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28May

This B.C. woman lodged hundreds of 911 complaints about the homeless. Now she’s advocating for them | CBC Radio

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A B.C. woman who spent nearly 15 years trying to bar the homeless from trespassing on her property is now advocating for them.

Between 2004 and 2018, Peggy Allen made approximately 500 calls to police about incidents involving people from the emergency shelter next door in Abbotsford, B.C.

“I became this crazy person that couldn’t function,” she told The Current.

During that time, Peggy and her husband, Ron Allen, recall numerous incidents they say are enough to “put fear into your hearts.”

One such affair saw Peggy chased through the house and off the balcony by a person who, she believed, was having a bad trip from an illicit drug. She fell backwards, landing on the ground that was 1.2 metres below, and injured her neck and back.

However, she had a revelatory moment in September 2018 when a woman walking up her driveway swore at her, she says.

“I looked at her and I just went crazy and I started running toward her. I was going to hurt her,” Allen recalled.

When The Current visited the Allens’ home, 14 tents were pitched on the shoulder of Gladys Avenue. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

Then a “light switched” in her brain.

“I just stopped halfway down there and I said: ‘Peggy, I hate the way you are. This isn’t who you are,'” she said.

“I turned around, I went back to the house and I just bawled my head off.”

She describes the experience as an “incredible metamorphosis” in her life and is now giving back to the people who she once referred to as the source of her “nightmare.”

“I don’t expect anyone to jump on the bandwagon that lives around here because they’ve been through hell and they’ve had a lot of bad things happen. But I got to tell you that what I’m gaining from helping these people way outweighs what I lost.”

Dream house

The Allens and their two sons, who were 7 and 10 at the time, moved into their home on Gladys Avenue, near Highway 11 and S Fraser Way, in September 1989.

The lush, half-acre property was secluded, shrouded by a forest of towering cedars. The bungalow itself is removed from the road — separated by a long, 50-metre driveway — and the entire property backs onto a creek.

“It was the perfect life for us,” Peggy Allen recalled, an emotional tone hanging in her voice.

“Our kids could run free and we could have animals.”

Fifteen years later, the Salvation Army Centre for Hope moved into the space next door, and she says the family’s “life changed overnight.”

They tried to move, but couldn’t sell the house for the amount they paid.

Allen erected housing around her home to stop trespassers, who were living in tents near her home. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

When nothing changed, she invested thousands of dollars to line the perimeter of the property with a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire — like something from a prison — and outfitted its exterior with a security camera system.

Yet the problems persisted.

“The point is it’s all little tiny stuff, but it’s huge,” Allen said of the emotional scars they had as a result of the encounters.

Housing affordability

In addition to serving as an emergency shelter, the Salvation Army delivers a litany of services — such as a meal centre, mental health supports and addiction counselling.

When The Current visited the Allens’ home, 14 tents were pitched on the shoulder of Gladys Avenue, occupied by people either accessing the facility’s wide range of services or transitioning out of it. Others were milling around the Allens’ property on their way to and from the shelter.

Residents in a homeless camp in Jubilee Park in 2013, a short distance away from Gladys Avenue where the Allens’ home is currently located. In 2015, a B.C. Supreme Court judge struck down Abbotsford bylaws that prohibited homeless people from erecting temporary shelters and sleeping in city parks. (CBC)

Homeless counts take place every year over a 24-hour period in Abbotsford.

Last year, volunteers identified 233 homeless people over the 24-hour survey period on March 19 and 20. The city report notes this is, at best, only an estimate, and does not capture every homeless person in the community.  

Of those surveyed by volunteers, 111 people were living on the street in tents or makeshift structures or sleeping in their cars/campers, instead of one of Abbotsford’s seven shelters.

The roadside near Allens’ home. People living in tents are trying to access services from the nearby Salvation Army. (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

Another 45 were couchsurfing, while 66 people used shelters.

The city report says the survey respondents cited a lack of affordable housing and the steep housing market as the top reasons they are homeless.

Giving back

Peggy Allen is in the process of modifying a shipping container into a bathroom with a sink to be placed at the entrance to her driveway.   

She also volunteers with Business Engagement Ambassador Project (BEAP) to try and shine a “whole different light” on homelessness.

The city-run outreach program, which was started by people with lived experience of homelessness or drug addiction, aims to repair frayed relationships between business owners and residents by paying them to clean up outside their properties.

Rob Larson works for BEAP. He used to live on the streets, and says his interactions with Allen have changed his life.

Allen’s driveway in Abbotsford, B.C. She said that it was chasing trespassers up this driveway that she experienced an ‘incredible metamorphosis.’ (Submitted by Peggy Allen)

“The way I look at it, if you give back a little bit to your community, they’ll give you back a whole armful of what you might need here, or just open arms, right?” he said.

The pair are now good friends, a reality Peggy said she never imagined during their first meeting.

He hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.– Peggy Allen

“He hugged me so hard the first time I met him, he scared the hell out of me,” she recalled.

“But I was the one with the fear, not him.

