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Category "Politics"

6Jun

Vaughn Palmer: ‘Illogical’ suicide pact allegation lies behind B.C. legislature resignations

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VICTORIA — On the final day of the spring legislature session, Premier John Horgan paid tribute to Randy Ennis, who was retiring early from the upper echelons of the security staff.

It’s standard procedure for the premier to thank a departing public servant. Ennis had long served as deputy sergeant-at-arms and lately as acting sergeant-at-arms, with Gary Lenz placed on suspension.

But for Horgan, this one was personal because Ennis was a friend.

“Randy and I first met at the hockey rink over a cup of Tim Horton’s,” the premier told the house. “Our boys played hockey together, so we spent a lot of time complaining about the Canucks. We spent a lot of time talking about how we could make the world a better place.

“Randy is an outstanding individual,” Horgan continued. “I’m going to miss him terribly.”

There followed a display of applause from all sides of the house, albeit tinged with regret among those in the know.

Horgan claimed not to know why Ennis, who just turned 59, was leaving early.  But around the legislature, it was an open secret that Ennis was fed up with the regime of Speaker Darryl Plecas and his chief of staff, Alan Mullen.

Ennis had good reason to be incensed. Plecas had accused him of being party to a suicide pact involving an ailing member of the security staff.

The alleged suicide pact was one of 11 Plecas-authored allegations of misconduct that were examined and rejected by retired chief justice Beverley McLachlin. (She upheld four accusations against clerk of the legislature Craig James, leading to his forced retirement.)

Plecas claimed to have uncovered a plan by sergeant-at-arms Lenz and deputy Ennis to create a sheltered posting for an unnamed constable on the security staff who had a degenerative health condition.

“The Speaker also alleges that they created a plan whereby (the staffer) would commit suicide while he was still on staff so that his beneficiaries would receive insurance proceeds,” wrote McLachlin.

The former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada examined the documentation associated with the alleged plan and further evidence from the accusers, Plecas and Mullen, and the accused, Lenz and Ennis.

She concluded that “clearly Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis were deeply concerned over the future of the constable and wanted to find a way to help him.”

But she did not fault them for considering ways to allow the constable to work at home were his condition to deteriorate to the point where he could not carry a firearm as required by his position.

“Discussion of creating a new position so an employee can work from home does not appear on its face to be unreasonable, provided the proposed work would contribute to the business of the legislative assembly,” wrote McLachlin. “The discussions, according to Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis, related to whether (the staffer) could continue to do useful work without being able to carry a firearm. I accept this evidence.”

Nor did she accept the Plecas-Mullen version of events regarding the supposed suicide pact.

“The ‘plan’ that the Speaker says was being hatched proposed that (the staffer) would commit suicide while he was still employed and before his condition had deteriorated too far, in order to preserve his life insurance,” wrote McLachlin.

Plecas thereby insinuated that the new job was “false” — concocted for the purpose of preserving the staffer’s employment status long enough for him to kill himself.

“No one was able to explain the logic of this to me. The evidence I received was that if he was forced to go on disability status, his life insurance would have remained in place as long as he qualified for that status,” wrote McLachlin.

She instead preferred “the straightforward explanation of the incident” from Lenz and Ennis.

“They denied any talk of suicide and explained that the discussions were aimed at finding reasonable accommodation for (the staffer) by finding alternate duties when he reached the point that he could no longer use a firearm.”

She speculated, and not in a flattering way, why Plecas had gone as far as he did.

“The Speaker was deeply distrustful of Mr. Lenz, which may explain how he transformed fragments of an exploratory proposal from Mr. Lenz and Mr. Ennis into a bizarre go-forward plan involving (the staffer) committing suicide.”

She then cleared Lenz of the allegation of misconduct. She also cleared him of all the other Plecas accusations against him.

Lenz remains on suspension, pending the outcome of a police investigation.

So, Ennis was collateral damage to one of the more reckless and unproven allegations from Plecas.

Rough treatment for someone who deserved much better. Before coming to work at the legislature, Ennis served as a member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, seeing duty as a peacekeeper in Bosnia, Cyprus and Haiti, and earning the military Order of Merit.

The supposed target of the non-existent suicide pact was collateral damage as well. He retired from his post on the security staff at the same time as Ennis.

Not that Plecas could be bothered to express regret over the damage done to reputations. Instead he’s been citing the shortcomings in the McLachlin report in public and bad mouthing it privately.

As for the premier, he could deliver a more sincere tribute to his departed friend by recognizing where Plecas has gone too far and by attempting to curb his excesses.

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4Jun

B.C. Ferries’ new ship a nightmare reno of surprises and expenses

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VICTORIA — When B.C. Ferries’ newest ship, the Northern Sea Wolf, left the dock at Bella Coola for the first time Monday, there was little sign amid the bright new paint and spaciously redecorated interior that the public was sailing on one of the most problem-plagued renovation projects in the ferry corporation’s history.

But the 35-car, 150-passenger, vessel was a renovation nightmare for B.C. Ferries.

The Northern Sea Wolf was purchased used in 2017 from a Greek shipyard. It’s retrofit finished a year late and with a $76 million price tag that was more than 36 per cent over budget.

In short, the little Greek boat turned out to be a big fat Greek lemon for B.C. taxpayers.

“I think it’s fair to say that we were, at various times, shocked and surprised at the issues we were running in to,” B.C. Ferries CEO Mark Collins told Postmedia Tuesday.

“I liken it to a house reno. You survey a house and inspect it and all the rest. It looks pretty good for a reno, and then when you start taking off the drywall and you get a few surprises. That’s exactly what happened to us.”

B.C. Ferries had retained a broker and the ship was certified “in class” under marine standards by a third party independent group. There were only three or four ships in the world that met the size, ocean-readiness, and closed deck specifications B.C. Ferries wanted for the Port Hardy-Bella Coola route, and the Greek vessel was “not perfect, but as close as we are going to get,” said Collins.

B.C. Ferries sent staff to survey the ship — originally called the Aqua Spirit — in addition to the third-party inspection. “She needs work, but she’s good enough,” was the opinion at the time, Collins said.

But when the Aqua Spirit arrived in Victoria in December 2017, B.C. Ferries engineers were aghast. There was no fire protection insulation, a key safety measure. “We’d take off the panelling and find no insulation there, I mean literally just missing,” said Collins. “There’s no way a ship should have been approved with that missing.”


The Northern Sea Wolf. Photo: B.C. Ferries

B.C. FERRIES /

PNG

Under the ceiling tiles were sprinklers that didn’t work. “We found some of the sprinklers were not even connected,” he said.

