Posts Tagged "death"


New probe into patient’s death ordered by B.C. health minister

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Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Francis Georgian / PNG

Health minister Adrian Dix said he’s taking the rare step of ordering an independent review into a patient’s death because of the family’s continuing concerns after the initial investigation conducted by two health agencies.

The Vancouver individual, whose identity is being withheld, died in November 2018 and the only detail Dix would disclose is that paramedics had difficulty “accessing” the patient.

Dix conceded it is rare for health ministers to intervene in such cases and this is the first time he has done so since he became health minister two years ago. But he felt it was important for family members who told him  that they wanted “fresh” eyes on the circumstances leading to the death.

“I just felt we needed to do more,” he said, referring to the patient safety review that B.C. Emergency Health Services and Provincial Health Services Authority carried out right after the death.

The new review  will delve into the medical care in the weeks before the death and the emergency response “in the hours surrounding the death.”

The previous investigation was conducted with so-called Section 51 protection, which means there is no public disclosure. Section 51 safety reviews are conducted to see if anything can be learned from a death and suggest steps to prevent reoccurences.

Dix said the new study will have more transparency and will give family members more access to information and findings; the report will also be made although some information may be redacted “for the sake of privacy.”

Dix said he could have referred the case to the Patient Care Quality Review Board but in this case, there was a “technical glitch” that would have meant passing a new regulation. So, he said he decided to refer the case to Dr. Jim Christensen, an emergency physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and head of the academic department of medicine at the University of British Columbia. He will be assisted by Dr. Michael Feldman, the paramedic services medical director and provincial dispatch medical director at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine.

In a purposely vague media release, the ministry of health said the review panel will have the “co-operation” of four agencies — Providence Health Care, VCH, BCEHS and PHSA.

“British Columbians can and do rely on our emergency responders when they are at their most vulnerable,” Dix said in the announcement. “Whenever we are faced with a case that may warrant a review, we look to independent experts who can look for learnings and suggest improvements that will benefit patients, first responders and the system as a whole.”

The government will receive the report by July.

Officials with PHSA would not comment on the internal review process that has already taken place. On its website, PHSA states: “When a patient safety event occurs, the goal is immediate management, disclosure and analysis of the event through a structured process, focused on system improvement, that aims to identify what happened, how and why it happened, whether there are any ways to reduce the risk of recurrence and make care safer. PHSA conducts patient safety event reviews in accordance with Section 51 of the B.C. Evidence Act.”

The review is meant to enable “full, open and candid discussions amongst health care professionals” with the goal of improving care for future patients. Further education or policy changes may be recommended.

“Patient safety event reviews do not preclude health-care professionals from cooperating in other reviews by outside investigative bodies, such as the police or regulators, nor do they shield health care professionals or PHSA from potential civil suits.”

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Mom creates program for supportive housing tenants after son’s death

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After Christine Harris’s son died slowly and alone in a Vancouver supportive housing unit, she vowed to do everything possible to ensure no other parent would have to share her pain.

She last spoke to her son, Lindsey Longe, on July 12, 2012. The 30-year-old was last seen alive by a friend on July 15, 2012. He died the next day of blood poisoning in his room at Pacific Coast Apartments. The use of illicit drugs contributed to his death, according to a coroner’s report.

Longe’s body wasn’t discovered until three days after he died, after days of Harris calling and pleading with Coast Mental Health staff to check on him, Harris said.

In recent years, Harris, an Alberta social worker, has been developing “Got Your Back For Life,” a volunteer program that pairs people living in supportive housing with a “most-trusted person” who agrees to check on them regularly.

The program is halfway through a one-year pilot at PHS Community Services Society’s Margaret Mitchell Place. About 20 residents of the 52-unit temporary modular housing complex near Olympic Village Station signed an agreement with a trusted person who might be a friend, neighbour, family member or staff member.

Together, they decide how often they’ll do health and wellness checks — it might be every day or once per week — and sign contracts with some personal information and ID photos. The trusted person can then go to building staff at the agreed-upon time, or any time they have a reason to be concerned, and ask them to check on their partner.

Harris said the program came out of discussions with supportive housing residents during an event she holds each summer in her son’s memory. She pitched the cost-free program to PHS in July 2018 and by November the trial was underway.

