Posts Tagged "call"


B.C. school districts target vaping, call for increased regulation

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Vaping products are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution to create an aerosol and typically contains nicotine or THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Ranta Images / iStock/Getty Images plus

KELOWNA — A British Columbia school board says it has “serious concerns” about the risk of vaping and is asking all levels of government to take action.

In an example of how school districts are grappling with the new products amid shifting regulatory frameworks, the Central Okanagan School District outlined in a letter to parents on Friday how it is working to curb the use of e-cigarettes by students.

Since May, the school district says it has met with local municipal governments to encourage the development of bylaws to prevent advertising and targeting sales to minors.

It also says it supports proposed new provincial regulations, and the school board voted to write to local federal candidates asking how, if elected, they would address the “serious danger” posed by the electronic devices.

The board specifically asked how candidates would address the marketing of vaping products to children.


Vaping products are battery-powered devices that heat a liquid solution to create an aerosol and typically contains nicotine or THC, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, but Health Canada has warned people who vape to monitor themselves for symptoms of pulmonary illness.

“The Central Okanagan School District continues to have serious concerns about the impacts of vaping on human health,” the letter from Superintendent Kevin Kaardal says to parents.

School staff are focusing education on middle school students and will continue to enforce a “no-vaping zone” on school property, it says.

School principals have been instructed to confiscate any vapour products they see on campus.

“If staff see vaping products on school property, they may confiscate them and turn them over to the RCMP,” the letter says.

In B.C., the rules around the sale of vapour products are the same as cigarettes and it is against the law to sell to someone under the age of 19.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said this month that a plan will be released in “the coming weeks” to deal with regulatory change and suggested licences would be required for vendors to sell the products.

The Central Okanagan School District isn’t alone in trying to address teen vaping.

The Sooke school district said vaping is becoming an “epidemic” among teens, ahead of an information session it held in May.

In August, the Vancouver school district issued information handouts to teachers and parents.

“Teachers are in a unique position to provide unbiased information about the adverse health effects of vaping to students and their families,” the package for teachers says.

The parents’ handout says the long-term health effects of vaping remain unknown.

“As caregivers, you can connect and discuss issues around vaping products with your child,” it says.

Two teenagers filed a lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court Sept. 30 against popular vape brand Juul alleging they suffered “adverse health conditions” after using the company’s e-cigarettes beginning in 2018.

Juul has not yet filed a response with the court.


Witnesses say man accused in high school stabbing wanted to go home, call mother

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Six witnesses who have now testified at the trial of a man accused of fatally stabbing a student at an Abbotsford high school in 2016 all told the court Gabriel Klein said he wanted to go home to Alberta, and talk to his family, in the days leading up to the attack.

Klein is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of 13-year-old Letisha Reimer, and aggravated assault in connection with the stabbing of another student at Abbotsford Senior Secondary who survived. He has pleaded not guilty, and the Crown has said while it’s not being disputed that he was the attacker, Klein intends to raise the defence of not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.

Kylee Evanuk, who was part of the security team at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on Oct. 30, 2016, testified she saw what she described as a “peculiar sight”: a man laying face-down in the waiting room on top of a large green knapsack.

“He looked like he was in some kind of pain,” Evanuk said. She told the court he eventually told her he was really sick, he needed to contact his mother, and he wanted to go back to Alberta. Evanuk testified the man she later heard being referred to as “Gabriel” was clutching his abdominal area and “scrunching” his eyes closed. She told the court the man said: “I just need to get help, I just need to get better.”

Evanuk testified she let him try to call his mother on her phone, but there was no answer. She also told the court she went to talk to hospital staff about the man, and says she was told he would be fine and that he wasn’t suicidal. Evanuk testified she later recognized the same man on Nov. 1, the day of the stabbings, being brought into the hospital in cloth restraints on a stretcher surrounded by police.

