Cyclists ride across a trestle bridge, part of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail. Handout/Trails Society / PNG
A historic rail trail that was donated to the province by the Trans Canada Trail society could be opened to logging trucks if a government proposal to cancel its trail designation gets the green light, say trail advocates.
The Ministry of Forests is seeking to transfer management of a 67-kilometre portion of the Columbia and Western Rail Trail to unspecified agencies to reflect local interests and support “access for industrial activity,” according to a letter sent to stakeholders soliciting feedback on the plan.
A major logging company holds tenure for several cut blocks near the trail, which runs from Castlegar to Fife, east of Christina Lake.
“It’s mind-boggling that they’re even considering this,” said Ciel Sander, president of Trails Society of B.C. “The trail is a government asset. It should be protected as a linear park, not an access road for logging trucks.”
The Columbia and Western Rail Trail was donated to the Trans Canada Trail decades ago by the Canadian Pacific Railway for inclusion in the The Great Trail, previously known as the Trans Canada Trail, a national trail network stretching 24,000 kilometres across the country.
In 2004, the committee transferred the trail to the B.C. government with the “expressed intention that it would be used and managed as a recreational trail,” said Trans Canada Trail vice-president Jérémie Gabourg.
While the government’s proposal is clear that recreational access will remain, it marks the first time a group has sought to convert a portion of The Great Trail from a trail to a road in any province or territory.
“Sections of The Great Trail of Canada are on roadways, and we strive to move these sections of the trail to greenways, where possible,” said Gabourg. “To see a trail go from greenway to roadway is disheartening … It could set a dangerous precedent.”
The Columbia and Western Rail Trail connects with the popular Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a route that attracts cyclists from around the world. In accepting the trail from the Trans Canada Trail in 2004, the government made a commitment to preserve and protect it from motorized use, said Léon Lebrun, who was involved in the process as past president of Trails Society of B.C.
“We have a government who has not taken real responsibility,” he said. Officials have “turned a blind eye” to motorized users who have graded parts of the trail and removed several bollards designed to prevent access. “They had no permit and no permission, and the government did nothing.”
In its letter to stakeholders, the Ministry of Forests recognized vehicles are already accessing the trail, explaining the proposed administration change would ensure it was being maintained for that use.
“This portion of rail corridor contains engineered structures including steel trestles, hard rock tunnels, major culverts and retaining walls atypical of recreation trails and requiring management beyond typical trail standards,” said the letter by John Hawkins, director of Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.
But Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore said that allowing motorized vehicles would be rewarding people who broke the law.
“While we acknowledge that this change reflects current use, this is clearly the result of years of mismanagement of what was intended as, and should have remained, a high-profile recreation and tourism amenity,” she replied to Hawkins in a letter that was shared with Postmedia.
“Those who have consistently flaunted trail use regulations are now being rewarded … We expect (Recreation Sites and Trails B.C.) to acknowledge this as a tragic failure, and ensure that resources and strategies are in place to prevent further losses of our valued trails.”
Stakeholders were given one month to register their feedback with the Ministry of Forests, ending Aug. 26.
In a statement, the Ministry of Forests said the process is ongoing to receive more information from regional districts. A decision is expected before the end of the year.
Tabitha Montgomery with free materials she’s distributing to B.C. libraries. Francis Georgian / Postmedia News
It was during the International Overdose Awareness Day activities last year when Tabitha Montgomery really noticed it — events that had once been rallies had become vigils.
“There was a feeling that no one was listening. That it was not making a difference,” she recalled Saturday as she set up an information booth at the Vancouver Public Library.
Montgomery’s booth was one of several awareness activities happening in B.C. this weekend to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, a global movement designed to remember those who have died from drug overdoses. And to push for change.
However, some advocacy groups that organized activities in the past were noticeably absent from this year’s list of planned events.
Montgomery attributed that to burnout.
“It can be difficult to keep going,” she said. “I want to thank those who have been paving the path for so long.”
Montgomery’s father, her best friend and her daughter’s father all died from drugs. She believes the only way to end the overdose crisis is to remove the stigma and judgment around drug use and addiction and bring the issue fully into mainstream health care.
“This is a torch in my heart,” she said.
While she doesn’t represent any single group, the former director with From Grief to Action has had success asking B.C. libraries to display free books on grief and addiction in their community resources sections. She’s hoping to get the material into more libraries in the months ahead.
