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Category "Politics"

18Mar

B.C. unveils first poverty reduction plan

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Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson.


CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA – B.C.’s New Democrat government unveiled the province’s first poverty reduction plan Monday, a strategy it says can reduce overall poverty in the province by 25 per cent within five years and cut child poverty in half.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson said the plan “comprises programs, polices and initiatives across government, tying together investments made over three budgets into a thoughtful, bold and comprehensive plan to address poverty in B.C.

“It’s a strategy that at its heart is about people,” said Simpson. “It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by.”

The poverty reduction plan has five pillars Simpson said, including a child opportunity benefit announced in the February budget and planned for 2020, a previously set path towards a $15 minimum wage, continued investments in child care subsidies, building upon two previous increases to the welfare and disability rates, and “leveraging” on federal supports.

Simpson also pointed to continued research on a pilot project for a basic living wage, which the NDP and Greens negotiated as part of their power-sharing deal in 2017.

As well, Simpson re-announced $10 million to rent banks that Finance Minister Carole James has said will go toward helping people get short-term loans for rent so they don’t become homeless.

Simpson reiterated the importance of government’s funding for 2,000 modular units for homelessness – first announced in 2018 – as well support for low-income people that make child care almost free depending on income level.

“This has been a priority for our government since our first day in office,” said Simpson.

“For too many years B.C. was the only province in Canada without a dedicated strategy for longterm poverty reduction. The result of that inaction was the second highest poverty rate in the country.”

The report also mentions government’s decision to eliminate bridge tolls in Metro Vancouver — a 2017 election promise that was one of the NDP’s first actions upon taking power.

The poverty-reduction plan calls for a 25-per-cent reduction in poverty, and a 50 per cent reduction in child poverty, within five years.

In terms of people, 557,000 British Columbians live in poverty, and the plan targets lifting at least 140,000 above the poverty line. For children, it equates to 50,000 of the roughly 100,000 already in poverty.

Of the 557,000 people in poverty, approximately 200,000 receive government welfare, disability or other services.

The NDP campaigned on the promise of a poverty reduction strategy in the 2017 election, arguing that British Columbia was the only province without one.

However, development of the plan has moved slowly over more than a year and a half. The government passed legislation enshrining the targets into law in October, but left the details until Monday.

The government passed legislation in October that enshrined those targets in law, but left the details until Monday.

Trish Garner, community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it’s exciting to finally have a poverty reduction plan, something that her organization has been advocating for since its inception a decade ago.

“From our perspective, it’s a strong start,” she said. “It really demonstrates a comprehensive framework, bringing in cross-ministry investments, but we are looking for more to build on this in the future.”

Specifically, Garner said, they want to see plans for raising income assistance rates, investing in more affordable transportation and rent controls. She said they weren’t expecting to see announcements on Monday, however they had hoped to see more detail about what will be done and when.

“It’s looking at the breadth of poverty, but it’s missing some vision around the depth of poverty and what we’re really going to do there,” Garner said.

— with files from Jennifer Saltman

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18Mar

Rob Shaw: NDP government ‘reviewing’ a basic human right for girls

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VICTORIA — Annie Ohana was in her classroom at L.A. Matheson high school in Surrey last week, when an all-too-common scene played out. A young woman ducked into her room after the final bell rang and quietly asked: “Ms. Ohana, do you have a tampon or pad?”

“Teachers at schools and counsellors, especially as women, we do often keep a little stash of products,” said Ohana.

So Ohana, the Aboriginal department head at the school, gladly reached into her own supply to help out. It made the difference between the student being able to stay at school for her extracurricular activities, or having to leave.

“She was volunteering for something, but instead of going home because of her period, she was able to ask me,” said Ohana. “I was able to provide it, but that’s my own money …  the system should provide it. In this case I was there, but what if I was gone?”

It’s a question increasingly being asked by teachers, parents, students and advocates in hundreds of schools across the province. Why is there no provincial funding to provide free tampons and pads for female students in school washrooms?

Instead, B.C. has a patchwork system that varies from school to school and often results in embarrassment and shame for female students.

Some districts put coin-operated dispensers in women’s bathrooms (requiring girls to have exact change to get a pad or tampon while bleeding and in need). Others schools have literally nothing. In some cases, like in Burnaby North Secondary, students have taken it upon themselves to organize free baskets of products in washrooms because nobody else will do it for them.

Some schools do offer free tampons or pads — but only if the student interrupts her teacher in class, asks to be excused in front of all her classmates, walks to the office, waits in the queue at the front desk and then asks the (possibly male) receptionist in front of everyone else sitting in that office if she can please have a tampon thank-you-very-much. You couldn’t create a more cumbersome and humiliating system if you tried.


