Vaping products are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution to create an aerosol and typically contains nicotine or THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Ranta Images / iStock/Getty Images plus
KELOWNA — A British Columbia school board says it has “serious concerns” about the risk of vaping and is asking all levels of government to take action.
In an example of how school districts are grappling with the new products amid shifting regulatory frameworks, the Central Okanagan School District outlined in a letter to parents on Friday how it is working to curb the use of e-cigarettes by students.
Since May, the school district says it has met with local municipal governments to encourage the development of bylaws to prevent advertising and targeting sales to minors.
It also says it supports proposed new provincial regulations, and the school board voted to write to local federal candidates asking how, if elected, they would address the “serious danger” posed by the electronic devices.
The board specifically asked how candidates would address the marketing of vaping products to children.
Vaping products are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution to create an aerosol and typically contains nicotine or THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but Health Canada has warned people who vape to monitor themselves for symptoms of pulmonary illness.
“The Central Okanagan School District continues to have serious concerns about the impacts of vaping on human health,” the letter from Superintendent Kevin Kaardal says to parents.
School staff are focusing education on middle school students and will continue to enforce a “no-vaping zone” on school property, it says.
School principals have been instructed to confiscate any vapour products they see on campus.
“If staff see vaping products on school property, they may confiscate them and turn them over to the RCMP,” the letter says.
In B.C., the rules around the sale of vapour products are the same as cigarettes and it is against the law to sell to someone under the age of 19.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said this month that a plan will be released in “the coming weeks” to deal with regulatory change and suggested licences would be required for vendors to sell the products.
The Central Okanagan School District isn’t alone in trying to address teen vaping.
The Sooke school district said vaping is becoming an “epidemic” among teens, ahead of an information session it held in May.
In August, the Vancouver school district issued information handouts to teachers and parents.
“Teachers are in a unique position to provide unbiased information about the adverse health effects of vaping to students and their families,” the package for teachers says.
The parents’ handout says the long-term health effects of vaping remain unknown.
“As caregivers, you can connect and discuss issues around vaping products with your child,” it says.
Two teenagers filed a lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court Sept. 30 against popular vape brand Juul alleging they suffered “adverse health conditions” after using the company’s e-cigarettes beginning in 2018.
Seen with singer-lawyer-artist-wife Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, artist-carver and Order of Canada member Robert Davidson is the subject of director Charles Wilkinson’s feature-length documentary, Haida Modern. Malcolm Parry / PNG
SWEET DREAMING: Ronald McDonald House’s recent A Night to Dream gala was a recurring one for Lindsey Turner, who chaired it for the fourth consecutive time. The 17th annual event reportedly grossed $680,000 to help accommodate the 2,000-a-year families who occupy the 73-suite facility for an average 13-day stay. CEO Richard Pass and new board chair Patrick McGuinty may soon announce that up to 52 suites will be added to five-year-old Ronald McDonald House on the B.C. Children’s Hospital campus. Four-bedroom satellites are also expected beside Royal Columbian Hospital and Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. They’ll duplicate one at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
MODEL CITIZEN: Masset-raised artist Robert Davidson is the subject of Charles Wilkinson’s documentary, Haida Modern, that premiered during the recent Vancouver International Film Festival. Called “a protégé and friend” by celebrated late carver Bill Reid, Davidson also perceives the Haida tradition not as inviolable rules but as the basis for evolving, living art. His own wide-ranging artworks include gold coins that the Canadian Mint released to accompany his 1997 elevation to the Order of Canada. $50,000 in ordinary currency came his way in 2010 with the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement. “I’ve been thinking about a new car,” the ever-modest Davidson said before cheerfully admitting that he’d forwarded the entire amount to fund post-secondary bursaries for Haida Gwaii students.
