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Category "Women"

19Jul

Daphne Bramham: Failure to enforce recovery house standards cost two men their lives

by admin

Nearly a year before two young man died of fentanyl overdoses in houses operated by the Step by Step Recovery Home Society, the B.C. Health Ministry had investigated and substantiated complaints that it was failing to meet the most basic standards.

Within nine days of each other in December 2018, 21-one-year-old Zachary Plett and an unnamed, 35-year-old died in different houses operated by the non-profit society that has a total of five houses in Surrey.

A month earlier, inspectors had substantiated complaints at all five houses. According to the ministry’s assisted living registry website, none met the most basic standard of providing residents with safe and nutritious food.

None had staff and volunteers with the skills or qualifications needed to do their jobs. There was no counselling support for residents at any of the houses or any transitional help for those who were leaving.

Late last week, Step by Step closed its house at 132nd Street where Zach died. In a brief conversation Thursday, director Deborah Johnson said it was done “voluntarily.” She promised to call back after speaking to the other directors and staff. But that call didn’t come.

Late Thursday, a spokesperson for the Addictions Ministry said the assisted living registrar was aware that two Step by Step houses had been voluntarily closed, but was still attempting to confirm the closures.

Up until May, Step by Step had taken action on only one of the 65 substantiated complaints. It got rid of the mice at its house at 8058-138A Street in November. But it took 18 days from the time the inspectors were there before the exterminators arrived.

Despite all that, all five houses have maintained their spots on the government’s registry.

What that means is that the social development ministry has continued paying $30.90 a day for each of the 45 residents who are on welfare.

It also means that anyone ordered by the court to go to an addictions recovery house as part of their probation can be sent there.

In late May, Plett’s mother and others filed more complaints about Step by Step that have yet to be posted. But a spokesperson for the mental health and addictions ministry confirmed that they are being investigated.

Plett is incredulous. “My son died there and nothing’s been done,” she said this week.

In an email, the ministry spokesperson confirmed that no enforcement action has been taken and that there is no specific timeline for the investigation to be completed.

“The review of complaints is a complex issue that can often involve a number of agencies conducting their own investigations (which can also require a staged process),” she wrote.

“Each case is different and requires appropriate due diligence. Throughout the process of addressing non-compliance, as operators shift and improve the way they provide service, new assessments are conducted and status is updated online within 30 days.”


Step by Step recovery house at 9310 132nd Street in Surrey where Zach Plett overdosed in December.

Jason Payne /

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A senseless death

Two days after Zach Plett arrived at 9310-132nd Street in Surrey, he was dead. According to the coroner, he died between 9 a.m. and noon on Dec. 15, 2018. But his body wasn’t discovered until 4 p.m.

Plett described what she saw when went to collect Zach’s belongings.

“The house was horrible. The walls were dirty. The ceiling was stained. My son’s bed sheets were mouldy.

“His body was already taken. But the bed was soaking wet with his bodily fluids. There was graffiti on the furniture. The drape was just a hanging blanket. It was filthy.”

To add insult to grief and despair, Plett noticed that his roommate was wearing Zach’s shoes.

Worse than the state of house is the fact that Zach died in the daytime and it was at least four hours before anybody noticed.

Plett wants to know why nobody had checked on Zach? Were there no structured programs where his absence would have been noticed? Didn’t anyone wonder why he missed breakfast and lunch?

“I had no idea what it was like or I would never have sent him,” said Plett.

After battling addiction for seven years, Zach had spent the previous three months in Gimli, Man. and what Plett describes as an excellent facility that cost $40,000.

But Zach wanted to come home, despite Plett’s concerns about omnipresent fentanyl in Metro Vancouver. They agreed that he couldn’t live with her.

A trusted friend gave Plett the name of a recovery house and within a week of returning to British Columbia, Zach went to Into Action’s house in Surrey. It is a government-registered facility that has never had a substantiated complaint against it.

Because he wasn’t on welfare, his mother E-transferred $950 to Into Action to cover his first month’s stay. She was told that the staff would help Zach do the paperwork to get him on the welfare roll.

Later that day, Zach called his mother, asking her to bring him a clean blanket and pillow because the house was dirty.

Because family members aren’t allowed into the house, Plett met him at the end of the driveway to hand over the bedding. It was the last time she saw Zach.

The next day, Dec. 13, he called to say that he had been “kicked out” for “causing problems.” He told Plett that it was because he’d complained about the house and asked to see the consent form that he’d signed.

Later that day, someone from Into Action drove Zach to Step by Step’s house on 132nd Street. Two days later, he was dead.

Because of the confidentiality clause in the informed consent forms signed by all residents, Into Action executive director Chris Burwash would not even confirm that Zach had been a resident.

But he said before signing those forms, residents are given “a clear outline of the expectations of them” and “a clear description of what the rules are.”

They are told that there are no second chances if they break the rules.

“If they outright refuse to participate or outright breach our zero tolerance policies — violence or threats of violence, using illicit substances, intentional damage to facility, etc. — we are put in a position where it is impossible for us to allow them to stay. We have to ask them to leave,” he said.

Staff provide them with a list of other government-registered recovery houses and sit with them while they make their choice without any advice or interference, Burwash said. Once a place is found, Into Action staff will take them there.

Burwash emphasized that only registered recovery houses are on the list, which speaks to the importance of the governments registry. But he said it’s frustrating that operators don’t comply with registry standards since their failures reflects badly on all recovery houses.

“We absolutely support the media shining a light on the facilities that are operating below the standards that they agreed to abide by,” he said. “We are certainly not one of them.”

He invited me to visit any time.


Zach Plett.

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Low tolerance

On Dec. 14, Zach and his roommate went to an evening Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Plett found the sign-in sheet from the meeting when she collecting his belongings the following day.

“What he and Billy (his roommate) did between then and early morning, I don’t know,” she said. But another resident told her that she thought they were “using” until around 5 a.m.

The toxicology report from the coroner indicated that the amount of fentanyl found in his system was no more than what is given cancer patients for pain control. But because Zach hadn’t taken opioids for six months, his tolerance for fentanyl was minimal.

“Had he died in the middle of the night, I would never have gone public with his story. But he died in the daytime. If they’d woken him up for breakfast or tried … ” said Plett, leaving the rest unspoken.

