looking up in Prince Edward Island.
Unlike most of the rest of the world we have thoroughly thrashed COVID-19. Every time it has threatened to flare up, we have snuffed out the sparks.
At the time of this writing (Dec. 30) PEI had six active cases and less than a hundred total cases since March. We never had a curve to crush. It never got that bad.
Meanwhile, cases are soaring across the country, especially in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, where new records are being set on a weekly basis. So far more than 15,000 Canadians have died and 570,000 plus have become infected.
Yet, here in PEI our rate of infection per million is among the lowest in North America, with only three other Atlantic provinces and Yukon and the Northwest Territories having lower rates.
We, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have done this for 10 months now. It isn’t a fluke – it’s good management and inspired leadership from our health and provincial leaders, especially PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr Heather Morrison.
Sure, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and China have had lower overall rates of infection but all of those countries have also had COVID-19 deaths. PEI, as of Dec 30, had not recorded a single hospitalization.
How bad could it have been? The PEI government’s pandemic plan, released in 2006, had this to say about a potential flu pandemic: “The number of deaths in a six-to-eight-week wave is estimated to be similar to that which typically occurs over six months in a non-pandemic period. As in the health care system, demands on funeral industry services will increase at the same time as their workforce is reduced due to illness or caregiving responsibilities. A mass fatality plan for a pandemic will be established to deal with the predicted increase in deaths.”
The plan anticipated 140 to 200 deaths, 600 hospitalizations, 26,000 people with symptoms severe enough to require a visit to an emergency department and about 40,000 people with symptoms severe enough to keep them home from work for a minimum of half a day.
Again, that didn’t happen and with two vaccines approved and in the process of deployment across Canada and others on the way it is likely we will never see that grim scenario unfold.
If you want to know how truly horrible things could have turned out if the province and the Atlantic Region hadn’t closed borders, imposed two-week quarantines for out-of-province visitors, issued mask mandates, stressed social distancing and introduced ‘circuit breakers’ to shut down businesses, schools and public offices during an outbreak, have a glimpse at neighbouring Maine’s numbers. On this day, Dec 30, Maine, with a population a million less than Atlantic Canada’s 2.4 million population, had 11,839 active cases, compared to less than 90 for Atlantic Canada, 344 deaths, compared to 77 in Atlantic Canada and 23,499 total cases, compared to 2,560 in Atlantic Canada. Maine’s rate of infection, per million people, is of course much higher, 273.8. The rate for PEI (Dec 30) is 4.5, with Nova Scotia’s rate 3.8, and New Brunswick’s even lower at 2.0. Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest rate (outside of the Northwest Territories) at a miniscule 1.6.
And guess what? Maine has one of the lowest infection rates in America.
Is it too early to take a victory lap? Perhaps, but with more than 1,500 Islanders vaccinated before the end of the year and the vaccine rollout bound to accelerate, I’d say we can safely take a half lap. Come summer I think it’s possible to have the Christmas everyone wanted on Dec 25. All we have to do is mask up, practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently and roll up our sleeves when our turn comes.
Princetown Road man wins quilt just in time for Christmas
A Princetown Road man will be sleeping extra warm this Christmas, thanks to a beautiful handmade quilt he won in a draw organized by the Stanley Bridge Memorial Society (SBMS). Claude Gallant, left, was presented with a quilt valued at $450 on Dec 23 at the North Granville home of Clayton Smith, on right in photo. Clayton is the SBMS president. Money raised from the sale of tickets on the quilt, made by Kensington woman Nancy Foster, with the help of another Kensington woman, Lois McLeod, will help pay operational expenses at the Stanley Bridge Heritage Centre. The SBMS would like to thank Mr Gallant for his very generous donation, made the very same day.
Christmas Craft Fair lights up Stanley Bridge
Photos by Jim Brown
A fixture of the Christmas shopping season has returned to Stanley Bridge, with a few changes to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Shoppers and vendors alike practiced physical distancing and wore masks at the community’s annual Christmas Craft Fair on Nov 28.
But the Christmas spirit still shone through and the parking lot behind the Sterling Women’s Institute was filled with cars for much of the morning. Dozens of business operators were on hand to help visitors find that perfect gift to place under a tree or in a sock.