“He was the one with the love and that was one of the first steps for me to make a change in my thinking because he hugged me and he cared for me without even knowing me.”

When people ask what changed her perspective, she answers: “Nothing… I changed my mind.”

Click ‘listen’ near the top of this page to hear the full documentary.


Written by Amara McLaughlin, produced by Anne Penman and The Current’s Documentary editor Joan Webber.


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27May

B.C. Greens introduce bill to restrict conversion therapy

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B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver announces a bill to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors.


Rob Shaw / Postmedia

VICTORIA — B.C.’s Green party has introduced a bill in the legislature to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the legislation, if passed, would ban any medical professional from using conversion therapy techniques on anyone under age 19.

For adults, it would forbid any counselling, behaviour modification techniques or prescription medication designed to change a person’s sexual identity or gender identity from being billed to the government for MSP or other reimbursement.

The legislation doesn’t seek an outright ban on conversion therapy for adults, with Weaver noting that it becomes a more complicated matter of consent and free choice among adults.

“This bill will bring an end to the abhorrent practice of so-called conversion therapy,” said Weaver.

Banning the practice among minors and restricting its use on adults will “protect the health and safety of LGBTQ rights,” said Weaver.

Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using counselling, psychiatry, psychology, behaviour modification or medication. It’s widely discredited, though not explicitly illegal in Canada.

In B.C., the government doesn’t fund or permit the practice of conversion therapy, said NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert.

“This legislation would put our current practice into law,” he said.

Chandra-Herbert described it as a “symbol” of not just LGBTQ2S+ rights, but also basic human rights.

Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Ontario already have legislation that restricts the practice.

Alberta had a working group tasked with banning gay conversion therapy, but it was cancelled by the new United Conservative Government.

“The direction Alberta is going in is the wrong direction for Canadian society,” said Weaver. “It’s so regressive.”

Peter Gajdics, a Vancouver gay rights activist who was subject to conversion therapy from a licensed psychiatrist in Victoria almost 30 years ago, said he believes conversion therapy is still occurring in some B.C. offices under the guise of treatment for depression and other disorders.

Gajdics pointed to religious websites that also promote and advocate for such therapies.

Weaver said he hopes to gain the support of the governing NDP and Opposition Liberals to pass the legislation unanimously this fall.

[email protected]

twitter.com/robshaw_vansun


LISTEN: Why aren’t taxes part of an inquiry into skyrocketing gas prices? What’s the latest in the latest standoff between teachers and the provincial government? Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw break down the latest B.C. political news.

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27May

Provincial funding embraces accessibility and inclusion

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People with disabilities will be supported in living with independence and as full participants in their communities, through $500,000 for community projects that improve accessibility.

“Every day, people with disabilities overcome barriers that could otherwise impact their lives,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “Organizations across B.C. are working to embrace diversity, create equal opportunities and improve social inclusion. This funding will support them in that important work and contribute to the Province’s commitment to building a better B.C. for people with disabilities.”

The funding announcement launches B.C.’s second annual AccessAbility Week, May 26 to June 1, 2019.  AccessAbility Week promotes and celebrates diversity and inclusion, and recognizes the importance of accessibility.

The funds will be distributed through grants administered by Disability Alliance BC (DABC). A call for proposals will be posted on the DABC website in summer 2019, and grants will be awarded by the end of the year.

“Disability Alliance BC is honoured to have the opportunity to once again support projects that promote greater accessibility and inclusivity for people with disabilities in B.C. communities,” said Justina Loh, executive director, Disability Alliance BC. “With funding from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, we will help enrich and improve the lives of all people with disabilities. We are grateful to government for providing the funds and the opportunity to see more amazing projects come to life.”

During AccessAbility Week, communities throughout the province will host events and supporting activities that promote inclusion and accessibility. The celebrations are supported by $10,000 in provincial funding to the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC). AccessAbility Week 2019 will wrap up on June 1, Access Awareness Day.

Quick Facts:

  • This is the second year that these grants are being made available. Last year, 16 community projects received funding for projects that will be completed by the end of this year.
  • In B.C., more than 900,000 people aged 15 years and older, or 24.7% of the population, self-identify as having a disability.
  • One in five Canadian adults has a disability.
  • The provincial government provides up to $5 billion annually to fund services and supports for people with disabilities in B.C.

Learn More:

B.C. government accessibility initiatives: www.gov.bc.ca/accessibility

View the 2018 AccessAbility Projects: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018SDPR0056-002319

Disability Alliance BC: www.disabilityalliancebc.org

SPARC Access Awareness Day: www.sparc.bc.ca/accessibility/

View the AccessAbility Week Proclamation: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/AccessAbility_Week_2019.pdf


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27May

B.C. becomes first province to force change to biosimilar drugs

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Biosimilars are manufactured after the 20-year patent period expires on biologics.


Francis Georgian / PNG

Starting today, over 20,000 B.C. patients with cancer or chronic diseases like arthritis, colitis and diabetes will have six months to transition to drugs that are similar to those they’re taking as the province becomes the first in Canada to stop covering some expensive, formerly patented drugs.