(Postmedia News photo by Francis Georgian)
In a statement, B.C. Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy recognized those who have died are “parents, children, co-workers, neighbours, partners, friends and loved ones.”
The politician said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control estimates 4,700 deaths have been averted by scaled-up distribution of Naloxone, more overdose prevention sites and better access to medication-assisted treatment, known as opioid agonist treatment.
“We have a responsibility to each other, our communities and the loved ones we have lost to keep compassion, respect and understanding at the forefront of our minds — and to continue to escalate our response,” she said.
In June, 73 people died of suspected illicit drug overdoses across the province, a 35 per cent drop from June 2018 when 113 people died, according to data collected by the B.C. Coroner’s Service.
But Montgomery said addiction is still treated like a “moral and criminal issue,” rather than a health issue.
“There’s so much misunderstanding,” she said.
Overdose awareness events were held around the world, including in many B.C. cities such as Vancouver, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna, Powell River, Prince George and Quesnel.
In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Overdose Prevention Society supported the creation of a mural in the alley near its injection site. The project wrapped up with an art show.
Busy schedules, resistant bugs and, of course, the ‘ick’ factor.
B.C.’s lice busters say there are several reasons more parents are seeking professional help to deal with lice infestations — and as kids head back to school on Tuesday, they’re bracing for a busy month.
“By the end of September, we’ll likely see a few outbreaks,” said Rochelle Ivany, a Chilliwack nit picker who runs The Lice House with friend Ashley Wall. “Over the summer, kids have been off at camp, sleepovers and grandparents’ houses. When they come back to school, lice can come with them.”
Ivany entered the business when one of her kids came home with lice.
“I had no idea what to do,” she said. “Lice can be a taboo subject. No one wants to be the kid with it. Parents dread the letter coming home from school saying that there’s an outbreak in their kid’s class.”
After research and practice, Ivany set up shop in her home last year, offering people in the Fraser Valley an alternative to over-the-counter pesticides and hours of combing.
The key is to be “meticulous” while manually removing all lice and eggs with a special comb, she said.
Confidential sessions at The Lice House take between one-and-a-half to three hours depending on the severity of the infestation and the length of the client’s hair. Ivany charges $50 an hour — a lower rate than many of the services closer to Vancouver — and does comb-outs every three days until the client gets three clean comb-outs. She also provides treatment at cost for people who are referred to her through a social worker or community support worker.
“I get calls from a lot of panicked parents,” she said. “The message is that it’s OK, it’s going to be OK. We can help you.”
While it’s unclear if lice outbreaks are increasing — the B.C. Centre for Disease Control does not keep data on cases — more people are turning to professional lice removal services for help.
In Maple Ridge, Lice911 owner Barbara Pattison has been nit picking for 18 years.
“We’re the original,” she said. “When I started, there were four companies in North America.”
In the last decade, she’s expanded to provide mobile service in communities across Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island. In addition to Lice911, there are almost a dozen other companies offering treatment in B.C.
Pattison said lice seem to be more resistant to chemicals, which have become weaker in the last 10 years, while people may be too busy, or unwilling, to spend hours combing out bugs. In the last few years, she’s also seen a shift toward more teens and young adults arranging treatment for themselves, which she attributes to selfies and people putting their heads together to look at phones.
“All it takes is three seconds of hair-to-hair contact,” she said.
The lice expert advises parents to check their kids’ hair regularly for lice, looking for sticky black, brown or grey eggs half the size of a sesame seed attached to strands of hair. Some kids may have an itchy head or a rash at the nape of their neck.
“If you can catch it early, when there are 30 or 40 eggs, it’s much easier to deal with,” she said. “An average infestation is about 500 eggs.”
B.C. Addictions Minister Judy Darcy has no illusions about the current state of British Columbia’s recovery houses and the risk that the bad ones pose to anyone seeking safe, quality care.
Nor is she alone when she calls it “the wild, wild West.”
Anyone able to build a website and rent a house can operate a so-called recovery house. Like a game of whack-a-mole, even when inspectors try to shut down the worst ones, they spring up somewhere else.
That said, the regulations they’re supposed to enforce are so vaguely worded that it’s easier for bylaw inspectors to shut places down for garbage infractions than for failure to provide the most basic of services like food and a clean bed to people desperate for help.