L.A. Matheson teacher Annie Ohana.

Mark van Manen /

PNG

Some girls can’t afford to buy their own products. And there’s cultural and social stigmas around menstruation that can leave young women, at a difficult time in their life, isolated from family and friends. It’s even more difficult if the student is transgender. The very least the education system could do is offer them a discreet, free, and easy way to get a tampon or pad from every school washroom, without having to ask.

One in seven Canadian girls have missed school because they couldn’t get a tampon or pad during their period, according to a Procter & Gamble survey.

The issue was raised at the legislature by Green Leader Andrew Weaver during International Women’s Day. He based his question on a suggestion from one of his staff members, Stephanie Siddon.

Education Minister Rob Fleming responded by pointing to community grant programs that schools could try to tap, while offering to conduct more research into the issue.

It was an unimpressive display of leadership, said Weaver.

“There are some things that you just think about for 30 seconds and you realize, yeah that just makes sense,” said Weaver. “Here we are in 2019. You just do it. This falls into that. … “I would have thought he’d just have done it.”

Weaver’s own quick calculations — done in the middle of an interview using public pricing for hygiene products — pegged the rough cost at $200,000 a month for the education system, or $2.4 million a year to give more than 260,000 enrolled female students access to tampons and pads.

That amounts to a “rounding error” in the ministry’s $6.5-billion annual budget that should be acted upon without wasting time researching further, said Weaver.

New Westminster became one of the first school districts in Canada to fully fund feminine hygiene products when it voted last month to spend $10,000 of its own operating budget on dispensers and $7,000 annually to stock them with free supplies for women.

The issue is also on agendas for school trustees in Surrey, Greater Victoria, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Burnaby and Vancouver.

School districts are charging forward on their own, while the province lags behind.

The government could save time and effort by simply listening to advocates like Douglas College professor Selina Tribe, who has been clear, consistent and vocal about the issue for months.

Or Sussanne Skidmore, the secretary-treasurer of the B.C. Federation of Labour who is helping lead the United Way’s Period Promise campaign that sent a letter to Fleming on March 7 asking him to “take a leadership role in addressing period poverty in our province.”

“If there’s public policy around this, we can normalize it and make it no different than toilet paper,” Skidmore said. “It’s a human right.”

How frustrating it must be for socially progressive New Democrats to watch their government move so slowly on a clear-cut human rights issue like this.

“There are lots of leaders stepping up to say it can be done and it’s not that complicated,” said Skidmore.

Social Development Minister Shane Simpson is set to announce B.C.’s new poverty reduction strategy on Monday. There’s no good reason why this couldn’t be included.

Fleming said in statements last week that he’s “committed to supporting students around the province who need access to these products and I look forward to putting forward a plan soon.”

In the meantime, he said, “ministry staff are currently researching this further.”

Researching what exactly?

Is there some sort of cost-benefit ratio needed before the minister will sign off on funding access to hygiene products?

Is there a price to be put on the embarrassment faced in having to ask the office receptionist or school nurse (if the nursing office hasn’t already been eliminated due to cutbacks) for a tampon?

Is there a figure we can apply to how many days it’s acceptable for a female student to go home sick because they get their period in class and have nowhere to turn?

Does the ministry research the cost of toilet paper or soap?

For Ohana, who teaches social justice to her high school students, the issue is clear.

“To me, this is tied in to social justice,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s a human right. It’s a human reality.

“There’s a shame element,” Ohana added. “If girls can feel they can be proud of their bodies, and part of that being menstruation, that’s going to impact their self-esteem and confidence.”

That’s worth the cost.

Free advice to the education minister: Just do it.

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13Mar

Private medical clinics get year-long reprieve as Victoria delays medicare amendment

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Dr Brian Day says Day said the fact that the cabinet order was passed was proof the medicare amendment was unnecessary in the first place.


Nick Procaylo / PNG

Private diagnostic and surgical clinics have won another reprieve, this time from their nemesis — the provincial government, which would prefer to see them shut down.

It means that doctors providing care to patients seeking expedited treatment at private clinics across B.C. can continue doing so for at least for another year, as long as they don’t double bill both the government and patients.

The government has put off bringing into force a Medicare Protection Act amendment that would have harshly penalized doctors who provided expedited care to patients in private clinics. The decision was in the form of an NDP cabinet order and there was no press release announcing the decision.

The amendment — which allowed for fines and even criminal fraud charges — were supposed to take effect last October and could have forced dozens of clinics to close.

But surgery clinics won an injunction in November that effectively ordered the government not to enforce the amendment until after the marathon trial over medicare that began three years ago, initiated by lead plaintiff Dr. Brian Day, is over sometime this year or next.