Health Minister Adrian Dix promised that no harm will come from the change that will initially save the government more than $96 million in its prescription drug program (PharmaCare).

The savings will be plowed back into the drug budget to allow for funding of drugs that have not yet been covered such as Jardiance, a medicine known as an SGLT2 inhibitor for diabetes. Another drug for psoriatic arthritis called Taltz will also be immediately available.

Since some of the soon to be phased-out government-funded drugs like Remicade have to be given at infusion clinics, Dix said there may be some inconveniences as patients find new locations. But patients will work with their doctors to make the switch to “biosimilar” drugs, which are the just-as-safe and effective copycat versions of brand name bioengineered drugs called biologics.

Biosimilars are manufactured after the 20-year patent period expires on biologics. They cost anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent less than the original biologic drugs which are said to be the single biggest expense for public drug plans like PharmaCare.

European countries have led the way in transitioning patients to biosimilar drugs, but Canada has lagged far behind.

In 2018, B.C. spent $125 million on Lantus, Enbrel and Remicade, three biologic drugs that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

“Biosimilars (like infliximab) are a necessary step to ensure PharmaCare provides existing coverage for more people and funds new drugs well into the future,” Dix said.

PharmaCare coverage for certain biologics will end Nov. 25. After that time, PharmaCare will provide coverage for the original drugs only in exceptional cases and they will be decided upon on a case-by-case basis.

B.C. has spent the last nine years studying the matter before making the decision. It consulted with physician and patient groups like the B.C. Society of Rheumatologists, endocrinologists, Doctors of B.C., Arthritis Consumer Experts, Canadian Arthritis Society, B.C. Pharmacy Association, Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association, regional health authorities, Health Canada, and the Patented Prices Medicine Review Board.

About 2,700 Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients will also be affected by the transitioning policy, but information for gastroenterology patients will be available in a month or two.

Rheumatologist Dr. John Esdaile said B.C. becomes an overnight Canadian leader with the cost-saving policy change.

“It’s a great day for B.C., for patients, for PharmaCare and for health care in general,” he said, noting that many European countries have had such a policy for 10 years with no evidence of detriment to patients. “I don’t know of any bad news,” said Esdaile, scientific director of Arthritis Research Canada, which has been “badgering” the province to enact such a change.

“For years, B.C has been spending money it doesn’t need to spend on expensive biologics instead of using biosimilars which I call biogenerics since they work just as well,” Esdaile said.

Cheryl Koehn, president of Arthritis Consumer Experts, said society will benefit from the new policy because coverage for other conditions and drugs will expand.

MORE TO COME.

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26May

‘Blow harder! Blow harder!’ police tell severe asthma sufferer during roadside breath test | CBC News

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A B.C. man with severe breathing issues who recently had his car impounded and driver’s licence suspended — twice — says new rules that allow police across the country to pull over any vehicle and force the driver to take a breath test are causing undue hardship for people who cannot blow into a breathalyzer.

Jimmy Forster, 63, suffers from severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and takes daily medications to help him breathe.

He lives in the small village of Chase — population 2,300 — in the B.C. Interior.

In recent months, Chase RCMP have pulled Forster over twice and charged him with failing to provide a breath sample, after he was unable to blow hard enough into a breathalyzer device to register a reading.

“I’m just totally stressed right now,” says Forster, who has an audible wheeze when he speaks and slightly slurred speech due to a childhood brain injury that also left him with a limp.

Forster spends afternoons working on crossword puzzles, unable to drive after losing his licence because he says he couldn’t blow hard enough for a roadside breath test. (Gary Moore/CBC)

He’s on a disability pension, but is now on the hook for hundreds of dollars to get his car out of impound and his driver’s licence reinstated, and says he has no idea how he will pay.

There are almost 200,000 Canadians living with severe asthma and more than two million people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the Canadian Lung Association. Thousands of others have disabilities — such as Bell’s palsy or facial paralysis caused by stroke — that may make them unable to perform a breath test, causing concern for human rights advocates.

“I think it’s important that the police consider human rights principles,” says Dylan Mazur, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, “including the duty to accommodate people with disabilities who can’t provide a roadside test.”

A spokesperson with the RCMP’s national headquarters, Sgt. Marie Damian, did not respond when Go Public asked whether a specific policy exists to provide an alternative for people with disabilities who can’t do a breathalyzer test.

In an email she wrote, “The determination as to whether the subject was ‘able and unwilling’ or ‘legitimately unable’ to provide a sample will be up to the investigating officer.”

“The actual volume and force of breath required for a sample is not significant.”

Pulled over twice

Forster says his first police run-in occurred when he was returning from a trip to the post office on the afternoon of Feb. 14, and an RCMP officer pulled him over and accused him of not wearing a seatbelt.

Forster says he was belted in.

The officer decided to employ the alcohol screening powers that came into effect on Dec. 18, 2018, granting police the right to demand a breath sample from any driver they pull over.

In the past, police couldn’t require a roadside breath test unless they had a reasonable suspicion that a driver had consumed alcohol.