She praised PHS for already doing 24-hour checks at its supportive housing units but said she hopes the program helps push other housing operators to do better, too.

“(PHS is) doing it to give their tenants an extra layer of protection,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”

Amid the overdose crisis, B.C. Housing updated contracts with supportive housing sites to require them to conduct health and wellness checks at least every 48 hours, and more frequently when deemed necessary.

But Harris believes 48 hours is inadequate. She keeps an eye on coroner reports, which recently indicated that in Vancouver 48 per cent of the people who died of an illicit-drug overdose since 2017 were in “other residences” such as social and supportive housing, SROs, shelters and hotels.

“I don’t believe that we, as a society, have done enough,” Harris said. “We need to give people the power to look after each other and this community. These people care about each other.”

Lindsey Longe, pictured here with his mother Christine Harris, was 30 when he died in supportive housing in 2012 in Vancouver.

Submitted: Christine Harris /


Margaret Mitchell Place resident Chris Middleton said he has a strong network of friends, family and staff who check on his well-being often, but knowing Got Your Back For Life has a “most-trusted person” regularly checking on him, too, puts his mind at ease.

“I have someone else looking out for me,” he said. “A lot of people don’t. They grow up in these buildings and they have no one that is willing to go ‘Hey, how are you?’”

Middleton believes the program is particularly good for people who might not leave their room too often, such as those who are elderly or disabled.

“It should be status quo,” he said. “Everybody would have their buddy that would check in on how they’re doing.”

The program also helps build community. When it came to Margaret Mitchell Place, it brought people together right away, said building manager Byron Slack.

“A lot of people knew each other in the building but hadn’t really congregated in the common spaces,” he said. “It was one of the first programs we brought into the building and it’s a way of empowering neighbours to be able to check up on their friends.”

Slack said staff check on residents on behalf of their loved ones whether or not they are in the program, but said the contract made between its participants, in honour of Longe, is especially meaningful.

“It’s been a really positive thing,” he said.

The program appealed to PHS because it was peer-driven and came at the height of the “prohibition crisis” behind B.C. overdose deaths, said Duncan Higgon, senior manager of housing.

It works as an overdose intervention tool, he said. For example, if partners score drugs from the same dealer, one might go back to their room, take them and come close to an overdose. With their Got Your Back For Life commitment in mind, they might be compelled to make sure their partner with potent drugs is OK.

Staff have embraced the program and it has the added benefit of engaging tenants in peer-to-peer work, Higgon said. Sometimes, tenants don’t like to ask staff for help, so an arrangement with a peer is more appealing.

“For us, that is very meaningful,” he said. “When we were presented with those opportunities, it was really exciting to trial.”

Higgon said PHS is developing trials at three other PHS modular-housing buildings. But there is potential for it to run at all 1,500 units of PHS housing. He would like to see it used to help homeless people, too.

“I really do see it as a uniquely beautiful, supportive and useful tool across a whole spectrum,” he said.

Harris believes that if just one life is saved by Got Your Back For Life, her program has done what it was designed to do.

“Lindsey, in the last while of his life, when he started hoarding, became very isolated,” she said.

“He was living in shame. To have had something that could have connected him with someone a little more tightly would have helped in many ways.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that moment, he realized his stark choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘A matter of life or death’: Woman with lung disease wins complaint over neighbour’s smoking

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The secondhand smoke in Ruth Bowker’s new home was so pervasive, she was forced to spend most of her time hiding in her bedroom, the only room she described as “consistently livable.”

The Abbotsford senior has pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic and progressive lung disease, and when she first viewed the condo as a potential buyer in 2015, there was no smoke smell, according to a decision from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. But before she and her husband took possession of the suite that November, two habitual smokers had moved in downstairs.

This week, the tribunal ruled the strata had failed to accommodate Bowker’s disability, and ordered it to pay her $7,500 for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Bowker told the tribunal she was “horrified” to discover the smoke odour when she moved into her new place in the Clearbrook neighbourhood.

“Ms. Bowker began opening the patio doors even though it was late November, and purchased large fans to try to blow the smoke outside. She also bought two air purifiers. These measures were of little avail,” tribunal member Emily Ohler wrote.