FELICE ANNIVERSARIO: Italian Cultural Centre president Michael Cuccione welcomed community members to a recent 42nd anniversary fundraising gala. Such events have been staged annually since 13 Italian associations founded the Slocan-at-Grandview “Il Centro” on a 3.25-hectare former city dump site. This year, Cuccione inducted former B.C. Lions football team head coach and general manager Wally Buono into the centre’s Hall of Fame. Happily, his old team defeated the Toronto Argonauts 55-8 the following day. Buono likely approved the teamwork when catering director Fabio Rasotto’s kitchen squad served the centre’s fourth full-capacity banquet that week, then repeated it the following night when the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese Society honoured longtime community benefactor John DeLucchi.
BON APPÉTIT: Lazy Gourmet owner Susan Mendelson celebrated her catering firm’s 40th anniversary at the Roundhouse Community Centre recently. She likely didn’t foresee that when a UBC arts-and-social-work degree scored her a $350-a-month job at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, now the Cultch. To meet her rent, she made carrot cake, cheesecake and Nanaimo bars for sale during intervals. She and friend Deborah Roitberg then founded Lazy Gourmet, but Mendelson’s brush with dramatics continued. That was when “two beat-up cars jammed in (a departing customer) and all these scruffy-looking people were waving guns.” Suspecting that it wasn’t part of an earlier movie shoot, Mendelson asked if she should call the cops. “We are the cops,” one fracas member replied. Her business maxim: “I always hired people who were better than me.” That doubtless pleased seven-year general manager Kevin Mazzone at the anniversary beano.
TREES AND APPLE: Actor-moviemaker Mark Oliver, who recently screened his 2018 short Elvis Strung Out, may appreciate late singer Judy Garland’s lyrics: “I was born in a trunk in the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho.” Oliver has a trunkful of theatrical antecedents himself. Grandfather David Oliver owned theatres and produced films in 1910s and 1920s Germany. Grandmother Edith was a screen actress. A great grandmother danced with the Kirov ballet. Oliver’s late Berlin-born father, H.A.D. (Bert) Oliver, sidestepped the stage to study with a London firm of solicitors founded in 1560. “But inside every solicitor there’s a barrister struggling to get out,” he said after moving to Vancouver and pleading criminal law cases. But the theatrical gene survived. One of Bert’s many acquittals involved him holding up a pre-punctured cup of water that dripped steadily for 30 seconds. Then, facing the judge (he later became one himself), he said: “This decidedly reminds me of the case for the Crown.”
CENTENARIANS: Rana and Rupa Vig staged another 100 Year Journey gala recently. The annual event began in 2014 along with a same-name book marking the centennial of Canadian officials turning back South Asians aboard the ship Komagata Maru. The book, which contains illustrated accounts of 103 successful immigrants and their families, was developed from Mehfil, a glossy magazine that Rana and brother Minto founded in 1993. Four years later, then-premier Glen Clark called Rana “a politician in the making.” Evading that dubious assessment, he achieved something comparable in 1994 by becoming a diamond-direct dealer of the Amway multi-level marketing firm.
BOTTOMS UP: Actress and animal-activist Pamela Anderson has joined others opposing a proposed roadway through a Port Moody park. If successful, they could celebrate with toasts of Anderson’s name-brand wine. That would be a step-up from the tankerloads of Baby Duck produced by Port Moody’s old Andre’s winery. Coincidentally, that concern’s former site is contentious, too, with three towers and nine lower buildings now proposed.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Brexiteering Britons may ruefully sing Three Blind Mice on that children’s rhyme’s 510th anniversary Oct. 12.
B.C. will get an action plan to curb teen vape use within a month, says Health Minister Adrian Dix.
VICTORIA — B.C.’s plan to tackle the alarming increase in teen vaping and e-cigarette use will come within a month and likely include a new licensing system similar to tobacco sales, says the province’s health minister.
Adrian Dix said he is concerned by the rising number of cases across North America of youth who have suffered lung damage and other health problems after using e-cigarettes.
“We’re going to act soon,” Dix said Monday. “I think it’s a serious situation. We’re disappointed, despite our considerable efforts, that the federal government didn’t act before the election. But we remain optimistic they will (act). People expect us to act very soon and we will lay out our plan certainly within the next month.”