The government tried, but was denied, to get leave to appeal the injunction two months ago.

Since the injunction dealt only with private surgery clinics, it left diagnostic clinics offering private MRI, CT and PET scan imaging out. The government had said that on April 1, diagnostic clinics would have to comply with the act.

Dennis Hummerston, senior director of Canada Diagnostic Centre, said diagnostic clinics were planning their own injunction application but then got word about the cabinet order.

The amendment is now scheduled to take effect on March 31, 2020, which means private facilities have at least another year in business. The clinics have always disputed the rationale for “draconian” fines and penalties and maintained the legislation would force them out of business.

Hummerston said he’s not aware of any clinics that have gone out of business but said some have lost administrative staff, technologists and radiologists due to the legal uncertainty.

Stephen May, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the government changed the date when the Act will take effect because of the medicare trial and the injunction.

“Consistent with the court’s decision to grant an injunction in a similar case, section 18.1 of the Medicare Protection Act will not come in to force until March 31, 2020 — after the expected completion of the Cambie Surgeries trial. This decision respects the court’s prior decision. … (But) we are committed to stop extra billing.”

May said the government has put an additional $11 million into magnetic resonance imaging in the public system to reach a total of 225,000 MRIs in 2018-19.

“This is approximately 35,000 more MRI exams than the previous year. We are ahead of these targets with hundreds of more operating hours added across the province and more MRI machines running 24/7 than ever,” he said.

Day said the fact that the cabinet order was passed was proof the amendment was unnecessary in the first place.

“The action confirms that there is, and never has been, any health-related rationale for pursuing these amendments. They were merely aimed at prohibiting patients from accessing private options to care for themselves, especially when the actions were taken during the course of a trial aimed at discovering the legality of those prohibitions. It is a perfect example of ideology taking precedence over reason and logic, not to mention ideology trumping the rights of suffering patients.”

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13Mar

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip: ‘I want my son’s death to be meaningful’

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“There’s no way to describe the enormous shock a parent experiences when you get a phone call informing you … You lose your ability to stand, and you sink into the closest chair. Your heart stops and you just can’t believe it. This terrible wave of shock goes through your entire body.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip took that terrible call last August from his wife, Joan. She was nearly hysterical.

“The minute I heard her, I thought, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no.’ She kept saying over and over, ‘He’s gone. He’s gone.’”

It was Aug. 7, 2018, the day after Kenny Phillip’s 42nd birthday. Their oldest son had died alone in a hotel room of a carfentanil overdose in Grand Prairie, Alta.

“I don’t think he knew that he had taken carfentanil,” his father told me. “But nobody was more well-versed in addictions and the variety of drugs available than he was.

“Having gone through so many treatment programs, he had high level of expertise. He knew everything about his addictions, the pattern and so forth. Yet he still was vulnerable to the powerful call of the addiction.”

Kenny struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol since he was a teenager, and had been to at least half a dozen treatment programs. Still, his father said, “You’re never ready for that phone call.”

His son followed the usual cycle. Bouts of drug and alcohol use punctuated by detox, treatment and periods of recovery. His longest recovery period lasted nearly three years. But this time, his parents were optimistic that it was different.

He had graduated from the Round Lake Treatment Centre. He was working as an apprentice mechanic. He loved it. He had been obsessed with cars since he was a kid. One of the people who worked with him in Penticton described Kenny to me as “a helluva guy.”

After he died, a former co-worker designed a logo with two crossed wrenches, Kenny’s initials with the years 1976 and 2018, and had decals made up so that his friends could honour him by sticking them on their toolboxes.

Phillip says something happened when Kenny went up to northwestern Alberta, triggering his addiction. And given Grande Prairie’s reputation as a crossroads for drugs, he wouldn’t have had to go far to find them.

Northwest of Edmonton, Grande Prairie has had several recent large drug busts. In January, RCMP seized four kilos of crystal methamphetamine, 2.2 kilos of cocaine, 200 grams of heroin, about 5,500 oxycodone tablets and about 950 fentanyl tablets.

A few months earlier, guns, ammunition as well as meth, cocaine, heroin and magic mushrooms were seized in a follow-up to a July raid.

“I have first-hand knowledge,” Phillip said. “I started drinking when I was 15, and was 40-something when I sobered up. It was the hardest thing that I ever did, and I was an alcoholic not strung out on crystal meth and some of the street drugs.

“But I know that at the end of the day, it’s up to the person. The individual.”

Seven years into marriage with, at the time, three children — two daughters and Kenny — Phillip’s wife told him she was finished with the fighting, picking him up when he was drunk, and buying liquor for him. But if he wanted to carry on, he was free to go.