Ohler said the condo complex’s strata “did very little” to help Bowker for a full year after she first complained about how the smoke was affecting her, and her health deteriorated during that time.

The lack of action from the strata, “prevented her from enjoying a regular existence within the confines of her home; it exacerbated her disability; it had a negative impact on her mental state; and it added to her already heavy mental load during a time she was dealing with her husband’s deteriorating health,” Ohler wrote.

‘But a person’s home is their castle’ 

The tribunal’s ruling provides an interesting discussion of how to balance individual property rights with the responsibility to accommodate a disability, and the need for strata councils to educate themselves on human rights law.

Bowker’s lawyer, Jonathan Blair, said the decision clarifies the legal obligations of strata councils, which tend to be made up of volunteers with little working knowledge of property law.

“It’s not necessarily legitimate for us to hold on to this sense of, ‘But a person’s home is their castle,’ as a defence against accommodating someone who’s facing a barrier. In the end, sometimes we have to give up … certain freedoms,” Blair said.

As Ohler points out, many cities and strata already place numerous legal limits on what people can do inside their own homes, including noise bylaws and rules against pets.

Bowker’s neighbour was defensive when she complained about the smoke, according to the decision. (Google Maps)

According to the decision, Bowker spoke to her neighbour, identified by the initials LR, shortly after she moved in. But the woman and her husband were defensive and Bowker wrote to the strata to complain on Dec. 15, 2015.

In turn, the strata wrote to LR and said any measures to minimize the smoke coming from her condo “would be greatly appreciated.” It also ensured some physical work was done on the two units in an attempt to contain the fumes.

But these steps did not stop the smoke from entering Bowker’s apartment, the decision says.

By the end of 2016, Bowker was still asking the strata for a solution, but the situation was getting dire. A doctor’s note submitted to the tribunal showed that she was beginning to have suicidal thoughts.

“She said, among other things, that her recent pulmonary function test showed a noticeable deterioration. ‘This is a matter of life or death for me, literally,’ she said,” Ohler wrote.

The strata sent a cease and desist letter to LR and her husband in December 2016, to no effect. A month later, the council threatened to fine her under a nuisance bylaw, but LR replied with a letter pointing out that her nicotine addiction was also a disability that could be protected under the Human Rights Code.

2 failed votes for non-smoking bylaw

According to the decision, the strata council brought a non-smoking bylaw to a vote at two annual general meetings in response to Bowker’s complaints. Both times, it didn’t garner the necessary 75 per cent of votes to pass.

But Ohler said the council did not properly explain to strata members why the bylaw was being proposed.

“It appeared to see the non‐smoking bylaw as a kind of lifestyle choice rather than as a part of its efforts to meet its legal responsibilities. At least in part, the result was that Ms. Bowker was subjected to inappropriate remarks and made to feel ostracized from the community,” Ohler said.

The strata held two votes on a proposed no-smoking bylaw, but both failed. (Sebastien Bozon/Getty Images)

She ordered the strata to stop discriminating against Bowker, but held off on ordering it to enact a non-smoking bylaw. That’s because the strata is waiting for a decision from the Civil Resolution Tribunal on whether LR violated the nuisance bylaw.

Ohler said Bowker and the strata could return to the tribunal if the CRT does not resolve the matter.

And Ohler added that while LR would likely have an argument that her nicotine addiction is protected as a disability, her rights would have to be balanced with Bowker’s if the question came before the tribunal.

“While a person addicted to nicotine may be able to go outside of their unit to smoke, a person with a smoke‐sensitive disability cannot be expected to go outside to safely breathe,” Ohler wrote.

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Psilocybin touted as magical relief from death anxiety

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Windsor, Ont., police display a large quantity of drugs on Jan. 13, 2012, that were seized in the area, including psilocybin (magic mushrooms) shown here.

Dan Janisse / The Windsor Star

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms may soon be used to help people with a terminal illness come to terms with death.

A counsellor in Victoria is part of a team that wants to use the psychedelic substance psilocybin to treat a condition called end-of-life distress when someone suffers from a combination of anxiety, depression and demoralization.

Bruce Tobin said that there are about 3,000 people with a terminal illness across the country whose end-of-life-distress is so severe that traditional treatments have been unable to alleviate it.

