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Category "British Columbia"

14Aug

Ian Mulgrew: Former B.C. Supreme Court judge’s vibrant voice lives on in lively letters

by admin

Even in the age of email, letters seduce us — the intimacy of a personal voice drawing us in, often revealing as much about the author as the subject, offering a glimpse, a sliver of a life.

And correspondence penned nearly half a century ago by retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Harry Boyle vibrantly evokes the quotidian aspects of his legal practice and its emotional toll.

Believe it or not, there was a time in this province when lawyers charged only $30 a day — and wore their humanity on their sleeves, sometimes representing an offender on a whim out of compassion:

“This appeal was not authorized by legal aid … Since it was not authorized, I have submitted no account with respect to it apart from adding one to ‘days in court’ on the enclosed form. If you feel this is sneaking around the end, then please deduct $30.”

Now 93, Boyle came from a legal family in Penticton, but he started in journalism in the 1950s at The Whitehorse Star.

He worked in a dilapidated garage under the motto Illegitimus non carborundum, mock Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

A visit to Yukon by federal officials triggered Boyle’s headline: “Better class of drinkers in town.”

He turned to law in 1963.

Vancouver lawyer Don Rosenbloom laughed upon hearing I had found a selection of his former’s partner’s letters published as a booklet in the mid-1990s by the Legal Services Society for young lawyers.


Judge Harry Boyle in his office in 1980 with a poster of W.C. Fields behind him. The photo caption at the time noted: ‘British Columbia provincial court judge Harry Boyle has little in common with W.C. Fields but they share a reputation for having a sense of humour.’

Steve Bosch /

PNG files

When a letterhead envelope from their office arrived at legal aid in the ’70s, Rosenbloom recalled: “They were always disappointed if it contained my bills instead of his — his letters were cherished.”

Boyle wrote them to Frank Maczko, then executive director of legal aid, explaining his fees.

Sometimes it was a brief note: “I am billing for trial since I prepared for trial and was un-notified of the stay until the date for trial. If this is not cricket (or baseball as played by the New York Mets), I expect you will advise me.”

The wry epistles, however, capture Boyle’s personality and, read today, offer us a chance to ask whether the profession has significantly changed.

Some things, like winning a friendly judge, certainly haven’t: “I appeared to fix a date on Dec. 14 and looked up to see one of the pleasantest sights a man could see in court — his honour Judge (Nicholas) Mussallem on the bench.

“Seizing the opportunity, since in my opinion, they had Mr. B. cold, I pleaded him guilty. He was fined $75 despite a lengthy record and given till Feb. 1 to pay and further advised by his hour Judge Mussallem — if he found it difficult to pay by that time to be sure and let him know.”

Services for the mentally ill remains problematic, if less harrowing.

Boyle recounted the case of a client, accused of attacking his wife and baby with a knife, remanded to the old Colony Farm facility for the criminally insane for psychiatric tests.

“I visited him out there,” he wrote, “and after the brief period of my own visit I wondered whether I was crazy. It is an appalling place to send someone whose sanity or insanity is in doubt.”

He managed to have the man released after a terrifying 30 days in bedlam:

“In the meantime, I understand that his friends got together and bought him a one-way ticket to New Zealand, which is his home, and where all concerned hope that relatives will take over and see that he is provided with psychiatric care. I have not yet informed the court that the bird has flown, but plan to do so in the hope that they will agree that his flight is the best practical answer to the problem … I can’t help feeling it is another comment on the system when the best possible solution is a one-way ticket out of town.”

Like the addled, the addicted continue to pose a dilemma.

Boyle worried they also had “a fly-paper-like quality to which all the minor sections of the criminal code seem to adhere.”

A judge had the power back then to order committal for treatment — but there was an abundance of loopholes and no easy moral answer for a defence lawyer like Boyle:

“If a man has been picked up six or eight times ‘dead drunk in the gutter’ who wins if he’s kept out of (treatment)? Providing that the evidence with respect to the circumstances of the subject’s life is accurate and properly produced, then there seems to be a fairly strong argument for drying him out for his own protection.

“On the other hand, perhaps a man has the right to choose his own path to disability and death, but it puts the lawyer in a tough spot if he takes the drinker by the hand and leads him through a legal loophole to self-destruction.”


Provincial court Judge Harry Boyle, in 1979, kept the Crown in mind in his deliberations, evidenced by the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging above him.

Ralph Bower /

PNG files

The system still runs on recidivism: The same people over and over again, an inter-generational revolving door.

Consider Boyle’s relationship with a 13-year-old boy facing incarceration: “Donald, what would keep you out of trouble?”

“Horseback riding,” the adolescent replied.