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A sweet addition for Stanley Bridge
Chocolate shop near roundabout open for business
By Jim Brown
Something delicious has come to Stanley Bridge.
Sisters Jane Woodley and Sue Humby are the owners of Jane and Sue Chocolate on 4880 St. Mary’s Road, near the roundabout.
The sisters create hand-made artisan fine chocolate and confections using local and organic ingredients whenever possible.
They held their soft launch on Nov 5, after it took much longer than they had expected to open. Jane and Sue were delayed for several months by planning hurdles and then the pandemic.
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“I thought we were going to be across the street (at another house) but we couldn’t get the zoning done. They (Province) sat on the file for four months in Summerside,” said Jane, with a laugh. “We kept getting an extension on the closing…in the meantime, they (homeowner) got another offer on the property and we couldn’t extend the closing.” The bottom line was they couldn’t close the deal on their original house because of the drawn-out process but were fortunate to find their current home.
The two sisters have close roots in the area, having lived in South Granville.
“We like this area, and it’s close to Cavendish for the summer months, which is nice, and it gave us the production space we needed,” said Sue.
Jane and Sue’s chocolate shop is open year-round, Wednesday to Saturday, 11 am to 4 pm and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 pm.
The fearless chocolatiers joked they know they will be successful in their new location when they can afford to pay themselves a wage.
The two had hoped to have their unique Belgian chocolate offerings, cupcakes and cheesecake available by the summer. Instead, they’ve had to be very patient as the months drifted by.
“Terror” mingled with “excitement” is how Jane described her thoughts on the decision to finally open their doors.
The two entrepreneurs, who also own the Simply Splendid chocolate business in Summerside, get their Belgian chocolate supplies from a Montreal supplier, who imports them from Belgium.
They have a commercial scale kitchen in the house to make their unique chocolate products.
Things are looking good so far with very enthusiastic responses on Facebook from older and newer supporters. Many of their current customers come from all over the Island.
In a Facebook post Jane and Sue wrote of their fledgling Stanley Bridge shop:
“We love this beautiful island…The support for our little business and the sense of community we have continues to amaze us both.”
Lobster take out lunch a smashing success
By Jim Brown
The lineup started forming even before the doors opened at the Stanley Bridge Heritage Centre at 11 am on Oct 24. The Stanley Bridge Memorial Society’s first lobster lunch was a sell-out, with demand so great more tickets had to be printed. Initially volunteers were given 315 tickets, at $25 each, to sell. Dozens more were sold after a pitch on the local CBC. Many of those additional tickets were sold to lobster lovers living in Summerside and Charlottetown.
The building’s parking lot was filled for much of the morning and afternoon and lobster meals prepared by Chef Chris Nicholson were still being picked up after the closing time of 1 pm.
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The Stanley Bridge Memorial Society, which organized the fundraiser to help cover renovations and ongoing bills, wishes to thank everyone who participated in the bash, by volunteering and by purchasing tickets. The support was greatly appreciated.
A Cavendish tourist operator’s pandemic survival journey
By Sandi Lowther, Fairways Cottages, Cavendish
Is there anything good to come from living through a pandemic?
We want to share some of our positive experiences running a tourism accommodation business in a climate of immense uncertainty, fear and sadness, which began more than five months ago.
The date standing out the most was April 28, when the PEI government announced our borders would remain closed for the foreseeable future. Despite actively participating in numerous industry-only and industry-government Zoom meetings we were completely caught off-guard with this announcement.
On this date and for the next 72 hours we were absolutely inundated with cancellation calls. Eighty per cent of our confirmed guests cancelled and it was even worse with our spring golfers – a 100 per cent cancellation rate. During those three days when we felt completely overwhelmed, our company’s focus was to serve our customers’ needs and attempt to remain calm, fluid and flexible.
We immediately waived all of our cancellation and reservation change policies, ensuring our guests’ needs were our key priority. Within 24 hours following the announcement we developed three new inventory management systems and worked closely with our valued business-to-business golf course partners and their inventory management systems.
You may now be wondering where is the positive in all this?