In B.C., any driver who refuses — or, like Forster, fails to provide a breath sample — faces an immediate roadside prohibition (IRP), where their licence is suspended and their vehicle towed, even though there is no evidence of any alcohol consumption.

In other provinces, drivers face a potential criminal charge for refusing to blow.

Forster says he blew into the breathalyzer device, but couldn’t get a reading. He says he explained that he has severe asthma, but the officer didn’t believe him.

This breathalyzer device is used by the RCMP throughout B.C. Its manufacturer claims it ‘produces precise, accurate and repeatable results.’ (AlcoPro)

“He just said, ‘Blow harder! Blow harder!'” says Forster, who says he tried about a dozen times to breathe deeply into the device, and thought he was going to fall over because he was getting dizzy.

The RCMP officer issued an IRP, despite a lack of any evidence that Forster was impaired.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” says Forster, whose doctor told Go Public his patient has no history of a drinking problem.  

Forster appealed to an adjudicator, submitting his medical records. The adjudicator dismissed the case and Forster got his licence back and his car out of impound, without financial penalty.

Asks to take a blood test

A few weeks later, on the morning of March 20, police pulled Forster over again, just after he’d gone for a haircut and filled up his car at a gas station.

“He [the officer] didn’t ask me any questions,” says Forster. “He just brought the breathalyzer and I blew five to six times and had the same thing happen again.”

This time, Forster says, he asked the officer if he could take a blood test instead.

“He totally ignored me,” says Forster. “Just in one ear, out the other.”

Once again, police impounded Forster’s car and suspended his licence for 90 days.

When he appealed a second time, an adjudicator said he believed police notes that said Forster was “putting on a show” to make it look as though he was unable to provide a breath sample.

Sandy Johnston relies on Forster for transportation, after suffering a stroke a decade ago. (Gary Moore/CBC)

The notes do not claim that Forster appeared to have been drinking, smelled of alcohol, or was driving poorly.

“I was so choked,” says Forster, who faces about $1,400 in fees to get his car released from impound and his licence back next month. He has already spent $200 each time he appealed the IRPs.

Forster lives with his cousin Sandy Johnston, who relies on him to drive her places since having a stroke 10 years ago.

“I’m totally dependent on Jimmy,” she says. “After his car got taken the second time, he was just in tears. And then I broke into tears, too. And we were crying together.”

‘They can’t do the tests’

A leading researcher on lung disease says assessing whether or not someone’s lung function is adequate to obtain a breathalyzer reading is not something that can be easily done in the field.

“The concern I have is that there likely are people that have lung function that’s so low that they can’t do the tests,” says Dr. Christopher Carlsten, division head of respiratory medicine at the University of British Columbia and director of the Occupational Lung Disease Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital.

Dr. Christopher Carlsten, a medical adviser to the B.C. Lung Association, says he is concerned that people with chronic lung disease may not have enough airflow to do a breathalyzer test.

He says viral infections and other stressors, such as being pulled over by police, can affect the breathing capacity of someone with compromised lungs.

Others with disabilities challenge test

Go Public has tracked down other cases in B.C. — as well as in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick — in which people with disabilities say they struggled to provide a breathalyzer test.

One of the more prominent cases has prompted a charter challenge against mandatory alcohol screening.

Norma McLeod, 76, of Victoria, was pulled over on Feb. 14, and says she was unable to provide a breath sample due to a chronic lung condition and an implant in the roof of her mouth that’s a result of cancer. Police towed her car and suspended her licence.

“It’s happening more frequently now that the federal government has introduced the provision which permits mandatory alcohol screening based on absolutely no suspicion of alcohol consumption,” says criminal lawyer Jennifer Teryn, part of the legal team representing McLeod.

“If someone’s unable to provide a sample upon demand, it’s my position that the police should have to get engaged in some minor investigation to find out for themselves whether there’s a legitimate reason for that or not,” says Teryn.

Mazur says he also expects police to ask people whether they have a disability preventing them from complying with a roadside breath test demand.

“I’ve heard this from people with disabilities who have mobility issues or who have speech issues — that they can be perceived as intoxicated,” says Mazur.

“What the RCMP has to do is look at their policies, and look at whether there are provisions of reasonable accommodation based on disability.”

‘I plan to raise these concerns’

Go Public asked Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s minister of public safety and solicitor general, about the difficulties some people with disabilities have  providing breath tests.

In a statement, Farnworth wrote, “I plan to raise these concerns with my federal counterparts. In addition, I’ve asked my staff to research whether there are any amendments that could be made to the immediate roadside prohibition appeal process in these situations, including options to reduce any financial barriers for requesting a review.”

His ministry said that of 2,558 IRP reviews conducted last year, 491 were dismissed. The office could not determine how many of the cases were dismissed due to disability or medical issues.

Worried it will happen again

Jimmy Forster is due to get his driver’s licence back on June 20, but says he’s anxious police will keep pulling him over.

“I can’t afford it, I’m on disability,” says Forster. “I can’t sleep at night.”

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We want to hear from people across the country with stories you want to make public.

Submit your story ideas at [email protected].