“That’s the first simple answer I have ever heard to the delinquency question,” Boyle wrote, before paraphrasing Richard III: “I wish I had a horse.”

That boy was soon back in his office, repeatedly.

Barely an adult, he was prosecuted for stabbing a man in a “friendly” drunken Skid Road dispute; Boyle noted Donald helped the victim back to his hotel and provided medical attention.

“Some of the merriment goes out of the situation when you realize that when Donald was a little boy his father used to take him down to the basement and with the family forced to look on, would beat Donald with a 2×4 until he bled as a disciplinary example … He is a likeable, intelligent, young man …”

At 19, Donald was up for strong-arming a store owner.

“He was up to five caps a day in heroin, but somewhere inside there are still strong streaks of decency, honesty and humour. He and his younger brother used to stay in the movies until they closed and then sleep in the lobbies of skid road hotels. When his brother was 12, the brother was taken to Brannan Lake (School for Boys in Nanaimo) and he was subsequently adopted by a good strong family. Since then the brother has become an outstanding athlete and a good student.

“Donald did not get quite the same breaks, and what breaks he did get he couldn’t put to the best use. I get flashes occasionally when I see my own kids sitting at the counsel table and the whole thing really comes home.”

Boyle’s letters are poignant reminders that little has changed in the practise of criminal law, especially the heartache.

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25Jul

B.C. government seeks public feedback on reducing plastic waste

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Don’t forget to reduce, reuse, recycle and reply with your feedback.

The B.C. government is asking the public to weigh in on how the province can cut down on plastics and improve recycling in an effort to protect B.C.’s waterways and environment.

Among the proposed actions the government is considering are bans on single-use packaging, requiring producers to shoulder more responsibility for plastic products, expanding the recycling refund program and reducing plastic waste across all product categories and industries.


Vancouver, BC: JUNE 08, 2019 –– Colunteers clean-up plastics and other refuse scraps from the shoreline at Second Beach in Vancouver, B.C.’s Stanley Park Saturday, June 8, 2019. Volunteers from the Vancouver Surfrider Foundation scoured local beaches Saturday as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup initiative.

Jason Payne /

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“The message from British Columbians is loud and clear — we need to take action to reduce plastic waste, especially single-use items like water bottles and plastic bags that often find their way into our waters, streets and environment,” said Environment Minister George Heyman in a statement.

“We have all seen the striking images of animals and fish being caught up in everyday plastic waste like grocery bags or beer can loops that ensnare these beautiful creatures and it cannot continue. I look forward to hearing from people about how we can all play a part in reducing plastic pollution and plastics use overall.”

Currently, B.C. has 22 recycling programs — more than any other North American jurisdiction — that cover 14 product categories of consumer products. Those include packaging, electronics, residual solvents, beverage containers, tires and hazardous wastes.

Those programs collect about 315,000 tonnes of plastics annually.

The feedback will help inform things like the reach of a single-use plastics ban, and determining any necessary exemptions for reasons of health, safety and accessibility; possible changes to B.C.’s current recycling program and changes to the deposit-refund fee structure; as well as the possibility of an electronic refund system for empty bottle refunds.

The public can read the proposals in detail and fill out the online survey at cleanbc.ca/plastics.


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19Jul

Daphne Bramham: Failure to enforce recovery house standards cost two men their lives

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Nearly a year before two young man died of fentanyl overdoses in houses operated by the Step by Step Recovery Home Society, the B.C. Health Ministry had investigated and substantiated complaints that it was failing to meet the most basic standards.

Within nine days of each other in December 2018, 21-one-year-old Zachary Plett and an unnamed, 35-year-old died in different houses operated by the non-profit society that has a total of five houses in Surrey.

A month earlier, inspectors had substantiated complaints at all five houses. According to the ministry’s assisted living registry website, none met the most basic standard of providing residents with safe and nutritious food.

None had staff and volunteers with the skills or qualifications needed to do their jobs. There was no counselling support for residents at any of the houses or any transitional help for those who were leaving.

Late last week, Step by Step closed its house at 132nd Street where Zach died. In a brief conversation Thursday, director Deborah Johnson said it was done “voluntarily.” She promised to call back after speaking to the other directors and staff. But that call didn’t come.

Late Thursday, a spokesperson for the Addictions Ministry said the assisted living registrar was aware that two Step by Step houses had been voluntarily closed, but was still attempting to confirm the closures.

Up until May, Step by Step had taken action on only one of the 65 substantiated complaints. It got rid of the mice at its house at 8058-138A Street in November. But it took 18 days from the time the inspectors were there before the exterminators arrived.

Despite all that, all five houses have maintained their spots on the government’s registry.