“He wasn’t monitored. He wasn’t watched … If I had known I would never have sent him there.”

Last week, Plett had an hour-long meeting with Addictions Minister Judy Darcy and the mother of the other young man who overdosed. He died Christmas Eve at another Step by Step. His body was only discovered on Dec. 26 after other residents kicked in the door of the bathroom where he was locked inside.

“She (Darcy) was very genuine and sympathetic,” Plett said. “I don’t think she realized how bad the situation is.”


Zach Plett with his sister Cassie Plett and Maggie Plett in Manitoba.

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Problems left unresolved

Step by Step’s first non-compliance reports date back to an inspection done Jan. 23, 2018 at its house at 11854-97A Street in Surrey.

Inspectors found that meals were neither safely prepared nor nutritious. Staffing didn’t meet the residents’ needs. Staff and volunteers weren’t qualified, capable or knowledgeable.

On Nov. 2, they returned. Nothing had changed and more problems were found.

The house didn’t safely accommodate the needs of residents and staff. Site management wasn’t adequate. There was no support for people transitioning out of the residence.

Critically, there were no psychosocial supports to assist individuals to work toward long-term recovery, maximized self-sufficiency, enhanced quality of life and reintegration into the community. Those supports include things like counselling, education, group therapy and individual sessions with psychologists, social workers, peer-support counsellors or others with specialized training.

On Feb. 4 and March 27, inspectors went back again because of a fresh set of complaints. As of May 8, none of the substantiated complaints had been addressed.

On the same day in November that inspectors were at the 97A Street house, they also went to Step by Step’s other four houses in Surrey — 132nd Street where Zach Plett died, 78A Avenue where the other man died, 13210-89th Avenue and 8058 138A Street. Step by Step doesn’t own any of the houses, but one of it directors, Deborah Johnson, is listed as the owner of 138A Street.

Not every house had the same complaints. But all of the complaints were substantiated and there were commonalities.

None had provided properly prepared nutritious food. None had adequate, knowledgeable or capable staff. Not one house was suitable for its use.

None supported residents’ transition to other accommodation or provided psychosocial support.

Since then, there have been repeated inspectors’ visits but the last posted reports indicate that nothing has change.

The first of five guiding principles for the province’s assisted living registry is protecting the health and safety of residents. Promoting client-centred services is also on the list. But then it gets a bit fuzzy.

Others are to “investigate complaints using an incremental, remedial approach” and to “value the perspectives of stakeholders — i.e. residents and their families/caregivers, community advocates for seniors and people with mental health and substance use problems, residents, operators, health authorities and other agencies.”

But as a result of this incremental, remedial approach and seeking of stakeholders’ perspectives, there were two preventable deaths.

What more do inspectors need before the registration for these five houses is cancelled? How much more time will the province give Step by Step to bring them into compliance?

And, how much longer will the ministry of social development continue writing cheques of close to $42,000 each month to an organization that can’t even comply with the most basic standards?

British Columbia is four years into a public health emergencies that has cost 4,483 lives since a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

More than a year ago, a coroner’s death review urged better regulation, evaluation and monitoring of both public and private treatment facilities following the 2016 overdose death of a 20-year-old in a Powell River recovery house.

It’s unconscionable that the government continues to waste precious resources on substandard recovery houses, while doing so little to force bad operators into compliance. At a time when good quality services are more desperately needed than ever, the registry ought to be the place that vulnerable addicts and their loved ones can find those.

Until this is fixed, Maggie Plett is likely right to believe that Zach would have been better off homeless. At least on the street, someone might have noticed him and done something to help.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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28Jun

Smoky summers: Health experts extend their warnings to pregnant women

by admin

When wildfire smoke enveloped Metro Vancouver last summer, Nikki Rogers noticed soot collecting on the walls of her White Rock condo and closed her windows to keep the bad air out.

“I tried to stay inside because I did not enjoy being outside,” recalled Rogers, who works in a hair salon. “I would never do any kind of exercising or jogging or walking outside because anything that promotes heavy breathing outdoors would be terrible.”

This summer she will take even greater precautions because she is pregnant. And this is the first year that Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver have included pregnant women on their list of people especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, along with asthmatics, the elderly, and people with chronic heart and lung conditions.

Rogers said she will research the best way to keep herself and her baby safe, but laments that wildfire smoke is one more thing expectant mothers will likely need to worry about this July and August.

“We shouldn’t have months of just smoke in the air. That’s just awful,” she said. “Every year it gets worse and worse. It is just getting out of hand.”


Nikki Rogers, who is pregnant, will keep the windows of her White Rock condo closed this summer to keep any wildfire smoke out.

Experts believe British Columbians are about to experience another hot, smoke-filled summer, basing their prediction on the higher-than-average temperatures and drought so far in 2019 — a trend that is expected to continue.

“We expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest where we are,” said a Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer, Francis Ries.

Just in the last week, a stubborn wildfire on steep terrain near Lions Bay snarled traffic on the busy Sea to Sky Highway for days, and a fire broke out Monday near Pender Harbour on the Sechelt Peninsula.


A helicopter dumps sea water on June 23 on a wildfire near Lions Bay.

NICK PROCAYLO /

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Fires started earlier in 2019

Hotter, drier conditions contributed to fires in early spring, far sooner than in other years. Since April 1, the B.C. Wildfire Service has recorded 377 fires that have burned more than 110 square kilometres.

The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies — a provincial state of emergency was declared both years over wildfires — and much of the haze in Metro Vancouver drifted in from big fires in other parts of B.C.

The smoke led officials to issue a record number of air-quality advisories, and give extensive advice on how residents should try to remain healthy.

This year, local health and municipal agencies added pregnant women to the list of those most vulnerable to the smoke after lobbying by Sarah Henderson, an environmental health scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

She advocated the change based on an “evidence review” and academic research that showed mothers exposed to extreme wildfire smoke give birth to smaller babies.

A University of California, Berkeley study found that pregnant women breathing in wildfire smoke during their second trimester in 2003, a terrible fire season in Southern California, had babies that were about 10 grams lighter than women not exposed to smoke. The results were small but “significant,” researchers found, because they showed “climate change can affect health.”