Although B.C.’s fall legislative session begins next week, the government does not necessarily need a new law, said Dix.
Instead, cabinet could change regulations under a 2015 law that made it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 19, he said. That could be accompanied by public health advertising campaign.
“We need to restrict certain kinds of vaping products, that’s pretty clear,” he said. “We need to raise the standard of vaping products, we need to address issues collectively, the federal and provincial government around advertising, because we need to ensure people understand the risks of vaping — that harm reduction may still mean harm, and if you aren’t a smoker, you shouldn’t vaping.”
There are roughly 90,000 businesses in B.C. currently selling e-cigarettes and vape products, including local corner stores, convenience stores and gas stations. They do not require a license, and health inspectors are stretched thin to catch anyone selling illegally to minors.
A government licensing program would bring the number of retailers down closer to the 6,000 B.C. stores licensed to sell tobacco, with the addition of extra licenses available for dedicated legal vaping stores and cannabis outlets, said Dix.
Governments across Canada and the U.S. are wrestling with the rise of teen vaping, as well as the wide variety of flavoured vape juices that appear designed to appeal to young children.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that usually contain nicotine-infused liquid, which is combined with vapour when the user inhales. They have been marketed as a way to reduce cigarette addiction, but an increase in lung problems recently has caused some states, like Michigan and most recently Washington State, to ban flavoured vape juice.
Dix said the federal government has draft regulations on e-cigarette standards and flavours, and he hopes Ottawa will enact a national standard quickly.
Opposition Liberal critic Todd Stone, who brought in a private member’s bill earlier this year on flavoured e-cigarettes, said he is frustrated that B.C. is taking so long.
“The strongest action we could take is to ban that flavoured juice,” he said. Stone suggested limiting sales to vape shops, tobacco stores and pharmacies.
“This is a public health crisis that has really only emerged in the last 18 to 24 months,” he said. “It’s really come on fast and it’s getting worse by the day. I don’t take much comfort at all in waiting for Ottawa to act.”
Levi James and Chelsea Brennan simulated a lion and gazelle when the Serengeti-themed Hope Couture luncheon reportedly raised more than $700,000 for the B.C. Cancer Agency’s pancreatic cancer rapid-access clinic. Malcolm Parry / PNG
HOPE SURPASSED: Susan Chow and Lisa Dalton co-chaired the recent sixth-annual Hope Couture luncheon that reportedly raised more than $700,000 from 415 mostly female guests. Those donations will help the B.C. Cancer Foundation fund a pancreatic cancer rapid-access clinic. At the event, medical oncologist and Pancreatic Centre B.C. co-director Daniel Renouf said a recent wide-scale study of the role of genetics in pancreatic cancer will further B.C.’s pioneering role in screening for the dangerous ailment. He said the clinic will bring together “oncologists, surgeons, geneticists and the scientists. That’s the innovative part.” Along with a fashion show by the Bacci’s and Boboli stores, the Serengeti-themed luncheon had body-painter Christina Rapacz present fitness instructors Levi James and Chelsea Brennan as a lion and gazelle. Fully dressed attendees tucked into an entrée of chermoula crusted B.C. ling cod and vegetables.
WALL FLOWER: Hope Couture participants Charlotte Wall and daughter Sonya Wall paid $18,000 to name a new bloom donated by Langley breeder Brad Jalbert’s Select Roses concern. The rose will commemorate Sonya’s corgi Joe, who recovered from cancer to die of old age. Joe’s recessive fluffiness makes similar Corgis ineligible for showing and thus not favoured by breeders, or possibly the Queen. Happily, cash raised in his name may help humans survive cancer as the much-loved furry outcast did himself.
SECOND BOUQUET: Inspired by the Walls’ bid, Gloria Au paid $17,500 to do the same for a Select Roses hybrid she has still to name.