A hospital social worker, Faye Reglin, testified she was asked to find a shelter for a patient named Gabriel Klein on Oct. 30, 2016. She told the court she was called by an emergency room doctor who had assessed Klein for scratches to his arms and hands from handling chickens. When asked by Klein’s lawyer if she saw his hands and arms, Reglin said no. She testified she was also unaware Klein had been complaining of swelling in his spine.

Reglin told the court Klein appeared calm, not agitated, and made good eye contact. She first testified he was sitting upright in the exam room, but then clarified under cross examination it was more accurate to say the hospital bed was in an upright position beneath him.

Reglin also testified Klein told her he wanted to go back to Edmonton, and added his money and ID had been stolen. Reglin said she contacted the Lookout shelter and got him a taxi. Reglin testified she later identified Klein as the man who was brought into the hospital on Nov. 1, at the request of a police officer.

Under cross examination, Klein’s lawyer Martin Peters asked Reglin if she was concerned Klein was released from hospital and two days later the stabbings occurred. She eventually responded: “Based on my assessment that I completed of Mr. Klein, I did not have any concerns from my perspective.”

The court also heard from three workers at the Lookout shelter, who testified they dealt with Klein on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. All three told the court Klein said he wanted a bus ticket to go home, and wanted to contact his family.

Andrea Desjarlais testified she had spoken to his mother and she had asked he only contact her by email, not by phone.

Another shelter worker, Hilary Cave, testified she gave Klein directions to the public library attached to the high school, so he could use a computer there to email his family.

Desjarlais testified on Nov. 1, Klein became “verbally aggressive,” questioning why she wouldn’t put a call through to his mother and wanting a bus ticket, which she told the court would have taken a couple of days to get. She testified he left her office and she heard a big bang and an echo, and said it sounded like he hit the locker outside. She then told the court staff heard banging coming from the washroom and it sounded like the door was being hit from inside.

Cave testified after hearing a loud noise she opened the bathroom door after getting no response, and saw Klein staring into the mirror. She told the court he didn’t answer her.

The workers testified Klein cleared his belongings out of his locker and left.

Under cross examination, Desjarlais testified she was concerned Klein was experiencing psychosis. When asked by Klein’s lawyer, Cave testified she doesn’t remember whether any mental health services were made available to Klein during his time at the shelter.

Earlier this year, the BC Review Board found Klein fit to stand trial. Last year, the board heard he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had been hearing voices.

In January, the accused’s lawyer reported his mental state had improved significantly, and there was a change in his medication.

The trial continues Wednesday.




Call for new shelter to house Oppenheimer Park tent city holdouts

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Gary Humchitt at Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC Wednesday, September 25, 2019. Nearly a hundred tents dot the landscape at the park which has pitted various levels of local government and agencies against each other as to how best handle the homeless encampment.

Jason Payne / PNG

Calls will be made to Vancouver city council on Tuesday to create a new shelter, or rent a hotel, to house about 60 people who remain at the Oppenheimer Park tent city.

The first of two motions to council will be presented by COPE councillor and longtime anti-poverty advocate Jean Swanson.

Swanson’s motion is called Emergency Action to Support Vancouver’s Homeless People, Including Those in Oppenheimer Park and states that there are no more B.C. Housing units available to remaining campers.


The Oppenheimer Park camp in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside began in Oct. 2018 with a few tents and grew to 200 tents in early Aug. 2019.

August 18, 2019. The Oppenheimer Park tent city at its peak.



On Aug. 19, Vancouver park board manager Malcolm Bromley ordered all tents/structures be removed within two days. At the same time, B.C. Housing made available to campers 123 B.C. Housing units, 11 City of Vancouver units and stated there were 60 shelter spaces available (some tent city residents have told Postmedia News that they would rather be in a tent than at a shelter.) A Supreme Court of B.C. injunction is required to remove campers by force, and as there was no injunction the remaining campers and their tents stayed in the park.

Last Thursday, during a presentation to Vancouver parks board by City of Vancouver deputy city manager Paul Mochrie, he stated that 130 campers accepted the housing offers, over half of whom were First Nations, and 34 per cent women.