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26May

Mom creates program for supportive housing tenants after son’s death

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After Christine Harris’s son died slowly and alone in a Vancouver supportive housing unit, she vowed to do everything possible to ensure no other parent would have to share her pain.

She last spoke to her son, Lindsey Longe, on July 12, 2012. The 30-year-old was last seen alive by a friend on July 15, 2012. He died the next day of blood poisoning in his room at Pacific Coast Apartments. The use of illicit drugs contributed to his death, according to a coroner’s report.

Longe’s body wasn’t discovered until three days after he died, after days of Harris calling and pleading with Coast Mental Health staff to check on him, Harris said.

In recent years, Harris, an Alberta social worker, has been developing “Got Your Back For Life,” a volunteer program that pairs people living in supportive housing with a “most-trusted person” who agrees to check on them regularly.

The program is halfway through a one-year pilot at PHS Community Services Society’s Margaret Mitchell Place. About 20 residents of the 52-unit temporary modular housing complex near Olympic Village Station signed an agreement with a trusted person who might be a friend, neighbour, family member or staff member.

Together, they decide how often they’ll do health and wellness checks — it might be every day or once per week — and sign contracts with some personal information and ID photos. The trusted person can then go to building staff at the agreed-upon time, or any time they have a reason to be concerned, and ask them to check on their partner.

Harris said the program came out of discussions with supportive housing residents during an event she holds each summer in her son’s memory. She pitched the cost-free program to PHS in July 2018 and by November the trial was underway.

She praised PHS for already doing 24-hour checks at its supportive housing units but said she hopes the program helps push other housing operators to do better, too.

“(PHS is) doing it to give their tenants an extra layer of protection,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”

Amid the overdose crisis, B.C. Housing updated contracts with supportive housing sites to require them to conduct health and wellness checks at least every 48 hours, and more frequently when deemed necessary.

But Harris believes 48 hours is inadequate. She keeps an eye on coroner reports, which recently indicated that in Vancouver 48 per cent of the people who died of an illicit-drug overdose since 2017 were in “other residences” such as social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters and hotels.

“I don’t believe that we, as a society, have done enough,” Harris said. “We need to give people the power to look after each other and this community. These people care about each other.”


Lindsey Longe, pictured here with his mother Christine Harris, was 30 when he died in supportive housing in 2012 in Vancouver.

Submitted: Christine Harris /

Vancouver

Margaret Mitchell Place resident Chris Middleton said he has a strong network of friends, family and staff who check on his well-being often, but knowing Got Your Back For Life has a “most-trusted person” regularly checking on him, too, puts his mind at ease.

“I have someone else looking out for me,” he said. “A lot of people don’t. They grow up in these buildings and they have no one that is willing to go ‘Hey, how are you?’”

Middleton believes the program is particularly good for people who might not leave their room too often, such as those who are elderly or disabled.

“It should be status quo,” he said. “Everybody would have their buddy that would check in on how they’re doing.”

The program also helps build community. When it came to Margaret Mitchell Place, it brought people together right away, said building manager Byron Slack.

“A lot of people knew each other in the building but hadn’t really congregated in the common spaces,” he said. “It was one of the first programs we brought into the building and it’s a way of empowering neighbours to be able to check up on their friends.”

Slack said staff check on residents on behalf of their loved ones whether or not they are in the program, but said the contract made between its participants, in honour of Longe, is especially meaningful.

“It’s been a really positive thing,” he said.

The program appealed to PHS because it was peer-driven and came at the height of the “prohibition crisis” behind B.C. overdose deaths, said Duncan Higgon, senior manager of housing.

It works as an overdose intervention tool, he said. For example, if partners score drugs from the same dealer, one might go back to their room, take them and come close to an overdose. With their Got Your Back For Life commitment in mind, they might be compelled to make sure their partner with potent drugs is OK.

Staff have embraced the program and it has the added benefit of engaging tenants in peer-to-peer work, Higgon said. Sometimes, tenants don’t like to ask staff for help, so an arrangement with a peer is more appealing.

“For us, that is very meaningful,” he said. “When we were presented with those opportunities, it was really exciting to trial.”

Higgon said PHS is developing trials at three other PHS modular-housing buildings. But there is potential for it to run at all 1,500 units of PHS housing. He would like to see it used to help homeless people, too.

“I really do see it as a uniquely beautiful, supportive and useful tool across a whole spectrum,” he said.

Harris believes that if just one life is saved by Got Your Back For Life, her program has done what it was designed to do.

“Lindsey, in the last while of his life, when he started hoarding, became very isolated,” she said.

“He was living in shame. To have had something that could have connected him with someone a little more tightly would have helped in many ways.”

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26May

Daphne Bramham: Tougher new regulations promise more agony for chronic pain-sufferers

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One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain, but the cries of an estimated 800,000 British Columbians are not only being ignored, their suffering is being exacerbated by regulators limiting their access to both drugs and treatment.

First, in a move unprecedented in North America, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons imposed mandatory opioid and narcotic prescription limits on doctors in 2016 in an attempt to avoid creating additional addicts and having more prescription drugs sold on the street.

