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5Jun

Advocates call for change after $2.9 million surplus revealed for BC Hydro fund

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BC Hydro is sitting on a surplus of about $2.9 million in its customer crisis fund, leading to calls for the utility to reduce its take from the average customer or provide more money to those in need.

B.C. Liberal Energy Critic Greg Kyllo said if the imbalance continues in the year-old pilot program, it’s time to cut the monthly 25 cent fee in half.

“If the grant requirement or the need in the province is going to remain where it is, they should look at rolling back the contribution level in the fund,” he told CTV News Vancouver from Salmon Arm.

But social agencies who were part of the consultation around the fund in the beginning said it’s more likely that people in need don’t know about the fund and more time is necessary to get the word out.

“If they collect the money, then the program’s got to change to make sure more people are able to be helped,” said Gudrun Langolf of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of BC.

The customer crisis fund was started in spring 2018 to give people short-term relief when they can’t pay their electricity bills. Customers can apply to get a grant of up to $500 to keep the lights on, and up to $600 if electricity heats their homes.

The public utility took in about 25 cents per customer per month which added up to a revenue of $4.5 million in the year since the program started, BC Hydro confirmed to CTV News.

But the agency only gave out 2,250 grants totalling $850,000.

Administration costs added up around $750,000 – leaving the $2.9 million remaining.

The news will come as a welcome relief to those who suddenly struggle to pay their hydro bills.

Some people who come into Disability Alliance B.C. are often anxious and emotional when they’re suddenly unable to pay their bills, said Shar Saremi, an advocate there.

“I’ve had people crying. I’ve had people who have experienced a loss in the family,” she said. “A lot of the time people are stressed out, anxious, really upset. They are looking for assistance, and they aren’t sure what is available for them.”

She said people are only eligible if their bills are under $1,000, which could be cutting out the people who are most in need. And because the program is in its first year, it could be undersubscribed, she said.

“A lot of people don’t know about the program, don’t know how to apply, or what kind of assistance is out there,” Saremi said.

The fund was established thanks to an order from the B.C. Utilities Commission, the utilities regulator in the province.

The pilot program is going to be examined by the regulator at the end of its first year.

“Any remaining balance in the account at the end of the pilot would be returned to residential ratepayers,” says a BCUC fact sheet. The decision on exactly what to do with the money hasn’t yet been made.

In Manitoba, a similar program is by donation. That program raised about $200,000 from customers and $60,000 in other income. It spent $199,000 on grants to applicants, but lost about $20,000 a year.

In Ontario, private utilities are expected to raise 0.12 per cent of their revenue. Across the province, those utilities gave out about $7.3 million in grants. Any unused funds in one year are rolled over to the following year.


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5Jun

Government defends ICBC cap in response to lawsuit filed by trial lawyers

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Damaged vehicles are seen at ICBC’s Lower Mainland Salvage Yard.


DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The B.C. government is defending its decision to impose a cap on ICBC claims for minor injuries, in a response to a lawsuit filed by the Trial Lawyers Association of B.C.

In April, the association sued in B.C. Supreme Court, saying the $5,500 cap on minor injury claims and the establishment of a civil resolution tribunal to adjudicate certain claims were unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The NDP government had passed the legislation enacting the changes last year after declaring that ICBC, which has reported losses of $2.2 billion in the past two years, was in a financial crisis and measures were needed to protect the interests of B.C. drivers and keep premiums down.

The association’s lawsuit argues that the new regulations have the potential to discriminate against people with brain injuries, psychiatric injuries and chronic pain by treating those injuries differently than other injuries.

It said that the scheme would have a “disproportionately adverse effect” upon women, the elderly and persons with pre-existing injuries or other disabilities.

The establishment of the tribunal would create “significant barriers” to access to justice before the superior courts for many claimants, said the suit.

But a response filed in court by the Attorney General’s Ministry emphasized that the substantial increases in ICBC claims costs had jeopardized the Crown corporation’s long-term sustainability and its ability to keep basic insurance rates affordable for drivers.

The ministry denied that the cap disproportionately adversely affects women, the elderly or persons with pre-existing conditions. “The defendants further deny that the minor injury definition includes conditions that have been subject to prejudice and stereotyping, historically or at all.”

Any distinction that the cap may draw among accident claimants is based on severity of injury, not mental or physical disability, says the ministry’s response.

The response defended the establishment of the tribunal, saying that its mandate was to resolve claims within its jurisdiction in a manner that is “accessible, speedy, economical, informal and flexible.”

The tribunal does not create a barrier to access to justice in the superior courts, the ministry said.

“There is no constitutional or fundamental right to have vehicle accident claims determined by a superior court,” it said. “Historically and at Confederation, the superior courts exercised concurrent jurisdiction with inferior courts and tribunals for personal injury claims.