We knew there were no ‘playbooks’ designed to guide our province and tourism operators through a pandemic
In the face of this growing despair we simply knew there were no ‘playbooks’ designed to guide our province and tourism operators through a pandemic. Not a single government individual, agency or country was to blame. We were living in a serious pandemic environment and our only collective responsibility was to ensure the safety, care and well-being, not just of Islanders, but of those travelers absolutely in love with our Island.
A couple of days following the April 28 announcement we were attending another industry Zoom meeting. It was during this meeting we were informed cottage resort properties were deemed essential and we had an opportunity to serve Islanders in need of self-isolation and/or staycations. Our focus quickly shifted to ‘do we or don’t we’ open our business? Despite immense uncertainty, our collective management decision was ‘yes, we open our business.’
This shift in mindset took us from “woe is me” to a “let’s care for others” approach. This decision-making process required us to immediately reach out to our many vendors asking for relief, as we anticipated our fixed business costs would probably not be offset by future revenue potential. We were humbled by the immediate support we received from our industry business colleagues such as Eastlink, Simmons Canada, Play Pal Canada, and so on – to waive our company’s contractual obligations and to work with us to help us be as successful as possible.
During this company-planning phase our provincial and federal government colleagues were also developing support programs to assist business owners’ ability to survive over both the short and long term. Not only did this support involve program funding; it also came in the form of emotional support, demonstrating immense compassion and understanding. We were forever grateful for the numerous calls our government colleagues accepted. Their individual support talking us through the many difficult decisions such as, but not limited, to the development of a new Covid-19 operational plan, was most sincerely appreciated.
Our next step prior to opening our doors was a meeting with our staff. It was absolutely imperative they were comfortable working in a pandemic environment. Their safety and comfort was, without question, our No. 1 priority. We incorporated all of their comments and concerns into our new COVID-19 operational plan. Their input was invaluable. If they were safe, we knew our guests would be safe.
The planning was complete and we set Friday, May 15 as our soft opening date. At this stage so many unanswered questions ran through our minds. Would people actually want to stay? Would our on-Island marketing message be well received? Would we be able to deliver on our promised new Covid-19 operational plan and would our guests feel safe? Would we be in a position to exceed our customers’ expectations? So many questions to answer.
To say we were humbled with Islanders’ support would be a deep understatement
To say we were humbled with Islanders’ support would be a deep understatement. While our May and June room night sales were down by 75 per cent over last season, we still had an opportunity to serve and care for others during these two months. Islanders trusted us to keep them safe, to provide them a respite from pandemic fears, an opportunity to laugh and play, and finally, to leave them with happy memories during this most difficult time.
Thank you, Islander staycationers. We are forever grateful for your support.
To date, there has not been a single week on our property where we have not enjoyed support from Islanders booking units. We are simply blown away with this level of support. A word we keep overusing is “humbling,” but it truly is the only word that best describes how we feel.
We are now entering the last six weeks of our operating year. It is September and we can finally reflect and share our experience from the July and August peak-operating season, while we continue to develop our strategy for the fall shoulder season.
The phones were so busy extra staff were called to assist with the reservation demand
It was during our own Island Mill River Resort Stay and Play Staycation when the Atlantic Canada travel bubble was announced. We were actually in the Pro Shop preparing for our golf game when we received word. After the game we called our office to determine Atlantic Canadians’ reaction to the announcement. To our surprise we were informed the phones were so busy extra staff were called to assist with the reservation demand. This level of demand continued throughout the peak-operating season, and it appears Atlantic Canadians’ adult travel demand will continue throughout the fall.
Our company has received much required provincial and federal government funding support. Should the Atlantic Canadian border continue to stay open and barring another hurricane hit, our company’s financial contribution to the provincial and federal government will far surpass the much-appreciated government financial aid we received, which we consider a major achievement.
While our operating numbers may be down a forecasted 30 to 35 percent from previous years, with the highest number of visitations taking place this past July and August, these results far surpassed our early predictions.
We wish to express a sincere thank you to our Atlantic Canadian travel friends and neighbours, our Island friends, family and neighbours, our valued staff for their dedication and exemplary customer service standards, our business vendors and our provincial and federal government colleagues.
Our greatest pandemic takeaway will be how strong we are when we openly communicate and work together.