Physicians who don’t comply can be fined up to $100,000 or have their licences revoked.

Now, the college is setting tough regulations for physicians administering pain-management injections.

“I’m enraged,” says Kate Mills, a 33-year-old, palliative care nurse who has been on disability leave for the past 18 months. “People like me are living in chronic, intractable pain and being ignored by doctors who are either too scared or too callous to care.”

She has an uncommon, congenital condition that causes chronic inflammation near her sacroiliac joint and in her lower back, which pushes down on her nerves causing “exquisite pain” down her leg.

Her first doctor essentially fired her, refusing to treat the pain. The next one prescribed Oxycodone to help Mills through until she was able to receive a steroid injection at a clinic, which kept the pain in check for several months.

But by the time the injection’s effects were wearing off, her GP went on extended medical leave. The locum assigned to Mills refused to prescribe her any medication and told her to go to an emergency room where she was given a prescription.

After numerous ER visits, Mills finally found a doctor two weeks ago who is willing to provide medication for her between injections. But he agreed only after Mills signed a contract agreeing that she won’t sell the drugs, will only go to one pharmacy and take the drugs only as prescribed.

She is lucky, though. Her pain management clinic will likely meet the college’s new standards that were developed by an advisory panel over the past three years out of concern about patient safety.

“Increasingly,” the college says on its website, “Procedural pain management is being provided in private clinics and physician offices, but without much guidance on appropriate credentials, settings, techniques and equipment.”

The new regulations would require physicians’ offices or clinics to become accredited facilities with standards on par with ambulatory surgery centres.

That means having tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment including resuscitation carts, high-resolution ultrasound, automated external defibrillators and electronic cardiograms with printout capability.

The college acknowledges that “patients do not require continuous ECG monitoring. However, the cardiac monitoring equipment must be available in the event a patient has an unintended reaction to the procedure.”

The disruption for patients will be huge, according to Dr. Helene Bertrand, a general practitioner, pain researcher and clinical instructor at UBC’s medical school.

She estimates that up to 80 per cent of the offices and clinics where the injections are currently being done won’t measure up and already wait times are up to 18 months.

When the new requirements come into force, Bertrand predicts patients will be waiting anywhere from four to seven years for treatment.

Bertrand herself will have to quit doing prolotherapy, which she has done for the past 18 years on everything from shoulders to necks to spine to ankles. That’s despite the fact she’s never been sued, never had a complaint filed with the college and has published, peer-reviewed research that revealed an 89 per cent success rate among 211 patients in her study group.

(Prolotherapy involves injecting a sugar solution close to injured or painful joints causing inflammation. That inflammation increases the blood supply and deposits collagen on tendons and ligaments helping to repair them.)

The college will not grandfather general practitioners already doing injection therapies. Instead it will restrict general practitioners to knees, ankles and shoulders. All other joint injections must be done by anesthetists or pain specialists.

For Joan Bellamy, that’s a huge step backward.

She’s suffered from chronic pain since 1983 and “undergone the gamut of medical approaches, often with excessive waits: hospital OP (outpatient), pharmacology, neurology, orthopedics, spinal, physiatry and private.”

Since 2000, she’s had multiple injections that have made a difference. But her doctor doesn’t meet the new qualifications.

“I am afraid that without her expertise … that pain will become an intolerable burden, and any search for treatment will result in inconceivable wait times and will debilitate me,” Bellamy wrote in a letter to the college and copied to me.

The near future for pain-sufferers looks grim with most physicians able to offer them little more than over-the-counter painkillers.

Ironically at a time when the provincial medical health officer and others are lobbying hard to have all drugs legalized so that addicts have access to a safe supply, chronic pain-sufferers are being marginalized. For them, it’s more difficult than ever to get what they need.

It’s forcing many of them facing a lifetime of exquisite and unbearable pain to at least contemplate one of two deadly choices: Buy potentially fentanyl-laced street drugs; or worse, ask for medically assisted dying.

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26May

More than 500 join annual MS walk in Vancouver

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More than 500 people took to the streets around Concord Pacific Place Sunday morning for the annual Multiple Sclerosis Walk to raise awareness of MS.

Participants took part in a 2- or 5-kilometre walk along False Creek in hope of raising $200,000 for MS research.

“This walk is critically important,” said Tania Vrionis of the MS Society of Canada. “Not only does it really provide that groundswell support, it really brings the community together for people living with MS to show them support; to show them they’re not alone in the fight to end MS.”

UBC MS Clinic director Tony Traboulsee said that the most common first sign of MS is loss of vision in one eye that usually last over 24 hours.

“We haven’t cured MS yet, but we’re getting closer and closer with more effective treatments.” Traboulsee told CTV News. “Now, when someone is newly diagnosed and we start early treatment, we can really predict a much better long term outcome. They’re less likely to develop disability and [more likely to] maintain their job and relationships. It’s much more optimistic today than it was 10, 20 years ago.”

The MS Walk also took place in 17 communities across British Columbia on Sunday. 