LEMON’S ZEST: Ontario-raised architect Robert Lemon recently celebrated his 40th year in Vancouver by hosting a garden party at Shannon, the Granville-at-55th mansion he’s helped restore for two decades. Sugar tycoon B.T. Rogers built the 30,000-square-foot edifice but died before its 1925 completion. Finance and mining tycoon Austin Taylor acquired it in 1935. Developers Peter Wall and Peter Redekop paid a now-pocket-change $750,000 for the mansion and its four-hectare property in 1967. Wall has since built many condos there.
Photos from the Gudewill family’s collection helped Lemon recreate century-past wallpaper, millwork, chandeliers and suchlike. Those features were appraised and appreciated when a deluge squeezed Lemon’s garden party guests indoors for drinks and a recital by University of B.C. School of Music students Jonathan Lopez, Markus Masaites and Nina Weber. Rather than the 1937 hit September In The Rain, the Genesis Trio members performed works by Beethoven, Bruch and Rachmaninoff that likely pleased other Shannon audiences 94 years ago.
CUTTING A RUG: Lemon’s guest Larry Killam pointed to a 1930 photo of Shannon’s great-hall carpet and said: “That’s in my living room.” Killam bought it at auction in the late 1960s when he and three co-developers were reviving a downtown district they named Gastown. Far older than the rug or even pioneer-era Vancouver, Killam and wife Sherry’s Southlands home is built around the framework of a 17th century British barn they bought and erected here, albeit without its straw floor covering.
TIME TO LIVE: The recent 15th-annual Gift of Time gala needed very little time to reportedly raise a record $1,530,000 gift for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. Second-time co-chair, realtor Karley Rice, had Aritzia executive VP Pippa Morgan and Primex Investments VP Lee Rennison join her to help raise that sum and bring the all-time haul to a reported $13.5 million. Founded in 1995, Canuck Place has nine patient beds and four family suites at its original Shaughnessy location, and nine beds and five suites at the recently commissioned Dave Lede House satellite in Abbotsford.
PARRYNOIA: Unlike the long-ago Russians who sought him as tsar, today’s Britons may not find Boris Godunov.
DON’T BE DUMB: Lake Cowichan-raised Stephanie Nielson didn’t spare potential readers’ sensitivities when titling her dating guidebook Don’t Be A Dumbass: The Every Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl. Along with stern advice about personal hygiene and being a know-it-all, it ends with the assertion that those who settle for less than they desire end up with exactly what they deserve. Now a divorced mother of two, Nielson expects a Tinder-introduced fellow to end her own “100 dating disasters” by producing a ring this fall. Asked if that might entail living together, Nielsen gave the best — or worst — advice of all: “Not until we’re married.”
THE GANJA GANG: New-era dope dealers congregated in Elevator communications firm owner Bob Stamnes’ Mount Pleasant building recently. Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES) president Jeremy Jacobs welcomed them. He and Stamnes also launched a Vancouver-based cannabis consultancy named Counsel 45 that Stamnes, alluding to a multinational professional-services network, called “the Deloitte of cannabis.” As youngish retailers made merry, it was ironic to recall that some of their same-age forebears were jailed for selling, or even possessing, joints on similar city streets.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: As well as having greenhorns and greybeards spout purple prose, ever-colourful Ottawa gave us a blue blood in blackface and caught another red-handed.
Mom Shaiyena Currie, right, with 3-day-old baby Octavia and her sister Chelsea Currie on their way home to Bella Coola from Williams Lake after three weeks of living in a tent waiting for the birth. PNG
Three weeks after the birth of her daughter Octavia, Bella Coola mom Shaiyena Currie, 23, is still recovering from the trauma of spending 14 days in a tent during the final stretch of her pregnancy.
Since 2008, when Vancouver Coastal Health cut maternity services at Bella Coola General Hospital, pregnant women in the community must travel to Williams Lake a month before their due date.
Pregnant women who travel for their deliveries in the VCH region are eligible for some discounts on ferries and airfares, and a medical discount of about 30 per cent at select hotels, but meals, accommodation, mileage, fuel and local transportation expenses are not included in the provincial Travel Assistance Program.