“I thought, ‘Free at last,’” Phillip recalled. “I lasted a month. I was downtown drinking with all my so-called buddies talking about my newfound freedom. One evening in a Chinese restaurant — nobody else was there — I put in an order and was staring at the tabletop. I just broke down. I started crying and then howling.

“The howling was coming from the soul. I was scared stiff.”

At that moment, he realized his stark choice.

“If kept going, I was going to die at my own hand. But to contemplate stopping … which at the time was like contemplating to stop breathing or stop eating because it was such an integral part of who I was.”

What had kept Phillip from suicide, he told the Georgia Strait in May 2018, was the thought of his son. “I thought he would have to grow up with that stigma.”

With the help of Joan and Emery Gabriel, a drug and alcohol counsellor and the only sober friend Phillip had, he got into treatment at the Nechako Centre and has never relapsed.

Every day, Phillip thanks the Creator for sobriety because abstinence has enabled him to take on the work he has done and continues to do as president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, grand chief of the Okanagan Nation, and as a board member for Round Lake Treatment Centre.

Phillip grieves for the “incredible, amazing young man who touched so many different lives” and for the choice Kenny made last August, knowing full well the risk he was taking in the midst of the opioid overdose crisis.

He speaks openly, and urges others to as well, because those who have died need champions to bring about change.

“I want my son’s death to be meaningful,” Phillip said. “The path forward has to be an abundance of resources to help those who are struggling with addictions. … More treatment centres, more programs, and a greater commitment from governments and society to pick up the responsibility for it.”

So far, governmental response has been “minimalist,” said Phillip.

“This notion of harm reduction is just kicking the issue down the road. It’s not dealing with getting people from an addictive state to where they are clean and sober. That’s what we need to do.”

As for cannabis legalization, Phillip said, “I just shake my head when I think of where we are at and the direction we are going.”

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9Mar

No place to go for homeless hospital patients after release: advocate

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The Fraser Health Authority says it is investigating after Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove raised concerns about a 76-year-old woman who was discharged from Surrey Memorial Hospital and sent by taxi to the Chilliwack Salvation Army shelter, despite mobility and incontinence issues.

On Thursday, the mayor requested a meeting with Fraser Health CEO Dr. Victoria Lee to discuss “why vulnerable people are being sent to Chilliwack homeless shelters from another community.”

He cited the case of an elderly woman who had no family in Chilliwack, but arrived at the local shelter from the Surrey hospital in early February. Shelter staff were not prepared to care for her medical needs, which included severe incontinence.


Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove has taken issue with a Fraser Health decision to send vulnerable hospital patients to the Chilliwack homeless shelter.

Submitted photo /

PNG

“Constantly cleaning up fecal matter … is a serious concern for both staff and shelter clients,” said Popove in a letter to Lee.

Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam said Fraser Health makes “every effort” to find homeless patients a place to go when they are clinically stable and ready to leave the hospital, but “finding suitable housing is a challenge across our region.”

Tam said: “We are committed to continue to work closely with B.C. Housing and our municipal partners to develop more options. At the same time, we need to be careful not to use hospital beds as an alternative to stable housing.”

Abbotsford homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast said he wasn’t surprised to read the Chilliwack mayor’s account in the newspaper, “but only because it’s such a common practice.”

Wegenast’s organization, The 5 and 2 Ministries, opened a winter homeless shelter in Abbotsford on Nov. 1. The next day, he received a call from a Vancouver General Hospital administrator asking if he had space for an 81-year-old patient.

Wegenast said he often says no to accepting patients because the shelter is not open 24 hours and people must leave during the day. He’s had requests to take people with severe mobility issues, as well as those who need help with toileting or washing.

“The people who work at shelters are often very compassionate, and if the hospital says, ‘Well, we’re not keeping them,’ they feel obligated to help,” said Wegenast.


Abbotsford pastor and homeless advocate Jesse Wegenast.

Ward Perrin /

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The pastor said he’s rarely seen people in shelters receive home care or followup care, and it’s also difficult for them to get prescriptions filled.

Wegenast helped a low-income senior on Friday who recently had half of his foot amputated. The man lives in an apartment and was receiving home care to help with dressing changes, but he’d been unable to get antibiotics for five days since being released from hospital.

“When you have people exiting acute care at the hospital and there’s no one to follow that up, it’s bad for that person’s health, and it’s also bad for public health in general,” he said.

Unlike Wegenast, Warren Macintyre was surprised to read about the Chilliwack woman’s situation because it confirmed that the experience he’d had with Fraser Health was not uncommon.

“I really had no idea this kind of thing was going on,” he said.