What that means is that the social development ministry has continued paying $30.90 a day for each of the 45 residents who are on welfare.

It also means that anyone ordered by the court to go to an addictions recovery house as part of their probation can be sent there.

In late May, Plett’s mother and others filed more complaints about Step by Step that have yet to be posted. But a spokesperson for the mental health and addictions ministry confirmed that they are being investigated.

Plett is incredulous. “My son died there and nothing’s been done,” she said this week.

In an email, the ministry spokesperson confirmed that no enforcement action has been taken and that there is no specific timeline for the investigation to be completed.

“The review of complaints is a complex issue that can often involve a number of agencies conducting their own investigations (which can also require a staged process),” she wrote.

“Each case is different and requires appropriate due diligence. Throughout the process of addressing non-compliance, as operators shift and improve the way they provide service, new assessments are conducted and status is updated online within 30 days.”


Step by Step recovery house at 9310 132nd Street in Surrey where Zach Plett overdosed in December.

Jason Payne /

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A senseless death

Two days after Zach Plett arrived at 9310-132nd Street in Surrey, he was dead. According to the coroner, he died between 9 a.m. and noon on Dec. 15, 2018. But his body wasn’t discovered until 4 p.m.

Plett described what she saw when went to collect Zach’s belongings.

“The house was horrible. The walls were dirty. The ceiling was stained. My son’s bed sheets were mouldy.

“His body was already taken. But the bed was soaking wet with his bodily fluids. There was graffiti on the furniture. The drape was just a hanging blanket. It was filthy.”

To add insult to grief and despair, Plett noticed that his roommate was wearing Zach’s shoes.

Worse than the state of house is the fact that Zach died in the daytime and it was at least four hours before anybody noticed.

Plett wants to know why nobody had checked on Zach? Were there no structured programs where his absence would have been noticed? Didn’t anyone wonder why he missed breakfast and lunch?

“I had no idea what it was like or I would never have sent him,” said Plett.

After battling addiction for seven years, Zach had spent the previous three months in Gimli, Man. and what Plett describes as an excellent facility that cost $40,000.

But Zach wanted to come home, despite Plett’s concerns about omnipresent fentanyl in Metro Vancouver. They agreed that he couldn’t live with her.

A trusted friend gave Plett the name of a recovery house and within a week of returning to British Columbia, Zach went to Into Action’s house in Surrey. It is a government-registered facility that has never had a substantiated complaint against it.

Because he wasn’t on welfare, his mother E-transferred $950 to Into Action to cover his first month’s stay. She was told that the staff would help Zach do the paperwork to get him on the welfare roll.

Later that day, Zach called his mother, asking her to bring him a clean blanket and pillow because the house was dirty.

Because family members aren’t allowed into the house, Plett met him at the end of the driveway to hand over the bedding. It was the last time she saw Zach.

The next day, Dec. 13, he called to say that he had been “kicked out” for “causing problems.” He told Plett that it was because he’d complained about the house and asked to see the consent form that he’d signed.

Later that day, someone from Into Action drove Zach to Step by Step’s house on 132nd Street. Two days later, he was dead.

Because of the confidentiality clause in the informed consent forms signed by all residents, Into Action executive director Chris Burwash would not even confirm that Zach had been a resident.

But he said before signing those forms, residents are given “a clear outline of the expectations of them” and “a clear description of what the rules are.”

They are told that there are no second chances if they break the rules.

“If they outright refuse to participate or outright breach our zero tolerance policies — violence or threats of violence, using illicit substances, intentional damage to facility, etc. — we are put in a position where it is impossible for us to allow them to stay. We have to ask them to leave,” he said.

Staff provide them with a list of other government-registered recovery houses and sit with them while they make their choice without any advice or interference, Burwash said. Once a place is found, Into Action staff will take them there.

Burwash emphasized that only registered recovery houses are on the list, which speaks to the importance of the governments registry. But he said it’s frustrating that operators don’t comply with registry standards since their failures reflects badly on all recovery houses.

“We absolutely support the media shining a light on the facilities that are operating below the standards that they agreed to abide by,” he said. “We are certainly not one of them.”

He invited me to visit any time.


Zach Plett.

PNG

Low tolerance

On Dec. 14, Zach and his roommate went to an evening Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Plett found the sign-in sheet from the meeting when she collecting his belongings the following day.

“What he and Billy (his roommate) did between then and early morning, I don’t know,” she said. But another resident told her that she thought they were “using” until around 5 a.m.

The toxicology report from the coroner indicated that the amount of fentanyl found in his system was no more than what is given cancer patients for pain control. But because Zach hadn’t taken opioids for six months, his tolerance for fentanyl was minimal.