Ten grams would be enough to “push some babies into a low-birth-weight category,” added Henderson, noting undersized infants can face challenges.

Based on pregnancy and population statistics, Henderson predicts a repeat of last summer’s smoky skies could lead to 20 babies in B.C. being born a bit smaller. It’s not a big number, but one that could hurt 20 families.

“And that is kind of the tip of the iceberg in some ways because nobody has looked at preterm birth or malformations, if that smoke exposure happens to pregnant women,” added Henderson, who is also an associate professor in the UBC school of population and public health.

She has applied for funding to do her own study of the outcome of women who were pregnant in B.C.’s Interior, where the smoke was the thickest during the last two summers.


Sarah Henderson of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Wildfire smoke is a toxic, chemical soup

Wildfire smoke contains many pollutants, but the most dangerous to human health is fine particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that are generally 2.5 micrometers or less in size — about one-30th the diameter on a strand of hair.

“The very small particles can be inhaled deeply into your lungs and then get into your blood stream, and irritate and lead to inflammation,” said Emily Peterson, a Vancouver Coastal Health environmental health scientist.

A typical summer day in Metro Vancouver would feature 10 or 15 micrograms a cubic metre of these fine particulates, but during the height of last summer’s smoky skies the quantity jumped tenfold.

Smoky air makes it harder for lungs to get oxygen into the blood stream, and it can irritate the respiratory system and cause inflammation in other parts of the body. Common symptoms include eye irritation, sore throat, coughing, wheezy breathing and headaches, and there is an increased risk of infections for some, such as pneumonia in older people and ear infections in children.

At-risk people — including those with chronic lung or heart conditions and now pregnant women — should “pay attention to the smoke much earlier” this summer, said the VCH medical health officer, Dr. James Lu.

“We do start with the vulnerable population, but if the smoke (concentration) is high enough we do encourage people who are normally healthy to take precautions as well,” Lu added.

Among the precautions backed by medical experts: Stay inside places with filtered air, such as most community centres, libraries or malls; drive with the windows up, the air conditioning on, and the recirculate-air button activated to reduce the amount of smoke getting into your car; and drink lots of water.

One expert calculated that people doing exercise or working outside during the height of the wildfire smoke could inhale the equivalent of two packages of cigarettes a day.

Because most people typically spend 90 per cent of their days indoors, Henderson highly recommends buying a portable air cleaner, which plugs into a wall socket and can be moved from room to room. These purifiers remove 40 to 80 per cent of the fine particles found in smoke, but people with respiratory conditions are encouraged to buy higher-performing HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, the Centre for Disease Control says.

If people are outside and want to wear a mask, Henderson said the best option is a well-fitted N95 respirator. A surgical mask can offer limited protection. A cloth mask is close to useless at keeping out the fine particles in smoke.

Doctors’ visits, asthma prescriptions skyrocket

Most people can manage irritations from smoke without medical attention, but those with severe symptoms should see a doctor.

Wildfire smoke caused a slight rise last summer in the number of people visiting Vancouver Coastal Health emergency rooms, although the increase wasn’t even across all communities: North Vancouver and Richmond had more hospital visits, while other cities did not, said Lu.

“What we did see were increased visits with respiratory symptoms, asthma and people short of breath,” the medical health officer told Postmedia.


Dr. James Lu of Vancouver Coastal Health.

The B.C. Health Ministry could not provide information about higher traffic in emergency rooms in other health regions, saying its data does not let it differentiate between treatment specifically for wildfire smoke and other respiratory issues.

However, Centre for Disease Control statistics suggest medical services across B.C. were harder hit when wildfire smoke was heavy. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, 45,000 extra doses of asthma medication were dispensed and there were 10,000 extra visits to doctors for asthma-related conditions in B.C., Henderson said.

“It does stack up, the impact is quite extreme,” she said. “On a very smoky day in Metro Vancouver, there were 350 extra doctor visits.”

The Centre for Disease Control tabulates this information daily in the B.C. Asthma Prediction System, which was launched after previous severe wildfire seasons. The surveillance system tracks asthma-related doctor visits and the prescriptions filled for lung conditions, and is used to warn health officials about the anticipated effects of wildfire smoke.

This summer is also expected to experience a boost in asthma treatments, given what happened in May after a significant wildfire near Fort St. John. “We had this one day of smoke in Fort St John, and the asthma visits skyrocketed,” Henderson said.

During the past few years, Vancouver Costal Health has sent reminders to family physicians to help their patients get ready for smoke expected in July and August — such as ensuring medications for patients with chronic heart or lung disease are up to date.

“I think what we are hoping for is to perhaps educate the public and primary-care physicians in helping people to be prepared so that they don’t really need to come to the emergency,” Lu said.

More than 3,000 ‘smoky skies’ bulletins issued

The provincial Environment Ministry issues “smoky skies” warning bulletins when wildfire smoke gets bad in all areas of the province except Metro Vancouver, which releases its own air quality advisories.

In 2017, 1,646 air-quality advisories were issued across B.C., and that jumped to 1,742 in 2018. There have been 69 warnings so far this year, but that number will likely increase as the majority of 2018 bulletins were issued between late July and late August.

The province monitors 63 regions, and six of those have had 100 or more smoky skies bulletins since 2017 due to bad fires nearby, including Quesnel, Penticton, Prince George, Williams Lake and Kamloops. Other communities in B.C.’s Interior and the Cariboo region have also been hard hit, with just under 100 bulletins issued in the last two years in Vernon, Kelowna, Cranbrook and 100 Mile House.


A wildfire near Fraser Lake in May.

Submitted /

B.C. Wildfire Service

Only Haida Gwaii, off B.C.’s northwest coast, has had no smoke-related air quality warnings since 2017.

The Environment Ministry was unable to provide information about how many advisories it issued in years with far fewer forest fires than 2017 and 2018. But statistics from Metro Vancouver indicate those two years were off the charts.

There were 22 days in Metro Vancouver last summer with poor air quality due to forest fires, mainly between late July and late August. In 2017, it was 19 days of unhealthy amounts of smoke.

The region’s figures, dating back to 1996, showed no other years with near that number of hazy days, the closest being 10 days in 2009 and 2015, when there were also some forest fires. In several years, including 2011, 2013 and 2016, there were no days with poor air quality.