Three weeks ago, a close family member was admitted to Surrey Memorial after suffering from alcohol withdrawal, said Macintyre. He was placed on life support in the intensive care unit for about 10 days. When he was stable, he planned to enter a treatment program in Abbotsford, but there weren’t any beds available until March 14.

“We were told the plan was to keep him in hospital until then, but I got a call Wednesday telling me he’d been discharged,” said Macintyre.

Surrey Memorial had sent his relative to the treatment centre, where staff repeated they had no space, so he was returned to the hospital. The man, who had been staying at the Maple Ridge Salvation Army before his hospital admission, took a cab to a friend’s house.

His family is hoping he’ll be able to stay sober until he can get into treatment March 14.

“I told the hospital, if he goes back on the booze, he’ll be right back here,” said Macintyre.

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28Feb

Daphne Bramham: First Nations’ solution to a modern, medical crisis

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Ending Canada’s opioid overdose crisis will likely require much more than sophisticated drug therapies. In fact, it might mean following the lead of First Nations health-care providers and transforming how we think about and deliver medical services.

First Nations people are dying of opioid overdoses at three times the rate of the general population. Hidden in that data are Canada’s most-neglected victims — Indigenous women.

Unlike in the general population where men comprise 80 per cent of the victims, Indigenous women are as likely to overdose or die as their brothers, fathers, husbands and sons.

They are eight times more likely to overdose than other women, and five times more likely to die from an overdose.

It’s not really surprising, says Dr. Evan Adams, the First Nations Health Authority’s chief medical health officer. The terrible numbers track other devastating indicators of how their health and longevity diverge from those of other Canadians.

“A lot of First Nations women who have substance-use disorders are exploited women. They are women who are victimized by the sex trade. They’re victimized by their partners,” said Adams, who worked for five years in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, the epicentre of Canada’s opioid crisis.

What the opioid crisis highlights for him is the endemic problem of the western medical model, where people go passively to doctors’ offices and say, “Heal me.”


Dr. Evan Adams is the Chief Medical Officer for the First Nations Health Authority.

Jason Payne /

PNG

“Our (First Nations) model is that the doctor gives you a chance to get better. But, you make yourself better,” he said. “It’s your family that does most of the work of helping you get better, not that doctor who you visit for 15 minutes every week, if you’re lucky.”

Unlike in the western model, healing and wellness in the traditional Indigenous way involve mind, body and spirit. For First Nations men and women to achieve wellness, Adams said they require much more than medicine.

“They need healers who can do ceremony. Maybe they need love. They need justice.

“How can a woman recover from opioid use disorder when you won’t let her see her children? It’s disgusting,” he said.

The day Adams and I met, the FNHA offices were being “swept” by a group of elders carrying cedar boughs and candles using traditional ceremonies to restore the spirits of the people who work there.

“Some people would say an elder is less trained in opioids than an addictions physician,” Adams said. “But wouldn’t it be nice to have both?”

It’s not that FNHA rejects modern medicine. It continues to expand access to opioid agonist treatments such as methadone and Suboxone, which quell cravings, making it available at all FNHA nursing stations and at four of the nine FNHA-funded residential treatment centres. FNHA reimburses treatment fees charged by private clinics and has spent $2.4 million in grants to 55 communities for harm-reduction programs.

Yet, for Adams and his staff, drug therapies are only a small part of what he calls harm reduction’s suite of services.


The Crosstown Clinic in downtown Vancouver.

JONATHAN HAYWARD /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

“Harm reduction is not just, ‘Let’s make sure you don’t overdose.’ It’s the whole person that you have to treat, not just this one aspect of the person that is craving opioids.”

To incorporate First Nations wisdom into other programs, FNHA created two peer coordinator jobs at the Crosstown Clinic in the Downtown Eastside. Its compassion inclusion initiative has engaged another 144 Indigenous people with lived experience across B.C., and its Indigenous wellness team has taught indigenous harm-reduction and wellness programs in 180 communities.

“Opioid use disorder is everyone’s business. It’s yours and it’s mine and it’s everyone around us. It’s not just the domain of physicians with 24 years of training,” he said. “Why can’t Grandma help, or a family member?”

What concerns Adams about the response to the opioid crisis that is heavily grounded in the medical model is that it could widen the gap between his people and mainstream Canadians.

Indigenous people don’t necessarily trust health providers who don’t look like them or where there is no acknowledgment of the historical trauma they have suffered and their unique experiences in the world.

That’s just one more reason why the FHNA, which is unique in Canada, is so adamant that it must transform the way health care is delivered to its people so that they are empowered to help in their own healing within their own circles of trusted friends, family and elders.