“Had he died in the middle of the night, I would never have gone public with his story. But he died in the daytime. If they’d woken him up for breakfast or tried … ” said Plett, leaving the rest unspoken.

“He wasn’t monitored. He wasn’t watched … If I had known I would never have sent him there.”

Last week, Plett had an hour-long meeting with Addictions Minister Judy Darcy and the mother of the other young man who overdosed. He died Christmas Eve at another Step by Step. His body was only discovered on Dec. 26 after other residents kicked in the door of the bathroom where he was locked inside.

“She (Darcy) was very genuine and sympathetic,” Plett said. “I don’t think she realized how bad the situation is.”


Zach Plett with his sister Cassie Plett and Maggie Plett in Manitoba.

PNG

Problems left unresolved

Step by Step’s first non-compliance reports date back to an inspection done Jan. 23, 2018 at its house at 11854-97A Street in Surrey.

Inspectors found that meals were neither safely prepared nor nutritious. Staffing didn’t meet the residents’ needs. Staff and volunteers weren’t qualified, capable or knowledgeable.

On Nov. 2, they returned. Nothing had changed and more problems were found.

The house didn’t safely accommodate the needs of residents and staff. Site management wasn’t adequate. There was no support for people transitioning out of the residence.

Critically, there were no psychosocial supports to assist individuals to work toward long-term recovery, maximized self-sufficiency, enhanced quality of life and reintegration into the community. Those supports include things like counselling, education, group therapy and individual sessions with psychologists, social workers, peer-support counsellors or others with specialized training.

On Feb. 4 and March 27, inspectors went back again because of a fresh set of complaints. As of May 8, none of the substantiated complaints had been addressed.

On the same day in November that inspectors were at the 97A Street house, they also went to Step by Step’s other four houses in Surrey — 132nd Street where Zach Plett died, 78A Avenue where the other man died, 13210-89th Avenue and 8058 138A Street. Step by Step doesn’t own any of the houses, but one of it directors, Deborah Johnson, is listed as the owner of 138A Street.

Not every house had the same complaints. But all of the complaints were substantiated and there were commonalities.

None had provided properly prepared nutritious food. None had adequate, knowledgeable or capable staff. Not one house was suitable for its use.

None supported residents’ transition to other accommodation or provided psychosocial support.

Since then, there have been repeated inspectors’ visits but the last posted reports indicate that nothing has change.

The first of five guiding principles for the province’s assisted living registry is protecting the health and safety of residents. Promoting client-centred services is also on the list. But then it gets a bit fuzzy.

Others are to “investigate complaints using an incremental, remedial approach” and to “value the perspectives of stakeholders — i.e. residents and their families/caregivers, community advocates for seniors and people with mental health and substance use problems, residents, operators, health authorities and other agencies.”

But as a result of this incremental, remedial approach and seeking of stakeholders’ perspectives, there were two preventable deaths.

What more do inspectors need before the registration for these five houses is cancelled? How much more time will the province give Step by Step to bring them into compliance?

And, how much longer will the ministry of social development continue writing cheques of close to $42,000 each month to an organization that can’t even comply with the most basic standards?

British Columbia is four years into a public health emergencies that has cost 4,483 lives since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

More than a year ago, a coroner’s death review urged better regulation, evaluation and monitoring of both public and private treatment facilities following the 2016 overdose death of a 20-year-old in a Powell River recovery house.

It’s unconscionable that the government continues to waste precious resources on substandard recovery houses, while doing so little to force bad operators into compliance. At a time when good quality services are more desperately needed than ever, the registry ought to be the place that vulnerable addicts and their loved ones can find those.

Until this is fixed, Maggie Plett is likely right to believe that Zach would have been better off homeless. At least on the street, someone might have noticed him and done something to help.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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17Jul

572 British Columbians died by suicide in 2017, including 22 youth

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The BC Coroner has released its updated suicide report from 2007 to 2017. The report shows 572 people took their own life in 2017. Of those 22 were under 19.


The B.C. Coroners Service has released its updated report on suicides in the province between 2007 and 2017.

The report shows that 572 British Columbians took their own life in 2017, down slightly from 603 in 2016, 615 in 2015, and 644 in 2014.

Most were men and more than half were aged 30 to 59. Twenty-two youths under 19 years old died by suicide in 2017, up from 20 the year previous.

The coroner report shows the highest age-specific suicide death rate was among 40 to 49 year olds in 2017, and the three most common means of suicide were by hanging, followed by poisoning, firearms and falls. The number of SkyTrain suicides went up to four from three in 2016, while railway suicides in 2017 fell to four from six the year before. The number of CO poisonings also fell to 13 from 20 the year before, while the cause of 42 suicides was still under investigation.