“The minor injury amendments do not impair the core jurisdiction of the superior courts, nor do they otherwise cause undue hardship thereby impeding access to justice for accident claimants to whom they apply.”

No date has been set for a trial.

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5Jun

Rapid response to B.C.’s overdose crisis saved thousands of lives: report

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Firefighters and BC Ambulance paramedics in Vancouver take a woman who suffered an fentanyl and heroin overdose to the hospital, in January, 2018.


Jason Payne / PNG

A study by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the rapid harm-reduction response to the province’s overdose crisis saved more than 3,000 lives during the peak of the emergency.

Researchers looked at a 20-month period from April 2016 to December 2017 when 2,177 people died of an overdose, concluding that the number of deaths in B.C. would have been two and a half times higher.

The study gives three programs the credit: take-home naloxone which saved almost 1,600 lives, the expansion of overdose prevention services, stopping 230 deaths, and increased access to treatment that saved 590 lives.

The centre’s Dr. Mike Irvine led the research and says despite the highly toxic street drug supply, the average probability of death from accidental overdose decreased because of the services provided to keep people alive.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the study speaks to the importance of harm reduction and the services are essential to turning the tide in the overdose crisis.

The province declared a health emergency over the crisis in April 2016 and the centre says in a news release that overdose remains the leading cause of preventable death in the province.


A Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit responds to an unresponsive man after the male injected a drug, in the Downtown Eastside at Vancouver in December 2016.

RICHARD LAM /

PNG

Irvine says their study is the among the first evidence that shows a combination of harm reduction and treatment interventions can save lives.

“It is useful information for jurisdictions considering how to respond to the overdose crisis.”

Overdose deaths increased rapidly in 2016, coinciding with the introduction of the powerful opioid fentanyl into the illicit drug supply.

Fentanyl or its analogues were detected in 87 per cent of all illicit overdose deaths last year.

Jane Buxton, the harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says the take-home naloxone program was already in place when the crisis emerged, allowing them to quickly expand the program to help save lives.

“Since the program ramped up in mid-2016 in response to the ongoing crisis, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 5,000 kits every month.”

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5Jun

’Non-trivial dose’: UVic study tries to estimate human consumption of microplastics

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A blue rectangular piece of microplastic is visible on a researcher’s finger on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 in Tacoma, Wash. New research suggests North Americans eat, drink and inhale tens of thousands of tiny plastic particles every year.


Ted S. Warren / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New research suggests North Americans eat, drink and inhale tens of thousands of tiny plastic particles every year.

University of Victoria biologist Kieran Cox, whose paper was published Wednesday, says what his study shows most clearly is how little is known about the extent or impact of microplastics in people.

“The last thing I want to do is cause some sort of undue alarm over plastics,” he said.

“But even if we’re considering what I would call a pretty limited literature, we’re getting into hundreds of thousands (of particles) a year. That’s a non-trivial dose.”

Microplastics range in size from microscopic to a grain of rice. They are produced when plastic items of all kinds break down in the environment.

The subject of a growing body of research, they have been detected in oceans, on land and in air. Cox’s study is one of the first to try to estimate their presence in humans.

“If you tell people more facts surrounding microplastics in the ocean, they don’t seem perturbed by it,” he said. “But if you tell them there’s a small piece of plastic in their food, they’re really connected to that.”

Cox and his colleagues began by tracking down every study they could that estimated the plastics load in commonly consumed items of food and drink. Although they found nothing on meat and vegetables, they found 26 studies on fish, shellfish, sugar additives, salts and beer as well as on bottled and tap water.

They estimated how much of those items would be consumed by an average North American following something close to American food guidelines.

The calculated plastics dose those food items were introducing was between 39,000 to 52,000 microplastics particles a year into every individual. Female children were at the low end; adult males were at the high.


(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 17, 2015 shows a Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles for recycling in Dong Xiao Kou village, on the outskirt of Beijing.

FRED DUFOUR /

AFP/Getty Images

The totals could be higher. Someone who drinks mostly bottled water could be gulping down an extra 90,000 pieces yearly.

Nor does that include microplastics in air. Breathing introduces another 35,000 to 69,000 particles.

And because that estimate only includes about 15 per cent of average caloric intake, Cox said it’s likely to be conservative.

“I would say the likelihood that it’s an underestimate of your total consumption over the year is pretty high.”

Much remains unknown.

Cox didn’t find any studies on microplastics in meats, fruits, vegetables or alcoholic drinks except beer. The pathways into food and humans are varied and ill-understood, he said.

“You can think about the middle of the grocery store — you walk through all those middle aisles and the vast majority of those items are going to be wrapped in plastic. Everyone can take a survey of their day and think about the items that they’re consuming that have a lot of plastic in them.”