The propeller shafts were “worn beyond allowable specifications.” Some metal was corroded below acceptable minimum steel thickness.

The heating, venting and air conditioning system didn’t work. The elevator didn’t meet code. And the stern door was a problem.

B.C. Ferries had budgeted to overhaul the main engines, install new generators, upgrade the navigational equipment and improve overall safety — but the scope of problems far exceeded the original plan.

“This is what started to put pressure on the budget,” said Collins. The original price tag of $55.7 million grew to $63.4 million in early 2018, and finally $76 million in 2019.

“We were very disappointed in some of the condition of the ship that shouldn’t have been there because a ship being in class should not have had these faults,” said Collins.

“We continue to make claims against the class society for compensation for the things that should not have been there but in fact were.”

B.C. Ferries also had a tight timeline. The direct Port Hardy-Bella Coola route had been cancelled by the Liberal government in 2013 due to financial losses at BC Ferries. Then Transportation Minister Todd Stone said the route was losing $7 million a year, with a taxpayer subsidy of $2,500 per vehicle.

B.C. Ferries sold the ship on the route, the Queen of Chilliwack, which had just undergone a $15 million upgrade. A former B.C. Ferries engineer in Fiji bought it for $2 million for his private ferry operation.

Tourism operators on the coast, Cariboo Chilcotin and Interior were outraged at the lack of consultation and said they’d lose millions in business and international tourism.


Mark Collins, president and CEO of B.C. Ferries, discusses operations in the control tower at the corporation’s Swartz Bay terminal.

Adrian Lam /

Victoria Times Colonist

Then Premier Christy Clark relented on the eve of the 2017 provincial election, announcing the route would be restored by spring 2018. B.C. Ferries was not consulted.

“We informed the government of the day that it was a very ambitious time frame and could only be met with a used vessel,” said Collins.

As problems mounted, B,C, Ferries missed the spring 2018 deadline, and then the fall window as well.

“It was very frustrating for the tourism industry,” said Amy Thacker, chief executive of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association. “Our international visitors who very much enjoy that route are making plans and booking 12 to 18 months in advance.”

Collins apologized directly to the communities and businesses for the lack of communication.

The final version of the Northern Sea Wolf is basically a totally renovated ship, said Collins. There’s a new galley, dining area, lounge seating, outdoor viewing areas, paint, washrooms, chair lifts, elevators and First Nations art. It’s twice as fast as the Queen of Chilliwack.

It was money well spent, said Collins, even if it was far more than budgeted.

“Instead of being 30 per cent renovated for $55 million, we got a ship that’s 95 per cent renovated for $76 million. So, in that sense, the value is not lost.”

In the future, B.C. Ferries will demand a second independent inspection of ships, beyond whether the international maritime certification says a vessel is “in class,” said Collins. Had there been more time, B.C. Ferries would also have considered building new in B.C., but that likely would have cost as much as $110 to $140 million, he said.

The purchase of the Northern Sea Wolf in 2017 straddled the end of the Liberal government and beginning of the NDP.

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena blamed the Liberals for “making terrible financial decisions.”

“They backed B.C. Ferries into a corner with an incredibly tight timeline, leading to the purchase of a used ship which was well below Transport Canada safety standards,” she said. “The upgrades ran well over budget and cost people $76 million that shouldn’t have been spent in the first place.”

Former minister Stone said the cuts only occurred because B.C. Ferries was losing money and facing fare hikes.

“The cancellation was a very difficult decision,” he said. “It was always our intention to put back a direct link between Bella Coola and Port Hardy.”

Stone said “it’s a really good day” to see the link, though the cost overruns and delays are “very disappointing.”

Meanwhile, actual users appear pleased it’s all finally over.

“We’re just incredibly happy to actually have her out there and sailing,” said Thacker. “Now that service is here, I think there’s a lot of consumer confidence restored.”

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The history of the Northern Sea Wolf

2013: The B.C. Liberal government announces cutbacks to ferry routes, including direct service between Port Hardy to Bella Coola, due to B.C. Ferries financial losses. It says the route lost $7.35 million. Tourism operators are outraged at the lack of consultation.

2014: B.C. Ferries sells the Queen of Chilliwack (which had just undergone a $15 million retrofit) for a reported $1.8 million to a private Fiji ferry company.

2015: The new two-vessel journey from Port Hardy to Bella Bella to Bella Coola includes a nine-hour trip on the MV Nimpkish, a small 16-vehicle ferry with one washroom that government touts as having “potable water” and snacks. Tourist reviews are negative.

2016: Premier Christy Clark announces a plan to restore direct ferry service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola by the summer of 2018. B.C. Ferries is not consulted about the timeline, and scrambles.

2017: B.C. Ferries hires brokers to try to find a “rare” small ferry that can deal with ocean conditions, fit 35 cars and has a closed deck. Only three or four candidates exist. A Denmark ship looks promising by the buyer withdraws. The corporation pays $12.6 million for the 246-foot-long Aqua Spirit from Greek firm Seajet. It was built in 2000 and is certified by third-party maritime groups as being “in class” for sea use.

December 2017: The Aqua Spirit arrives in Victoria after a 10,097 nautical mile journey from Greece.

2018: B.C. Ferries starts stripping the ship down and discovers technical problems, sprinklers that do not work, missing insulation, corroded metal, elevator errors, heat and air conditioning that is non-functional, unusable propeller shafts, and more.

Spring 2018: B.C. Ferries misses its government deadline to be back in service. The budget rises from $55.7 million to $63.4 million.

Summer 2018: Technical problems continue to grow. The budget increases to $76 million.

September 2018: The Northern Sea Wolf, as it is now called, still isn’t ready. B.C. Ferries puts the Northern Adventure on the Port Hardy-Bella Coola run for one month.

May 2019: The ship starts trials. Operates the final two weeks of winter connector service.

June 3, 2019: The Northern Sea Wolf takes its first run from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. It is more than 36 per cent over budget and almost a year late.




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28May

Daphne Bramham: More needed to redress the tragic fact that Indigenous people are disproportionately victims of opioid crisis

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Overdose deaths linked to illicit fentanyl-laced drugs rose 21 per cent last year among First Nations people in B.C. even as there was a glimmer of hope that the crisis may have peaked among the general population.

Since the crisis began four years ago, B.C. Indigenous people have been overrepresented in the deadly count. Last year, they accounted for 13 per cent of the deaths, while making up 3.4 per cent of the provincial population.