August 20, 2019. Some residents are packing up to leave Oppenheimer park in Vancouver, BC, August 20, 2019.

Arlen Redekop /


Mochrie said that there were currently 120 tents on the site — between Powell Street to the north and East Cordova in the south, with Dunlevy Avenue on the west and Jackson Avenue to the east — with about 55 people still staying in the park who were in contact with city outreach workers. He said 40 were male, 14 female and one trans and noted “a small number of people have declined to identify themselves or are not interested in Outreach’s assistance.”

In her motion, Swanson calls for city staff and agencies to meet with residents “about an accessible alternative site that ensures health and safety, access to services and supports, and is acceptable and appropriate for people currently living in Oppenheimer Park. Swanson states the site needs a community kitchen, electricity, storage, toilets with running water and there be a warming tent in Oppenheimer Park.

She also calls for an emergency homelessness task force to be formed to look at buying or leasing one of more hotels for Oppenheimer Park residents.

The second motion is being put forward by Green councillor Michael Wiebe and NPA councillor Lisa Dominato and is titled A Collaborative and New Approach to Oppenheimer Park and Other Public Spaces.

It starts by stating “Vancouver is experiencing unprecedented housing and mental health and addiction issues,” and that “there are a significant number of persons living on the city’s streets, or out of their cars, due to the shortage of appropriately affordable housing who simply require access to shower and washroom facilities to support them on their path to permanent housing or employment.”

At last week’s park board meeting, commissioners heard that the number of people sleeping on the streets in Vancouver had risen almost 300 per cent since 2011 — to 614 in 2019.

In the motion, Wiebe and Dominato ask that Mayor Kennedy Stewart — who in early September unsuccessfully asked that parks board hand over the Oppenheimer Park file to the city — send a letter to parks board asking that the “current impasse” at the park be “resolved swiftly” for all concerned. They also want council to develop a decampment plan with the goal of “restoring the park for broad public use.”

The pair are also calling for council to direct staff to apply for provincial government funding “for the establishment of a low-barrier shelter in the city that can suitably address the specific needs of those currently encamped in Oppenheimer Park.”

The majority of councillors and mayor need to vote in favour of a motion to be passed, and often the motion is amended during the council meeting.

Vancouver’s council is comprised of an independent mayor, five from the Non-Partisan Association, three from the Green party and one from COPE.

The Vancouver park board has the power to apply for an injunction to end the tent city, but are not prepared to do that at this point. In 2014 the park board did use an injunction to end another homeless camp in Oppenheimer Park.

Oct. 16, 2014. A woman sorts through her belongings as tents come down and police and city workers clean up Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver on October 16, 2014.


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Advocates call for change after $2.9 million surplus revealed for BC Hydro fund

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BC Hydro is sitting on a surplus of about $2.9 million in its customer crisis fund, leading to calls for the utility to reduce its take from the average customer or provide more money to those in need.

B.C. Liberal Energy Critic Greg Kyllo said if the imbalance continues in the year-old pilot program, it’s time to cut the monthly 25 cent fee in half.

“If the grant requirement or the need in the province is going to remain where it is, they should look at rolling back the contribution level in the fund,” he told CTV News Vancouver from Salmon Arm.

But social agencies who were part of the consultation around the fund in the beginning said it’s more likely that people in need don’t know about the fund and more time is necessary to get the word out.

“If they collect the money, then the program’s got to change to make sure more people are able to be helped,” said Gudrun Langolf of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations of BC.

The customer crisis fund was started in spring 2018 to give people short-term relief when they can’t pay their electricity bills. Customers can apply to get a grant of up to $500 to keep the lights on, and up to $600 if electricity heats their homes.

The public utility took in about 25 cents per customer per month which added up to a revenue of $4.5 million in the year since the program started, BC Hydro confirmed to CTV News.

But the agency only gave out 2,250 grants totalling $850,000.