Even the most deplorable ones have never been taken to court by the province, let alone fined or convicted which makes the penalties of up to $10,000 moot.
It’s taken two years, but this week Darcy — along with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Social Development Minister Shane Simpson — took the first steps toward bringing some order to the chaos and overturning years of neglect.
In two separate announcements, what they’re offering is both the stick of tighter regulations and enforcement as well as the carrot of more money for operations and training staff.
The carrots announced Friday include $4,000 grants available immediately to registered and licensed recovery home operators to offset the costs of training for staff before tougher regulations come into force on Dec. 1.
On Oct. 1, the per-diem rate paid for the treatment of people on social assistance will be raised after more than a decade without an increase. Recovery houses on the provincial registry will get a 17-per-cent increase to $35.90, while recovery houses licensed by the regional health authorities will jump to $45 from $40.
The sticks are new regulations that for the first time require things like qualified staff, which common sense should have dictated years ago as essential. Recovery houses will have to provide detailed information about what programs and services they offer. Again, this seems a no-brainer, as does requiring operators to develop personal service plans for each resident and support them as they transition out of residential care.
As for enforcement, the “incremental, remedial approach” to complaints has been scrapped and replaced with the power to take immediate action rather than waiting for a month and giving written notice to the operators.
Darcy is also among the first to admit that much, much more needs to be done to rein in bad operators whose purported treatment houses are flophouses and to provide addicts and their families with the resources they need to discern the good from the bad.
More than most, the minister knows the toll that poor funding and lack of regulation is taking both on addicts who seek help and on their loved ones. She’s haunted by meetings she’s had with the loved ones of those who have died in care and those who couldn’t get the services they needed.
“It’s the most difficult thing that I have to do and, of course, it moves me to my core,” she said in an interview following the announcement. “People say, ‘Do you ever get used to it?’ Of course I don’t. If you ever get used to it, you’re doing the wrong job.
“But I try and take that to drive me and to drive our government to do more and to move quickly and act on all fronts and having said that, there’s a lot to do. There’s really, really a lot to do.”
Among those she’s met are the two mothers of men who died within days of each other in December under deplorable conditions in two provincially registered recovery houses run by Step By Step.
It was four to six hours before 22-year-old Zach Plett’s body was found after he overdosed and died. On Christmas Eve, a 35-year-old man died at a different Step by Step house. It was two days before his body was found by other residents.
Two years before those men died, the provincial registrar had received dozens of complaints and issued dozens of non-compliances orders. Both houses remained on the registry until this summer when owner/operator Debbie Johnson voluntarily closed them.
After years of relentless advocacy Susan Sanderson, executive director of Realistic Recovery Society, was happy to host the ministers’ Friday announcement at one of its houses. She wants to believe Darcy that these are just first steps since the per-diem rate is still short of the $40 she and others lobbied for and remains a small fraction of what people who aren’t on welfare are charged — charges that can run up to $350 a day.
Having taken these long overdue and much-needed initial steps, maybe Darcy and her colleagues can take another logical next step to support working people getting access recovery who — without access to employee benefit plans — can’t afford the cost of treatment.
They shouldn’t have to wait until they’re destitute to get care, any more than someone on welfare should be deprived of help.
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.
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.”
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.
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 /
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The union representing as many as 3,000 British Columbia forest industry workers on strike at Western Forest Products says now that it’s willing to work with a mediator, the company has rejected the plan.
The strike began July 1 and involves the firm’s timberland operators and contractors and affects all of its manufacturing and timberland operations in the province.
Western Forest Products said after the strike began that it applied for a mediator in June to help with negotiations, but the union had not agreed to meet.
United Steelworkers local president Brian Butler says in a news release that they are ready to negotiate and well-known mediator Vince Ready has agreed to make himself available this weekend for talks.
Butler says the company’s refusal to use someone as qualified as Ready indicates it’s not serious about reaching an agreement.
A spokesperson from Western Forests Products wasn’t immediately available for comment on the union’s claims.
The B.C. Federation of Labour issued a so-called hot edict on the company earlier this week, asking its members to no longer handle Western Forests Products coastal lumber, logs and wood products.
The union says it’s on strike over the potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability.
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.”
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.
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