Currie estimates that the total cost to her and her family for the birth was around $10,000, in part because her sister had to take an unpaid leave from her job to accompany Currie.
“I was worried for my safety. I stayed up all night tossing and turning because of the fear that anybody could just walk into my tent,” said Currie who pitched her tent at the Stampede Campground, not far from Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake.
When a busy horse riding competition started on the stampede grounds, Currie moved to the Stampeder Motel where the slightly discounted medical rate came to $90 a night, plus taxes and fees. The final insult was that she had to give birth alone, because her sister had to watch her son at the hospital while she was delivering. Her mother had planned to be there, but couldn’t make the six-hour drive in time.
Currie calls the whole situation “terrifying and traumatic,” and says people need to know the health and safety risks pregnant women face when travelling to give birth.
Katy Best is a Bella Coola Grade 5 teacher who is expecting her first child will moving back in with her mother in Richmond next week while she awaits her birth.
In a letter to health authorities advocating for change, Best wrote on Aug. 29, “The disruptions to these mothers’ lives are countless, including having to leave children behind or pull them out of school, feeling isolated from their communities and partners at a very vulnerable time, and missing out on nesting at home during their final month of pregnancy.”
Best said she was required to sign a waver stating that she understood childbirth was “inherently dangerous,” and that she would be required to leave the community to give birth.
“If leaving the community is deemed a medical necessity by health authorities, why aren’t the costs covered?”
“This is an equity issue,” says Best, who points out that pregnancy is not a “rare or unforeseeable condition.”
“Based on the fact that you give birth, you have to take on this enormous financial and emotional hardship.”
Best believes that Vancouver Coastal Health saved money by shutting down Bella Coola General’s maternity program, and “off-loaded those costs onto women and families.”
Adrian Dix, Minister of Health told Postmedia in an email, “Improving travel assistance supports, especially for expectant mothers and families, is an issue that I am looking into with the input of Ministry of Health staff and health authorities.”
Vancouver Coastal Health provided Postmedia with a written statement which read in part, “Vancouver Coastal Health recognizes the difficulties in providing health services to residents of remote and rural communities. This issue is not unique to British Columbia, or even to Canada for that matter. Bella Coola Hospital does not have full maternity service.”
A 2013 study published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information said 40 per cent of women living in rural Canada drive more than an hour to give birth; 17 per cent drive more than two hours.
A 2008 report from the Centre for Rural Health Research on Maternity Care in Bella Coola stated that cuts to rural maternity services tend to be driven by a trend toward centralization of health services and challenges in attracting nurse, general practitioner surgeons and specialists and lack of access to specialized services such as “access to epidural anesthesia, labour augmentation, or caesarean section backup.”
It’s not good enough for Currie.
“I don’t want another woman to have to sleep in a tent, or worse. Something needs to be arranged so mothers are safe and can give birth in their communities.”
GOING DUTCH: Last year, Netherlands native Otto Tausk succeeded British-born Bramwell Tovey as Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s music director. Then, as what the Dutch might call tit voor tat, Nederlands Dans Theater snagged Regina-born Ballet B.C.’s artistic director, Emily Molnar, to lead its 27- and 18-dancer companies. Former Ballet B.C. dancer Molnar has steered the once-moribund company through a decade of break-even-or-better seasons to critical acclaim here and on national and international tours. Addressing dancers, staff, board members and supporters recently, she said: “What we have done together is remarkable.” Then, to rueful smiles all around, “It doesn’t happen easily.” Encouragingly, though, dancers “now have more opportunities to stay at home with full-time or almost full-time work.”
MORE GLOBALISM: Finland native Kari Turunen has succeeded Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Illinois-born founder and 47-year artistic director, Jon Washburn.