The Fraser and Interior Health Authority had the highest number of suicides in 2017, with 157 and 130 deaths, respectively. The Northern Health Authority had the highest rate of suicide deaths at 18 deaths per 100,000 individuals.

Overall, the rate of suicide deaths in B.C. was 12 deaths per 100,000 individuals.

Suicide rates are highest in Northeast, Kootenay Boundary, Thompson Cariboo, East Kootenay, and Northern Interior Health Services Delivery Areas, according to the report.

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12Jul

Western Forest Products rejects well-known mediator after asking for help: union

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8Jul

B.C. government says ride hailing services can operate starting Sept. 16

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The provincial government says its regulations for ride hailing will be in effect as of Sept. 16, 2019.


Seth Wenig / AP

Welcome to B.C., Uber and Lyft.

The ride hailing companies could be operating on B.C. roads as early as Sept. 16, according to the provincial government, which announced Monday its regulations on licensing and insurance for ride hailing will be in effect as of that date.

However, ride hailing companies would first need to apply for permission to operate through the Passenger Transportation Board; applications will be accepted beginning Sept. 3.

The PTB, an independent board, is also responsible for setting guidelines around supply, boundaries and fares.

“Our plan has made it possible for ride-hailing companies to apply to enter the market this fall, with vehicles on the road later this year, while ensuring the safety of passengers and promoting accessibility options in the industry,” said Transportation Minister Claire Trevena in a statement.

“British Columbians have been asking and waiting for these services after more than five years of delay by the former government. We took action to allow for the services people want and we’re delivering on that promise.”

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The Passenger Transportation Act regulations will require criminal record checks and driver record checks for any driver working with a ride-hailing company, and will introduce a new 30-cent per-trip fee and a $5,000 annual license fee.

The Motor Vehicle Act regulations will change how frequently cars must undergo inspections, will remove seatbelt exceptions for all for-hire vehicles, and will introduce side-entry accessible taxis.

Drivers working for ride hailing companies are still required to hold a Class 4 commercial licence, a requirement supported by B.C.’s police chiefs association but that was not recommended by a legislative committee tasked with making recommendations for ride hailing.

Alberta requires ride hailing drivers hold a Class 1, 2 or 4 licence, all of which are for professional drivers.

ICBC will also introduce a new insurance policy for drivers and vehicles operating with ride-hailing companies, effective this September. The policy is a blanket, per kilometre insurance product that provides third-party liability and accident coverage.

Drivers working with ride-hailing companies would be required to have their own basic vehicle insurance policy when they are not working.

It will also be left to the PTB to decide how many ride-hailing vehicles will be allowed to operate, what boundaries if any are applicable and what rates would be charged.

Uber has yet to respond to the news officially, though a spokesman said the company was reviewing the details announced Monday before discussing publicly how it might impact the company’s entry into B.C.

More to come.

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21Jun

City of Vancouver makes plans for a smoky summer

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The City of Vancouver is preparing for a smoky summer, making plans to create “respite areas” at several communities centres, libraries and non-market-housing units.

The public spaces could act as clean air havens for people who have health concerns and lack access to an air-conditioned space during air quality advisories. The rooms would be equipped with portable HEPA filters and some would also serve as cooling centres, according to a statement from the City of Vancouver.

Experts are warning that it’s likely to be another hot, smoke-filled summer in B.C. this year. B.C. Wildfire Service information shows the province has seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures in 2019, with the trend expected to continue.

“Obviously, we expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest … And increased temperatures are likely to drive higher ozone formation, and so we expect there may be more potential for that this summer as well,” Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer Francis Ries told Postmedia on Tuesday.

Ozone, a pollutant that when mixed with fine particulate matter creates smog, often irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and over time can cause permanent lung damage.

Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.

“As we continue to see further warming, we expect that the patterns we are seeing now are likely to continue or perhaps even get more extreme,” he said.

The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies across B.C.

In Metro Vancouver, there were 22 days last July and August under air-quality advisories, three more than in the summer of 2017.

The last two summers have far exceeded the number of advisories issued in any other year since 1996, the first year for which data is available. Several years, including 2016, had zero air-quality advisories.

University of B.C. public health professor Dr. Michael Brauer said many public buildings are already equipped with air conditioning and filters that provide effective relief on smoky days. Simply closing windows can significantly improve air quality, while even a small filter can remove particulate matter. Higher-quality filters may require more energy, but buildings could swap them in on days when the air quality is poor.

Brauer said the long-term health impacts of one or two weeks of smoky skies each summer are likely very small, but if that time stretches into one or two months — as it is threatening to do in some parts of the B.C. Interior — it would be “concerning.”