Metro Vancouver’s advisories show much of the air pollution came from forest fires in other parts of the province, but the air was also affected by some local blazes, such as a bog fire in Richmond and a barge blaze in Surrey.

No air quality advisories have been issued so far in 2019; Metro Vancouver said the smoke residents smelled earlier this week from the Lions Bay fire was “below advisory thresholds.”

Ozone pollution rises due to wildfires

Metro Vancouver’s summer 2019 outlook warns of the potential for increased ozone due to higher temperatures and wildfires. Ozone is described as “good up high; bad nearby” — ozone in the atmosphere protects from UV radiation, but when lower to the ground it damages lungs and destroys ecosystems according to a Colorado State University academic paper, Ozone Levels Elevated in Presence of Wildfire Smoke.

“We’ve seen high ozone levels at monitoring stations which we never, under normal circumstances, expect to have high ozone,” said Metro Vancouver’s Ries. “We almost never have high ozone in the western part of the valley, downtown Vancouver and through into Burnaby,” he said, except in 2017 and 2018 when “the highest ozone levels we received were in that part of the region.”

Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.


Francis Ries, Metro Vancouver air quality engineer, and Roger Quan, Metro’s director of air quality and climate change.

In 2017, 65,000 British Columbians were evacuated and 509 buildings burned during wildfires that scorched 12,000 square km of land. The 2018 forest fires were even more destructive, consuming 13,500 sq. km — although fewer people were evacuated (6,000) and fewer structures lost (158).

Over the last two summers, the provincial government grossly outspent its wildfire budgets — by 10 times in 2017, when it cost more than $650 million to fight the fires. This year, the NDP is trying to be better prepared for the unknown by nearly doubling its wildfire budget, boosting it from $64 million in 2018 to $101 million.

Smoky summers in Vancouver may become “the new normal,” if not every year then at least every other year, VCH’s Lu predicted.

“We do not expect this to go away. This is going to be a way of life, unfortunately,” he said. “So I think the need to include that in your consideration of how to stay healthy is important.”

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Twitter: @loriculbert




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18Jun

Will this be another summer of wildfire smoke and poor air quality in B.C.?

by admin


Shell Road in Richmond was hit by a wildfire on July 27, 2018.


Francis Georgian / PNG

All indications suggest British Columbians should prepare for another smoky summer this year, experts warned today.

B.C. Wildfire information shows the province has so far this year seen increased drought and higher-than-average temperatures, which are expected to continue. Experts are predicting a greater risk of wildfires and smoke in the province this summer, particularly in the southwest, which includes Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver air quality engineer Francis Reis said more studies are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.

“As we continue to see further warming, we can expect the patterns we are seeing now to continue or even get more extreme,” he said.

Residents are reminded to try to stay indoors when air quality bulletins are issued.

The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies in B.C., caused by wildfires. This led to warnings that people take caution when outside, especially those with asthma, lung conditions, the elderly and pregnant women.

The hot, dry spring has many worried that 2019 could also bring hazy skies that are bad for residents’ health.

More to come…

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Twitter: @loriculbert




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9Jun

Moms-to-be ‘fearful’ as Chilliwack maternity ward to close for summer

by admin


Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove has requested a meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix to express his concerns about the temporary closure of Chilliwack Hospital’s maternity ward.


Francis Georgian / PNG

The mayor of Chilliwack is requesting a meeting with B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix to express concerns about a plan to close the maternity ward at Chilliwack Hospital for an indeterminate amount of time starting later this month.

The closure is caused by an “unexpected shortfall in obstetricians,” said Jennifer Wilson, medical director for Chilliwack Hospital. Due to a medical leave, the hospital is no longer able to ensure there is an on-call obstetrician available for emergency interventions and C-sections at all times.

Fraser Health is working on a plan to address the problem, but women who expected to give birth in Chilliwack after June 24 will have to go to Abbotsford Regional Hospital instead, said Wilson. “Our goal is to be up and running again as soon as possible.”

The doctor said the decision to close the maternity ward was not made lightly and she “respects” the concerns of women who are now faced with travelling outside their community to deliver. “We are really committed to making things as safe as possible for women.”

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But Chilliwack Mayor Ken Popove said it is “insane” that his community of 100,000 people will not have a maternity ward this summer. On average, there is between one to two births per day at Chilliwack Hospital.

“I understand that it’s difficult (for Fraser Health), but there should have been a plan in place,” he said.

The mayor said he is asking for a meeting with the provincial health minister to discuss the situation. He has also spoken to the mayor of Hope who is worried about the health of women who will have to travel more than an hour — possibly in rush-hour or long-weekend traffic — to reach the hospital in Abbotsford.

“It’s an hour on a good day. What happens if there’s an accident?” asked Popove.

The mayor said he hasn’t been told when Fraser Health plans to reopen the maternity ward. But he has been hearing from families in his community who are worried and anxious.

Former Chilliwack mayor and B.C. Liberal MLA John Les called the closure “a kick in the head” in response to a Chilliwack Progress news story about the closure.

“This is a bloody outrage,” he said in a Facebook post.

“If implemented, this two- to three-month suspension of deliveries will become permanent,” he speculated. “This has been Fraser Health’s dream all along: centralize everything in Abbotsford.”

Wilson said the hospital plans to maintain its maternity ward and is looking for long-term solutions to the staffing problem. It is also working to address transportation concerns from women who may have trouble reaching Abbotsford.

“We have reassurances from Abbotsford … (that) they have the capacity,” she said.

But registered midwife Libby Gregg said the closure is making women “fearful” about their deliveries.

“They are really suffering,” she said, explaining that some women will lose the doctor who has cared for them through their entire pregnancy because the doctor doesn’t have hospital privileges at the Abbotsford hospital.

“These women will be in an unfamiliar situation with people they don’t know,” she said.

Gregg said an increase in stress and anxiety in the late stages of pregnancy and during delivery can have negative impacts on mothers and babies, including a possible increase in inductions and C-sections.

“The implications are huge and far-reaching.”

Gregg said Chilliwack midwives are stepping up to offer their services to women who are scrambling to find a caregiver ahead of the closure, adding “we’re here to support as many families as we can.”