We knew from early research that during this pandemic rural cottage operations and vacation homes would be the traveler’s accommodation of choice. We also know not every business will experience a success story. Other businesses were not as fortunate, through no fault of their own, and will require ongoing support from government programs.
Island tourism entrepreneurs take great pride in the tax support they provide to our province. These tourism-generated dollars build roads and schools, hire teachers and health care workers and support our higher-learning institutions and more.
As Islanders, we are truly blessed. We have not experienced any loss of life from this horrible virus. There haven’t been any Covid-19 cases within the Atlantic Canada travel bubble. Not every region in our country or world can report the same.
Our hearts are with all the families worldwide who have lost a loved one or whose health has suffered from this awful virus. It is important we continue to remember and honour their lives with love and most important, a committed effort to ease future suffering. #strongertogether
Seeking a brighter future in the Resort Municipality while a pandemic rages
The building blocks for a new strategic plan are being lifted into position for the Resort Municipality of Cavendish, even as a COVID-19 pall descends over much of the world.
Reading through the 70-plus pages of the draft strategic plan (which will be discussed at a public meeting on Aug 18, from 6-8 pm at the North Rustico Lion’s Club) I was immediately struck by how dated much of it seemed, given all that has happened over the past six months.
The pandemic has changed migration and tourism patterns. Even if a vaccine is discovered tomorrow that is effective and safe the world will not return to what it was for a long time, if ever, and neither will the Resort Municipality.
Air travel has collapsed by more than 90 per cent and several airlines are close to folding. Cruise ships, which disgorged tens of thousands of visitors to PEI’s shores over the past several years, are unlikely to return. They have been exposed as floating petri dishes of infection and death.
Tourist operators in the Resort Municipality and much of PEI were lucky to get 30 per cent of last year’s bookings. Imagine how dire things would have been without the Atlantic bubble?
Against this grim backdrop comes a strategic plan for the Resort Municipality and its 328 permanent residents, a plan that looks 20 years into a future that was once predictable and for which all previous bets are now off.
We can no longer count on continued growth in tourism and in aquaculture to protect and improve our quality of life. We need to learn to live in a world with shrinking horizons.
Here are some of the close to 30 recommendations, to be implemented over the short, medium and long term. A great deal of these goals are practical and achievable, but some will have to be revisited.
- Encourage a variety of housing options.
- Support energy independence.
- Review waterways and aquaculture regulations.
- Re-examine recreational vehicle regulations
- Encourage home businesses.
- Improve cycling conditions within the municipality.
- Improve cycling connections to nearby trails and destinations.
- Prioritize the provision of healthcare and social services.
- Protect and enhance shoreline access.
- Co-ordinate an extended tourism season.
- Protect municipal land from flooding and erosion.
- Encourage the protection of agricultural land.
- Foster community involvement.
- Encourage economic diversity.
- Work with all levels of government to expand rural internet.
- Explore areas for an off-leash dog park.
One area that desperately needs to be addressed is health care delivery in the region. From the draft strategic plan: “Access to health and emergency services is…of particular concern, and with no ambulance stationed in the area residents worry about safety during peak tourist season.”
A pandemic certainly shouldn’t get in the way of boosting active transportation opportunities, such as cycling.
According to the draft strategic plan, “Current cycling opportunities are limited to those along the Route 6 paved shoulder and within the (PEI) National Park. The local boardwalk system serves as a wooden sidewalk, though access is only provided on one side of the road and they are not maintained in the winter…safety and inconsistent infrastructure are a concern along Routes 6 and 13.”
And it’s right that the Resort Municipality’s planners are looking at the on-rushing catastrophe that is climate change, which could raise local sea levels by as much as a metre by 2100.
But do we need to be thinking about building infrastructure and accommodations to support hundreds of thousands of visitors?
Do we need more cottage developments when tourism has fallen off sharply? Perhaps we should consider narrowing the focus for the foreseeable future to staycations and the Atlantic bubble.
The impact of the coronavirus has been incorporated into the draft plan, with its writers admitting projections could be thrown off.
“Restricted travel and a national recession effectively cancelled tourism seasons across the world, and put heightened pressure on agriculture and food production…With an economy built on tourism, businesses within the Resort Municipality were particularly hard-hit. At the time of this plan’s writing, the duration and full extent of the impacts are still unknown.