Put another way, First Nations people were 4.2 times more likely to suffer a fatal overdose and six times more likely to suffer a non-fatal overdose than other British Columbians.

No one is suffering more than First Nations women and girls, who already have the worst health outcomes in Canada because of violence, exploitation and poverty.

They are unique in this epidemic where 80 per cent of the victims in the general population are men. Women, by contrast, account for 39 per cent of First Nations’ overdose fatalities last year and 46 per cent of the non-fatal ones.

They are bearing the brunt of marginalization, says Dr. Evan Adams, chief medical health officer at the First Nations Health Authority. Another measure of that is expected to come next week in the report of the murdered and missing women’s inquiry.

Among the reasons that he suggests for the widening gap between First Nations’ and the general population’s statistics are the effects of colonization including residential schools, the lack of social supports, childhood experiences and limited access to safe spaces and services.

The litany of dreadful statistics compiled by the provincial coroner’s office was read out Monday against the backdrop of a quilt with the names of some of the hundreds who have died. Among those names was Max, the son of the health authority’s knowledge keeper, Syexwaliya. Max died 12 days before his 41st birthday in March 2018.

“My son was just too lost,” she said. “I couldn’t do anything for him. I had to love and accept him as he was.”

Still, Syexwaliya takes heart from the statistics.

“The statistics make me feel that Indigenous people aren’t invisible and what’s brought out in the statistics and in the reports means that work is being done,” she said.

Addiction is a disease of pain — physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Addiction piles tragedy on tragedy.

“It’s a journey of pain, a journey of suffering and a journey of seeking health services that couldn’t be found,” said the chair of the health authority, Grand Chief Doug Kelly.

Too many Canadians, too many British Columbians and too many First Nations people have already died, but Kelly said that for Indigenous people, things are not getting better. They’re getting worse, especially for those living in cities and most especially for women.

Overdose hot spots include the usual ones: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Fraser Valley, Chilliwack, Nanaimo, Victoria and Prince George. But for First Nations people, there’s also Campbell River and Kamloops.

Those stark differences mean distinct and targeted solutions are required. As Canada’s first Indigenous health authority, the First Nations authority (with its unofficial motto of “no decisions about us, without us”) is well positioned to do that.

With a goal of addressing causes of addiction, it has its own four pillars approach: preventing people from dying, reducing the harm of those who are using, creating a range of accessible treatments and supporting people on their healing journey.

The authority also strongly supports the call from B.C.’s chief medical health officer to decriminalize possession of all drugs for personal use as has been done in Portugal. (The suggestion was quickly shot down by the B.C. government, which says that could only be accomplished with federal legislation.)

Among the reasons Kelly cites are yet more terrible statistics.

Of Canada’s female offenders in federal prisons, Public Safety Canada reported last summer that 43 per cent are Indigenous. In youth detention, Indigenous kids account for 46 per cent of all admissions — a jump of 25 per cent in a decade.

Addiction is often contributing factor in the crimes committed, as is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (although the report said there is no evidence that FASD is more prevalent among First Nations than other populations).

Because so many First Nations women are incarcerated, it means their children often end up in government care or with relatives, which only exacerbates the cycle of childhood trauma, loss and addiction.

So far, the First Nations Health Authority has spent $2.4 million on harm-reduction programs. It’s trained more than 2,430 people in 180 communities how to use naloxone to reverse fentanyl overdoses, has 180 “harm-reduction champions” and peer coordinators in all five regions.

But the biggest barrier is the one that led to Max’s death — lack of accessible treatment.

Last week, FNHA and the B.C. government committed $20 million each to  build treatment centres in Vancouver and Surrey and promised to upgrade six existing ones. Kelly says that’s great. But it’s not enough. They’re still waiting for another $20 million from the federal government for construction.

Still, where will the operating money come from? That’s the next multi-million-dollar question. But it must be found.

Now that there is evidence that First Nations communities — and women in particularly — are suffering so disproportionately, ignoring them is unconscionable.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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27May

B.C. Greens introduce bill to restrict conversion therapy

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B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver announces a bill to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors.


Rob Shaw / Postmedia

VICTORIA — B.C.’s Green party has introduced a bill in the legislature to ban so-called conversion therapies that seek to change gay sexual orientations in minors.

Green Leader Andrew Weaver said the legislation, if passed, would ban any medical professional from using conversion therapy techniques on anyone under age 19.

For adults, it would forbid any counselling, behaviour modification techniques or prescription medication designed to change a person’s sexual identity or gender identity from being billed to the government for MSP or other reimbursement.

The legislation doesn’t seek an outright ban on conversion therapy for adults, with Weaver noting that it becomes a more complicated matter of consent and free choice among adults.

“This bill will bring an end to the abhorrent practice of so-called conversion therapy,” said Weaver.

Banning the practice among minors and restricting its use on adults will “protect the health and safety of LGBTQ rights,” said Weaver.

Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using counselling, psychiatry, psychology, behaviour modification or medication. It’s widely discredited, though not explicitly illegal in Canada.

In B.C., the government doesn’t fund or permit the practice of conversion therapy, said NDP MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert.

“This legislation would put our current practice into law,” he said.

Chandra-Herbert described it as a “symbol” of not just LGBTQ2S+ rights, but also basic human rights.

Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Ontario already have legislation that restricts the practice.

Alberta had a working group tasked with banning gay conversion therapy, but it was cancelled by the new United Conservative Government.

“The direction Alberta is going in is the wrong direction for Canadian society,” said Weaver. “It’s so regressive.”

Peter Gajdics, a Vancouver gay rights activist who was subject to conversion therapy from a licensed psychiatrist in Victoria almost 30 years ago, said he believes conversion therapy is still occurring in some B.C. offices under the guise of treatment for depression and other disorders.

Gajdics pointed to religious websites that also promote and advocate for such therapies.

Weaver said he hopes to gain the support of the governing NDP and Opposition Liberals to pass the legislation unanimously this fall.

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26May

Daphne Bramham: Tougher new regulations promise more agony for chronic pain-sufferers

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One in five Canadians lives with chronic pain, but the cries of an estimated 800,000 British Columbians are not only being ignored, their suffering is being exacerbated by regulators limiting their access to both drugs and treatment.

First, in a move unprecedented in North America, the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons imposed mandatory opioid and narcotic prescription limits on doctors in 2016 in an attempt to avoid creating additional addicts and having more prescription drugs sold on the street.

Physicians who don’t comply can be fined up to $100,000 or have their licences revoked.