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28May

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

by admin

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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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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1May

Daphne Bramham: Alcohol, not opioids, is Canada’s biggest drug problem

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Alcohol is so much a part of our culture that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. But each year, nearly 15,000 people die from alcohol related harms.


Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol


DALE DE LA REY / AFP/Getty Images

With so much focus on illicit drugs and overdose deaths, it might seem that opioids are the biggest addictions problem. Far from it.

Alcohol kills many more people each year (14,800 in 2014), results in more hospitalizations annually than heart attacks and is one of the most expensive and intractable health problems.

While cannabis was legalized a year ago and B.C.’s chief medical health officer is pushing hard for decriminalization and ultimately legalization of all illicit drugs, two Canadian addictions research centres want tougher regulations to mitigate the costs and harms of alcohol use and addiction.

The Victoria-based Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health want a minimum price of $3.50 for a standard drink in a bar or restaurant and $1.75 for off-premise sales. They also want a national minimum drinking age of 19, which is a year higher than national minimum for cannabis. Those are just two of the recommendations in reports they released last month that look at federal, provincial and territorial alcohol policies.

The reports also calling for stricter guidelines for advertising, restrictions on manufacturers’ and retailers’ promotions on digital and social media platforms, and a federal excise tax based on alcohol content that would replace the GST.

Over the past decades, the researchers found an erosion of effective policies and regulations.

“Overall, alcohol policy in Canada has been largely neglected relative to emerging initiatives addressing tobacco control, responses to the opioid overdose crisis, and restrictions imposed on the new legal cannabis market,” their report on the provinces and territories says. In several jurisdictions — Ontario is the worst example — “customer convenience and choice are being given priority over health and safety concerns … the responsibility of governments to warn citizens of potential risks is largely absent.”

British Columbia got a bare pass at 50 per cent based on its potential to reduce alcohol-related harm, which is not good. But it’s still better than the national average of 43 per cent.

Alcohol-related harm was estimated at $14.6 billion in 2014, according the Canadian Centre on Substance Use. Productivity loss due to illness and premature death accounts for $7.1 billion. Direct health care costs add another $3.3 billion and $3.1 billion is spent on enforcement costs for this legal drug.

Related

Tobacco was second at $12 billion followed by opioids at $3.5 billion and cannabis at $2.8 billion. But the data predate the opioid overdose crisis and cannabis legalization.

Alcohol’s costs and harms reflect the fact that 80 per cent of Canadians drink. It’s not surprising. Culturally, we associate drinking with celebrations and good times. It’s We’re bombarded with images in movies, TV and ads of beautiful people drinking and having fun.

Scarcely a week goes by that there isn’t a “good news” story about research showing that a glass of red wine might be good for your heart or that yet another populist politician is campaigning on a promise to slash the price of beer.

Yet less was made of University of Washington’s Global Burden of Diseases Study last summer that found alcohol was the leading factor in 2.8 million premature deaths in 2016 and is so harmful that governments ought to be advising people to abstain completely.

One problem is that Canadian governments are addicted to the revenue from alcohol. Liquor sales and taxes provided $12.15 billion to federal and provincial governments in 2017/18 — $1.6 billion more than five years earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

Last year, liquor consumption rose in British Columbia, which already had the highest drinking rates in Canada. There were also record sales, which meant that in addition to tax revenue, the Liquor Distribution Branch provided $1.12 billion in earned revenue, up from $1.03 billion two years earlier.

Good for taxpayers? Not really. The reports by the substance-abuse centres recommends B.C. “reconsider the treatment of alcohol as an ordinary commodity: Alcohol should not be sold alongside food and other grocery items as this leads to greater harm.”

It’s based on research done last year by Tim Stockwell of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. He and his researchers found that when access to alcohol is easier, more people die.

Between 2003 and 2008, “a conservative estimate is that the rates of alcohol-related deaths increased by 3.25 per cent for each 20 per cent increase in stores density.”

Estimates have to be conservative because alcoholics’ fatalities are mistakenly counted as death from one of more than 200 other kinds of alcohol-related fatalities including car accidents, suicide, liver diseases, cancers, tuberculosis and heart disease.

What’s surprising is that more than a century after legalization, there are no federal or provincial policies aimed specifically at mitigating alcohol’s harms and costs.

The opioid crisis has been the catalyst for governments to finally think about addictions and drug-use policies and, it’s now impossible to ignore the slower moving crisis caused by alcohol abuse and addiction.

In the coming months, the B.C. health officer also plans to release an alcohol addictions report. The B.C. Centre on Substance Use recently developed guidelines for best practices in treating alcohol addiction, but the provincial government has yet to approve or release those.

Prohibition proved a failure. Yet, legalization and regulation are not panaceas either. Because even with more than 100 years of experience, there is still no jurisdiction in Canada or anywhere else that seems to have got it right.

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24Apr

Daphne Bramham: Decriminalization alone won’t end B.C.’s overdose crisis

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A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Despite significant efforts to combat overdose deaths in British Columbia, the provincial coroner says illicit drug overdose deaths increased to 1,489, just over the 2017 death total.


JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The problem with the provincial health officer’s special report recommending decriminalization of all illicit drug users  is that Dr. Bonnie Henry chose to make that her only recommendation.

Three years after a public health emergency was declared because of an epidemic of deaths from illicit opioids, B.C. still has no comprehensive addictions strategy.

It has a stunning lack of treatment services, no universal access to services, no simple pathway to what few services there are, no provincial standards or regulation of privately operated treatment and recovery homes services.

Government ministries such as health, mental health and addictions services, social development and housing remain siloed and the root causes of addiction remain largely unaddressed.

While there has been substantial investment in harm-reduction measures including overdose prevention sites, free naloxone kits (to reverse an opioid overdose), low-barrier shelters and poverty reduction, the needs are greater.

Overdose deaths have only hit a plateau – not dropped. Every day, four people British Columbians die.

Yet, Henry is adamant that decriminalization is the most important next step.

“It’s about a focus and an intent,” she said. “Instead of police focusing on requirement of the Criminal Code, it builds off-ramps to connect with services. And, that in itself, ensures those systems are built.”