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26May

New 2019 Vancouver Bike Map highlights Triple AAA Network

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The free 2019 Vancouver Bike Map is available during Bike to Work Week, Monday, May 27, to Sunday, June 2.


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New 2019 City of Vancouver Bike Maps highlighting the all-ages-protected bike lanes will be handed out starting Monday during Bike to Work Week.

The city has printed 20,000 of the weather-resistant bike maps showing the latest changes to the bike network, said Dale Bracewell, manager of transportation for the City of Vancouver.

The map highlights what’s called the AAA Network: AAA stands for All Ages and Abilities and refers to a protected bike lane separated from motorized traffic by physical barriers such as planters or curbs. The AAA lanes are shown in yellow outlined in green on the maps.

One of the big additions to the AAA network since the last update a few years ago is on the Cambie Bridge.

“We made the switch in the last year on the Cambie Bridge,” Bracewell said. “Now one-way north bound is on the east side and one way south bound is on a protected bike lane on the other side. It has the kind of detail that matters for people in terms of understanding that part of our Triple AAA Network and how it connects to the seawall.”

One side of the map shows the biking network in the city core that stretches from the bikeway along Woodland Drive to the east; the stretch of bikeway along West 14th to the south; the protected bike lanes on the Coal Harbour Seawall and Alexander Street to the north; as well as the downtown core. It’s roughly the footprint of the Mobi Bike Share network.

On the other side, the map shows all the protected bike lanes, local street bikeways, painted bike lanes and shared-use lanes throughout the city and out to the University of B.C.

A new addition to the map is a section on Micro Mobility that uses a graphic to show where people can ride bicycles, E-bikes, mopeds and skateboards.

The bike maps are free. They’ll be handed out at the City of Vancouver Bike to Work stations.

Bike to Work Week, organized by HUB Cycling in Metro, starts Monday, May 27, and continues through to Sunday, June 2. Monday also marks the beginning of Bike to School Week. Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2, is Bike to Shop Week.

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24May

Congress 2019: UBC throws open its doors to academics, and the public

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UBC will throw open its doors for the 88th Annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences for seven days of meetings, presentations and panels for more than 10,000 academics and you too, if you want.

If that sounds about as dry as a mouth full of saltines, you might want to look again. More than 300 events are free to the public, including theatre and musical productions, art and literary exhibitions, lectures and poetry readings. You just have to register for a community pass.

“The public programming is incredibly rich,” said Laura Moss, the academic convener for the congress. “Anybody can come and have extraordinary access to contemporary research and a whole bunch of events, plays and films, along with the people that produce them.”

Congress 2019 (https://www.congress2019.ca/) is the biggest academic conference in Canada. Thousands of scheduled events will take place on the main campus of the University of B.C. starting June 1.

“We expect thousands of members of the public to come and there’s really a lot to see and do,” she said.

The keynote Big Thinking lecture series is stocked with artists and storytellers appearing daily at the Frederic Wood Theatre, including the multi-talented Indigenous performer Margo Kane, documentarist and scientist David Suzuki, artist Stan Douglas and novelist Esi Edugyan.

“Art can be a way to tease out important contemporary issues,” said Moss, a professor of Canadian literature at UBC. “I personally work at the intersection of art and politics and I really wanted to bring that out in the programming.”

The speakers will address issues of free speech, censorship and access built around three broad questions: Who speaks for whom? Who listens? And who benefits?

“We will explore who gets to talk, who is in the circle and who hears the messages and we should talk about who profits from that, someone or the community?” she said.

Moss designed the program to highlight the value of the arts and humanities in every facet of society and life.

Governments and universities have a near obsession with promoting STEM, for reasons of commerce and gender equity. And while there’s a lot of value in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the humanities and social sciences have not enjoyed the same level of public enthusiasm lately.

“I really wanted to shift the emphasis back to the humanities, the arts, the social sciences,” she said. “These are the social, political and cultural aspects of everyday life and they can be very grounded in public policy, but (we) approach it with the human impact in mind.”

Look back to look forward

The Galatea Project is a theatrical collaboration between UBC’s English department and Bard on the Beach to mount a production of John Lyly’s 1588 play Galatea about two girls disguised as boys who fall in love. The play is set in a low valley in 16th century Lincolnshire threatened by climate change.

I am not kidding.

“It’s incredible and one of the most relevant plays out there and it was written before Shakespeare,” she said.

Literary scholars shared years of their research into the play with the actors and directors. They in turn brought the characters’ struggles with gender issues, sexuality and an impending climate crisis to life more than four centuries after it was first performed for Queen Elizabeth I. Galatea will be performed June 2.

“People have been thinking and talking about these issues for centuries and there is a great deal we can learn by looking back at those conversations,” Moss said.

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale imagined a dystopian future in the ’80s that seems to become more relevant than ever in the age of Trump, she noted.

“There are 5,000 events happening over the course of the week, so it’s almost beyond imagining,” said Moss. “There is so much cool stuff, I want people to come and enjoy it.”