Now, the college is setting tough regulations for physicians administering pain-management injections.

“I’m enraged,” says Kate Mills, a 33-year-old, palliative care nurse who has been on disability leave for the past 18 months. “People like me are living in chronic, intractable pain and being ignored by doctors who are either too scared or too callous to care.”

She has an uncommon, congenital condition that causes chronic inflammation near her sacroiliac joint and in her lower back, which pushes down on her nerves causing “exquisite pain” down her leg.

Her first doctor essentially fired her, refusing to treat the pain. The next one prescribed Oxycodone to help Mills through until she was able to receive a steroid injection at a clinic, which kept the pain in check for several months.

But by the time the injection’s effects were wearing off, her GP went on extended medical leave. The locum assigned to Mills refused to prescribe her any medication and told her to go to an emergency room where she was given a prescription.

After numerous ER visits, Mills finally found a doctor two weeks ago who is willing to provide medication for her between injections. But he agreed only after Mills signed a contract agreeing that she won’t sell the drugs, will only go to one pharmacy and take the drugs only as prescribed.

She is lucky, though. Her pain management clinic will likely meet the college’s new standards that were developed by an advisory panel over the past three years out of concern about patient safety.

“Increasingly,” the college says on its website, “Procedural pain management is being provided in private clinics and physician offices, but without much guidance on appropriate credentials, settings, techniques and equipment.”

The new regulations would require physicians’ offices or clinics to become accredited facilities with standards on par with ambulatory surgery centres.

That means having tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment including resuscitation carts, high-resolution ultrasound, automated external defibrillators and electronic cardiograms with printout capability.

The college acknowledges that “patients do not require continuous ECG monitoring. However, the cardiac monitoring equipment must be available in the event a patient has an unintended reaction to the procedure.”

The disruption for patients will be huge, according to Dr. Helene Bertrand, a general practitioner, pain researcher and clinical instructor at UBC’s medical school.

She estimates that up to 80 per cent of the offices and clinics where the injections are currently being done won’t measure up and already wait times are up to 18 months.

When the new requirements come into force, Bertrand predicts patients will be waiting anywhere from four to seven years for treatment.

Bertrand herself will have to quit doing prolotherapy, which she has done for the past 18 years on everything from shoulders to necks to spine to ankles. That’s despite the fact she’s never been sued, never had a complaint filed with the college and has published, peer-reviewed research that revealed an 89 per cent success rate among 211 patients in her study group.

(Prolotherapy involves injecting a sugar solution close to injured or painful joints causing inflammation. That inflammation increases the blood supply and deposits collagen on tendons and ligaments helping to repair them.)

The college will not grandfather general practitioners already doing injection therapies. Instead it will restrict general practitioners to knees, ankles and shoulders. All other joint injections must be done by anesthetists or pain specialists.

For Joan Bellamy, that’s a huge step backward.

She’s suffered from chronic pain since 1983 and “undergone the gamut of medical approaches, often with excessive waits: hospital OP (outpatient), pharmacology, neurology, orthopedics, spinal, physiatry and private.”

Since 2000, she’s had multiple injections that have made a difference. But her doctor doesn’t meet the new qualifications.

“I am afraid that without her expertise … that pain will become an intolerable burden, and any search for treatment will result in inconceivable wait times and will debilitate me,” Bellamy wrote in a letter to the college and copied to me.

The near future for pain-sufferers looks grim with most physicians able to offer them little more than over-the-counter painkillers.

Ironically at a time when the provincial medical health officer and others are lobbying hard to have all drugs legalized so that addicts have access to a safe supply, chronic pain-sufferers are being marginalized. For them, it’s more difficult than ever to get what they need.

It’s forcing many of them facing a lifetime of exquisite and unbearable pain to at least contemplate one of two deadly choices: Buy potentially fentanyl-laced street drugs; or worse, ask for medically assisted dying.

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23May

Dan Fumano: Nighttime economy — Vancouver looks at ‘the other 9 to 5’

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Does “No Fun City” need a “night mayor”?

Should some liquor-serving venues be allowed to limit entrance to only patrons over the age of 25?

What can the city do to promote family-friendly nighttime events for those under age 19?

And, crucially, what would it take for Vancouver to finally get late-night SkyTrain service?

Such questions, and many others, could come in for review if Vancouver council decides next week to proceed with what the city is calling a nighttime economy strategy.

“Despite the city’s support for many aspects of the nighttime economy, Vancouver has gained a reputation for being a ‘No Fun’ City in the minds of many,” states the motion on next week’s council agenda, put forward by NPA Coun. Lisa Dominato.

If approved, Dominato’s motion would direct city staff to work with the Vancouver Economic Commission to develop recommendations for a comprehensive citywide strategy, with the aim of “realizing the economic and other potentials of Vancouver’s nighttime economy.”

Vancouver is already developing other strategies involving the cultural sector, such the Vancouver Music Strategy, for which the city is seeking public input over the coming weeks, and the Creative City Strategy. Recommendations for both of those strategies will be presented to council in September.


Vancouver city councillor Lisa Dominato is behind an initiative looking at maximizing Vancouver’s nighttime economy, including expanded transit services.

Jason Payne /

PNG files

But Dominato wants the city to create a broad, more comprehensive look at promoting the city’s economic and cultural potential after dark, for tourists, locals young and old, and those who work night shifts.

“I think we have some untapped potential here … both in economic terms, with jobs and tax base, but also in terms of the vibrancy of the city, in terms of culture, arts, music, outdoor activations, retail, tourism,” Dominato said. “But if you really want to realize that potential, you have to have a strategy.”

This comes as a growing number of city governments around the world have started to take nightlife and nighttime economies more seriously. A City of Toronto report last month described nighttime as the “new competitive edge for post-industrial cities,” and asked: “What is the City of Toronto doing to advance the other 9 to 5?”

The City of Victoria is already looking for someone, seeking to conduct a “late night economy assessment.”

This month, council in Sydney, Australia, endorsed a plan for its nighttime economy, described by the city as “some of the biggest changes to city planning in a decade.”

Other global cities, including London and Paris, have appointed people to oversee nightlife, positions often colloquially called a “night mayor” or “night liaison.”


Mirik Milan is the ‘night mayor’ of Amsterdam and an expert on the importance of the nighttime economy to a city.

Gerry Kahrmann /

PNG files

Amsterdam’s “night mayor” Mirik Milan visited Vancouver city hall last May. The nighttime economy has its own needs and requirements, he said, and his job is to make sure it isn’t merely an afterthought to what happens during the day. Amsterdam, for example, has allowed some businesses to operate any hours they want, including art galleries and live music venues as well as some nightclubs.