The majority of those who have died of overdoses were young men using alone at home. Without fear of being arrested and with the stigma of addiction being reduced, the expectation is that addicts or recreational users would be more likely to go to a supervised injection site, use with a friend (with a naloxone kit at the ready) or call for help if they overdose.

Henry calls decriminalization “a necessary next step to stop the death toll from rising and to make harm-reduction services more readily available.”

But it’s a question whether those recreational users would do that, because many addicts say that they use alone for a variety of reasons — not least of which is that they don’t want to share their drugs or they don’t want anyone to know what they do when they’re high.

The report recommended two options for British Columbia to work around the Criminal Code provisions.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth firmly and quickly said no to both. But he noted there are pilot projects in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Vernon where rather than charging for possession, police are linking users with services. An evaluation of those will be completed in the fall and, depending on the results, they may be expended to other communities.

Henry makes no secret of the fact that her ultimate goals for Canada are full legalization and regulation of all drugs to ensure that there is a safe supply. If that were to happen, Canada would be the first in the world to do that.

Portugal is mentioned frequently in the report and by Henry. Possession for personal use was decriminalized more than 20 years ago. But it was done only as part of a comprehensive, drug strategy.

Police still arrest anyone found with illicit drugs. They are taken to a police station where the drugs are weighed. If the amount is above the maximum limit set for personal use, they are charged and go through the criminal justice system.

If the amount is below the limit, tickets are issued and users told to appear at the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use within 24 hours. There, they meet with a social worker or counsellor before going before a three-person tribunal, which recommends a plan for treatment.

People don’t have to comply. But if they are arrested again, the commission can impose community service, require that they seek treatment, impose fines and even confiscate people’s property to pay those fines.

That’s not the kind of decriminalization Henry is recommending. Instead, the onus here would be on police officers – not trained addictions specialists, psychologists or social workers — to connect users with services.

Part of the reason for the difference is that Portugal’s goal wasn’t legalization or keeping addicts alive until they chose to go treatment. Its focus was and is on getting addicts into treatment and recovery so they could resume their place in society.

Harm reduction is only a small part of the Portuguese plan. Its first supervised injection site has only recently opened. But there is free and easy access to methadone (which dampens heroin addicts’ craving for the drug) and free needles to stop the spread of infection.

These harm reduction measures are deemed to temporary bridges to abstinence for all but older, hardcore, long-term heroin users rather than long-term solutions. Of course, fentanyl and carfentanil have yet to be found in its illicit drug supply.

Its treatment services as extensive and include everything from outpatient treatment to three years’ residency in a therapeutic community during which time the users’ families are provided with income supplements.

Nothing in this decriminalization report moves British Columbia anywhere close to that kind of comprehensive system. And until we get there, it’s hard to imagine that this overdose crisis ending anytime soon.

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12Apr

Town Talk: BMW showroom gala supports pancreatic cancer research

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BEEMER TEAMING: BMW dealer Brian Jessel and managing partner Jim Murray cleared all but one vehicle from their Boundary-off-Lougheed new-car showroom to stage the 14th annual Cabriolet gala. Previous runnings reportedly raised $2 million. Staged by Diana Zoppa and sponsored by ZLC Financial chairman-CEO Garry Zlotnik, the recent one benefited Pancreatic Cancer Canada by netting some $525,000. The sole car left standing beside a spotlit stage and dining tables reflected the ever-more-elegant gala’s name. It was a just-introduced BMW M850i Cabriolet tagged at $145,000. Figuratively donning his dealer hat, Jessel compared it to a certain $350,000 British sportster, “But this is a nicer car.” As for other BMW introductions, half-year Cabo San Lucas resident Jessel said: “We’ve got a lot of new product coming this year. I won’t have to marry for money after all.”


Elektra Women’s Choir conductor and co-founder Morna Edmundson welcomed operatic soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian to a benefit banquet at the Sutton Place hotel where she sang works by Berlioz, Bevan and Schubert.

Malcolm Parry /

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BETTER WORLD: Operatic soprano and graduate biomedical engineer Isabel Bayrakdarian sang at the Elektra Women’s Choir’s recent benefit-banquet in the Sutton Place hotel. Elektra honorary patron Bayrakdarian also performed at the choir’s 30th anniversary concert in 2017. At the hotel, co-founder Morna Edmundson conducted the 53-voice ensemble as she did in January at East Hastings Street’s Oscar’s Pub. That Elektra Uncorked fundraiser followed the release of Elektra’s 15th album, Silent Night. No repertoire stick-in-the-muds, the choristers are heard prominently on Gibsons-based progressive-metal musician Devin Townsend’s Empath album that released March 29 to seven-figure YouTube hits. Such musical genre-bending aside, few would dispute Schubert’s An Die Musik that Bayrakdarian sang to Elektra patrons: “You, lovely art, in how many gloomy hours of experiencing the turmoil of life have you ignited love in my heart and transported me to a better world?”


City singer Amanda Wood accompanied an ovarian cancer fundraiser’s fashion-show models with an energetic rendition of Alicia Keys’s Girl On Fire.

Malcolm Parry /

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Anna Wallner, Marousa Dumaresq and Kristi Brinkley modelled Chikas, Sundress and Riana garments at the Love Her benefit for Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Malcolm Parry /

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Okanagan Crush Pad owner Christine Coletta brought wine to and accompanied cousin Lisa Konishi at a $225,000 Ovarian Cancer Canada benefit.

Malcolm Parry /

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OVARIAN OVATION: With Franci Stratton chairing for the third time, the recent Love Her gala reportedly raised $225,000 for Ovarian Cancer Canada. The lunchtime event included a fashion show by West Vancouver retailer Marilyn Diligenti-Smith. Local volunteer models hit the catwalk as singer Amanda Wood belted out Girl On Fire. Ovarian cancer, however, is a murderous fire that researchers and practitioners yearn to put out while striving to discover how its starts. Back at the gala, attendees applauded when an annual award commemorating business and community leader Virginia Greene went to Christine Coletta and cousin Lisa Konishi who have jointly lost eight friends and family members to ovarian cancer. More cheerfully, Coletta donated and served much wine from her 45,000-cases-a-year Okanagan Crush Pad operation.


His artist in residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden now over, Paul Wong will publish a book based on 700 letters to his late mother.