This current crisis is rooted in the western medical model. The seeds were sown by an aggressive marketing campaign by Purdue Pharma, which falsely promoted its Oxycodone as being non-addictive. What followed was an epidemic of opioid over-prescription by physicians and other health-care professionals that eventually created a demand for synthetic opioids on the black market.

With so many deaths and no end in sight, this might be the time for all of us to reconsider whether the best responses to this crisis ought to be done within a much broader context of healing and an expanded understanding of what wellness really means.

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21Feb

Daphne Bramham: B.C. group’s call for legally regulated heroin sales is unfounded

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Desperate times call for desperate and often unfounded measures. And, that’s exactly what a new report from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use is proposing in response to the unabating opioid overdose crisis.

It wants government to immediately clear the way for “heroin compassion clubs.” These would be free-standing co-op stores staffed by health care providers selling untainted heroin — diacetylmorphine — to members at the same price or less than street heroin. It would be free to members who can’t afford it, even though the report acknowledges that the risk of street resale of prescription opioids is greatest when the drugs are free.

And that would all be possible, the report says, because of things like volume discounts and “other economies of scale.”

“It would be precisely measured and dispensed in known quantities and at relatively safe doses,” says the report that was released Thursday. The emphasis has been added.

The heroin would be in powdered form, rather than an injectable liquid, just like it is on the street except this would be untainted heroin, not heroin cut with caffeine to prevent overdoses or any other additives to bulk up the product.

Members would be able to buy a couple of days’ supply and take it home with them.

Membership would be low-barrier, a term that’s not defined in the report.

Applicants would be screened by staff members who are “health care providers,” although not necessarily addictions physicians.

The co-op’s board members would be people with “lived experience” — a.k.a. users and former addicts.

Evan Wood, the head of the B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse, says the proposal is unprecedented so there is no evidence that it would reduce overdose deaths or disrupt organized crime’s role in fentanyl, money laundering or housing affordability, which is what’s advertised on the report’s cover.

“To be fair, we are in an unprecedented situation with fentanyl and the prescription opioids overdose crisis,” Wood said. “We are in uncharted waters.”

The two main goals are keeping users alive and disrupting the evils of organized crime.

These are ambitious albeit inappropriate goals for an organization whose mandate is to “develop, help implement, and evaluate evidence-based approaches to substance use and addiction.”

Using heroin to treat users isn’t new. But every other trial or program has a treatment component whether they’re at Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic, the PHS Community Services or in European countries.

In Europe, heroin is prescribed with the goal of stabilizing users to a point where they can get jobs, form relationships or switch to other (cheaper) opioid replacement therapies such as methadone or Suboxone. (The annual cost per patient in European prescription-heroin programs ranges from $19,000 in Switzerland to $30,000 in the Netherlands.)

But there’s nothing like this in Canada.

“I’m not aware of the existence of ‘heroin clubs’ anywhere else,” Jann Schumacher from the Swiss-based Ticino, an organization of addictions specialists, said in an email. “In Switzerland the heroin assisted therapy is strongly regulated and always under medical control.

“Our Swiss model (heroin assisted treatment) has strong evidence as a harm reduction method, in getting people into treatment and stabilizing their lives, and in reducing the illegal market.”

To qualify, Swiss patients must have at least two years of opioid dependence and at least two failed tries using other addictions treatment methods. They are only allowed to the drug in pill form and take it with them after being in the program for six months and only if it’s necessary to hold down a job.

Drug-related crime in Switzerland has decreased 90 per cent. But compassion clubs would have no effect on drug-related crimes because members would still have to find some way to buy the heroin.

As for disrupting organized crime, the report suggests that compassion clubs would be competing for sales, influencing both the demand and market for heroin.

“The establishment of a regulated and controlled supply of fentanyl-unadulterated heroin may increase demand for street heroin among persons who use street opioids and force organized crime groups to return to the provision of heroin as part of the illicit drug market,” the report says.

And since violence is criminals’ usual response to unwelcome competition, it seems likely that they will attempt to terrorize compassion clubs out of business.

What makes this proposal all the more absurd is that it is aimed only at British Columbia. Surely, low-barrier access to pure heroin would be a magnet to every opioid user across the continent, let alone Canada.

British Columbia is already the epicentre of the overdose crisis just as it was ground zero for the cannabis legalization movement that began with compassion clubs dispensing so-called “medical marijuana,” which led to an explosion in unlicensed and unregulated pot shops.

It’s also where Canada’s harm-reduction model was birthed with free needles, supervised injection sites and readily available naloxone. But it was supposed to be part of a four-pronged strategy just as Switzerland’s is — a strategy that includes access to treatment and recovery as well as education aimed at dissuading drug use.

