Just whose back does Ottawa have?

Are you sure you’re in the picture?

Brennan Guigue is a product of the ‘system’…..the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, the adult penal system. This triad doesn’t prepare anyone for a life in the community free of constraints, ready and able to engage the world in the ways most of us usually take for granted and handle by rote. As one example, coping with money can be a mystery.

Brennan visited his local Royal Bank branch recently during one of his brief respites from prison to take care of some business. His account there was opened in 2008 on another stay in the community when he strode confidently into the branch, announced his intention to a teller, and then spent some time with the manager who was intrigued by an intelligent and articulate ex-con only too willing to share his prison experience with the uninitiated. Here was the consummate bank robber looking to be an upstanding citizen.

There had never been an account balance of more than a few dollars through the years but it was active even while he was incarcerated. On this particular occasion in 2015, he was told he qualified for a Visa card with a $2000 spending limit! What? A man of 45 with no credit history, no assets, a lengthy criminal record and no experience at managing money, qualified for a Visa card? Albeit unknown to the bank, a man saddled too with emotional and mental health issues, but those didn’t matter given that he shouldn’t have been offered the service in the first place. Or should he?

Brennan wanted to do well. Brennan wanted to belong. He eventually accepted the Visa card, promising he would spend only what he could repay each month. The balance reached $1500 in about three weeks. To show the bank he was serious about his responsibilities he paid half of the $1500 using his Ontario Works cheque, leaving almost nothing for the rest of that month. The balance again ballooned to about $1500. This time, a Good Samaritan paid his bill.

By the time the stressors of contending with life outside prison walls overwhelmed him and he once again ran afoul of the law, the Visa card balance was $2100. He accepts the debt; he wants to pay it off; he hopes Visa will bide its time. Truthfully though, it’s a long shot. It’s a hole-in-one on a par five.

But, the $2100 will be repaid. You and I will cover it in the various ways an organization like Visa employs to recoup its losses. And, it does so with our government’s blessing. This is not about Visa. This is not about the Royal Bank of Canada. All banks and all credit vendors are the same. This is about our government allowing these businesses to operate in the ways they do to our detriment.

Here’s one more brief tale of government complicity with big business.

A friend in Toronto is a long-time Bell Canada customer. He has a land line with two phones in his home. His only “feature” is voice mail. He has no need for more, and no need to spend beyond the minimum.

Unusual for him, he called a sister in Oshawa for her birthday. She wasn’t home; he left a short message. When the bill arrived later in the month, he saw an 80 cent charge for the one minute long distance call, but a further $2.95 ‘ld’ charge, both amounts plus tax. Curious, he called Bell. The $2.95, plus tax, was a charge for the use of the long distance (ld) service, since he didn’t have a plan.

Are you kidding us, Bell Canada?

And finally, as an “oh, by the way”, it’s not news that the Toronto Police Service executed raids on dozens of marijuana medical dispensaries in the city a short few weeks ago. Some of these stores apparently would sell to anyone of age. Operators and staff were handcuffed, money and product seized, and many, many charges were laid. Now, not all marijuana businesses were affected, but the dozens that were was a message to all that the illegal trafficking in marijuana would not be tolerated…….until the law was actually changed.

The news conference on the action held by the chief of police was disrupted by noisy protesters. No one doubts most if not all charges will be dropped, dismissed or resolved summarily with minor fines. So why was such a major and expensive effort launched for such a meager return in the end?

Was there a legitimate reason to act in the best interest of the people? Or, did the multi-million dollar corporations expecting to control the billions of dollars in legal marijuana trade prompt the move? How many of these organizations have ex-political figures on their boards?

Food for thought. Maybe Bernie Sanders should spend some time with us?

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