“We are being very restrictive about the clients we are seeking to treat,” he said. “We’re only seeking to treat those for whom all other treatments have failed. There is now growing scientific evidence that this is likely to be effective for them.”

On Tuesday, Tobin was part of an application to Health Canada seeking a Section 56 exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The exemption allows researchers, including physicians, veterinarians and others affiliated with universities and private industry, to use a controlled substance. Psilocybin is a controlled drug under Schedule III of the act.

Tobin is a registered clinical counsellor who practises psychotherapy. He leads a clinical team that includes two doctors, two psychologists, two registered clinical counsellors and a nurse/pastoral counsellor. All have received specialized training in psychedelic medicine.

Tobin said he wants to see psilocybin used to treat patients who “have nothing left to lose and who are in abject pain.” He said his team would use pharmaceutical grade psilocybin, not ‘magic mushrooms’ whose active ingredient is psilocybin.

“The effects from the synthetic psilocybin, as far as I know, are indistinguishable from the effects of organic mushrooms,” he said by phone from a town south of La Paz in Baja, Mexico. “There are certainly perceptual, cognitive and emotional changes that a person experiences while under the effects of psilocybin. It is precisely those changes that result in a kind of re-evaluation of their life situation.

“They gain new insights and perspectives on their life and its meaning and their relationships. It helps them reframe their understanding of their impending death and leads, in a vast majority of cases, to a much deeper acceptance of death as a part of life and an understanding that even though they’re dying that basically, everything is OK.”

Recent studies, he said, have shown that treatment with psilocybin produces large decreases in depression and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning and optimism.

In one study, a six-month followup after treatment showed that about 80 per cent continued to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety.

He said psilocybin would be used in association with psychotherapy that includes screening, assessment, preparation and followup.

Tobin said if Health Canada denies the application, then his team is prepared to challenge the decision in court using the same kind of Charter arguments used for medical cannabis.

In 35 years of treating anxiety and depression, Tobin said he’s seen little improvement in the effectiveness of medications despite all the billions of dollars spent on developing them.

“Psilocybin promises to be a game-changer,” he said in a news release. “Medicines such as this may well soon revolutionize not only palliative and hospice care, but psychotherapy and psychiatry in general.”

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Death cap mushrooms proliferating in B.C., experts warn

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A “death cap” mushroom.


The most deadly mushroom on the planet is expanding its habitat in urban and rural areas across B.C. and doctors are now being educated on recognizing the symptoms of poisonings.

Poisonous death cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) initially came to B.C. on the roots of European trees like hornbeam, beech, hazelnut, lindens chestnut and oaks. They now grow under mature native trees as well and are putting serious and amateur foragers, children, pets, and others at risk.

Although they won’t start growing under trees for at least another few months, doctors are being cautioned now on ways to recognize the signs of mushroom poisoning to prevent fatalities, serious illness and hospitalizations.

An article in the current B.C. Medical Journal says there is a high risk that doctors will see more and more patients falling ill because the death cap is spreading. That has been borne out by sightings and data collected by the province’s best resource — the Vancouver Mycological Society and the Vancouver Island Mycological Society.

In 2016, a Victoria toddler died after he ate a death cap plucked from the ground in a residential neighbourhood.

In 2008, a 63-year-old Vancouver woman ate an immature death cap after mistaking it for a paddy straw mushroom. In 2003, a 43-year-old Victoria man confused an immature death cap for a puffball. Both those patients recovered in hospital.

Death caps usually grow from June to November. They are easily confused for edible mushrooms, depending on the stage of maturity.

According to the Drug and Poison Information Centre, in 2018, there were 156 individuals who fell ill across B.C. after accidental ingestion of wild mushrooms. There is no specific data for death caps. But the 156 reports represent an increase over the previous year when there were 145 reports. The figures exclude reactions to hallucinogenic mushroom reactions as well as to store-bought, herbal or medicinal mushrooms, all taken intentionally.

Of concern is the fact that most of the individuals who fell ill were children (117 in 2018 and 110 in 2017). Many children and adults were rushed to the hospital.