Following Milan’s appearance in Vancouver last May, council voted to support a series of nightlife actions, including directing staff to establish a “nightlife council” combining safety, transportation, economic development and “vibrant street life.”

Since then, the city has participated in a research report, conducted by masters of public policy students at Simon Fraser University, to assess the city’s nightlife economy, explore the city’s needs and help inform the work of a future “nightlife council,” said Lara Honrado, Vancouver’s assistant director of cultural services.

That city-commissioned report from the SFU grad students raises the possibility of a “nighttime liaison,” as someone who could “grasp the workings of nightlife spaces, identify trusted providers, and help provide information to the next generation of cultural operators.”


Granville Entertainment District in downtown Vancouver.

STEPHANIE IP /

PNG

Among the SFU report’s ideas is spreading out closing times in the Granville Entertainment District to more gradually dissipate patrons by letting some businesses, with and without liquor service, to stay open later.

The loss of cultural spaces is a constant challenge for Vancouver’s nightlife scene, which is exacerbated by the pace of development, said Yousif Samarrai, one of five SFU grad students who co-authored the report.

Today, many of Vancouver’s “most culturally interesting” nightlife events are in underground, do-it-yourself venues, Samarrai said, “but the only way they actually set up places is in spaces that are set to be demolished.”

That means, of course, that those underground cultural spaces have a very limited lifespan.

Vancouver is more of a nightlife town today than it was a decade ago, said Nate Sabine, a director of the Hospitality Vancouver Association, which advocates for businesses in the Granville Entertainment District and Davie Village.

“I don’t believe the ‘No Fun City’ tag applies to us anymore. I feel like if you’re bored in this city, then you want to be bored, you’re not looking at all,” Sabine said. “But we need to do better, we need to do more.”

“Our belief is a strong culture drives a strong economy,” Sabine said, citing the Hospitality Vancouver Association’s recent report that the Granville Entertainment District 14 liquor-primary businesses alone generate $43 million in annual revenue and 900 jobs.

The SFU report highlights one particularly long-running complaint of Vancouver’s night owls: “The first and most common transportation barrier identified was a lack of public transit service during late hours.”

The absence of SkyTrain service after venues close was identified as “particularly problematic,” the report notes, especially considering the “unreliability” of local taxis, and Vancouver’s status as North America’s largest city without ride-hailing services.

TransLink has been conducting a feasibility study over the last year, looking at different late-night transit options, including SkyTrain service, said TransLink spokeswoman Jill Drew. That report is expected this summer.

Dominato also hopes to develop the nighttime economy beyond bars and nightclubs. She previously lived in France, where she regularly saw kids out in plazas and parks with their parents late at night. Similarly, she would like to see what else the city can do to promote family-friendly, all-ages nighttime events that aren’t centred around alcohol.

The motion, if approved as written, would direct staff to being work on the nighttime economic strategy in 2020, and present a draft to council by June 2021.

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8May

MRI wait times fall sharply after government boosts scans

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says MRI wait times have dropped significantly since the number of scans was ramped up.


Francis Georgian / Postmedia News Files

VICTORIA — Wait times for MRIs across the province have fallen sharply during the past year after government boosted the number of scans, according to provincial data.

The median wait time for an MRI scan in the Northern Health Authority fell 66 per cent between April 2018 and March 2019, with a patient waiting roughly 24 days compared to the prior 71 days.

Vancouver Coastal Health saw wait times drop from 36 to 21 days, a 42-per-cent reduction, and Fraser Health saw a reduction to 48 days from 89 days, a 46-per-cent cut.

“I’m happy with the direction,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix. “This is what we intended to do.”

The data reflects elective or scheduled MRIs. Emergency scans are done immediately.

MRI scan reduction times released May 8, 2019


B.C.’s wait times for elective or scheduled MRIs fell after government expanded exams, according to data released by the Ministry of Health on May 8, 2019.

Ministry of Health/submitted

Last year, B.C. began running 10 of the province’s 33 MRI machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week and bought two privately owned MRI clinics  in the Fraser Valley to expand capacity, at a cost of $11 million (plus an undisclosed amount for the clinics).

Dix announced last week a further expansion of MRI scans in the coming year, but did not have the data to prove wait times had reduced. He said the ministry was compiling the final figures and provided the data publicly Wednesday.

The longest wait times for certain patients — known as the 90th percentile measure — also dropped. Some MRI scans in Fraser Health had taken 346 days last year, but fell to 224 days once government expanded capacity, a reduction of 35 per cent, said Dix.

But that is still not good enough, he said.

“I obviously like the direction, I think we’re getting there,” he said. “We wanted to see everything under 26 weeks, and everything is under 26 weeks, except this.”

The longest wait times in Vancouver Coastal Health fell from 114 days to 99 days, a reduction of 13 per cent, and in Northern Health from 257 days to 55 days, a reduction of 79 per cent.

“The huge difference in the north is obviously significant,” said Dix.

Government is adding another $5.25 million to the MRI budget next year, which Dix said will fund 15,000 additional MRI scans. Dix said the wait times should drop even further.

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6May

Rob Shaw: Compensating Woodlands survivors a long, emotional journey

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VICTORIA — When the province began offering compensation last year for survivors of abuse at the Woodlands mental institution, it looked as though efforts to right a historic wrong committed against some of the B.C.’s most vulnerable people were finally at an end.

But it turns out that announcing the money was the easy part. Finding the survivors and getting them cheques was much more complicated than anyone imagined.

A year after the announcement of $10,000 payments, the government has compensated 1,113 people, including 394 people who were at the school before 1974 and were cut out of a past settlement under the previous Liberal government.

It has spent roughly $10.7 million out of the $15.8 million compensation fund. No one is quite sure how many survivors are unaccounted for, but a new round of letters and calls are going out to find approximately 400 people — likely elderly, suffering some type of developmental disability and still living with some type of support or care programs.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, an advocate of the victims for more than a decade, has extended the compensation program for another year in an attempt to find more people.

“There’s still more work to be done,” said Dix. “We’re continuing to reach out and find people and engage with people and make sure everybody who is eligible for a payment gets the payment.”

Woodlands opened in 1878 as B.C.’s “provincial asylum for the insane.” It later housed children and adults with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, runaways and wards of the state. It closed in 1996 and was destroyed in 2011.