But since 2017, the $608 million spent by the B.C. government has gone almost exclusively to harm reduction. Yet, the number of overdose deaths is still rising.

It’s clearly not working and Canadians can’t help noticing now that 9,000 are dead including more than 4,000 in British Columbia. According to an Angus Reid poll released last week, 85 per cent of Canadians want mandatory treatment for opioid addiction. Forget legalization or free drugs, decriminalization was favoured by only 48 per cent.

Although the B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse is proposing a radical and untried solution, Wood dismissed mandatory treatment as an option because it’s unsupported by evidence.

As for decriminalization, Wood said, “The problem with it is that you still leave control of the market to organized crime. The user is not criminalized, but they still have to go to the black market.”

Yet, 20 years’ worth of evidence from Portugal show that paired with assertively promoting treatment and recovery, providing universal access to those programs and enforcing drug trafficking laws, decriminalization works.

There, it not only effectively brought an end to Portugal’s heroin overdose crisis, addiction and usage rates for all drugs including cigarettes and alcohol are now among the lowest in Europe.

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20Feb

B.C. poverty reduction plan a mix of new and old programs, says minister

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Minister of Social Development Shane Simpson says a new poverty reduction plan, coming within two weeks, will be a mixture of new programs and items government has already announced.


CHAD HIPOLITO / THE CANADIAN PRESS

VICTORIA — B.C.’s new poverty reduction plan will include a mixture of fresh government programs as well as services that have already been announced, says the social development minister.

Shane Simpson said Wednesday that while no specific money was highlighted in Tuesday’s budget for poverty reduction, there are nonetheless several programs already in place and funded by other ministries that will count toward the plan when it is released in “a couple of weeks.”

The poverty reduction plan calls for a 25 per cent reduction in poverty, and a 50 per cent reduction in child poverty, within five years.

“There are a whole array of issues that will play into achieving those objectives,” said Simpson. “It’s child care, it’s minimum wage, it’s housing, it’s pieces that have gone before, it’s pieces that will come afterwards, it’s pieces that we’re not even sure of where they land like the basic income initiative that we’ll see in 2020.”

Tuesday’s budget did announce a $380-million annual new B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit program to give families up to $1,600 a year in financial support for a child — though the benefit doesn’t begin until October 2020. The budget added only $9 million for child care, though that was on top of $1 billion over three years announced last year that funds a mixture of subsidies (including virtually free care for a family with an income under $45,000) and 53 pilot sites for $10-a-day child care.

Simpson said it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on his plan because spending for the child benefit and child care programs are budgeted elsewhere. But he said the plan will incorporate the $100 in increases to the disability and social assistance rates dating back to 2017, as well as the $50 additional rate increase announced in Tuesday’s budget.

Social advocacy groups criticized the government for not providing more assistance for the poor in the budget, including the deeply poor. Simpson said he appreciated the work of the advocacy groups and “I’m looking forward to working with these groups and for them to continue to push us. That’s healthy.”

The poverty plan will also include new funding for rent banks, which Finance Minister Carole James has said will help prevent people from being evicted if they run into financial trouble due to illness, their job or life events. James’s ministry said Wednesday the government will be providing money to existing rent backs in communities across B.C. rather than creating and operating its own.

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20Feb

B.C. Budget 2019: Discounted transit fares, HandyDART funding absent

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Two initiatives that could make transit Metro Vancouver more accessible and affordable were missing from Tuesday’s provincial budget.

The region’s mayors have been advocating for funding for HandyDART, the door-to-door shared-ride service for people with disabilities, and a break on transit fares for people with low incomes and youths.

“We would have liked to have seen those programs included in this year’s budget,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, who chairs the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation.

For the past couple of years, both the council and TransLink, the regional transportation authority, have argued that the provincial government should help pay for HandyDART.

TransLink has invested money in expanding HandyDART service as part of its 10-year regional transportation plan, and made some changes following a review to improve the quality of service.

However, Coté said the majority of HandyDART trips are related to health services, such as dialysis or specialist appointments, and seeing some investment from the Ministry of Health would make sense.


Viveca Ellis, a leadership development coordinator of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition and All On Board campaign coordinator, wants free transit for youth and reduced fares for others.

PNG

“We think there is an argument to be made that there should be better support through the provincial government, just like the provincial government mainly funds those services throughout other parts of the province,” he said.

“That’s been a longstanding issue that the Mayors’ Council and TransLink have advocated for better support there.”

The budget did include some extra money for transit — and HandyDART — improvements, but for communities outside Metro Vancouver. It adds $21 million over three years for B.C. Transit to expand bus services in 30 urban and rural communities and make improvements to help seniors and people with disabilities.