“While the COVID-19 crisis will eventually pass, it has highlighted vulnerabilities within communities and economies. In planning for the future, the key question then is, “how can we establish systems, services, and businesses that can weather major disruptions?”
PEI’s outstanding success keeping the coronavirus from getting a beach-head here could make our province a desired destination for people around the world seeking a sanctuary from this and future pandemics. Housing prices have held steady or even increased since March when global economies were shut down everywhere. On many days Canada has less than 10 coronavirus deaths compared to several hundred and more recently as many as 1,500 a day in the US.
Our schools are opening on the Island and the same can’t be said in much of the United States or many countries around the world.
Perhaps we need a shift in thinking to consider what a growing influx of permanent residents from around the country and the world could mean to our Island life.
We need more white elephants in the age of the pandemic
Story and photos by Jim Brown
It’s truly astonishing how a global pandemic will free up tax dollars for white elephants.
Two new arenas, in North Rustico and Tyne Valley (replacing a building lost to fire), both costing upwards of $10 million, have been announced in the blazing heat of early July. All three levels of government are sharing the cost.
In the case of North Rustico the new arena will replace the 50-year-old North Star Arena. The new arena will feature an Olympic sized rink surface in a community with a population of barely 600 souls, according to the 2016 census. There are, of course, hundreds of other potential users from neighboring communities, but it still doesn’t seem like enough people to make this ambitious project practical.
But what if there is something else we can take from this? What if, instead of criticizing governments for this huge cash outlay on two small communities, we instead look at what the investment represents – a return to some semblance of normalcy.
What price do we place on restoring Canadians’ faith in our institutions and our resilience in the face of a darkening shadow that is engulfing the civilized world?
Twenty million dollars is a small rounding error in an unimaginably large federal deficit of $345 billion, nearly six times the size of the largest to date.
Many Canadians, even those blessed to live on this enchanted island province where less than 40 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, are burdened with the crushing realization that things will never return to golden age that preceded the pandemic.
Will our children ever go back to school for six or seven hours a day and not be confronted by educators and others wearing face masks? Will we be able to walk into restaurants and grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and other businesses without seeing signs to separate ourselves at least six feet from others, or clerks barricaded behind plexiglass barriers?
It seems so quaint now to think of a time when kids practiced 20 aside in small town rinks, fired shots off the boards, rushed the length of the ice to score on a breakaway.
There is a gnawing fear gripping the land, even in a country with less than four per cent of the cases of that giant behemoth to the south. Canada is becoming smaller before our eyes, shrinking to the size of a community or even a neighborhood. Many of us have greeted anyone travelling to PEI from outside the province with a wary suspicion. ‘Plate shaming’ has become a thing as we try to protect ourselves against sources of possible infection.
Why is a new rink so important: an arena with an Olympic-sized ice surface? Why do we need more arenas when there are already 3,000 across the country and participation was falling in ice hockey even before the pandemic?
Of course the new North Rustico arena isn’t just about hockey. A new fitness centre and walking track is planned as well as other bells and whistles and environmentally friendly features. It will be fully accessible and there will be lots of space available for large gatherings of all kinds, when and if they become safe again.
Many of us feel as if we are trapped in a science-fiction writer’s nightmare dystopian vision and we need hope that it will all end eventually. We need to be building things, to be dreaming of something larger than ourselves.
Even if they turn out to be white elephants.
Cavendish tourist operators suffering
By Jim Brown
It is almost impossible to contemplate the level of misery of Cavendish area business operators – cut off from their lifeblood of tourists during the pandemic.
Unless the bridge opens soon and some sense of normalcy is returned to the business community, the situation could get very dire, warned the Resort Municipality’s mayor, Matthew Jelley, at the June 15 monthly council meeting.
“If that bridge doesn’t open soon there are going to be businesses that are already open that are going to have closings, because results are going to be quite low. There is (also) the possibility that public health could pull the rug out from under us any day, which is part of where the stress is coming from and businesses would have to close for two weeks again or longer after just getting ready to open.”