The article by Maxwell Moor-Smith, Raymond Li and Dr. Omar Ahmad in the B.C. Medical Journal says death caps have become an invasive species in the Pacific Northwest and their spread “has led to cases of morbidity and mortality from ingestion … and an ongoing risk of misidentification.

“Health care providers need to be aware of this risk as prompt recognition and appropriate management are critical for positive patient outcomes.”

Paul Kroeger, co-founder of the Vancouver Mycological Society, said death caps are now growing in the most populated areas of B.C., including parks in the heart of cities. They are routinely seen under Hornbeam trees and Garry Oak trees planted on streets and in parks across Vancouver and Victoria.

Kroeger said he hasn’t heard of any dog poisonings here, but in California, pet deaths have become a major issue.

“Dogs seem to be attracted to them, and the odds of survival are fairly poor.”

Kroeger said mushrooms should always be cooked and restaurants should ensure they aren’t purchasing mushrooms from “backdoor sellers.” There are nearly 20,000 mushroom species in B.C. and most of them are poisonous. Last fall, Kroeger assisted the B.C. Centre for Disease Control in a public information campaign dissuading urbanites from foraging for mushrooms.

“We had a mass poisoning at the police chief’s retirement banquet in 1991. Those were morels, not death caps, but the advice remains the same. There are foragers who overestimate their knowledge and there are also people who think it’s okay to eat whatever is in their path, especially if it’s in their yard.”

The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association has not heard about the concerns related to the spread of the death cap. But Ian Tostenson, CEO of the association, said he’s grateful for the heads up and said he would communicate the matter to members. “Usually, we rely on Health Canada to let us know when there’s something to be concerned about but in this case, I will alert restaurant members to these articles.”

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What to do if you’ve eaten a death cap or other poisonous mushroom

• Symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. Seek medical care.

• Call the 24-hour Drug and Poison Information Centre at 604-682-5050.

• Save the whole mushroom in paper or wax paper (not plastic) and place in fridge for later testing.

• Make a note of where the mushroom was found, when it was eaten and how much was consumed.

• Wear gloves or wash hands after handling.

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China death sentence dispute takes toll on B.C. tourism businesses

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An Air Canada jet takes off against a bank of fog from Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday morning. Late Monday, the federal government updated its advisory for travellers to China ‘due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.’

An Air Canada jet takes off against a bank of fog from Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday morning. Late Monday, the federal government updated its advisory for travellers to China ‘due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.’

Nick Procaylo / PNG

The death sentence given to Canadian drug trafficker Robert Schellenberg by a Chinese court has spooked Canadian tourists planning to visit the People’s Republic.

“Everyone is feeling it,” said Canadian travel agent Julius Yan, president of Laurus Travel. “The last couple of days, and especially this morning, we have been getting calls from people who are concerned and about half want to cancel their tour to China.”

Late Monday, Canada updated its advisory for travellers to China “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” The Chinese foreign ministry then warned its own citizens that they could be “arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation” if they visit Canada.

Tensions between Canada and China have been rising since Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver for extradition to the United States after allegedly violating American trade sanctions against Iran.

Less than a week later, two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and non-profit worker Michael Spavor — were arrested in China in apparent retribution.

Canadians are urged to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to China, said Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube.

Travellers may experience scrutiny by local officials and police while in China and the Chinese Embassy in Canada announced late in December that as of Jan. 1 adult travellers to China must be fingerprinted before a visa will be issued.

Julius Yan is the president of Laurus Travel, pictured on a tour in China.

handout /


“Chinese authorities may define certain behaviours and activities as ‘endangering national security’ that would not be considered as such in Canada,” warns Global Affairs. You may be detained for up to six months before being formally arrested in security matters.

Amid the latest diplomatic salvos over the Schelleberg case, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged Canada to remind its citizens “to never come to China to commit serious offences such as smuggling or trafficking drugs.”

The death sentence to Schellenberg, who was already serving a 15-year sentence for his crimes in China, appears to be the last straw for wary travellers.

“Escalating tension between Canada and China is having a very negative effect on businesses like ours,” said Yan. “Some Canadians booked on our tours this year have called and emailed to express their concerns and we want to alleviate their anxiety.”

While Canadians are postponing and cancelling their trips, bookings from American customers are on the rise at Laurus Travel.