Administration costs added up around $750,000 – leaving the $2.9 million remaining.

The news will come as a welcome relief to those who suddenly struggle to pay their hydro bills.

Some people who come into Disability Alliance B.C. are often anxious and emotional when they’re suddenly unable to pay their bills, said Shar Saremi, an advocate there.

“I’ve had people crying. I’ve had people who have experienced a loss in the family,” she said. “A lot of the time people are stressed out, anxious, really upset. They are looking for assistance, and they aren’t sure what is available for them.”

She said people are only eligible if their bills are under $1,000, which could be cutting out the people who are most in need. And because the program is in its first year, it could be undersubscribed, she said.

“A lot of people don’t know about the program, don’t know how to apply, or what kind of assistance is out there,” Saremi said.

The fund was established thanks to an order from the B.C. Utilities Commission, the utilities regulator in the province.

The pilot program is going to be examined by the regulator at the end of its first year.

“Any remaining balance in the account at the end of the pilot would be returned to residential ratepayers,” says a BCUC fact sheet. The decision on exactly what to do with the money hasn’t yet been made.

In Manitoba, a similar program is by donation. That program raised about $200,000 from customers and $60,000 in other income. It spent $199,000 on grants to applicants, but lost about $20,000 a year.

In Ontario, private utilities are expected to raise 0.12 per cent of their revenue. Across the province, those utilities gave out about $7.3 million in grants. Any unused funds in one year are rolled over to the following year.

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Coquitlam mayor renews call for ride hailing after report of bad taxi ride | CBC News

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Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart is once again calling for an end to the taxi monopoly in the Tri-Cities area and urging the province to quickly allow ride hailing services like Lyft and Uber after a local woman recounted a negative cab ride that left her feeling like a captive.

The taxi ride happened more than a week ago, but it wasn’t until Stewart wrote a post on social media titled “Held hostage by a taxi” that it started to get attention.

Gayle Hunter was taking a routine taxi ride from her home to Birchland Elementary School, where she works. Hunter, who doesn’t drive and lives with a disability that limits her mobility, said she always pays $7 for the trip, after the tip.

But, in her account, the driver failed to start the meter, and as she approached the school, she told the driver that technically, if he didn’t start the meter, she didn’t need to pay.

Hunter claims she was fully intending to pay the usual rate, but her comment sent the driver into a shouting rage.

Then, she said he turned away from her destination, despite her protest, and began to drive her in the wrong direction.

“It was essentially an altercation that resulted in her being driven against her will for some period of time, and it really angered me,” said Stewart.

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart said a local woman’s account of a bad taxi ride was just the latest in a long list of complaints he’s heard from people about the area’s taxis. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

“It frustrates me to no end, the length of time and the number of times we’ve had to speak with the Transportation Ministry, the Passenger Transportation Board and with this company about the behaviour of the drivers,” he said.

‘It was scary’

“Well it was, first of all, shocking, and then it was scary,” said Hunter. “It was scary. It was — and then it just made me really angry.”

Hunter said she phoned the company, Bel-Air Taxi, as the driver continued to refuse to take her to the school. She said she put the manager on speaker phone to have him tell the driver to take her to her intended destination — she says the driver continued shouting throughout.

Once Hunter got to Birchland elementary, she claims the troubling episode still didn’t end. She said the driver hurt her by aggressively ripping the cash out of her hand.

“When I got into the school, I was shaking, like I was a little — I went straight to the principal’s office,” she said. “Even today, I don’t feel safe getting into a cab.”

Gayle Hunter says she’s scared to take taxis after a bad ride in late May. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Hunter contacted Coquitlam RCMP to file a report, but doesn’t expect any criminal charges to arise from the incident. She also sent the company a written complaint, but said that she hasn’t heard anything back.

CBC News phoned and emailed Bel-Air Taxi for a comment, but nobody from the company replied to the request.

