Riding to break the cycle: Amsterdam

Cloverdale's Katie Fitzmaurice and Nicole Law are cycling though Europe this summer with the non-profit organization Global Agents, which aims to improve economic conditions in the Third World. This is Fitzmaurice's first column in a series

  • Tue Jun 21st, 2011 5:00am
  • Life

Cloverdale’s Katie Fitzmaurice and Nicole Law (pictured below) are cycling though Europe this summer with the non-profit organization Global Agents, which aims to improve economic conditions in the Third World. This is Fizmaurice’s first column in a series.

Day 1: Amsterdam

More than just marijuana, the red light district and bicycles, Amsterdam is a vibrant, at times even quaint city with many parallels to Metro Vancouver.

I have the privilege of visiting Amsterdam as I am a ride leader for the European Ride to Break the Cycle tour, spanning 4,000 kilometres and raising $40,000 for the Micro Technological Institute in Uganda.

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At first glimpse, Amsterdam appears to be a cleaner, better dressed version of British Columbia. Everything from the music to the language seems to have a little extra ‘bop’ (roughly translated as ‘borp’ in Dutch). However, Amsterdam is not without its issues, many of which are familiar to the areas I call home.

Firstly, housing demand in Amsterdam, like Vancouver, is through the roof. In Vancouver, locals are priced out of the market by foreign investors who use the properties infrequently or re-sell the properties to their gain. As a result, Vancouverites are forced to the suburbs or into small, inadequate, costly housing. While recent plans to increase affordable housing along transit routes have been issued, Amsterdam offers an alternate solution.

The municipal government monitors the price of rent and offers permits to those who have been citizens for at least ten years. In practice, this translates into a diverse and dynamic city, catering both to the young and old. While Canada and Holland appear to be becoming more conservative in some regards, this liberal policy seems worth consideration for the Vancouver City Council.

A second, parallel issue is that of drugs. Surprise, surprise – liberal Amsterdam has been struggling with the indirect consequences of a booming marijuana industry: Crime, health and safety, a tinged tourism industry, etc. In an attempt to get a handle on these problems, Amsterdam has recently approved the use of a membership card system for purchasing cannabis.

The plan, introduced by Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten, has already been approved in the Lower House, but not without controversy.Katie Fitzmaurice and Nicole Law in Amsterdam

The Mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, says that the new policy will cause an increase in illegal drug trade that the city is unequipped to combat. Of the 4.5 million tourists Amsterdam receives, more than one million visit the “coffee shops.” Van der Laan worries that these tourists will soon depend on illegal trade for their weed.

Professor of general law studies at the University of Groningen, Jan Brouwer, argues the policy runs counter to Article 1 of the Dutch constitution, prohibiting discrimination. He believes that infringing on Article 1 is unjustified on the basis of “foreigners cause trouble here. To which we answer: Yes, and don’t Dutch people cause trouble?”

The decision to introduce membership cards is not yet final. A final decision is expected to be made in early July pending a case being heard by the Council of State.

Claims of discrimination in Amsterdam do not stop with membership cards.

Anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders’ went on trial last October under accusations of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. The outspoken politician likened the Koran to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and stated “the Netherlands is threatened by Islam. An ideology of hatred and destruction. Islam threatens Western standards and values. We must live in reality.”

The defense has argued for Mr. Wilders right to free speech and a decision on the case is expected on June 23.

Regardless of the outcome, I am shocked that the utterances occurred in Amsterdam – the city known for hiding Anne Frank during the Second World War. Is memory that short or is discrimination a perpetual bane of man kind?

I by no means intend to cast a shadow on Amsterdam. Drug use and discrimination claims are not unique to the Netherlands. Vancouver struggles with illegal drug trafficking, medicinal marijuana policy that entirely missed the mark, gangs, threats to the Safe Injection Sites and discrimination to boot.

Other really central issues here include illegal immigrants, human trafficking, and dumpster diving, all of which have neat parallels to metro Vancouver.

After being in Amsterdam for just a few days, I wonder, is Holland becoming more conservative? It certainly appears Canada is. I look forward to exploring the nine other countries planned for this tour through political lens.

To read more, visit at www.rtbtc.blogspot.com