Malcolm Parry /

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PAUL’S LETTERS: Paul Wong’s year-long artist in residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden ended with a reception at his Keefer Street studio. Fifty-five arts-related tenants reportedly pay $2 a square foot to occupy the building’s lower, third and fourth floors. A Korean restaurant and Scotiabank branch are conveniently located at street level. Meanwhile, Wong’s now-concluded exhibition of 700 letters to late mother Suk Fong has received a reply. The Canada Council for the Arts reportedly offered $54,500 to fund a related book. “We’re trying to get the money as soon as possible in case there’s been a mistake,” Wong cracked while admitting, “It was more than I asked for.”


With one of her works to open the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, Baljit Sangra hopes to make a feature about Canadian South Asians in the 1970s.

Malcolm Parry /

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POST PAST: B.C.’s early 20th-century South Asian pioneers were the subjects of a recent Vancouver Sun article. Now, moviemaker Baljit Sangra wants to portray their second- and third-generation descendants. To open the DOXA Documentary Film Festival May 3, Sangra’s 85-minute Because We Are Girls examines three Williams Lake sisters who concealed their shared sexual abuse for almost 25 years. She hopes that her next, and bigger, project will be a feature-film drama. “I would love to do a coming-of-age narrative of South Asians growing up in the 1970s,” Sangra said. “The fashion, the music, what they thought.” That might cost $5 million. Let’s hope she raises it.


Former mayor, former premier, cannabis firm principal Mike Harcourt received Simon Fraser University’s President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award.

Malcolm Parry /

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NEW LEAF: Simon Fraser University chief Andrew Petter presented the President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award to Mike Harcourt recently. The latter’s merits aside, the Four Seasons Hotel ceremony echoed Petter having been in 1991-96 NDP premier Harcourt’s cabinet. No such gender or partisan links occurred in 2010 when the honour went to Petter’s decade-later successor as B.C. Liberal finance minister, Carole Taylor. Her co-awardee, since-deceased husband Art Phillips, was Harcourt’s predecessor-but-one as Vancouver mayor. Soon after her award, Taylor was named chancellor of SFU where, vis-à-vis president Petter, she said: “My job is to protect him.” In his early 20s, lawyer Harcourt counselled Kitsilano-based Cool-Aid youth social services’ clients, some of whom were jailed for possessing marijuana joints. Today, he chairs Lumby-based True Leaf that plans to produce 2,500 kg of cannabis annually.


Andrew Petter made an SFU president’s award to Mike Harcourt as he had done in 2010 to the university’s then-pending chancellor, Carole Taylor.

Malcolm Parry /

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DOWN PARRYSCOPE: A century ago, satirist Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary contained: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.” Also: “Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.” Finally: “Liberty: One of imagination’s most precious possessions.”

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7Apr

Popularity of electric bikes growing on city roads and bike paths

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At first, David Mallory thought riding an electric bike was the equivalent of cheating.

Things started to change when his wife Deb bought one about nine years ago. She decided it was the best way to conquer the hill to their home on West 10th in Vancouver.

As she zoomed up the hill, Mallory remembers pedalling on his 21-speed bike as fast as he could, trying to catch her. She won every time.

So he took her bike for a ride. When he engaged the motor, he felt like he was defying gravity.

Mallory was hooked.

“It’s hard to believe I’ve had an electric bike for that long — since 2011,” he said. “Not once have I gone: ‘I wish I hadn’t bought a bike.’ I would never go back to a regular bike. It’s just so much more fun.”

The experience Mallory and his wife have had with their electric bike isn’t unusual in Metro Vancouver. As the number of cyclists riding bicycles for commuting and recreation continues to increase, the kind of bikes they are using is also changing. More people than ever are riding electric bicycles, which also have functional pedals.

Both David and Deb are 63 and very active. Not only do they ride their e-bikes, they swim, play tennis and golf.

David has become particularly conscious of the importance of staying active as a way to keep his symptoms of multiple sclerosis at bay.


David Mallory has an electric bike that he rides everywhere he can with his wife Deb.

Francis Georgian /

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This year, for example, he couldn’t wait for the snow to melt so he could use bigger panniers (a pair of bags or containers) on his bike to carry groceries. He estimates he has ridden 200 km this year — including a couple of trips to Richmond.

The Mallories have just upgraded their bikes to new German-made Kalkhoff bikes from Cit-E-Cycles. They bought them on sale for about $4,000.

“You see a lot of older people, a lot of seniors, riding electric bikes,” said Mallory, who retired five years ago on disability. “We ride as much as we can. We’ll ride to Granville Island to pick up something and come back. It’s really been a huge thing for us.”

The growth in the sale of electric bikes around the world is the “largest and most rapid uptake of alternative-fuelled vehicles in the history of motorization,” according to the Transport Reviews article E-bikes in the mainstream.

China leads the world in e-bike sales, followed by Netherlands and Germany. In 10 years, more than 150 million e-bikes have been sold worldwide.

The article concluded that since market penetration is low in most countries, there is little evidence to suggest that the sale of electric bikes will slow in coming years.

One example of the growth in e-bikes in Metro Vancouver is Cit-E-Cycles. Since opening its first location in 2011, the company has expanded to four outlets in Vancouver, Surrey, Langley and Victoria.

Doug Sutton, sales and service manager at the West Broadway store, said e-bike technology has improved in the past few years.

A big part of the market used to be conversion kits to adapt regular bikes to electric bikes. More recently, the location of motors has moved from the front or back wheels to the centre of the bike, which provides power to the wheel via the chain drive. Batteries have become more efficient as well.

The top price for an electric bike in his store is $10,000, although Sutton said he recently had a special order for a $20,000 bike. He said the sweet spot for most e-bike sales is between $3,500 and $5,000.

Everyone from grandparents to college students are buying e-bikes, he said. One growing segment is parents buying large, extended “cargo” bikes to pick up their children from school.

“Most people are looking for all-rounders,” he said. “They’re looking to ride to work, or ride on a gravel track, and people who are on a budget looking for the least expensive bike.”


Doug Sutton, a manager at Cit-E-Cycles, with a Riese and Muller electric bike in Vancouver. Cit-E-Cycles is one of the larger electric bike retailers in Metro Vancouver.