Dozens of literary and academic publishers are booked for the Congress Expo, including Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press, Harper Collins Canada and publishing houses from Yale, MIT, Georgetown and University of Toronto. Some of the publishers are also holding scheduled events exploring themes of reconciliation, gender equity and politics among others.

Picture Perfect: Blind Ambitions is an exhibition of highly textured art by visually impaired artists and daily “meditative mash-ups” with artists and internationally renowned disability scholars, presented by UBC’s Wingspan and Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture.

Join the conversation

More than 70 academic associations will hold their annual meetings through the run of the conference between June 1 and 7 and thousands of the attending academics plan to present studies and papers to their peers.

“It’s hugely important for people to interact face-to-face,” said Moss. “Congress has 73 associations coming together ranging in size from more than a thousand members to just over a dozen in some disciplines like Hungarian studies.”

“Some universities have just one or two specialists in a particular area so this is the one time they have to come together and have really dynamic conversations among people who might be working most of the time in virtual isolation,” she said.

Parallel to those interactions between people in similar fields of study is a whole range of multidisciplinary events under the theme Circles of Conversation to encourage scholars, students, political leaders, citizens and activists to share, debate and dissent on topics such as sustainability, health, education and especially Indigenous issues.

“It’s an opportunity to problem solve in a social way that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries and those kinds of conversations need to happen in person,” she said.

It is often said that the real value of a conference is not in the presentations on the schedule, but in the freewheeling conversations that happen over drinks afterward. Circles of Conversation aims to create that kind of atmosphere among people who may approach problems from very different perspectives.

But if you prefer a more traditional after-conference convo, the Congress does have its own beer — Dialager by Howe Sound Brewing — brewed to promote dialogue and wash down snacks in the Social Zone.

Big ideas


SFU lecturer Stewart Prest will present a paper on emerging issues in civic politics.

Jason Payne /

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SFU political science lecturer Stewart Prest is working feverishly on a paper he expects and even hopes will be gently critiqued and challenged by his colleagues at Congress 2019.

In The New Urbanism — which he has developed with political podcaster Ian Bushfield — Prest says that Vancouver’s traditional right-left political split has essentially disintegrated in favour of a more complex dynamic built along issues of urban life, housing, transportation and affordability.

Vancouver’s old two-channel political universe has exploded into a whole multi-channel cable-TV-style array of six-plus niche offerings, not based on traditional left-right divisions about social equity and fiscal responsibility, but on how the city will grow and house its citizens.

The right-leaning NPA failed to capture a majority in the last civic election after the party’s constituency split in three, with Hector Bremner founding Yes Vancouver and Wai Young heading the populist Coalition Vancouver.

The left has similarly fragmented into COPE, OneCity Vancouver and the spent brand that is Vision Vancouver.

“You can usually stick with an economic left-right spectrum as one axis, but depending on the issues of the day you can put any number of issues on the second axis,” said Prest. “We have a spectrum now in Vancouver that we hadn’t really thought about before.”

Prest and Bushfield sort the parties based on their support for “urbanist” fast-paced high density development or “conservationist” slow growth.

“When you plot them on urbanism, it makes how the parties and candidates were positioning themselves make a lot more sense,” said Prest.

Other levels of government may not be immune to the proliferation of parties with single-issue appeal. Canada already has six parties represented in Parliament, while the U.K. has nine.

An ethical dilemma


Ryan M. Katz-Rosene will present a paper on the environmental impacts of air travel.

Jean Levac /

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To fly, or not to fly. That is the question Ryan Katz-Rosene had to confront when deciding to attend Congress 2019.

The University of Ottawa assistant professor and vice-president of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada will be thinking about the carbon footprint of that flight. That’s because when he lands, Katz-Rosene will present a paper examining the aviation industry’s impact on Earth’s climate and the so-far fruitless efforts to curb its impact.

Air pollution caused by international flights has doubled over the past 20 years and is expected to double again in the next 20.

Already a brutally inefficient mode of transport, efficiency gains in commercial aviation are being outstripped by the growth of the industry by a worrying margin.

So, is it ethical to fly? The answers are tricky.

“It’s an unsolvable policy challenge,” said Katz-Rosene. “Aviation offers tremendous benefits to our society, whether it’s the value it contributes to the economy, the number of jobs that it contributes, but more importantly the connectivity,” he said. “We can see other parts of the world, visit family and friends.”

But those benefits really accrue only to the richest people on the planet. Before you protest about your impoverishment, 80 per cent of the world’s population has never set foot on a plane. If you fly — ever — you are an elite.

“Canada is a rich country and access to aviation is part of the norm for us and demand is growing tremendously,” he said.

But the environmental impacts of aviation as so severe that there is a growing movement of caring citizens who have decided it is not ethical to fly. Ever.

Katz-Rosene may join them, but not before leading a discussion of the industry’s plans to cap and then reduce the carbon footprint of international air travel through an agreement called CORSIA, Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.

Will it work? Not so far.

Because most offsetting projects fail to reduce emissions, they amount to little more than a “carbon laundering scheme,” he said. “This will probably be my last work-related flight for the foreseeable future.”

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