Manager Shawn Bowden told CTV News that he spoke to Hunter and apologized for the incident. He said the meter should have been turned on, but he added that, based on GPS records, the taxi didn’t deviate from the intended route to the school.

For both Stewart and Hunter, the incident is a reminder that, as a matter of safety and convenience, passengers need more choice when it comes to ride services in the Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.

Do you have more to add to this story? Email [email protected]

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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Call for B.C. gambler’s code of conduct in wake of damning casino report

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The River Rock Casino, 8811 River Rd, Vancouver, June 27 2018.

Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

The Attorney General is calling for a gambler’s code of conduct at B.C. casinos after a damning report into working conditions at Richmond’s River Rock Casino.

The ministry’s Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch made the call in a report compiled after an earlier report into dozens of harassment and violence claims made by front-line casino staff.

That earlier report, conducted by Paladin Security at the request of the B.C. Lotteries Corp., found among other things that a drunk VIP gambler slapped an employee, and then wrote them a $2,000 cheque.

It confirmed reports that an angry VIP gambler had thrown an item at a dealer, a dealer was threatened with death by a player (resulting in a 24-hour ban for the gambler) and a guest-services supervisor was assaulted.

The report stated that “according to several dealers and supervisors, verbal abuse bordering on uttering threats occurs daily, if not hourly.”

It went on to say “extra” considerations were given to VIP gamblers, including the right to keep a dealer at the table that they believed to be good luck, even if the dealer was rostered off or needed to go to the washroom.

“A number of individuals mentioned the Dogwood Room as problematic, between its combination of overwhelming bet volume, poor standards of player behaviour and complicit supervisors and managers,” the Paladin report stated. “Some suggested that if you don’t speak Mandarin, you don’t have a change to work a higher-tipping VIP table.”

The Paladin report was based on interviews with 460 of the casino’s 1,200 front-line staff.

The gaming policy branch report found that all incidents that were required to be reported to police had been reported, and there was no evidence the casino’s management or employees had suppressed reports.

It stated that between 2010 and August 2018 the River Rock Casino had sent 17,581 workplace reports to the gaming policy branch.

“When one considers the 17 alleged unreported incidents and the eight reported incidents that did not generate a (workplace report) from the same time range, the percentage of potential unreported incidents amounts to 0.142 per cent. This fact strongly suggests the (River Rock Casino), as a corporation, is paying due-diligence to its reporting requirements … ”

The branch wants the code of conduct to clearly outline the behaviour and conduct expected of all patrons (including VIPs), and clearly outlines the consequences that a patron will face if they were to be found in violation.


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B.C. man with ALS encouraged by UN watchdog’s ‘urgent’ call for services

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A Powell River man contemplating physician-assisted death in the face of limited healthcare options is feeling vindicated and encouraged by a United Nations analysis of Canada’s treatment of people with disabilities that found our country is in need of “urgent” change to address what it described as a human rights issue.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, held a press conference in Ottawa Friday where she told reporters, “I’m deeply concerned many people with disabilities are presented with no other choice than the placement of residential institutions like nursing homes and group homes.”

She described the approach as segregation and re-institutionalization of persons with disabilities, calling on the government to “provide the necessary support for persons with disabilities to live independently in their communities. This should be recognized as a human right and not merely as social assistance program.”

When CTV News Vancouver presented her comments to 40-year-old ALS patient Sean Tagert, he responded in text messages he “typed” after selecting letters with eye movements: “They say a country can be judged on how it treats the sick and elderly. Today, UN envoy Catalina Aguilar voiced what many Canadians with disabilities already know – we are failing.”

No longer able to eat, speak or even breathe on his own, Tagert has been battling Vancouver Coastal Health for 24-hour homecare funding. He’s currently funded for 20 hours a day through the Community Supports in Independent Living (CSIL) program and struggling to hire caregivers for the round-the-clock care he requires to maintain his breathing machine and move him to avoid bedsores and pain.

