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.
“Scientists say that’s exactly what’s needed,” Carr said Thursday. “The world’s leading scientists issued a report in the fall of 2018 that implored governments to act with urgency. The climate is changing faster than they earlier predicted.”
Cutting GHGs by 100 per cent in Metro Vancouver requires updating the Climate 2050 Strategic Framework, which calls for an 80-per-cent reduction.
The panel’s report said if global warming is not kept to 1.5 degrees C, it could lead to more periods of drought, increased wildfires, and place entire ecosystems at risk.
To reach the 1.5-degree target, it would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the panel’s report stated.
Carr admits that becoming carbon-neutral requires systemic change in Metro Vancouver.
“The first step is reaching out to the public in the development of roadmaps to get to these kind of reductions,” she said. “I’m counting on the public and stakeholders to get us to where we’re aiming to keep global warming at a level that avoids catastrophe.”
Carr pointed out that the 100-per-cent net reduction in GHG emissions recognizes that not all fossil fuels will be eliminated by 2050. What it means is that any GHG emissions by then will be offset by methods such as sequestration, a form of long-term storage of carbon dioxide by reforestation and wetland restoration.
The 2030 target of 45 per cent is important, Carr said, because it’s an interim measure which allows public bodies to assess how they’re doing over time.
Vancouver set a goal in 2010 of a 33-per-cent drop in GHGs by 2020. Part of the reason why Vancouver is now only at seven per cent, she said, is because there were no interim targets.
“As one example, the region has been impacted by smoke from unprecedented wildfire activity in western North America in three of the past four summers,” it said. “Expected future climate impacts include more wildfire smoke, an increase in rainfall intensity by 20-45 per cent by 2050 and 40-75 per cent by 2100, and at least one metre of sea level rise.”
The report goes to say that achieving carbon neutrality requires Metro Vancouver to not only reduce GHG emissions as much as possible, but also to commit to using “100 per cent renewable fossil fuel-free energy by 2050.”
Across the country, more than 250 local governments have declared climate emergencies.
The B.C. Coroners Service says the number of illicit drug deaths was down 30 per cent in B.C. for the first five months of 2019.
The coroner says there were 86 and 84 illicit drug-related deaths in April and May respectively, down from 137 and 116 for the same months in 2018.
Overall, there have been 462 illicit drug toxicity deaths in the first five months, down 30 per cent from the 651 over the same period last year.
The coroner notes that the data is subject to change and totals for 2019 will likely increase as post-mortem testing results are received, but says it is “a sign for cautious optimism.”
More than two-thirds of the illicit-drug deaths this year involved people aged 30 to 59 years, and men account for almost four in every five of all illicit-drug deaths over the same period, the coroner says.
Almost nine in every 10 illicit drug deaths occurred inside and fentanyl was detected in most (83 per cent) of the cases.
Although overall the number of fatalities is down, the number of deaths linked to carfentanil, which is reportedly 100 times stronger than fentanyl, is up compared with last year.
The coroner says carfentanil was detected in 102 of the 383 fentanyl-detected deaths this year. There were 35 carfentanil-detected deaths in 2018.
No deaths have been reported at supervised consumption or drug overdose prevention sites.
The information is used by either of the two health authorities in the region — Vancouver Coastal Health or Fraser Health Authority — to determine whether there should be a swimming advisory.
Metro Vancouver also monitors False Creek, where the guideline for E. coli is 1,000 per 100 mL, five times higher than at nearby Sunset Beach. The level is higher in False Creek because it is not considered a swimming area where people are likely to come in contact with the water.
Matt Kieltyka, a spokesperson at Vancouver Coastal Health, said False Creek’s location next to Sunset Beach has an effect on water quality.
“False Creek, which is not a designated swimming area, does have higher levels of E. coli, and Sunset Beach could be affected by the tidal movement of water,” he said in an email. “It’s fair to say that can be one of the factors that’s contributing to the elevated levels at Sunset Beach.”