“In the U.S. it seems to be business as usual,” said Yan, who maintains that China is a safe vacation destination for average Canadians.

Schellenberg is far from average. He was jailed in B.C. for possession for the purpose of drug trafficking in 2012 after being found with heroin and cocaine. He has impaired driving and drug-related convictions dating back to 2003.

Tensions could put a damper on travel to China for the Lunar New Year, which starts in three weeks.

In this image taken from a video footage run by China’s CCTV, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Dalian, northeastern China’s Liaoning province on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.


“Even though I have family in China, as a Canadian, I won’t be going there anytime soon,” said Clifford Marr, a public relations specialist. “I have also been warning people not to go to China or transit through China to other Asian countries like the Philippines.”

B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow has warned that a planned trade mission to Asia by B.C. officials in March could be postponed if relations between the two nations do not improve.

The Office of the Premier said that no firm decisions have been made about the trip.

China’s travel warning to its citizens puts at risk about $1.6 billion that 682,000 tourists from China spend in Canada each year.

More than 290,000 residents of mainland China visit Vancouver each year, according to Statistics Canada. Chinese tourists spend an average of $2,400 each per trip.

For those brave enough to visit China in uncertain times, bargains can be had.

UTO Vacation on Tuesday morning offered a nine-night China vacation package including return flights from Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto to Shanghai for $599, according to Travelzoo.

With files from Rob Shaw

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‘Your country deserves much better’: B.C. judge warned Canadian sentenced to death in China

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A B.C. judge told Robert Lloyd Schellenberg he was lucky to be living in Canada when he sent him to jail for drug trafficking in 2012.

As the Abbotsford man faces the death penalty in China, Justice Neill Brown’s admonition now reads like a chilling warning.

“Your country deserves much better from you. You are in one of the best places in the world to live,” Brown said as he sentenced Schellenberg in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack. 

“You are not caught up in Libya or Syria; I do not have evidence of any abuse in your childhood and I accept that you have your own struggles to deal with, but you have to confront those. After all, it’s not as if you are 18, and having to storm Juno Beach.”

The journey that carried Schellenberg from that courtroom in the Lower Mainland’s Fraser Valley to the centre of an international story is detailed, in part, in court documents obtained by CBC News. 

The 36-year-old was sentenced to death Monday in the Dalian People’s Court in China’s northeast province of Liaoning.

The ruling came after a sudden retrial of a 15-year sentence for allegedly conspiring with others to smuggle 222 kilograms of methamphetamine from China to Australia in 2014.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is shown in Vancouver after her release on bail as she awaits extradition proceedings. Critics have suggested Schellenberg’s death sentence is part of China’s response to the Huawei case. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the sentence, which comes amid speculation Schellenberg is one of several Canadians whose fates are enmeshed in a battle between Canada and China over extradition proceedings for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou currently underway in Vancouver.

Brown sentenced Schellenberg to two years in 2012 for possession of both cocaine and heroin for the purpose of trafficking as well as simple possession of cannabis resin and methamphetamine.

Because of time served, Schellenberg’s ultimate sentence was 16 months and 12 days.

‘Do not ever underestimate the seriousness’

Schellenberg pleaded guilty to all four counts, which came about as a result of an investigation into a high-volume drug sales operation that saw his apartment in Abbotsford used as a “distribution centre.”

According to the reasons for sentence, Schellenberg was on probation at the time that police raided his fourth-floor apartment, seizing $6,080 worth of cocaine and heroin as well as $3,205 in cash from pill profits.

The judge said Schellenberg was not considered to have been at the “lower rung” of the operation.

His criminal record dates back to February 2003, when he received a six-month sentence for possession for the purpose of trafficking.

In this image taken from a video footage run by China’s CCTV, Schellenberg listens as he is sentenced to death at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Dalian, northeastern China’s Liaoning province. (CCTV via Associated Press)

At the time Brown sent him to jail, Schellenberg was struggling with addiction.

“He had a work-related accident in which he injured his femur,” Brown said. “At the time of his arrest, indeed, he was wearing a cast, and apparently because of his injury, was abusing pain medications.”

The judge noted that Schellenberg’s father “had turned his back on him because of his criminal history although he still has the support of some family members.”