“The government’s [CSIL home support funding] is a generous program, but ALS is so catastrophic,” his mother Patricia Mennittee told CTV News Vancouver in their wheelchair-modified home when first interviewed for this story. “There is no denying this is an illness that requires 24 hours a day of care and we’ve done our best as a family to rise to those needs but we’re becoming exhausted.”

Tagert’s family doctor has also been advocating for the immobilized father to get CSIL funding in order to stay in a setting where he can enjoy quality time with his son and has a sophisticated technological setup to communicate with the outside world through the movements of his eyes, the only part of his body he has any control over.

“I think he’s an incredibly brave guy who remains optimistic and hopeful,” said Dr. Stephen Burns when CTV first interviewed him about Tagert’s funding situation in early April. “The circumstances he finds himself in, I think there’s few of us who can endure what he’s endured. I think what he’s been able to do on a very limited budge it provide himself with the best quality of living that could be obtained with his condition.”

When CTV News asked Vancouver Coastal Health to address Aguilar’s statements in relation to Tagert’s situation, the health authority reiterated its position staff is willing to help Tagert find ways to maximize his existing funding, like hiring live-in caregivers in lieu of rent. Their initial email statement on Tagert ended with the confirmation that “There are a range of care options for clients with complex needs, including 24-7 residential care.”

Without a care facility for quadriplegic patients in Powell River, Tagert has been presented with the George Pearson Centre in Vancouver, which would take Tagert away from his technological access to the outside world and the home setting where he is comfortable spending time with his 11-year-old son.

“So left with the options of either waiting for a day that I have no staff available and choking to death, or being institutionalized at George Pearson (the ‘jail for quads’) and dying a slow tortuous death, I’m going to pursue medically assisted death,” he wrote on a March 19 Facebook post.

“I get why a person goes there, I absolutely do, when all you can see in your future is more suffering,” said his mother.

But Tagert feels much more hopeful in the wake of Aguilar’s statements in Ottawa.

“Let’s fix it,” he wrote.

Aguilar suggested Canada is acting against Article 19 of the Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities, which discusses “the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others” and specifically: “Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community.”

“This is something that really needs to be addressed urgently [in Canada] to make sure that services are provided in the community,” said Aguilar. “That support is provided for persons with disabilities so that you avoid situations in which nursing homes or home groups or other kind of residential facilities are the only and default option for people with disabilities”

Tagert says he’s now considering filing a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal.

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TransLink issues open call to make waiting for bus or Skytrain more pleasant

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TransLink has issued an open call for submissions to make waiting for the bus or SkyTrain more pleasant — although it won’t include large investments into brick-and-mortar projects to make that happen.

Kevin Desmond, the regional transportation authority’s CEO, says the goal of the open call is to partner with the private sector, students or academics to come up with better ideas than the transit authority could on its own.

“We want to tap into innovators who can move a lot faster than we can as a public organization,” Desmond said.

Desmond points to projects like Google Maps and the Transit App — which use open-source data on bus and train routes to help people plan their trips —  as successful public-private partnerships that help transit customers without costing TransLink any money.

The successful proposal for the open call will get support from TransLink in the form of funding to develop the project and access to TransLink data or information. 

But Desmond says the open call likely won’t fund brick-and-mortar projects that also affect transit users’ experiences — like washrooms, for example. Those are part of a different project underway.

While the open call may not fund new washrooms, Desmond says it may fund an app that helps connect transit users to public washrooms near transit hubs. 

The goal of the open call is to stretch the agency’s money by partnering with an external agency or person, Desmond says. That way TransLink can focus its money on operating more trains and buses. 

“More and more, public organizations are going to be reaching out to private sector and private sector innovators to come up with great new ideas,” he said. 

Focus on core services

Mike Soron, founding director of public transportation advocacy group Abundant Transit, says he’s onboard with TransLink stretching its dollars to create better experiences for its users. 

However, he noted that safe, secure, comfortable washroom facilities for people should not be considered innovations. “That should be considered a core responsibility of TransLink.” 

