Soccer donation in bureaucratic limbo

Appeared in the North Shore News – July 3, 2015

Speaking personally as a notorious skinflint, just how a West Vancouver barber charging 15 bucks for an old-guy’s haircut can do it is beyond my comprehension.

“It” being good-deeds citizen Michel Ibrahim’s shouldering of a baffling burden in Beirut — nicked $3,500 in customs and import fees, a large nick for any barber. Plus an escalating bill of $50 a day for storage, imposed by airport authorities on his charitable shipment of used soccer equipment for displaced Syrian kids in Lebanese refugee camps.

Talk about taking a haircut.

Latest: John Weston, MP for West Vancouver — Sunshine Coast — Sea to Sky Country, has tried to bring a good-news ending to Christine Lyons’s story on Ibrahim that first ran in these pages in November.

Ibrahim, assisted by volunteer Sam Abou-Khazaal, says he’s helped 17,000 children in 30 countries over two decades to play the beautiful game that requires leather balls. But this particular shipment — flown gratis by Air Canada — stalled in Beirut International Airport, as Tereza Verenca described in May in the North Shore News.

Ibrahim was a high school teacher in his native Lebanon. He lived through Lebanon’s devastating 20th-century turmoil, which sucked in Syria, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah, the PLO, the Arab League, Christians, and Sunni and Shia Muslims.

You wonder if, in such a murderously divisive milieu, Ibrahim, or anyone, could survive without alienating some political or religious team or other. Then again, perhaps the shipment is in bureaucratic limbo only because it’s from a non-registered charity.

Ibrahim has been in Canada 25 years, in Vancouver 17. He’s a soccer-sized man of 55. Soccer-sized: This is the quintessential game for well-knit, medium-tall athletes, not North American football’s ox-like guards, or hockey’s hunks where anyone under six-two and 200 pounds is too small for the big time.

He’s a proud Canadian — recently he spoke with glee, in the first-person plural, of his adopted nation’s women’s soccer team (and short years ago who would have predicted 54,000 people piling into a Vancouver stadium for women’s soccer — or any — soccer?).

But Ibrahim’s flag-festooned barber shop in the 1300-block of Marine Drive shouts soccer religion at all levels. He has a soccer school, plays for two teams, coaches three, and is a BC Soccer referee.

Conservative MP Weston is puzzled that Ibrahim’s goods “are being held up for opaque reasons.” In May Weston wrote a letter on the impasse to the Lebanese embassy, and recently renewed the contact. “We feel there isn’t a breakthrough but it looks like a step forward,” he said. He calls Ibrahim “a great humanitarian.”

Looks somewhat more challenging than tuning a barber shop quartet. To raise money, Ibrahim offered a one-day soccer workshop in Ambleside Aug. 9 for 20 kids, registration fee $50.

Afterwards “the players can come back to my barber shop for a free haircut.”

Ibrahim recently posted: “We’ve just been told that I have until July 22 to pay the custom fees, which now total close to $6,000. If I don’t, the equipment will be confiscated.”

Either way, the workshop will go ahead. Donations, currently totalling $2,500 can be made at the barber shop or follow michelhd@shaw.ca.

Weston is an optimist: “He’s got a dream, and he’s not going to let money or other difficulties get in his way.”

• • •

I polled West Vancouver council members: “Are you generally satisfied with the scale, pace and character of development in West Vancouver?” A pretty broad question, true.

Quick off the mark, Mayor Michael Smith replied: “West Vancouver has by far the slowest growth in Metro Vancouver — less than 0.5 per cent per year. There is less need for single family homes, more condos and townhouses are required. This density needs to happen in Ambleside, Horseshoe Bay and in the proposed Cypress Park Village. A change to our building bylaws needs to ensure that replacement houses fit better into existing neighbourhoods.”

Coun. Mary-Ann Booth: “I’m concerned that residents are suffering from construction fatigue in their neighbourhoods: too much, too big, and too impactful to cherished enjoyment and character. In our  town centre, on the other hand, we are not doing enough to support commercial vibrancy, and housing options near transit amenities.”

Coun. Michael Lewis: “I am not satisfied with the scale, pace and character of development in West Van. Some of my concerns are being addressed as part of the current ‘Housing Bulk’ (report).’ But movement on different forms of residential housing to meet the articulated desires of our residents and on improving the commercial areas remain outstanding.”

Coun. Nora Gambioli: “I am absolutely not satisfied with our single-family home development; the scale is too big, the pace is too fast, and any character is rarely present. Other than single family, I am satisfied with most of the recent development decisions.”

No response from the other three council members. With my usual charity, I well understand life gets in the way of other life.

© Trevor Lautens, 2015