B.C.’s ombudsperson concluded in a 2002 report that Woodlands had been the site of widespread physical, sexual and psychological abuse against residents. Patients were beaten, kicked, shackled, isolated and bullied, concluded the report. Mentally handicapped girls were sexually assaulted, resulting in some pregnancies.

The job of finding the former residents fell to Antje Helmuth, a government librarian who volunteered to lead a small team inside the Ministry of Health.

As she tracked them down, she experienced first-hand the gamut of emotions felt by survivors at the idea of compensation — some were overwhelmed at the offer of so much money, others deeply distrustful and bitter at government, some thought it was a hoax like a fake Canada Revenue Agency scam call, and a handful refused completely or gave the cash back because they didn’t want to reopen such a dark and painful part of their lives.

“Quite a few families asked me to let them know when the cheque was in the mail, so they could be there to support the person when it arrived because they knew they’d be very distressed when it arrived because of Woodlands memories,” said Helmuth. Others, she said, wanted to be there to make sure the recipient understood he significance of $10,000 to their lives.

Helmuth started with two lists of names — files from a class-action lawsuit against Woodlands and an Excel spreadsheet someone in government had manually compiled years ago from an old patient card index.

The only criterion was that a person needed to be alive to get the money. Many Woodlands survivors have died and the rest are mostly senior citizens with mental and developmental issues. Helmuth narrowed out the deceased using the vital statistics database. She reached out to the public guardian and trustee, which handled the finances and health care of some survivors. She put ads in every newspaper in B.C., started a social media campaign to reach families and met with advocacy groups.

There were also regulatory hurdles. The government had to issue a cabinet order to make sure the compensation wasn’t declared income and deducted from a person’s benefit payments. That involved three ministries and approval from the Canada Revenue Agency.


B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix meets with Woodlands Project team members (from left), Antje Helmuth, Dix, Jasmine Lowey, Norine Sauvageau and David Godfrey outside the library at legislature. 

CHAD HIPOLITO /

PNG

A ministry call centre handled inquires from survivors, care givers, family members and friends. Helmuth’s team was able to cut through red tape and get cheques mailed, in some cases within two weeks. Then she’d follow up if a cheque wasn’t cashed, helping to troubleshoot bank deposits, mailing addresses and other snafus.

One part of the job did keep Helmuth up at night was fear that the money could make the survivor (often living in poverty) a target for financial abuse. Perhaps they’d be tricked into giving the money to someone else, or not recognize the enormity of the sum.

“My biggest concern in this whole thing is somebody is going to be taken advantage of,” she said. “Because we’re really talking about such a vulnerable population.”

The team developed safeguards, including conversations with family and friends, checking documents to see who had power of attorney, making sure the money was in the survivor’s name, and in some cases mailing the cheque to a safe address so the person could receive it discreetly.

She also got to see how the money brightened troubled lives.

“One person wanted a new bed and it sounded like they hadn’t received a new bed since they were a child — I actually looked and saw the person was born in the 1950s,” said Helmuth.

“One person really wanted to go on a cruise. They were up north and their home-share provider said we are going to go on B.C. Ferries.

“Lots of dental work and orthotics and those type of things they could pay for now. Two folks mentioned they could stay in their home that they had inherited longer now.”

A few — in their 80s with the mental capacity of a four or five year old child — wanted to go to Disneyland.

Vancouver lawyer David Klein, who spearheaded a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Woodlands survivors in 2005, praised the year of work by government.

“They implemented an extensive outreach program and have reached more of the survivors than I expected, and paid out more people than I’ve expected,” said Klein.

“It wasn’t just lip service, (Dix) empowered the staff that were working on this to take the needed steps to find as many of these people as possible and put some money into their hands.”

The extension of another year is the right move as well, he said.

“There will be people who are never found,” said Klein. “But if in that year they find another 20 or 30 or 50 people, it will be worth it.”

Dix said he’s been incredibly proud of the work the ministry team has done.

“They’ve been thoughtful, they’ve acted with integrity, with compassion, they’ve adjusted and learned and I think for people on the other end they’ve made an enormous difference,” he said. “I am really impressed.”

Helmuth, 62, said the work has been its own reward.

“In my 24 years of government it’s been the absolute highlight of it,” she said. “It’s been the most worthwhile thing I’ve worked on.”

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3May

B.C. couple recalls being wrongly imprisoned in China

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During the fifth month of her wrongful imprisonment in a tiny, perpetually lit jail cell in China, Julia Garratt scribbled in her Bible that she was feeling hopelessness and was longing for heaven.

Julia and her husband, Kevin Garratt, had spent 30 years in China as teachers, entrepreneurs and Christian aid workers. Then, in 2014, they were accused by the Chinese government of being spies, in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese businessman. Julia spent six months in jail; Kevin was locked up for nearly two years.

Since then, relations between China and Canada have grown even more tense, with Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December. Today, China is impeding the import of Canadian goods and there are several high-profile cases of Canadians languishing in Chinese jails.

Businessman Michael Spavor and ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig were jailed in China on Dec. 10, and experts believe it was to even the score after Meng’s arrest.

The Garratts — who share a similar story because it is now known they were seized in retaliation for a Chinese businessman’s arrest in Vancouver — have a unique perspective on how Spavor and Kovrig may be feeling five months into their captivity.


Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor.

Julie David de Lossy via AFP/Getty Images; AP

While incarcerated, the Garratts kept up their spirits by reading the Bible and writing inspirational thoughts, but also fought off despair — especially as time wore on, as it has for Spavor and Kovrig, who have now been imprisoned for 145 days.

“’If this is my new life, am I going to give up or am I going to somehow live it in here?’ I think those are the questions (we) wrestled with in an ongoing way, especially in month 4 and month 5. Because you never know what is coming the next day,” Julia said during an interview in New Westminster, where the couple now lives.

“Now that it is happening to (Spavor and Kovrig), I can totally relate to what they must be feeling and going through,” added Kevin.

Meng, who was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the U.S. government, is free on bail while waiting an extradition hearing, which could send her to the U.S. to face accusations of violating trade sanctions on Iran.

“China is likely to hold on to (Spavor and Kovrig) until Meng is released. This is the sad reality,” said Yves Tiberghien, a UBC political science professor and executive director of the UBC China Council.

It is unfortunate that Canada arrested Meng, he said in an email to Postmedia, arguing this country “became a pawn” when it detained the executive on behalf of the U.S. “(But) this point cannot excuse China’s arrest of the two Michaels and their harsh conditions. The whole situation is very unfortunate and painful.”

