Fighting the good fight

<p>There are three bears on the wall of Paul Lagace’s office.</p>

<p>One is a youngster, trying to climb a tree. All you can see is the baby bear and the beginning of what is obviously a very big climb.</p>

<p>The next is an older bear walking against a lightning-streaked night sky. The last is a licence plate from the Northwest Territories, a white bear.</p>

<p>They tell the story of the man who spends his days working with AIDS and HIV patients and battling the bureaucracy they face.</p>

<p>“You know, the people who gave me those did not know my spiritual name,” he says.</p>

<p>A Métis, Lagace’s grandfather gave him the name Red Bear when he was young. “If you were to ever see me angry, well, let’s just say I can be very bear-like.</p>

<p>“That little one there is Paul trying to tackle a challenge others think is too big. The second one was given to me by a client … who said it reminded him of me, lumbering through while there is a storm surrounding me.</p>

<p>“The white bear is where my spirit will go some day, I hope.”</p>

<p>So far, his path to the streets of Kamloops has been one of contradictions. He joined the army unable to speak English and asked to be sent to an area where he would have to learn it.</p>

<p>His commanders didn’t think it would work. It did. He spent 21 years in the military, including the time when his own beliefs were challenged by his career as he was ordered to prepare to go to Oka, Que. during the 1990 standoff with natives there.</p>

<p>His life changed, he says, when he did a sweat lodge. The experience brought him an inner peace and understanding he had not recognized before. It taught him the value of prayer.</p>

<p>“Not just to Creator but to our grandmothers and grandfathers. I pray every day. It’s what helps me stay calm and face everything.”</p>

<p>His calmness belies his passion for causes he believes in. He will continue to point out times when his clients at the Aids Society of Kamloops are confronted with a less-than-understanding bureaucracy. Recently, he phoned a local ministry office – again – to discuss his concerns about comments to clients not being noted in files and subsequent visits to the same office was leading to clients being given conflicting information.</p>

<p>“Now, for you and me, that is not necessarily something which will do more than cause us some annoyance. But, for these people, their tolerance level is already not as good as ours and they spend days running in circles because one (government) official did not know what another one had said.</p>

<p>“And it is not easy for them. These people are sick, they do not have food to eat many days and all they want is what is due to them.”</p>

<p>He discusses possible death with ease, not because he’s used to it in his work, he says, but because he must help his clients and their families learn to grieve.</p>

<p>It is at moments like this his inner peace helps him. Lagace has seen too many clients die waiting for government approval of benefits to pay for prescribed supplements, medical marijuana and medications.</p>

<p>He tells of a cancer patient waiting for approval for enhanced benefits to pay for treatments. The approval came, but the man had already died.</p>

<p>Lagace tells himself he won’t see this happen again, but it does. He worries it will continue with some of his overloaded caseload.</p>

<p>“You want to know, how I do this every day? I don’t do this because I believe in one political party or another. I don’t believe in any political party. But I believe the government, whoever it is, has a duty to look after its people.</p>

<p>“This is not about people with HIV or AIDS. This is about every one of us.</p>

<p>“It is about all the disabled. It is about people who aren’t disabled today but, tomorrow, they may wake up to find they have had a stroke and they need help.</p>

<p>“I have a friend who had a heart attack a few months ago. He went to the hospital and, because of all the cutbacks, it was not diagnosed. He is not doing well now. He may die.</p>

<p>“These cutbacks are coming from our government. They will affect all of us.”</p>

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