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Imprisoned By Trade-Offs

Paul Caune and his late parents Eileen and Val with his sister Deirdre at the 2012 ceremony where he received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal

By Paul Caune

June 13th, 2022

Starting this month, residents of Vancouver's notorious George Pearson Centre will begin moving to a new living space in the nearby Cambie Gardens development.

But according to former Pearson resident Paul Caune, unnecessary burdens will be imposed yet again on people with complex disabilities who have no effective way to enforce their civil rights.


George Pearson Centre

After 24 years of planning, after many delays, starting on June 15th of this year, 44 of 114 prisoners of Vancouver's George Pearson Centre will be liberated from its icy grip.

George Pearson Centre (GPC) is a former tuberculosis hospital, which since the mid-1960s has been used by the Government of British Columbia to warehouse what used to be called “incurables,” but who I like to call “Canadian citizens”.

GPC is a seventy-year-old shambolic, decrepit monument to wasted taxpayer dollars and wasted lives.

GPC has a Residents' Council. Each of its five wards has a doctor. It has respiratory therapists Monday to Friday. It has a unionized workforce.

In 2020/21 GPC had 5.46 hours of care per resident per day: the largest amount of care hours of all the publicly funded long-term care (LTC) facilities in BC.

According to the notes of the November 26, 2014 meeting of the George Pearson Redevelopment Committee (which I got by FOI): "the total care/operational budget [of GPC] is $14 million."

GPC was administered by the BC government from 1952 to 1984, then by the BC Rehab Society, and since 2001 it has been owned and operated by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority ( VCH ). GPC has never been a for-profit LTC facility. Last year VCH announced it will be changing the name of GPC.

As recent reports in the mainstream media show, and as heart-breaking stories on have demonstrated, the medical care and quality of life in GPC is bad.

These recent reports are consistent with a sixty-year pattern which I have shown in my essay The Cruel Compassion of GPC.

According to the experts:

Research indicates that placing elderly or disabled persons in an institution where they become passive recipients of care, often results in rapid mental and physical deterioration which may jeopardize quality of life.”–Vancouver Coastal Health, DESIGN GUIDELINES, Complex Residential Care Developments, page 11, June 6, 2007.

"The [VCH] president, David Ostrow, says Pearson was never meant to handle the complex care requirements of those now living there." --February 26, 2012 News 1130 report

The George Pearson Centre facility is an outdated institutional building. The ward-style accommodation does not provide appropriate privacy or independence for the residents who currently reside there.”- Pearson Dogwood Redevelopment Report, Lower Mainland Facilities Management, January 2013.


Glen Tig before and after entering George Pearson Centre

GPC isn’t bad...if the alternatives are literal homelessness or being murdered by the State. GPC is horrible if you want to live with dignity and freedom and get the services you need to stay alive.

The thousands of Canadian citizens who have been incarcerated in GPC since the mid-1960s, after the TB and polio crisis ended, have been trapped by the trade-offs made by every party that controlled the BC government since the Second World War.

For many disabled voters the trade-off forced on them by their provincial government is either kill yourself by MAID or get the services you need to stay alive only in an LTC prison. We respect your right to choose either suicide or a life without freedom and dignity.

"The problem that we've had in Canada is this notion that if you can't care for someone at home, they need to go live somewhere else. And so we have this real culture of institutionalizing people," said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of health policy research for the National Institute on Ageing.

Sinha said what's needed isn't rocket science. Provinces need to invest more in home care to help people age in place.

"Right now there are about 200,000 Canadians living in long-term care homes," he said. About a third of them — 60,000 or 70,000 people — could've actually stayed in their own homes, with proper home care support."


Cambie Gardens will soon be housing 44 George Pearson Centre residents

It's a great thing that 44 of the current 114 prisoners of GPC are being liberated from the soul destroying, boring, cruel, disabling and stupid system imposed on them in GPC by the Socred, BC NDP, and BC Liberal parties when in power.

Starting in the late nineties, and then picking up again in 2009 by VCH and others, they decided that the land GPC sprawls across like the carcass of a decomposing brontosaurus should be sold, and the prison should be closed.

From that original intention, a plan was concocted over many years with the collaboration of the Disability Alliance of BC, the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee to the City of Vancouver, the residents of GPC and their families, ONNI (the developer), the City of Vancouver, the Ministry of Health and members of the public.

Most of the huge parcel of land that GPC and Dogwood Lodge (an LTC facility for seniors) loom on was sold to the developer ONNI, which is building market rate and other kinds of apartments on the property.

VCH retains ownership of a small part of the property, on which they intend to build a community health centre and a new LTC facility to replace Dogwood Lodge.