SCHOOLS IN: Fairchild Group chairman Thomas Fung and actress-wife Amy usually draw business, professional, political and cultural guests to their annual garden party. This year, with son Joseph having founded the Fairchild Junior Academy in Hong Kong, local educational-facility top brass shared the lawn. They were University of B.C. and Simon Fraser University presidents Santa Ono and Andrew Petter, St. George’s Senior School headmaster Tom Matthews, York House school head Julie Rousseau, and West Point Grey Junior School head Ciara Corcoran. An after-supper singalong fronted by host-guitarist Fung could have been, but wasn’t, conducted by UBC grad Ken Hsieh. Edmonton-born Hsieh founded the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra in 2003 and has been music director ever since with no successor even contemplated.
THE YOGI BERA AWARD: Goes to industrial safety trainer Chris Samson for his August quote: “I’m all for taking risks, so long as it’s done safely.” B.C. transportation minister Claire Trevena is runner-up for: “I think it’s very good to have a regulated market in the way that we have a regulated market.”
THEY’RE LOVIN’ ’EM: Ryan and Nicole Stark were heartbroken in May, 2018, when four-month-old daughter Hadley died. So were staff at 73-bedroom Ronald McDonald House where the Fort St. John family lived while B.C. Children’s Hospital staff fought to save Hadley. Spirits soared this July when three-month resident Nicole delivered daughter Clara along with sons Sawyer and Soren. “Families want normalcy,” said CEO Richard Pass while welcoming the triplets at an RMH donor reception. “That means more stay-together programs for whole families.” The record stay there is 497 days.
BEEP: Phone messages for classic-car minder Vern Bethel are answered promptly. Ones for daughter Pamela can end up on stage. Umpteen 1990s calls to and responses from then-teenaged Bethel constitute her lauded 2017 show, After The Beep, playing the Vancouver Fringe Festival’s The Nest theatre to Sept. 14. Those dialing 250-885-1285 might even hear themselves in a sequel.
THEY’RE ON: Whatever their luck with horse-race bets, Deighton Cup organizers Dax Droski, Jordan Kalman and Tyson Villeneuve sure pick winning weather. Sunshine bathed Hastings Racecourse when their 11th annual event’s record crowd of nattily attired younger folk enjoyed music, food, champagne, cigars and even some betting. Mile’s End Motors dealer David Bentil’s usual pavilion and tree-shaded compound had guests loll alongside such exotic jalopies as a 2017 Ferrari F12 TDF worth $1.5 million. Quite a change from the vacuum cleaners Bentil sold door-to-door along and near his native East London’s Mile End Road.
R.I.P.: Former Sun editor-restaurant reviewer Alex MacGillivray died recently — no funeral by request — but his name lives on via actress-daughter Caroline who founded non-profit BeautyNight (beautynight.org) in 2000 and has helped endless marginalized women gain confidence, integration and contact-making skills.
BREATH OF LIFE: Guest John Yee wasn’t whisked away from the Fungs’ party to perform another of the 60 double-lung-transplant surgeries he’s undertaken yearly on six hours’ notice. The Sun’s Pamela Fayerman reported that Vancouver General Hospital’s new vivo lung perfusion process allows more precious time to assess donor organs. Dr. Yee still laments cystic-fibrosis patient Eva Markvoort who, despite such surgery, succumbed at age 23 in 2010. Philip Lyall and Nimisha Mukerji’s documentary about Markvoort, 65 RedRoses (that’s how many youngsters pronounce “cystic fibrosis”), will screen at a Vancouver Playhouse gala Sept. 8 to help fund CF research and encourage organ donation.
HAPPY FIFTEENTH: To the Belgian-themed Chambar Restaurant Karri and Nico Schuermans opened on Beatty Street and moved next door in 2014. Also to seafood-themed Coast, which Glowbal Restaurant Group president-CEO Emad Yacoub located in Yaletown and upmarketed to Alberni Street in 2009. Chambar recently staged a dinner by five female chefs and same-gender Vancouver Community College students to help fund scholarships. Its anniversary highlight will be an all-invited block party’s pig roast and waffle fest on Sept. 8.
