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OPINION: The costs of demovictions

It has been strange seeing the building of my childhood and the recent home of my grandmother occupied by protesters.

It has been strange seeing the building of my childhood and the recent home of my grandmother occupied by protesters.

When I first saw it, I felt a mixture of feelings: shock, because this hidden little gem of my childhood seemed to matter suddenly with all the banners and serious faces poking out from balconies, and sad because none of us was there holding up signs with them. Where was my family? I wondered, feeling ashamed and confused. Why didn’t we know we could have stayed and protested?

Two months earlier when my grandmother got her final notice, my family was buzzing with concern. My grandmother, who became paralyzed recently, was weeping silently in her wheelchair while the rest of the family tried to come up with a plan.

B.C. Housing was not a guarantee, and her pension was not about to adjust to market rent. None of us even considered appealing to Mayor (Derek) Corrigan after the aggressive series of demolitions, which had pockmarked the neighborhood and already displaced some of the family in the past decade

My grandmother: After surviving two wars, internal and external displacement from Afghanistan, multiple tragedies due to conflict and forcible relocation across Asia to Canada, 308-5025 Imperial St. was her first home in a long time.

She lived in that suite for 15 years, where her grandchildren experienced their first snow away from war, and her Greek manager learned to decipher her Farsi, and her visitors could enjoy the Wi-Fi lent by the nice young man next door. 

All this community was written off with that single Notice of Eviction letter.

In this city, there is a lot you can choose to un-see. For years, I have unseen the Corrigan leadership’s failure to support the working poor, despite the fact that south Burnaby was home to large numbers of refugees, new immigrants and working class families.

As the foliage around Maywood Community School was cut down, we all grimaced at the suddenly stark grey neighbourhood, but none of us complained. Only rich neighbourhoods deserved their tall oaks, we understood.

Soon after, the neighborhood around Maywood, which housed so many of my friends, was bulldozed on infestation charges to make way for a shiny megalith that would house the mega rich.

Still, we looked away. Metrotown mall may have employed every one of us, but they obviously needed bigger wallets to enjoy the plaza.

It was easy to un-see the shutdown of Station Square, too, despite the loss of cheap cafes and restaurants where so many of our elders eked out some leisure between multiple jobs. The affordable cinema in the square was gone, too, in the same month that Cineplex raised their ticket prices, again.

Now, as we look for new homes, there is a larger pattern emerging that is harder for us to ignore.

In Coquitlam, newly settled Syrian and Iraqi families, who were so recently courted through the airport tram by our government, are being evicted because of the SkyTrain line that is opening nearby.

Hastings Sunrise, which has been a haven of affordable produce shops, cultural butcher shops and neighborhood solidarity, is seeing a rental hike as developers drive east. Downtown, tent city is up for another year, making the demands of community sound louder than the ill-conceived incentives of the pro-development city officials of Vancouver.

Where are we to go now? We wonder.

As my friends move further from the town that was our newest home, we wonder: how much longer can we help our grandmothers and neighbours and workers before our cities forget we exist entirely?

Saeed Habib is an 18-year-old student.