“We know that day-in-day-out exposure (to pollution) can be life-shortening,” he said, alluding to studies in other countries where pollution is a significant problem. “It can causes diseases to get worse, and accelerates the progression of disease.”

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With files by Lori Culbert

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20Jun

Reschedule Vancouver fireworks if air quality poor? Not so fast

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Team U.K. puts on a show at the 2017 Honda Celebration of Light in Vancouver.


Francis Georgian / PNG files

When wildfire smoke settles over English Bay this summer, as experts predict it will, there’s not much Vancouver can do about it.

But the city shouldn’t be adding any more ingredients to the “toxic soup,” says Kitsilano resident Judith Maxie, who wants council to reschedule fireworks events if the air quality is poor.

“You don’t have to be a scientist to see that tossing all those fireworks into the soup isn’t a good thing,” she said Thursday. “This is something we can actually change.”

Maxie doesn’t want to ban fireworks altogether — “over the years we’ve loved attending them,” she said — but wants the city to hold events like the Honda Celebration of Light at a different time of year, or put a contingency plan in place in case it’s smoky during the annual Canada Day fireworks.

Dr. Christopher Carlsten said he considers fireworks pollution “a significant issue,” particularly for people who are sensitive to poor air quality. A number of case reports have shown an increase in asthma attacks and irritation in people with lung disease during fireworks events.

“There’s not a lot of good defences for them in a health sense,” said the Vancouver physician. “If we’re just talking about health, I’d say don’t do it.” But the University of B.C. professor and head of respiratory medicine admitted that argument doesn’t factor in the “cultural equation” or the enjoyment derived from the spectacle.

Carlsten, who holds the Canada research chair in occupational and environmental lung disease, said much of the research on fireworks pollution has been done in countries where festivals last for days and fine particulate pollution accumulates at ground level.

“It’s quite clear that fireworks do affect air quality, but in Canada the events do tend to be short,” he said.


Vancouver’s Honda Celebration of Light show. ‘It’s quite clear that fireworks do affect air quality, but in Canada the events do tend to be short,’ says Dr. Christopher Carlsten, a UBC professor and head of respiratory medicine.

Francis Georgian /

PNG files

University of B.C. public health professor Dr. Michael Brauer said Vancouver’s fireworks shows happen high above the ground, which can help the particulate dissipate sooner, especially if wind conditions are favourable.

“It’s a transient increase,” he said of the rise in fine particulate pollutants associated with fireworks. “For most people, it shouldn’t be a concern, but for those with asthma or heart and lung concerns, it would be best to minimize exposure.”

Metro Vancouver air quality advisor Geoff Doerksen said pollution from fireworks is “short-lived and dissipates quickly,” and most years it doesn’t reach the ground. Any localized impacts to air quality tend to return to normal levels within a few hours.

Doerksen advised people who are concerned to avoid viewing areas and close their windows if they live in the area.

In a statement, the City of Vancouver said it did not receive any complaints about air quality during last year’s fireworks events and “is not considering cancelling or rescheduling fireworks that occur on Canada Day or at the Celebration of Lights.”

The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies across B.C.


Dr. Christopher Carlsten.

In Metro Vancouver, there were 22 days last July and August under air-quality advisories, three more than in the summer of 2017.

The last two summers have far exceeded the number of advisories issued in any other year since 1996, the first year for which data is available. Several years, including 2016, had zero air-quality advisories.

In 2015, a U.S. study published in Atmospheric Environment found that levels of fine particulate matter are elevated in urban areas by an average of 42 per cent during the 24-hour period starting with a fireworks event.

“That was a national average across 315 monitoring sites; it actually varies from place to place and year to year,” lead author Dian Seidel, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Postmedia at the time.

One monitoring station located near the site of a display registered a 370-per-cent increase in fine particles.

Meanwhile, a study led by researchers from the University of Montreal took recorded PM2.5 concentrations as much as 1,000 times normal on single readings within the smoke plume.

Readings from monitoring stations set up at “breathing level” near the ground showed PM2.5 concentrations about 50 times normal levels during the display. Elevated concentrations of fine particles were detected as far away as 14 kilometres, suggesting the particles remain in the atmosphere for “a long period of time,” probably days.

With Postmedia files

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16Jun

How to make B.C. active transportation accessible for all

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Active transportation includes non-motorized ways of going places like walking, cycling and other types of wheeling. Making it accessible for everyone is a key message at the B.C. Cycling Coalition’s active transportation summit in New Westminster this week, where these five experts will be speaking during the two days of the conference (Monday and Tuesday):

Amina Yasin, New Westminster

Active transportation has to be inclusive and equitable, says Yasin, co-chair of the Canadian Institute of Planners Social Equity Committee. “Equity is the foundation for all solution-making,” she says. But making active transportation equitable requires “building fairness into the process” and, unfortunately, government policies have historically failed to acknowledge people’s physical and systemic barriers to it.