DOWN PARRYSCOPE: Late French president Charles de Gaulle, whose vetoes made petitioning Britons wait 12 years to join what is now the European Union, might relish their current opera bouffe to get out.
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.
After three years of operating two registered recovery houses, in January 2016 Cole Izsak found what he believed — and still believes — is the perfect place.
But before taking possession, the owner and executive-director of Back on Track Recovery applied to the provincial health ministry to essentially grandfather his operation and transfer the registration of one of his houses to the new site.
Because Back on Track has never had any substantiated complaints, he didn’t expect any problems and, a month later, shut the registered house and opened a four-plex now called The Fortress.
The next month, Izsak closed one of the two houses that were registered by the provincial government and moved to the new compound with internal, off-street parking at 9889-140th Street in Surrey.
He still wasn’t concerned when in May, the ministry said it was putting a hold on his application while both the province and Surrey were formulating new regulations.
Since then, it is rare that any of the 40 beds — two per bedroom in each of the five-bedroom houses — are empty.
While Back on Track continues to operate the one registered house, The Fortress remains unregistered, with only two of four business licenses that it needs.
For the last 2½ years, Surrey’s bylaw inspectors have been telling Izsak that unless all four houses at The Fortress get their provincial registry, the city can’t license the houses until the registration from the health ministry comes through, certifying that services offered meet its standards of care.
In mid-May, Back on Track and its residents were told that the licenses were being revoked and the four houses would have to close at the end of July. It has since been given a reprieve, pending a decision from the provincial registrar.
“If Mr. Izsak’s registration comes through, we’ll be prepared to do our own inspections for renewal or issuance of the licenses,” bylaw services manager Kim Marosevich said this week.
In late May, after Maggie Plett first spoke publicly about her son Zachary’s death at another Surrey recovery house called Step by Step, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy told News 1130, “We’re trying to make up for lost time over the past many, many years since the scandal started to break.
“But I would expect that we will have new, stronger regulations and enforcement in place by the end of the year.”
Throughout all of this, the government has paid Back on Track the $30.90 per diem that covers the cost of room, board and recovery services for each welfare recipient living there — a rate that has remained unchanged for 16 years.
Izsak doesn’t know why the ministry has yet to make a decision on his application. The mental health and addictions ministry has not yet responded to my questions about it.
On Tuesday, Izsak gave me a tour of the four neatly kept houses. He showed me the well-supplied pantry where residents are free to take whatever food they want and as much as they want. There is also an open-air gym and smoking lounge. Every room has a naloxone kit in case of an opioid overdose, and every few weeks, residents are given training on how to use them.
The half-dozen residents that I spoke to privately — including one who said he had been in at least 20 such facilities — said The Fortress is the best. They talked about feeling safe, well-cared for, and even loved.
Izsak makes no apology for not having more set programming in the houses.
“People who are coming off the street or out of prison are not going to surrender to eight hours of programs per day,” he said. “But what they will surrender to is coming to a place like this where they are fed well, have a clean bed, a TV, and programming from 9 a.m. until noon.”
He acknowledged that there are no certified counsellors or therapists working there. He devised a recovery program called MECCA based on his own experiences in recovery that is delivered by others who are in recovery.
Izsak also said he cannot afford to hire certified addictions counsellors and specialized therapists, as they do at recovery houses where monthly rates are anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000 a month.
Right now, registered facilities don’t require that, according to the registry’s website.
What’s required is that all staff and volunteers “must have the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities and training to perform their tasks and meet the health and safety of residents.”
Far from bridling at more regulations, Izsak has a long list of his own that he would like the province to enact to weed out bad operators.
It includes random site inspections, manager-on-duty logbooks documenting what happens every two hours from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and a requirement that all operators provide their expense receipts.
After three recent deaths in recovery houses, Izsak is now a man on a mission.
“I want to close operations that are bad so that I’m not treated almost like a criminal because they acted unscrupulously.”
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.
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