Farida Bishay, superintendent of environmental monitoring for Metro Vancouver, said samples are collected daily between May and September from 113 sites at 41 locations and measured at Metro’s Microbiology Laboratory.
At Sunset Beach that translates into one sample every week and two samples every third week.
“The analysis takes 24 hours, so we want to be able to have results on Friday to report to our health authorities before the weekend,” she said.
The most recent reading at two stations at Sunset Beach at the mouth of False Creek on July 3 showed 548 and 455 E. coli per 100 mL; at Snug Cove on July 5, there was a single reading of 416. Swimming advisories were initially issued on June 27 for Snug Cove, and June 29 at Sunset Beach.
The July 5 readings from three sites in west, central and east False Creek show readings of 41, 80, and 319, respectively, of E. coli per 100 mL.
A recent Metro Vancouver report looking at E. coli found that beaches had swimming advisories for about 50 days in 2018, the highest since 2014 when there were 240 days of advisories.
Determining exactly what causes a high E. coli reading in any one location isn’t easy, Bishay said.
Reasons can include storm water runoff, animal waste, algae blooms, water temperature, and discharge from recreational vehicles, boats, septic tanks, and sewers.
“We’re not consistently better under wet or under dry conditions,” Bishay said.
Metro Vancouver doesn’t test for differences in E. coli between species, she said. There is no way to tell, for example, whether elevated E. coli are from the growing number of Canada geese around False Creek and English Bay.
The high E. Coli counts in 2014 led to the formation of the False Creek Water Quality Working Group and to a study tracking the source of the bacteria. Results are due later this year.
“It is hoped that the information gained from this study will be helpful to better understand the factors affecting recreational water quality in the region and the sources that may have contributed to the elevated bacterial counts in 2014 and 2018,” the Metro Vancouver report said.
Taxi cabs will keep their municipal boundaries even when ride-hailing is introduced in B.C. later this year. Gerry Kahrmann / PNG
VICTORIA — Existing boundaries for taxis in most of B.C. won’t change with the introduction of ride-hailing later this year, according to the independent tribunal charged with making the decision.
The Passenger Transportation Board, which will set boundaries and fares for ride-hailing and taxis by next month, is not considering any large-scale changes to current taxi areas that are often based on regional or municipal borders.
“As an administrative tribunal we’d have to discuss changes of boundaries and that would be very contentious and time-consuming and yet another delay in implementing ride-hailing,” board chair Catharine Reid said Tuesday. “And we don’t want a delay in implementing ride-hailing.
“The second reason is we don’t have good origin destination information. So if we try to change taxi boundaries, we don’t know if we’ll make things better or worse.”
Drivers must have a class four commercial licence, and companies will be required to pay a $5,000 fee as well as a 30-cent-per-trip levy to improve accessibility services, under the government rules.
But the exact details on fares and boundaries are to be set by the Passenger Transportation Board, which is an independent tribunal.
Reid and the board began public discussions on those issues with taxi companies in Prince Rupert on Tuesday. She said the rest of the taxi sector, as well as ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft will be consulted by the end of next week.
“The policy will be up sometime in August that will provide policy on boundaries, fleet size and rates,” she said.
Uber and Lyft have said they want to operate free of borders, to give their drivers flexibility on responding to demand for a ride anywhere.
The taxi sector is divided on the issue. Eliminating borders could solve problems like “deadheading” — where taxis from Vancouver, for example, take a passenger to Surrey but can’t pick up anyone on the return trip due to licensing restrictions. But removing borders could also devalue taxi licenses that hold value based on their scarcity in a certain area, causing significant financial losses for companies, drivers and those who’ve borrowed money to purchase or lease part shares in vehicle licenses.
The board has released two public discussion papers that lay out its options.
For the rest of the province outside of Metro Vancouver, it offers no options to change taxi boundaries. The report says ride-hailing companies could either follow the same borders, or be given larger regional or provincial areas in which to operate, depending on industry feedback.