Soron agrees that the private sector is better poised to find innovative technical solutions — and accept the financial risks of doing so.

This is the second open call TransLink has issued. Last year it focused on the theme “seamless mobility.”

The successful proposal was a partnership between car and bicycle-sharing companies Modo, Evo and Mobi to provide their services at transit hubs so people can easily switch from one form of transportation to another. 

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Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ advocate to step down and review of office

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The B.C. Care Providers Association is calling for the resignation of Isobel Mackenzie, the province’s seniors’ advocate, alleging her relationship with the Hospital Employees’ Union leadership has been too “cosy.”


The B.C. Care Providers Association is calling for the resignation of the province’s seniors’ advocate, alleging her relationship with the Hospital Employees’ Union leadership has been too “cosy.”

In a statement, the association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate.

But seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie says she never did anything inappropriate, adding that consulting and collaborating with stakeholders is part of her mandate.

The association alleges that documents obtained through a freedom of information request show Mackenzie collaborated closely with the Hospital Employees’ Union leadership in shaping a report on the transfer of patients from care homes to hospitals.

The report, called “From Residential Care to Hospital: An Emerging Pattern,” was released in August and followed complaints from emergency room clinicians that some care homes were sending residents to the emergency department unnecessarily.

The association alleges she shared draft language of the report with the union, incorporated its feedback and notified the union of the planned timing of the report’s release.

In contrast, it says the care providers association was never advised in advance by Mackenzie’s office on the release of the report and its members were never notified beforehand of its findings.

“We have tried to work with the seniors’ advocate over the years with mixed results,” it says in a statement.

“The release of this FOI provides us with a disturbing insight into which organization is having the most profound influence over the OSA.”

Mackenzie told The Canadian Press the report was independent from the Hospital Employees’ Union.

“What they’ve chosen to say is, ‘Well she colluded with the HEU on this report,’ to which I’m saying, ‘Well how?’ The results, the methodology, the data sources — it’s all there. That has nothing to do with the HEU,” she said.

She said sharing contents of reports with some stakeholders or members of an opposition party is common practice.

“Everybody does that,” she said.

In the past, Mackenzie said she has shared content from reports that are favourable to the B.C. Care Providers Association in advance and not with the Hospital Employees’ Union.

In this case, she said her office shared contents of the report in advance with health authorities, the union and contracted care providers, which includes members of the B.C. Care Providers Association. She said her office has a relationship with care providers, but no obligation to the industry association.

Mackenzie suggested the association is calling for her resignation because it didn’t like the content of a report that found contracted care providers transfer patients to hospitals more often.

“The B.C. Care Providers took great offence to this report. What’s interesting is when the reports serve their interests, they don’t have this problem,” she said.

Mackenzie said she is not considering resigning.

The association is also calling for a full and independent review of the office.

Unlike other advocates that are independent, such as the B.C. Ombudsperson or the children and youth advocate, the seniors’ advocate reports to the Health Ministry, which couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The association says it also wasn’t consulted on a decision by the B.C. government to move more than 4,000 home support jobs from the private sector to public health authorities, and accused Mackenzie of failing to press the government on that decision.

“Not one question was posed by her to government on their reason for the change, or if any analysis had been provided,” it said.

“For BCCPA, this was a tipping point.”

Mackenzie said she was briefed by the deputy minister and health authorities in advance of the decision and she found there was an argument to be made for the change.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the office’s position under his ministry has never stopped Mackenzie, who was appointed five years ago by the previous Liberal government, from criticizing him or the ministry freely.

“She has criticized the NDP government, the Liberal government, the care providers and just about everyone else in her advocacy,” Dix said Thursday.

Dix said he has personally been on the receiving end of her criticism but he recognizes that’s her mandate and said she does a “good job.”

“If people want to make the argument for a long-term review of what the status of the office should be, that’s something the care providers and everyone else could look at and I think absolutely could be considered,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s nothing like this in Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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