The liberation of the GPC prisoners will be done in phases over many years. Phase One begins in June of this year. Most of the GPC prisoners who told VCH what they wanted to replace the ramshackle hospital have died.

Most of the GPC prisoners who told VCH what they wanted to replace the ramshackle hospital have died

What will replace the ruins? In Phase One: twelve apartments in two recently built market rate mid-rise towers called Cambie Gardens on the redeveloped Pearson Dogwood property.

Here is a description of the twelve apartments:

“4 single units, each approximately 700 square feet,

4 shared units, each supporting six residents, each approximately 4,250 square feet,

4 shared units, each supporting four residents, each approximately 2,850 square feet.”

Each resident of the single units will have their own room and bathroom. The rest of these units will be shared spaces. Cambie Gardens will be run by a service provider called CONNECT Partners, who have a contract with VCH.

The unionized home support workers who provide personal care services to the liberated will be employees of CONNECT.

The residents of Cambie Gardens will have to pay 80% of their income to live there. Which is exactly the “rent” the inmates of BC’s publicly funded LTC facilities have to pay.


Paul Caune lives in his own apartment in Vancouver. According to Caune, shared units are little more than modern LTC wards

In my opinion, the shared units are simply 21st century Western Canadian LTC facility wards amidst two mid-rise market-rate apartment buildings.

They are no great improvement on Noble House in Vancouver, which opened up in 1992. It has taken VCH and its predecessor twenty-four years of planning to get to 1992.

Obviously Cambie Gardens, compared to homelessness or being murdered, is good.

But...neither 21st century LTC wards nor group homes are the aspiration of most disabled citizens. They don’t want to live with a group of other people unless those people are someone they love.

Government servers aren't crashing under an avalanche of emails from disabled voters demanding to be housed with four or more roommates.

The only people who do want to live in LTC wards are highly institutionalized remnants of former human beings who have been diminished and shriveled up by, in some cases, decades of bad health care.

LTC facilities increase the disabilities of its prisoners; it's called “learned helplessness.” This describes many of those who will be the first residents of Cambie Gardens, but not those who will take their places over the next 50 years.

Being disabled, having a complex disability, is hard. It’s boring, it’s gross, it’s disgusting and, at times, terrifying. It plunges you into poverty, or it keeps you in poverty. And you don’t want other people's problems piled on top of your own.

But, if you are desperate to stay off the streets, or stay out of an LTC prison, you will take whatever is available, even if that means having three or five roommates.

if you are desperate to stay off the streets, or stay out of an LTC prison, you will take whatever is available

By making eight of the twelve apartments I'm discussing shared units, VCH and their collaborators have imposed a trade-off on the liberated that certainly will be a lesser evil than GPC.

Nevertheless, it will impose unnecessary burdens, yet again, on the shoulders of people enduring complex disabilities and poverty and having no effective way to enforce their civil rights.

The foundation of support for disabled voters should not be just enough for them to survive. It should be to survive and thrive. It should be to enable the disabled citizen's freedom and dignity.

When you have your own apartment, with a $375 a month subsidized rent, with individualized personal care supports, you will be able to not only survive, but to thrive.

To pursue education, volunteering, part-time or full-time work, have any friends or family visit you spontaneously, to join a political party, to start a business, to get elected, to community organize, to practice your religion, to keep your sex life private, and so on.

Of course, it is debatable whether the current support options provided by Canada's governments are enough for disabled voters to survive on.


Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie

Unintentionally, when government puts disabled voters in group homes or the shared units of Cambie Gardens they are imposing a terrible competition between the citizens on who is going to get the most attention of the personal care workers they share.

The government is also imposing on the disabled voters in question the eccentricities of their room mates and their room mates' friends and families.

For many disabled citizens, each day is a hard struggle. Why add a bullying or annoying or worse room mate or mates on top of that struggle?

When there is a vacancy in the four and six person shared units the residents will chose who will get the empty bedroom.

But, what if there are one or two residents who deny an applicant a place to live because of prejudice? To think this would never or rarely happen is attributing a virtue to disabled voters which is dehumanizing. In only single bed units would that horror never arise.

Only 44 prisoners will be liberated this year. The remaining 70 will be made to endure the horrors of LTC for years before the Phase Two apartments are available. At least half of the remaining prisoners of GPC will die before the Phase Two apartments are ready.

Let's give the final word to an expert:

Meanwhile, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says people predominantly want to live at home, even when they are facing health challenges.

"We know there are people in long-term care that could be cared for at home if we had a more responsive health-care system," she said.


Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to!


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