The men, who have been accused of stealing Chinese state secrets but have not been charged, are kept in isolation with little contact with the outside world and in cells with the lights constantly on, which some experts say is equivalent to torture.

Tiberghien believes China’s recent clampdown on importing Canadian canola seed was also in retaliation for Meng’s arrest. “It is unfortunate that such further escalation took place,” he said.

The diplomatic dispute worsened this week, with Canadian sellers of soybeans, peas and pork hitting obstacles at Chinese ports and with a second Canadian on death row for drug crimes — a sentence Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called “cruel and inhumane.”

Two former ambassadors to Beijing are urging Canada to take a harder stand against China but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters this week he had no plans to retaliate, saying his government is working for resolutions.


Kevin and Julia Garratt flip through the Bibles they had while jailed in China.

Today, the Garratts are saddened to see other Canadians face fear and uncertainty behind bars in China.

“There is such a human cost to all these political things. And after all the dialogue that happened back and forth between our countries over our case, I was so disappointed that another similar case erupted,” Julia said. “I was really hoping that wouldn’t happen, that (we) would have paved a new pathway to another solution to some of these political problems.”

As they reflect on their imprisonment with a remarkable lack of bitterness, the couple would like their survival and eventual release to provide encouragement to those in a similar situation.

“We would say, ‘You have to hold on to hope,’” Kevin said. “I’m hoping that maybe we offer a little bit of hope that you can get through it, although it is incredibly difficult.”

In 1984, after graduating from university in Ontario, newlyweds Julia and Kevin Garratt went to China for a “big adventure,” planning to teach English there for a year. Instead, they stayed for three decades.

“We just loved it,” Kevin said.

They thought China was a good fit for their passions for teaching, starting new businesses and providing aid to needy people.

They taught at universities, developed a model kindergarten and started a small NGO that helped to expand an orphanage.

In 2007, the Garratts, who had three children and adopted a fourth while living in China, moved to Dandong, a large city on the border with North Korea.


Kevin and Julia Garratt at the opening ceremony of their coffee shop in Dandong.

While Julia taught at the local university, the family opened a popular coffee shop that offered English-speaking nights, business dinners and talent shows.

By 2014, three of the Garratts’ grown children were studying or working in Canada, while the fourth was in university in China.

Nothing seemed amiss until that August.

When a mutual friend asked them to have dinner with a couple whose daughter was going to the University of Toronto, the Garratts’ alma mater, they agreed. When they arrived at the restaurant, the other couple said their daughter had a toothache and could not come.

“But we weren’t thinking anything sinister about it because they were friendly and nice,” Julia said.

After dinner, the Garratts rode the elevator to the lobby. When the doors opened, the lobby was packed with people with cameras, and Julia told Kevin they should leave through a side door because it must be a wedding or other event.

“But it wasn’t an event. It was an abduction,” Kevin said.

“I thought, ‘They’ve made a mistake. They’ve taken the wrong people,’” Julia recalled. “In an instant, everything changed.”

The husband and wife were taken out different doors and into waiting cars. The couple would later learn the officers who snatched them worked for the Chinese ministry of state security, which is responsible for counter-intelligence and political security.

Speaking in Mandarin, Julia asked one guard what was happening.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe.’ I was thinking, ‘I’m not safe,’” Julia recalled. “You have a part of your brain that is panicking and a part of your brain that is praying.”

They drove Julia to a police station and examined everything in her briefcase, from teaching documents to paper clips. It took her a long time to understand she was accused of espionage because she hadn’t learned that word in Mandarin.

She was shocked but believed they would quickly realize they had the wrong person. It was when they ordered her back into the car that she became terrified. “At this point you think: ‘China has become extremely unpredictable. I have no idea what they are going to do next.’”

Kevin was in another room, surrounded by eight or 10 “intimidating” officers with cameras.

“They’re saying we think you’re spies, and I’m thinking, ‘How can you think that?’” he said. “After quite some time, I heard Julia crying, screaming down the hallway.”

His frantic wife was yelling, “We just came to help.”

Shaken, Kevin signed a document that gave the police permission to investigate him. He had no idea what would come next or why.

The couple had never heard of Su Bin, a Chinese businessman arrested in B.C. in July 2014. Bin was arrested at the request of the United States, where he was wanted for hacking the data bases of American defence contractors to steal military secrets. One month later, the Garratts were arrested by China.

“When we were released, then I was told the reason we were taken is because Canada arrested Su Bin here in Vancouver, and China wanted to trade us for him, and that didn’t work out because he was later extradited to the U.S., and China was stuck with us,” Kevin said in a recent interview.

After being dragged out of the police station, a terrified Julia was driven for an hour to an unknown destination.

“I thought, OK this might be my last night.” she recalled. “When I was going out in the middle of nowhere, I started worrying about my family, my parents, my son, because I thought this is one of those China-makes-you-disappear things.”


Before their arrest, Julia and Kevin pose with son Peter and daughter Hannah.

SIMEON GARRATT /

AFP/Getty Images

Kevin was taken to the couple’s rented apartment, where he watched 18 officers ransack the place. They tore the sockets out of the wall, pulled photos out of their frames, and cut open a pillar in the middle of the room. They found no evidence of espionage.

At 5 a.m., the officers told Kevin to gather some clothes. He also grabbed his and Julia’s Bibles, which would become a lifeline for the religious couple during their months of isolation.

For the next 775 days, Kevin existed in a grim room where he ate meagre meals and endured hours of daily interrogation, with only occasional visits from Canadian embassy staff or his lawyer.

“There were 14 people in my cell. And the cell was not very big. So basically the beds were all together and there was a small aisle down the middle and a washroom in the corner,” he said. “There was absolutely no privacy.”

Julia’s tiny cell, where the lights were on 24/7 and she was under the eyes of two guards, was in the same facility as Kevin’s, but she didn’t know that.

“They wouldn’t give me any information about whether Kevin was alive or dead,” she said.

Seconds felt like minutes, minutes like hours.

Besides 15 minutes of outdoor time in the dark, she left her cell only to walk a few steps to an interrogation room, where she faced six hours a day of questioning.

The words in their Bibles sustained them. For Kevin, it was Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good.”


Kevin Garratt points to passages in the Bible he had while he was jailed in China.

“At times I don’t think I could see how this was going to work for good, but you think: God, I have to trust you,” Kevin recalled. “Hopelessness and hope, they battle within you.”