LISTEN: This week on the In The House podcast, Mike Smyth and Rob Shaw discuss the 2019 BC NDP government budget – was it a prudent NDP spending plan or a missed opportunity to get its agenda done?

We also discuss the CleanBC plan, BC Green leader Andrew Weaver’s budget response and the BC Liberals struggling to define themselves within the budget debate.


A spokesperson for the HandyDART Riders Alliance could not be reached for comment, but on social media shortly after the budget was released on Tuesday, the group called the lack of specific funding for HandyDART “disappointing.”

Coté said he hopes increasing demand for HandyDART service will prompt more serious conversations with the province about a long-term, sustainable funding model so that TransLink can continue to provide the service.

Providing discounted transit passes for people with low incomes and free transit for youths under the age of 18 has been discussed around the Mayors’ Council table, Coté said, and such initiatives have been adopted in other major cities.

“I think the Mayors’ Council is very interested in the idea, but it’s something we strongly feel would be most appropriately funded through a provincial poverty reduction strategy,” Coté said.

Such a strategy was outlined in the budget, but details about the specific programs therein were not released. It’s expected that the public will hear more in the coming weeks.

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Viveca Ellis, campaign organizer for #AllOnBoard, has been lobbying for a regional plan and provincial funding for making transit affordable and accessible for all people in the region.

“In the budget documents and the information that we have right now, we didn’t see anything specifically related to transit affordability and accessibility to transit for low-income people in the TransLink service region or any other region,” Ellis said.

“We’re looking forward to the release of the poverty reduction plan and seeing what will be addressed there in terms of affordable transit.”

Coté said the Mayors’ Council will move forward by formalizing their position on reducing transit fees for low-income earners and youths this spring.

“We do expect continued discussions on that regard there and hopefully future inclusion in budgets in coming years,” he said.

The budget did follow through on promised funding for major transportation infrastructure projects, including the Broadway subway line, for which $1.12 billion has been allocated over the next three years. The total cost of that project is $2.83 billion.

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19Feb

B.C. Budget 2019: Province boosts income, disability assistance rates

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B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition organizer Trish Garner, pictured in 2012, calls the province’s $50 increase to monthly income and disability assistance rates ‘a drop in the ocean’ that still keeps rates ‘shockingly low.’


B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition organizer Trish Garner, pictured in 2012, calls the province’s $50 increase to monthly income and disability assistance rates ‘a drop in the ocean’ that still keeps rates ‘shockingly low.’


Arlen Redekop / PNG files

A boost to assistance rates are among the initiatives in Carole James’s latest budget intended to ease the financial burden faced by hundreds of thousands of B.C. residents who live in poverty.

But the financial measures, which come in advance of an anticipated poverty reduction plan slated for a March release, received muted reaction from some anti-poverty proponents.

In her budget speech, the finance minister said B.C. is thriving, with a balanced budget and a strong credit rating.

“But we will never have a truly prosperous province unless everyone in British Columbia can share in that prosperity,” James said. Often, all it takes to change a person’s life is an opportunity paired with a hand up, she said.

The most obvious hand up for those living in poverty that James’s government included in its latest financial plan is a $50 increase to monthly income and disability assistance rates. The government increased those same rates by $100 two years ago, bringing the total bump in the last three years to $150. Before that, a decade had passed without any increase at all.

Trish Garner, a community organizer with the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, called the $50 increase “a drop in the ocean” that still keeps rates “shockingly low.” She said her organization was looking for an increase of at least $200 this year.

The latest increase places income assistance for a single employable person at $760 per month — less than 50 per cent of the poverty line, Garner said. Those on disability assistance will see their rates rise to $1,183. The increases come with a $44-million price tag over three years, according to the fiscal plan.

Made with Flourish

B.C. is the only province in Canada that does not have a poverty reduction plan, and it also has the highest rate of poverty for children in Canada, according to Shane Simpson, the minister of social development and poverty reduction.

No specific dollar figure for his anticipated poverty plan was included in the budget, but James said the budget did include some initiatives that would form part of the plan. She pointed in particular at a new “child opportunity benefit” that will put as much as $3,400 a year into the hands of parents who are raising children.

Garner said the child benefit gets B.C. caught up to other provinces by extending support for children up to their 18th year and will make “a huge difference.”

Meanwhile, James said more needs to be done to make income and disability assistance more accessible. Included in her budget is $26 million to remove barriers to financial support.

The budget includes $76 million to help put another 200 people in need into modular homes, and organizations that run rent banks will see funding for short-term, low-or-no interest loans to tenants who can’t pay their rent.

The government has said it wants to lift 140,000 people above the poverty line, including half of the 100,000 children who are impoverished, by 2024.

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