The health impacts of microplastics are also mysterious.

Some plastics — BPA, for example, which disrupts endocrine function — are harmful in themselves. There is also evidence they can carry other toxins. Many particles are small enough to pass through cell membranes.

It calls out for more research, Cox said.

“We have this dose. What does it mean?”

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5Jun

‘I am afraid’: Taxi driver’s sexual assault to result in deportation to India | CBC News

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In his bid to remain in Canada, Gurpreet Singh Gill lamented the impact of his crime on many collateral victims.

His wife — who faces the loss of her home. His daughter — who may have to leave private school and dance lessons. His son — born 10 days before Gill sexually assaulted a passenger in his taxi cab in 2012.

But there’s one victim the 42-year-old didn’t mention in his plea for compassion from a Canadian Federal Court judge: the young woman who said Gill’s actions changed her life forever.

“I am already filled with regret from my actions and conviction. I have brought shame to my family, and I understand that there are consequences for my conduct,” Gill wrote in an affidavit sworn to bolster his case to avoid deportation.

“However, my deepest regret is that my children will suffer for my conduct.”

A ‘tipsy’ passenger

Last week, Judge Luc Martineau dismissed Gill’s application for a judicial review of an immigration officer’s decision to reject the Surrey man’s attempt to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The ruling brings to an end a tragic journey that began with Gill’s arrival in Canada a decade ago with his wife and young daughter.

Although highly educated, he was unable to get his Indian degrees accepted for Canadian certification and ended up working as a Yellow Cab taxi driver.

Gurpreet Singh Gill was working as a Yellow Cab taxi driver when he sexually assaulted a young female passenger in September 2012. (Shutterstock)

And on Sept. 2, 2012, at approximately 1:45 a.m., a woman referred to in court documents as K hopped into the front seat of his cab after leaving a bachelorette party.

She was tipsy. And after giving directions to her boyfriend’s house, K fell asleep.

Gill put the visor on the passenger side down, blocking the security camera’s view of the inside of the cab — a factor the sentencing judge would later claim as aggravating.

According to the record of the case, Gill touched K’s leg and she brushed his hand away, saying “no.” He then pushed her underwear aside and stuck two fingers into her vagina.

“Ms. K reacted by saying ‘stop’ and hitting the accused’s forearm. She then moved closer to the passenger side door,” the sentencing decision says.

Gill “tried to kiss her, and ultimately slobbered on Ms. K’s left lip and cheek area.”

He dropped her off at her boyfriend’s house and in the hours that followed, she underwent a forensic sexual assault examination at B.C. Women’s Hospital.

Referred to his sexual assault as ‘non-violent’

The subject of Gill’s possible deportation came up during the sentencing proceedings, because the judge was asked to consider a suspended sentence or a maximum of six months less a day — both of which would have seen him stay in Canada.

But the sentencing judge rejected that logic.

“This was disgraceful and disgusting conduct committed by a man in a position of trust who Ms. K was entitled to believe would transport her in a safe and reliable environment to her destination,” wrote B.C. Supreme Court Justice Patrice Abrioux.

Gurpreet Singh Gill fought his sentencing and conviction all the way to B.C.’s Court of Appeal, and he fought his deportation in Federal Court. He has lost every step of the way. (David Horemans/CBC)

A jury convicted Gill in 2014 and he was sentenced to three years in 2015. He fought the case to B.C.’s Court of Appeal, where his sentencing and conviction were upheld in 2017.

According to the Federal Court ruling, Gill’s wife and daughter didn’t tell his six-year-old son that he was in jail.

“They tell him that their father is working ‘there’ and because it is far from their home, he has to live there,” the decision says.

He was granted day parole, but the parole board denied Gill full parole, saying he continues to minimize his actions: “Indeed in his application for parole, he referred to his sexual assault as, ‘non-violent.'”

‘Breach of the social contract’

Gill was ordered deported in November 2017.

In his affidavit, Gill says his wife won’t be able to pay their mortgage without him and his children may have to leave the private school that costs the family $4,000 a year.

“I am afraid to return to India,” Gill wrote.

“More than that, I have so much fear about leaving my wife and children alone and without support in Canada.”

Gill also claimed his parents had been shunned in India by other family members as a result of his actions. And he feared worse.

“My conviction is known in India,” he wrote.

“I am afraid that my conviction may be used against me.”

But Martineau said he saw no reason to intervene in the deportation process, saying it was Gill’s actions that led to his criminal inadmissibility to Canada.

“This breach of the social contract can lead not only to consequences imposed by the criminal court,” the judge wrote.

“But also to [Gill’s] loss of his immigration status and related privileges.”


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