Councillor Linda Lowther, who is helping to coordinate the Island Walk, aimed at drawing more Islanders to struggling tourist operators, says she’s heard from hundreds of business owners from North Cape to East Point and “it’s a pretty depressing picture. Every second or third day people who thought they would be interested are calling and saying ‘I’m not opening this year.’ It’s really, really, bad. I don’t think people understand how bad it is.”
Linda, whose family makes an effort every week to dine at Cavendish area eateries, urged other Islanders to get out and support local restaurants and other businesses.
The Cavendish community is probably the most tourism reliant municipality in all of Atlantic Canada, said another councillor.
Mayor Jelley said he is working on a Mayor’s Tourism Roundtable, which would provide desperately needed resources, advice and mentoring to struggling local operators.
Tourism dependent businesses run by newcomers have been hard hit by the pandemic, as have everyone else in the area, but there are owners who don’t know about government programs that provide subsidies to cover employees’ wages, making it easier to reopen during difficult economic times, said councillors.
They expressed a desire to reach out to those operators whose first language isn’t English and who may still be out of province and unable to return.
Festivals are a big part of the tourist season in the resort municipality, but the business community has been reeling after the cancellation of many major events such as Cavendish Beach Music Festival (CBMF). Negotiations are underway to bring a scaled down version of Anne of Green Gables from the Confederation Centre to CBMF grounds and with the event held outdoors and restrictions placed on attendance and strong physical distancing regulations in place, the risk of coronavirus transmission is greatly reduced.
Mayor Jelley said the Anne of Green Gables opportunity and others may “start to turn the tide and we might see some positive announcements.”
But it’s been a terrible run of bad news lately for Island operators.
Over the previous week “We’ve seen the postponement or cancellation of The Festival of Spirits, the International Shellfish Festival and the Fall Flavours,” said Mayor Jelley.
There is no excuse for ignorance or racism
By Zane Affa
It’s odd that when I explain to my white friends or acquaintances examples of discrimination I have gone through in my life they are downplayed or negated. They see it as my perception being off.
The subtlety of racism is that it can be interpreted differently depending on your life experiences. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hear what is being said by someone who’s suffered from it.
My experiences with racism have been so subverted that it’s led me to distrust my own feelings. Just because someone says something that doesn’t cross the line into hate speech, doesn’t mean it should be dismissed.
I remember my father telling me that when he first came to Canada in the 1950’s to go to university and was looking for a room to rent, he was often told the room was gone, even though the ‘For Rent’ sign was still in view. He told them to take the sign down.
In the 1960’s, when I was in elementary school, I was singled out for punishment even though white kids did the same thing with no repercussions.
In the 1970’s my parents joined a golf club where at one time our family was referred to as the “black” Websters. Whereas the other family was never called the “white” Websters.
In the 1980’s my mother went shopping during a grocery worker strike and when she crossed the line she was told to go back to where she came from. She told them to go back to where they came from.
As a privileged person of colour I’ve had less interaction with the police than most people of colour and that interaction had been positive. I’ve lived in mostly white neighborhoods where there is less of a police presence. That doesn’t mean that I don’t fear what could happen to me when I speak up for my rights or see examples of what could happen to someone like me when faced with someone who hates the colour of my skin.
I’m followed in stores, have to listen silently while family members of all colours make racist comments or jokes regarding marginalized people, including their own.
When I worked with white people who never or rarely spoke to me and something happened to do with black people doing something they didn’t like, instead of educating themselves on why they felt this way, I was automatically singled out in order to reinforce their white view of the world. Not only did I have to do my job well, I also had to be the person who was responsible for making their white experience safer. I usually just kept my mouth shut and my head down in order not to be targeted.
Was it racism or just ignorance? There is no excuse for ignorance any more than there is an excuse for racism.
When you are a person of colour in society ruled by the race of another, colour is ALWAYS an issue.
These last couple of weeks has taught me a lot – like most people, I am still a work in progress and still learning. I’ve come to realize that I am also part of the problem, in my past re-telling of racist, sexist and gay jokes. No matter how harmless they may seem, they make a whole group of people the “other”.
As human beings we can choose to behave morally or not. All of us.
Peace and justice for all!
Some of Zane’s views of the world can be found at AffasViews.ca.
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