In Metro Vancouver, three of the four options proposed would keep the existing municipal taxi boundaries for Vancouver, Surrey and elsewhere.
However, one option does propose opening up the Metro Vancouver region as a single area in which both ride-hailing vehicles and the traditional taxi sector could operate equally.
“It is not clear that taxis would want this approach as they are free to launch their own (ride-hailing) service and could also maintain the advantages of taxis that each has within their current operating area,” read the board report.
An open metro region would give the public “faster and more reliable service, including at peak times,” reduce the numbers of trips refused and tackle the problem of deadheading, according to the report.
However, it would also result in “taxi service likely reduced for suburban areas,” wrote the board.
Taxi licenses would see a “large reduction” in value if ride-hailing was region-wide or provincewide, especially in the City of Vancouver, according to the report.
The B.C. Taxi Association, which attended consultations in Prince Rupert on Tuesday, said all boundaries should be removed for everyone.
“There’s no need for boundaries,” said president Mohan Kang. “If they have the ability to move around Metro Vancouver, so should we.”
The Vancouver Taxi Association, where taxi licenses hold the most value and its operators face the largest risk, could not be reached for comment.
The Passenger Transportation Board is also considering whether to limit the size of ride-hailing fleets, but its discussion papers note that no other governments do so and it would be impossible to set a defensible limit.
Fares are also up for consideration. The board notes no other governments impose maximum price limits on ride-hailing, despite concerns about surge pricing during peak demand. One option up for consideration is setting the minimum fare for an Uber or Lyft ride at the same rate as a taxi, or setting no minimum rate at all.
Uber and Lyft declined to comment. Both oppose B.C.’s class four commercial licence requirement and neither company so far has committed to opening in the province later this year.
Sarah Blyth is director of the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver. HANDOUT / PNG
Doctors and frontline health-care workers say they are responding to an increasing number of overdoses involving opioids contaminated with benzodiazepines, restricted substances normally used to treat anxiety.
Benzodiazepines don’t respond to emergency treatments such as naloxone, or Narcan, which usually temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Instead, drug users are left groggy, disoriented and suffering from memory loss. That means users may remain unconscious even after naloxone is administered, according to Overdose Prevention Society director Sarah Blyth.
“It’s way more challenging for all frontline workers because a person will overdose, you’ll give them Narcan, which normally brings them back into consciousness and fully awake and alert … but this means you give them Narcan and they still need to be monitored for most of the day,” said Blyth.
“It adds to everything. It adds to the crisis. It’s another level of stress.”
Blyth said the prevention society saw 16 such overdoses in a 24-hour period last weekend.
Dr. Keith Ahamad, a researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, said these overdoses are becoming more common at St. Paul’s Hospital.
“We’ve been hearing about it for months, but over the past couple of weeks the clinical presentations have been much more significant,” said Ahamad.
Opioids and benzodiazepines are both sedatives, but they work along different neurological pathways. That means using them together brings a magnified risk of overdose and different withdrawal syndromes, making it more challenging to treat. Health-care workers don’t know why the two drugs are being cut together.
“We’ve warned people using opioids to not take benzodiazepines because we know the combination can cause overdoses,” said Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.
Samples of contaminated drugs taken earlier this year showed traces of etizolam, which is chemically related to benzodiazepine. Since then, Lysyshyn said stronger, illicitly-produced benzodiazepine variants have appeared.
“The illegal drug supply will produce dangerous drugs,” he said. “This is the last type of compound we’d want to see mixed with opioids, but here it is.”
Drugs cut with these contaminants have been reported in other B.C. communities, including Powell River this week. But the scope of the problem is unknown because benzodiazepine test strips do not detect etizolam.
“You see a little bit of it, and all of a sudden it’s in everything,” said Blyth.
Vancouver police seized just 47 grams of benzodiazepines in all of 2018, none of which were etizolam. But over 6,100 grams of seized drugs were classified as “unknown” and were not tested or identified, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request.