Fixing those problems starts with recognizing where active transportation falls short of being fair. For example, when cities time the cycle lengths for their crosswalk lights, do they prioritize drivers, or the pedestrians who might move a bit slower, such as people with neurocognitive disabilities and seniors? When designing transition spaces, can someone with an invisible illness like Crohn’s disease or dementia easily access the public washroom, too?

“If we don’t solve for equity then we’re not really considering everyone in this equation,” Yasin says. “We’re going to continuing to build biases that affect people in our policies and our built environment.”



Barb Chamberlain, director of the active transportation division of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

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Barb Chamberlain, Seattle

“Changes that make the transportation system more accessible to people who need to have barriers removed make it better for everybody,” says Chamberlain, director of the active transportation division of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

She points to an article called The Curb-Cut Effect, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which explains that while wedge cuts were made into sidewalks to make public streets accessible to wheelchair users, they also benefit parents pushing strollers, travellers wheeling luggage and even skateboarders.

Chamberlain says another thing to consider is that everyone will eventually be in a situation where they do not have the same range of capabilities they may have today, whether through aging or by acquiring a disability.

“We’re all moving through the world in different ways in our lives, over time, so we are building the future transportation system that is for ourselves,” she says.

Even motorists become pedestrians using active transportation once they exit their vehicles. “These needs for universal design are, in fact, universal needs,” Chamberlain says.



Allen Mankewich is an accessibility advocate.

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Allen Mankewich, Winnipeg

Who should be responsible for clearing the way for active transportation? It’s a question that is top of mind for accessibility advocate Mankewich.

Coming from a “winter city,” Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair, sees a good case for municipalities taking responsibility for clearing snow from sidewalks. In many places, property owners are required to clear their sidewalks outside their homes, which means “leaving it up to the goodwill of the people to ensure that a public resource is properly cleared,” he says.

“It’s not uncommon in Winnipeg to see somebody using their scooter or wheelchair on the street in the winter because, frankly, we do a better job of clearing our streets than we do clearing our sidewalks.”

Mankewich says municipalities should adopt a “sidewalks-first approach.” After all, their snow-clearing equipment and strategies are far more efficient than a person with a shovel, he says.

Otherwise, disabled people can face serious social isolation when just a bit of snow sticks. “The impact of that is quite serious,” he says. “People are not able to go to work, potentially. They’re not able to go out and get groceries. They’re essentially homebound until the city is able to get out and clear their sidewalk.”



Maddy Ruvolo, a chronically-ill disability activist and transportation planning master’s student at UCLA.

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Maddy Ruvolo, San Francisco

Planners can learn from the ways disabled people have adapted and built access for people with all types of bodies, says Ruvolo, a chronically-ill disability activist and transportation planning master’s student at UCLA.

“Disabled people are used to living in a world where your ways of moving and thinking and sensing are treated as deficient,” she says. “Because of that, disabled people have learned to move and navigate through hostile spaces, and have learned to creatively problem-solve when inaccessibility arises — but we shouldn’t have to because it’s exhausting.”

Fixing this means going beyond basic disability awareness and “token inclusion,” Ruvolo says.

Disabled people need to be hired for decision-making positions that will have an impact on active transportation and infrastructure. For example, Ruvolo found that some bike lanes in the Bay Area were designed without thought to how disabled people would navigate the altered spaces.

“If you have disabled people at the table in decision-making positions from the get-go, you can think about how to create a bike lane that works for cyclists, including disabled cyclists, but also works for wheelchair users, blind people and other people navigating around and through bike lanes that aren’t using them,” she says.



Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario.

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Sarah Jama, Hamilton, Ont.

Stop using consumerist language when talking about accessibility, says Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario. “A lot of our conversations around accessibility tend to focus on adding ramps to stores so that we can expand our economic purchasing power,” Jama says.

Legislation called the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act contains a framework for accessibility in Jama’s province (B.C. has no equivalent) but relies heavily on consumerist language, she says. “It uses a lot of language around, ‘This is what we need in order to build a society that fits people with disabilities in public spaces, in terms of being able to be helpful or useful to the economy.”

The federal act focuses too much on employment, too, she says. “What about the people who can’t work?” she says. “What about the people who can’t really participate in what we would deem as conventional in this capitalist society and framework?” Jama says building public space that fit everybody — including for active transportation — means making them universally accessible regardless of whether people are using them to spend money or simply for their own enjoyment.

