Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

1st Session, 38th Parliament,
Volume 142, Issue 61

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
The Honourable Daniel Hays, Speaker

British Columbia

Vancouver—St. James Community Services Society Art Program—Exhibit in Senate Foyer

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise to tell you about an art exhibition, entitled “Moving Beyond our Challenges,” that I am honoured to be hosting today and tomorrow in the Senate foyer.

As an honorary patron of St. James Community Services Society, I have personally seen the challenges faced by many of the artists and individuals helped by St. James.

St. James is an organization in the downtown east side of Vancouver that strives to provide support for people who face multiple challenges in life, including mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, while recognizing the need to help each individual they serve to see their own value as a person. The art program allows these individuals to overcome their challenges and express themselves in art.

Honourable senators, I know you are firm believers that a little recognition goes a long way in helping people to overcome their challenges. We all face challenges, but many of the artists featured here have and continue to overcome more than their share of challenges.

To help honourable senators understand the challenges faced, I would like to share with you the story of Carmen. She moved into Victory House, a safe home for 48 residents with chronic mental illness, in 1998. She had been living on the streets and in various downtown east side hotels in the worst part of Vancouver. Her diagnosis was schizophrenia and her symptoms were self-neglect, belligerence, poor compliance with medications and yelling at night. For these reasons, she was constantly being kicked out of her accommodations.

In her first days at Victory House, Carmen would walk the streets during the day, waiting for bread and soup in the food line-ups. She would refuse to take her medication and would not socialize. It took about two years to slowly build up a relationship with her where she was able to trust somebody.

Today, Carmen eats three meals a day. She has joined St. James’ drama group and she sits down in the lounge to “people watch.”

The best news is that Carmen has started to paint. With money from St. James’ fundraising, canvas and paints were bought for Carmen and other artists to use. She started to express herself through her art and then verbally when approached.

Carmen’s paintings are truly amazing. Her landscapes show castles, Saskatchewan wheat fields and Polynesian lagoons. She has been able to capture some of the wonderful insights and pictures only a schizophrenic can conjure. How beautiful it is that she is able to share these images on canvas.

Carmen and the artists at St. James are an example for us all. I invite senators to come to the exhibit to see their amazing work. Honourable senators will also have an opportunity to meet Sandra Smith, one of St. James’ artists, who is in the gallery today, along with Jan Volker and Erin McNeill, who are representing St. James Community Services Society.

I am pleased today to not only be able to share these wonderful works of art with my colleagues in this chamber, but also to share our wonderful institution with the artists and the Canadian public.

I also want to thank the Usher of the Black Rod, Terrence Christopher, for his invaluable help in making this event possible.