Medications to reverse benzodiazepine-caused overdoses exist, but are dangerous to use and restricted to hospitals, Lysyshyn said.
“It’s not easily administered like naloxone is, so it’s not the kind of thing we can make widely available,” he said.
Ahamad said the contaminated drugs makes treating withdrawal and addiction symptoms more complicated because users may develop a physical dependence to benzodiazepines without realizing it.
“We’re going to be hamstrung in our ability to treat people with our classic treatment (methods) if the drugs that are being used are of a different class,” said Ahamad.
B.C.’s overdose crisis killed 1,514 people last year. Most of those deaths involved fentanyl, but over 16 per cent involved “other” drugs including benzodiazepines, over-the-counter medications, and other drugs, according to coroner data.
Blyth said these overdoses are the consequence of a toxic drug supply and urged government to make responding to the crisis a central campaign issue in the coming federal election.
“We want to make sure people are safe, but we also want to make sure we’re getting somewhere, someday, where we’re not in this situation anymore,” she said.
Dr. Ryan Flannigan inside VGH’s Robert Ho research building in Vancouver. Dr. Flannigan is leading a study on a new way to treat scrotum pain. Photo: Arlen Redekop/Postmedia Arlen Redekop / PNG
Males who suffer debilitating scrotal pain can now sign up for a new study using an old but reformulated numbing medication with lidocaine.
Nearly five per cent of males can suffer so much that mere walking can be painful if they have chronic pain in their testicles and scrotum, the latter of which are the sacs of skin surrounding the testicles.
Dr. Ryan Flannigan, a Vancouver General Hospital urologist who is the director of the male infertility and sexual medicine research program at the University of B.C., said that he has seen up to 100 men with chronic scrotum pain in the last six months alone. Some patients come from as far away as the Northwest Territories. But many men don’t bother to seek medical attention because, as Flannigan points out, males are generally more reluctant than women to go to doctors and more inclined to brush off medical concerns.
Flannigan, who specializes in testicular and penile abnormalities, said testicular pain is described by patients as either constant aching or episodes of sharp pain.
The scrotal pain condition occurs in a range of ages — from teenagers to men in their ’60s — but it most commonly affects those in their 20s and 30s, Flannigan said.
While conventional treatment has involved injecting a lidocaine anesthetic into the spermatic cord to help numb pain, it is temporary relief for only up to four hours. So in the new study, soon to enrol 20 patients, lidocaine will be reformulated into a polymer paste that is designed for a slow, more sustained release, over seven to 14 days.
The needlepoke through the skin at the top of the scrotum into the spermatic cord can be uncomfortable but Flannigan said he tells patients “it’s like a visit to the dentist when the freezing goes in.”
The paste, developed by a UBC spinoff company called Sustained Therapeutics (which is funding the study), will be injected into tissues, not blood vessels. Flannigan said the polymer material will “naturally break down” as it is metabolized.
Besides lidocaine-based injections, other treatments that may be tried include anti-inflammatories, steroids, and sometimes even surgery to cut nerves that are transmitting the pain. Physiotherapy can also help when the pain originates in another area of the body and is referred to the testicles.
Preclinical trials in animals at UBC affirmed the safety and proof of concept behind the intervention. Now the goal of the Phase 1 trial in humans will be to determine a safe and effective dose.
Flannigan said common causes of the condition include a blow to the testicle area, a previous infection in the area, inflammation in the spermatic cord that stores and carries sperm, and nerves pinched during hernia repair or a previous vasectomy. Pain can also be caused by enlarged veins in the scrotum, cysts, or kidney stones. The cause remains unknown in nearly half of cases.
Flannigan said men from around B.C. — or even outside the province — will be considered for the trial. To register an interest, males should contact the clinical trials unit at the Vancouver Prostate Centre or call 604-875-5675.
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.
Students in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District will become the first to get team support, or so-called wraparound care, for those with mental health and addiction challenges.
Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the integrated teams will work with schools and specialized service providers to offer complete care to students and their families.
Last month, the government announced its 10-year Pathway to Hope program aimed at helping and supporting young people with mental health and addiction challenges.
Darcy says the government has committed $2.5 billion for mental health and addiction services, and that includes $10 million in grants to non-profit groups to offer affordable counselling to youth and families.
The government said the teams will work with those experiencing challenges and their families won’t have to retell their stories to different care providers or search on their own for the supports they need.
Darcy says the new mental health and addiction services model will be implemented in the district by this 2019.
“It is very striking that with all the diversity of perspective and the diversity of experience, there was so much clarity on the way to go,” says Darcy, who made the announcement a Maple Ridge elementary school.
“The Pathway to Hope focuses on our most urgent priorities first, so that we’re helping people when they need it now and reducing demand on services down the road.”
After the government’s program announcement in June, a B.C. coroner’s jury examining the overdose death of 16-year-old Victoria-area youth Elliot Eurchuk called on government to improve early detection of mental health and substance use disorders within schools.
Tammy Gadsby credits medical marijuana for ending her use of serious pharmaceuticals that included a tranquilizer and an opioid.
With marijuana, the 60-year-old Maple Ridge resident said she has been able to better manage her fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety and PTSD than with any other drugs she has tried. Inhaling marijuana produces nearly immediate relief and also helps keep up her appetite, she said.
But smoking the drug now has Gadsby afoul of a recently passed strata bylaw in her condominium development that she said prohibits any smoking or vaping of any substance anywhere on the property. Many strata councils around B.C. have adopted similar bylaws late last year in anticipation of the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Gadsby said her strata has not granted her an exception to the rule, even though she says she holds a family physician-provided prescription and has been a medical marijuana user since 2015. And for Gadsby, it’s a serious enough matter that she said she plans to take it to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
“I gave up three prescription medications and just use medical cannabis now,” Gadsby said. “This is the best thing I’ve ever found to deal with all the different issues that I do deal with.”
Grant Inglis, the head of the strata council, said the council — through its lawyer — had requested additional information from Gadsby so that it could make a fair and informed decision about her request for an exemption from the bylaw on medical grounds. To date that information had not been received, he said.
Earlier this month, Eric Mollema, a lawyer representing the strata, sent a letter to a lawyer for Gadsby stating that the strata corporation was obliged to consider exempting her from the bylaw, but that it did require documents first.
That included written confirmation from a board-certified medical practitioner that Gadsby had a marijuana prescription and that detailed her medical conditions, explained why “traditional medicines” are contraindicative to those conditions and stated why smoking marijuana is the preferred dosing method.
Mollema said he could not comment on the ongoing matter.
For Gadsby, asking for that extent of personal medical information goes too far.
“It goes to a strata. These people are not a medical panel by any means … they are individuals that live in the strata. And you want me to provide you with all of my medical background?”
Paul Mendes, a lawyer who mainly represents strata corporations but who has also represented individual owners, said he could not speak to the specifics of the case. But he said conflicts over no-smoking bylaws can turn into human rights issues.
“For this to be a human rights issue, the owner has to establish that she has a disability. And once she satisfies the strata that she has a disability, the strata then has a duty to accommodate her disability to the point of an undue hardship on the strata.”
In the case of marijuana smoking, the main problem tends to be smell, Mendes said. One thing the strata can consider in such cases is asking an owner to consider vaping or taking edibles rather than smoking combustibles. But if a strata takes the position that there is no way to accommodate, “then it is really a human rights matter,” he said.
What the Human Rights Tribunal would look at is whether the bylaw adversely affects the property owner’s disability. If they have evidence they use medical marijuana for that disability, it would be hard to argue that a zero tolerance policy does not adversely affect them, Mendes said.
“It’s not a slam dunk for either side on this. It’s really going to depend on the evidence,” he said.
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