Arlen Redekop /

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Erin O’Melinn, executive director of bicycle advocacy group HUB Cycling, said while e-bikes represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the transportation market, she knows of no systemic estimate of their share of the overall bike numbers in Metro Vancouver.

Between 2011 and 2016, the number of people cycling to work increased from 4.4 per cent to 6.1 per cent, according to 2017 statistics from the City of Vancouver. More people ride to work in Vancouver than any other major city in the country.

Overall, the 2017 report card on walking and cycling said that “56 per cent of Vancouver residents are interested in cycling more often.

“This marks a significant increase citywide in a short period of time. In 2014, only 30 per cent of Vancouver residents were interested in cycling more often.”

O’Melinn said research into electric bikes and other micro-mobility devices such as scooters, mopeds and electric skateboards is in its infancy.

“HUB’s members have indicated a strong interest in this area and we are ramping up our efforts to understand how such technologies may be effectively encouraged and regulated to increase access to cycling to a broader range of ages, abilities and trip types,” she said by email.

Lon LaClaire, director of transportation for the City of Vancouver, believes electric bicycles have huge potential to create more cycling trips.

“We’re seeing it already with goods movements,” he said. The worker co-operative Shift Delivery in East Vancouver, he said, uses e-bikes.

“For others who don’t have the strength or don’t want to get sweaty, an e-bike is an option that previously wasn’t practical for them. … We’ll be looking at ways to support e-bikes.”

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Biking in Metro Vancouver

• The City of Vancouver has a bike lane and path network of 322 km, 25 per cent of which are classed as top-AAA, which means for all ages and abilities. The longest segment is the 31.5 km seawall.

• Mobi, the City of Vancouver’s bike share, started in 2016 with 250 bikes at 23 stations. It now has 1,250 bikes in 125 stations. The goal is 1,500 bikes at 150 stations.

• Bike sharing has spread around Metro Vancouver. Locations include Richmond, Port Moody, and Port Coquitlam, and soon in Burnaby. On the North Shore, the City of North Vancouver is part of an initiative with the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver to introduce electric bike share by this June.


What is an electric bike?

In B.C., an electric bike is a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with a seat, functional pedals and an electric motor of up to 500 watts. It can’t be gas powered or travel faster than 32 km/h on level ground without pedalling. Anyone riding an e-bike has to wear a helmet and be 16 years of age or older.


Biking in Vancouver: By the numbers

The City of Vancouver maintains automated bike counters at 10 locations around town, and reports monthly volumes rounded to the nearest thousand.

Science World

July 2013: 167,000

July 2014: 187,000

July 2015: 195,000

July 2016: 193,000

July 2017: 227,000

July 2018: 239,000

Union and Hawks

July 2013: 101,000

July 2014: *

July 2015: 115,000

July 2016: 111,000

July 2017: 120,000

July 2018: 127,000

Burrard Bridge

Jan 2010: 46,000

Jan 2011: 41,000

Jan 2012: 35,000

Jan 2013: 35,000

Jan 2014: 54,000

Jan 2015: 62,000

Jan 2016: 53,000

Jan 2017: 40,000

Jan 2018: 47,000

* Data not available due to technical problems with counter

Data from City of Vancouver’s automated bike counters are available online


A move to fill ‘gaps in the map’

Burnaby’s decision to eliminate an unsafe bottleneck for cyclists is an encouraging move toward creating a connected bike network in the region, says bicycle advocacy group HUB Cycling.

HUB says safer bike routes will in turn persuade more people to start riding bikes.

The big change coming for cyclists in Burnaby is on the Gilmore Overpass above the Trans Canada Highway. Built in 1964, the overpass is one of 400 spots in Metro Vancouver identified by HUB as obstacles that discourage an estimated 40 per cent of people from riding their bike.

Burnaby council recently approved spending more than $2 million to add to about $900,000 from TransLink to build a protected bike path on the west side of the overpass by the end of the year.

Joe Keithley, a Green Party councillor, said Burnaby has been able to act quickly on the project because a plan for the overpass came before council more than three years ago but was shelved.

Keithley said he and Mayor Mike Hurley, both elected last fall, wanted to do something as soon as possible to encourage cycling and sustainable transportation in Burnaby.

“We have to get more north-south and east-west bike paths in Burnaby,” he said. “We’re way behind Vancouver.”

The permanent changes to the road mean restricting motor vehicles to one north bound lane to create a 3.5-metre-wide path for pedestrians and northbound and southbound bikes. The lane closure would stretch from Myrtle Street to Dominion Street.

Keithley said the city lobbied the province to replace the overpass, which has been hit several times by trucks since the Trans Canada Highway was widened, but Victoria said it wasn’t going to spend millions of dollars on a new overpass for another 20 to 25 years.

“We thought this would be an expedient and economical way to help people,” Keithley said by phone.

“If you want to encourage a generation of cyclists, start them early. If you want to ride with your kid or grandson, you’d feel totally safe with this new plan.”

Erin O’Melinn, executive director of HUB Cycling, said research has shown that unsafe spots, such as the one on Gilmore, are the top reason that people are discouraged from riding a bike.

HUB calls them gaps in the map — specific locations where bike routes end abruptly without any safe alternative for cyclists.

Citing data from TransLink’s trip diary survey, O’Melinn said many people want to ride their bikes but are held back by unsafe and disconnected bike routes.

“There are gaps all over the region where people do not feel safe and there is no reasonable way to get from A to B,” O’Melinn said.

“Imagine if there were streets for cars that ended abruptly and you couldn’t get to where you had to go, and had to get out and walk your car.”

“It happens all the time when you’re on a bike. When we ungap the map, the region will have safe, direct, paved bikeways that will allow people of all ages and abilities to get where they want to go.”

HUB Biking has an interactive map identifying gaps in the cycling routes in Metro Vancouver. People can adopt gaps in their neighbourhood by making a $50 contribution to help “ungap the map,” or commuters can tell a story about why the gap matters to them.

HUB’s recent successes in eliminating some of the gaps in the map include a one-way protected bike lane along 80 Avenue from 128th Street to 132nd Street in Surrey and a commitment from Langley Township to match TransLink’s $500,000 to expand commuter bike lanes to include Murrayville.


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