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15Jun

Bone-marrow transplant lets sun shine on Langley toddler for Father’s Day

by admin

Kelsey Lock’s ideal Father’s Day involves eating ice cream in the park with his daughter — a simple plan, but one bordering on miraculous.

Lock’s daughter, Charlie, was born with erythropoietic protoporphyria or EPP, a disease sometimes described as an allergy to the sun. Since she was a baby, ultraviolet light, even in minuscule amounts, would cause the little girl’s skin to burn, blister and swell. More insidious, it would also begin to destroy her liver.

As a result, Charlie’s life was lived inside. The world beyond the tinted glass of her Langley home was largely unknown to the toddler, now 3.

“Any time we’d see a playground, it was rough,” recalled Lock. “To see other kids playing outside and know that Charlie could never do that was really hard.”

Late last year, Charlie’s liver began to fail. It is impossible to prevent all exposure to ultraviolet light. Unseen, porphyrins had been accumulating in the toddler’s liver, causing it to swell to three times its normal size.

People with EPP have a shortage of an enzyme that metabolizes porphyrins, which help with the production of hemoglobin. Without the enzyme, porphyrins accumulate in the blood, reacting with sunlight to cause burns. In a small percentage of people with EPP, including Charlie, they also accumulate in the liver.

To save his daughter’s life, Lock was asked to donate part of his liver. The family travelled to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for the procedure. Working in a darkened operating room, a surgeon removed Charlie’s damaged liver and gave her a piece of her dad’s liver.

“I don’t think about it too much,” said Lock, “but every now and then, it hits me. I can say that I’ll always be there for her, and it’s literally true. I will.”

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But Charlie’s journey — from the family apartment with tinted windows in Langley to a park in Toronto on Father’s Day — was only beginning.


Charlie Lock, 2, during her first severe reaction to the Sun.

Submitted photo – Bekah Lock /

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Doctors told the family they were essentially rewriting the playbook with Charlie’s case. Porphyria is rare, and EPP rarer still. Charlie’s form, which destroys the liver, hasn’t been the subject of much research. But because the toddler still had porphyria, the cause of her liver failure hadn’t been addressed by the transplant. The cycle would begin again.

So Lock was tapped to donate his bone marrow. A perfect match would give Charlie’s body the ability to create the enzyme that breaks down porphyrins, essentially curing both her liver problems and sun allergy. But no one in Charlie’s family was a perfect match. Because the girl has two exceptionally rare genetic markers, there were no matches on the international bone marrow registry either.

Still, doctors believed there was a good chance Lock’s bone marrow could at least prevent the destruction of Charlie’s new liver.

“The idea is that the bone marrow reprograms your entire blood-making system, but how well that would work was unclear,” explained Charlie’s mom, Bekah Lock.

In February, Kelsey Lock watched as blood was drawn from his body and passed through a sophisticated machine that looked like a “crazy water clock” to filter the stem cells from the rest. A few days before the procedure, he’d been given a medication that caused his bone marrow cells to leach into his blood, which left him feeling strange.

“I could feel all my bones,” he said. “When I stood up fast, I’d feel pressure in my ribs.”

Lock’s bone marrow was given to Charlie, after her own bone marrow and immune system had been wiped out by two weeks of chemotherapy.

Almost four months after the procedure, the family remains hesitant to use the word “cure.”


Charlie Lock at age 1 with her mother Bekah.

Nick Procaylo /

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The transplant was largely a success. Early results showed 100 per cent engraftment, which meant Charlie’s bone marrow cells had been replaced by her dad’s cells and they were functioning as they should. The number has dropped a little since then.

“I’d say cautiously optimistic,” said Bekah, when asked how the family is feeling about the future.

After eight months in Toronto, the family wants to come home. Charlie still has several small hurdles to clear related to the liver transplant. The doctors are also monitoring her bone marrow numbers. Her immune system remains severely compromised from the transplants. But the family has been told they could be back in B.C. by fall.

Charlie’s first foray into the world outside her window was a quiet affair.

A few days before, her parents brought her to the wall of windows fronting the hospital. As they looked over the city, the little girl seemed content and comfortable despite the light flooding the corridor.

In early April, Charlie received permission to leave the hospital for a few hours. Instead of bundling her into a vehicle with tinted windows, the family walked in the sunshine to their apartment at Ronald McDonald House.

“I kept the cover off the stroller,” said Bekah. “It was kind of anti-climatic in a way, but it was also very, very sweet.”

For Kelsey Lock, the time in Toronto has been an opportunity to spend unlimited hours with Charlie. On leave from his job as a framer, he said it feels like he’s being “forced to take a vacation.”

His Father’s Day will be about simple pleasures: An ice cream cone, a park and a little girl with the whole world before her.

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