Julia created a calendar in the front of her Bible and every day drew a picture of something for which she was thankful, like the time the guards replaced her heavy curtains with opaque plastic when she begged for sunlight, and then cut off a top layer of the plastic when she begged to see the clouds.

“If I focused on some of the kindnesses, it really helped me in the interrogations.”

There were also dark days, which she’d mark in her “Daily Thanks” calendar with a sign for sleeping as she tried to make it through by staying in bed. “There were times I couldn’t peel myself off the floor because of the overwhelming loneliness.”


The Daily Thanks calendar Julia Garratt kept in her Bible while jailed in China.

In her Bible, which also became her diary, Julia wrote about her feelings. In month 1, she remained optimistic, writing she was innocent and safe. In month 2, she expressed surprising compassion for her female guards, who were ordered to spend day after day with her in that tiny room. By month 3, she said, “the human part of you starts to despair.” In month 4 came anger and feelings of guilt over family and friends left with little information.

In month 6, when she describes leaning on God to get through the day, Julia was released on house arrest, but still endured daily interrogations while awaiting a trial on charges that would eventually be dropped. She was allowed to visit Kevin only once, when Canadian embassy staff told her his health was deteriorating.

“My next meal will either be with Julia or Jesus,” Kevin told the embassy workers.

“They really panicked because it sounded like he was very much giving up,” recalled Julia, who fought hard to visit her ailing husband.

“I walked into that room and saw Kevin in handcuffs and he’d lost a lot of weight, and he looked extremely pale as if he was not going to be able to survive. … It was very very difficult to see him because I couldn’t do anything to help him,” she said. “I gave him messages from our family to encourage him. And said people haven’t forgotten you.”

The visit helped immensely, Kevin said. “You go back to the same cell, but you hold on to that hope that it’s going to be OK. But you just don’t know when.”

In April 2016, Kevin was found guilty of being a spy, and that September was handed an eight-year prison term. Two days after his sentencing, he was suddenly deported to Canada — to his family and to freedom.

Kevin and Julie Garratt embrace at Vancouver airport following his return to Canada.


Kevin and Julie Garratt embrace at Vancouver airport following his return to Canada in 2016.

Gilmour, Kier /

Postmedia Wire

“I think it takes some time to feel, if you want to call it, “normal’ again. But I think really from day 1 of being released and being back together, we were happy and grateful for so many people who helped us,” Kevin said.

The couple, who continue to do aid work overseas, saw a psychologist and were careful about their integration back into society. But just enjoying regular life has been cathartic, said Julia.

“All of a sudden, the sky is amazing, food is amazing, everything you appreciate in a different way. So that kind of joy has incredible healing power also,” she said.

They just wish history wasn’t repeating itself.

“We feel sadness that this is happening again,” said Julia. “As far as we know, (Spavor and Kovrig) didn’t do anything. But they are being held in probably a very similar situation to what we were.

“We would say to them: You have to hold on to hope.”

SIDEBAR

Postmedia asked Global Affairs Canada for updates on the cases of several Canadians being detained in China. This information was provided Wednesday:

Ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor

Arrested Dec. 10, presumably in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Hauwei executive Meng Wanzhou.

• Canada continues to call for their immediate release and has raised concerns with Chinese authorities.

Richmond winery owners John Chang and Allison Lu

Arrested March 2016 in China, for allegedly under-reporting the value of the wine they export to China.

• Canada is “closely following the case.” 

 Robert Schellenberg

Arrested in 2014 for drug-related charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2018. A new trial on more serious charges was ordered after Meng’s arrest and in January he was sentenced to death.

• Canada is concerned China has “arbitrarily” applied the death penalty, has sought clemency for Schellenberg, and has asked Chinese authorities to ensure his appeal of the sentence is “fair and transparent.”

Fan Wei

Sentenced to death this week for his role in a methamphetamine ring.

• Canada has asked China to grant clemency to Fan, calling his sentence “cruel and inhumane.” 

Source: Global Affairs Canada 

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2May

B.C. touts success of new MRI strategy but lacks wait time proof

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VICTORIA — B.C.’s health minister is touting the success of his strategy to expand the number of MRI scans done in the province, but can’t definitively show that it has reduced waiting times for the diagnostic procedure.

Adrian Dix said Thursday that the number of MRIs done in the past year has risen by 43,993 scans, or an increase of 23 per cent. In some regions, the increase has been more dramatic. In Northern Health, which had the worst rate of MRI scans in Canada, the number of MRIs jumped almost 87 per cent.

“It is an extraordinary achievement for the public health care system in British Columbia to do this in one year,” said Dix.

Last year B.C. began running 10 of the province’s 33 MRI machines 24 hours a day, seven days a week and bought two privately owned MRI clinics  in the Fraser Valley to expand capacity, said Dix.

Increasing the use of public machines cost $11 million. The cost of buying the private clinics has not been released. Government is adding another $5.25 million to the MRI budget next year, which Dix said will fund 15,000 additional MRI scans.

But Dix was unable to back up the detailed MRI stats with similarly detailed figures that show chronically long waiting times are decreasing across the province. He said his ministry is still trying to compile those figures.

A Health Ministry document obtained by Postmedia News in 2018 that showed waiting times as long as 364 days for MRIs in some locations.

Dix insisted waits have dropped. “We obviously get numbers throughout the year and they show wait times improving in all the health authorities in particular Northern Health and Fraser Health where wait times were longest,” he said.

A technician operates an MRI machine. Four more scanners will be bought for installation in B.C. hospitals in 2018, the health ministry announced Thursday.


A technician operates an MRI machine.

JEFF MCINTOSH /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The government provided partial data, including how waits for MRIs in Northern Health decreased to 29 days from 57 days for average patients as a result of the increased scanning hours.

At St. Paul’s Hospital, where MRIs are running 24 hours daily, waiting times have dropped to two days from 40 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 38 days from 98 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At Burnaby Hospital, where MRIs also run 24 hours, waiting times dropped to 30 days from 90 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list, and to 154 days from 249 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

At University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George, where the machines don’t run 24/7, waiting times dropped to 17 days from 42 days for patients in the middle of the waiting list and to 44 days from 266 days for people at the upper end of the waiting list.

Dix said the success of purchasing the two private MRI clinics and putting them in the public system may lead to similar purchases of private surgical centres to reduce surgical waiting times.

“I think we have to be entrepreneurial about this question,” he said.

“There are a lot of things (that are) good, I think some times, about community and smaller surgical centres. They take less time to build than to increase surgical capacity in a hospital,” he said. “We have to look at that absolutely to increase the capacity of the system to perform surgeries.”

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