“You are fortunate that you have some family members supporting you,” the judge said. “Do not ever underestimate the seriousness of this kind of an offence.”

At the time of his sentencing in 2012, Schellenberg’s lawyer told the court he was “deeply ashamed, worried about his father and any embarrassment that he is experiencing in the community.”

‘I hope this is the last time’

Schellenberg’s parents could not be reached for comment Monday, but his aunt Lauri Nelson-Jones called the decision the family’s “worst-case fear confirmed.”

“Our thoughts are with Robert at this time. It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”

It is unclear what Schellenberg did between his relase from provincial jail, which was set for mid-2013 and his alleged involvement in the Chinese drug case. Some reports have suggested he worked in the Alberta oil patch.

According to the Chinese court, Schellenberg was part of a group that concealed 222 bags of methamphetamine in plastic pellets and shipped it from Guangdong to Dalian. He allegedly planned to conceal it in tires and tubing and ship it via container to Australia.

Chinese state television said in an earlier report that Schellenberg argued in court that he was a tourist visiting China and was framed by criminals. His lawyer told The Associated Press that he argued during the one-day trial that there was insufficient evidence for his client’s conviction.

Back in 2012, as Brown prepared to send Schellenberg off to jail, he told the drug dealer he was at a critical point in life.

“He has had his chances in the past. He is either going to cure himself of his addicton and reform himself and turn off the path that he has been on or he is not,” Brown said.

“Your basic task is to overcome your addition and reform your life. I hope this is the last time you appear in court.”

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Vancouver Coastal Health denies allegations made after toddler death

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16-month-old Macallan Wayne Saini died Jan. 18, 2017 in an accident at a daycare in Vancouver.

Submitted / Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Coastal Health says it did nothing to contribute to the death of a 16-month-old boy at an unlicensed daycare, calling what happened a “tragic incident” in its response to a civil lawsuit launched by the boy’s parents.

The health authority filed its response to the statement of claim in B.C. Supreme Court in early December.

Macallan (Mac) Saini, was found dead in the Olive Branch Daycare in east Vancouver on Jan. 18, 2017.

The lawsuit filed by the toddler’s mother, Shelley Sheppard, alleges he choked on an electrical cord and died because he was left alone.

Documents filed with the court also allege the daycare was “overcrowded” and that the health authority and Ministry of Children and Family Development did not warn parents or close the facility, despite “multiple complaints” of overcrowding or operating without a licence.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

The ministry, daycare operator Yasmine Saad and the landlords of the home where the daycare operated are also named as defendants in the lawsuit, but none has submitted a response with the court to the statement of claim.

In its response, Vancouver Coastal Health says it had no knowledge that Saad was running an unlicensed daycare and no complaint had been received about it from any parents.

The health authority’s response “denies that it owed any … duty of care to the plaintiff and her deceased son, Mac Saini,” and it also seeks dismissal of the claims against it, with costs.

Sheppard’s suit says complaints against Saad were investigated in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, and in 2016, and the lawsuit asserts the health authority identified her as a “moderate risk to health and safety.” It says Saad was never fined and no steps were taken to prevent the daycare from continuing operations.

But the health authority says four complaints of too many children in care, all involving different addresses, were investigated against Saad over seven years and each was “dealt with by the licensing officers in exercise of their discretionary powers.”

The response makes no mention of the original lawsuit’s claim that Vancouver Coastal Health allegedly identified Saad as a “moderate” health and safety risk.

It also disputes Sheppard’s allegation that the health authority violated baby Mac’s charter right to life and security of the person, saying there is no legal standing for a charter argument.

When the lawsuit was filed, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said it could not comment because the matter was before the courts but added that its legal counsel would review the lawsuit and “respond accordingly to the court.”

“The death of a child is a tragedy no parent should ever face, and our heartfelt condolences go out to the parents,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.

The statement of claim accuses the landlords of allowing Saad to operate a daycare without a licence, failing to supervise operations and failing to ensure the premises were safe and suitable for an infant.

One of the property owners said at the time she was unaware her tenant was operating a daycare on the premises when she rented it to her and declined further comment. A second landlord and Saad could not be reached for comment.

As a result of the death, Sheppard claims she has experienced ongoing trauma and health problems, suffering permanent disability, loss of earnings and loss of enjoyment of life.

The health authority asks for proof of Sheppard’s claims in its response to the court, saying it “denies the plaintiff suffered or will suffer in the future, the injuries, loss, damage, or expense as alleged, or at all.”

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Assisted death transfers now declining: B.C. local health authorities

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Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson says VCH does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of medical assistance in dying responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:

Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson says VCH does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of medical assistance in dying responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:


Local health regions are making significant progress in boosting the number of patients dying in place rather than being moved to facilities to obtain medical assistance in dying.

The Fraser Health region, where palliative care hospices have been especially resistant to providing medical assistance in dying (MAiD) on site because of philosophical opposition, has drastically reduced the number of patients transferred to other facilities on their last day or days of their lives, going from 27 transfers in 2017 and part of 2016 to only six in 2018, according to new data provided by the health authority.

“In each case, we carefully consider how to offer MAiD in the most patient-centred way we can as we strongly support the patient’s right to choose to access these services,” said Fraser Health spokeswoman Jacqueline Blackwell.

It has been one year since Fraser Health told hospices and other care facilities to stop transferring clients out for MAiD services. While some like the Irene Thomas Hospice in Ladner remain defiant, the latest data on the distressing, disruptive transfers that were occurring with much regularity last year show it is now becoming a more infrequent occurrence.

“We have been able to limit the number of transfers by understanding our patients’ end-of-life wishes and ensuring they receive care in a facility that can support them,” said Blackwell, referring to facilities that receive taxpayer funding.

“We believe hospice care is a critical part of the continuum of care, and we value those who provide this vital service, including the care providers, the volunteers and the administrators. We understand there are controversies surrounding this legal obligation and where and how to implement this. (But) we also respect that individuals and faith-based health care organizations can conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths, while providing safe and timely transfers for patients for further assessment and discussion of care options, if required.” 

Between the time when MAiD was legalized midway through 2016 to Oct. 31, 2018, 257 medically assisted deaths were provided in Fraser Health. Half of those were conducted in 2018.

While there are still some holdout hospices in the Fraser region, hospices in the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region are providing MAiD except for those that are faith-based facilities; from those, 17 patients have been transferred so far this year.

Overall in 2018, there have been 131 provisions of MAiD within Vancouver Coastal, including the 17 affected who wanted it but had to go elsewhere.

Langley-Aldergrove Conservative MP Mark Warawa.

Langley-Aldergrove Conservative MP Mark Warawa.

Adrian Wyld /

Canadian Press files

Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson said the health authority does not allow publicly funded facilities to deke out of MAiD responsibilities unless they have a religious exemption:

“VCH policy, and the B.C.’s health sector generally, respects that individuals and faith-based health care organizations can conscientiously object and not participate in the direct provision of medically assisted deaths while providing safe and timely transfers for patients for further assessment and discussion of care options if required.”

Mark Warawa, Conservative MLA for Langley-Aldergrove, said in an interview that hospices providing palliative care in the Fraser Valley don’t want to offer MAiD because it is inconsistent with their mandate to provide a haven for “a natural death” process and not to hasten death.

He said he believes residential homes and hospitals are the best places to offer MAiD. “This shouldn’t be forced on hospices,” he said, referring to an edict a year ago from Fraser Health that patients should not be transferred out of their last health care setting in order to get MAiD.

Warawa said over the last 18 months, his office staff has tried to reach out to provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix multiple times to discuss the hospice issue. Dix said in an email that he has spoken with Warawa and knows about his beliefs.

Dix said B.C. has been leading the country in end-of-life matters and enabling individuals to “make choices in how they unfold.”

“We are a leader in organ donation. And through B.C.’s Representation Agreement Act, we are a leader in how we set out in our wills our wishes and instructions for key parts of our end-of-life medical care. Ensuring that MAiD can be accessed by patients who meet the stringent criteria puts the onus on us — and our health-care facilities — to ensure patients’ move to this end-of-life choice is free of friction and the additional suffering it causes.”

Warawa said provinces have been given plenty of time to build enough capacity into the health care system for “assisted suicides” and if hospitals and non-denominational facilities don’t have enough resources for MAiD requests, then it may be time to build stand-alone “centres of excellence” for MAiD services.

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