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Posts Tagged "lives"

14Aug

Ian Mulgrew: Former B.C. Supreme Court judge’s vibrant voice lives on in lively letters

by admin

Even in the age of email, letters seduce us — the intimacy of a personal voice drawing us in, often revealing as much about the author as the subject, offering a glimpse, a sliver of a life.

And correspondence penned nearly half a century ago by retired B.C. Supreme Court Justice Harry Boyle vibrantly evokes the quotidian aspects of his legal practice and its emotional toll.

Believe it or not, there was a time in this province when lawyers charged only $30 a day — and wore their humanity on their sleeves, sometimes representing an offender on a whim out of compassion:

“This appeal was not authorized by legal aid … Since it was not authorized, I have submitted no account with respect to it apart from adding one to ‘days in court’ on the enclosed form. If you feel this is sneaking around the end, then please deduct $30.”

Now 93, Boyle came from a legal family in Penticton, but he started in journalism in the 1950s at The Whitehorse Star.

He worked in a dilapidated garage under the motto Illegitimus non carborundum, mock Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

A visit to Yukon by federal officials triggered Boyle’s headline: “Better class of drinkers in town.”

He turned to law in 1963.

Vancouver lawyer Don Rosenbloom laughed upon hearing I had found a selection of his former’s partner’s letters published as a booklet in the mid-1990s by the Legal Services Society for young lawyers.


Judge Harry Boyle in his office in 1980 with a poster of W.C. Fields behind him. The photo caption at the time noted: ‘British Columbia provincial court judge Harry Boyle has little in common with W.C. Fields but they share a reputation for having a sense of humour.’

Steve Bosch /

PNG files

When a letterhead envelope from their office arrived at legal aid in the ’70s, Rosenbloom recalled: “They were always disappointed if it contained my bills instead of his — his letters were cherished.”

Boyle wrote them to Frank Maczko, then executive director of legal aid, explaining his fees.

Sometimes it was a brief note: “I am billing for trial since I prepared for trial and was un-notified of the stay until the date for trial. If this is not cricket (or baseball as played by the New York Mets), I expect you will advise me.”

The wry epistles, however, capture Boyle’s personality and, read today, offer us a chance to ask whether the profession has significantly changed.

Some things, like winning a friendly judge, certainly haven’t: “I appeared to fix a date on Dec. 14 and looked up to see one of the pleasantest sights a man could see in court — his honour Judge (Nicholas) Mussallem on the bench.

“Seizing the opportunity, since in my opinion, they had Mr. B. cold, I pleaded him guilty. He was fined $75 despite a lengthy record and given till Feb. 1 to pay and further advised by his hour Judge Mussallem — if he found it difficult to pay by that time to be sure and let him know.”

Services for the mentally ill remains problematic, if less harrowing.

Boyle recounted the case of a client, accused of attacking his wife and baby with a knife, remanded to the old Colony Farm facility for the criminally insane for psychiatric tests.

“I visited him out there,” he wrote, “and after the brief period of my own visit I wondered whether I was crazy. It is an appalling place to send someone whose sanity or insanity is in doubt.”

He managed to have the man released after a terrifying 30 days in bedlam:

“In the meantime, I understand that his friends got together and bought him a one-way ticket to New Zealand, which is his home, and where all concerned hope that relatives will take over and see that he is provided with psychiatric care. I have not yet informed the court that the bird has flown, but plan to do so in the hope that they will agree that his flight is the best practical answer to the problem … I can’t help feeling it is another comment on the system when the best possible solution is a one-way ticket out of town.”

Like the addled, the addicted continue to pose a dilemma.

Boyle worried they also had “a fly-paper-like quality to which all the minor sections of the criminal code seem to adhere.”

A judge had the power back then to order committal for treatment — but there was an abundance of loopholes and no easy moral answer for a defence lawyer like Boyle:

“If a man has been picked up six or eight times ‘dead drunk in the gutter’ who wins if he’s kept out of (treatment)? Providing that the evidence with respect to the circumstances of the subject’s life is accurate and properly produced, then there seems to be a fairly strong argument for drying him out for his own protection.

“On the other hand, perhaps a man has the right to choose his own path to disability and death, but it puts the lawyer in a tough spot if he takes the drinker by the hand and leads him through a legal loophole to self-destruction.”


Provincial court Judge Harry Boyle, in 1979, kept the Crown in mind in his deliberations, evidenced by the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging above him.

Ralph Bower /

PNG files

The system still runs on recidivism: The same people over and over again, an inter-generational revolving door.

Consider Boyle’s relationship with a 13-year-old boy facing incarceration: “Donald, what would keep you out of trouble?”

“Horseback riding,” the adolescent replied.

“That’s the first simple answer I have ever heard to the delinquency question,” Boyle wrote, before paraphrasing Richard III: “I wish I had a horse.”

That boy was soon back in his office, repeatedly.

Barely an adult, he was prosecuted for stabbing a man in a “friendly” drunken Skid Road dispute; Boyle noted Donald helped the victim back to his hotel and provided medical attention.

“Some of the merriment goes out of the situation when you realize that when Donald was a little boy his father used to take him down to the basement and with the family forced to look on, would beat Donald with a 2×4 until he bled as a disciplinary example … He is a likeable, intelligent, young man …”

At 19, Donald was up for strong-arming a store owner.

“He was up to five caps a day in heroin, but somewhere inside there are still strong streaks of decency, honesty and humour. He and his younger brother used to stay in the movies until they closed and then sleep in the lobbies of skid road hotels. When his brother was 12, the brother was taken to Brannan Lake (School for Boys in Nanaimo) and he was subsequently adopted by a good strong family. Since then the brother has become an outstanding athlete and a good student.

“Donald did not get quite the same breaks, and what breaks he did get he couldn’t put to the best use. I get flashes occasionally when I see my own kids sitting at the counsel table and the whole thing really comes home.”

Boyle’s letters are poignant reminders that little has changed in the practise of criminal law, especially the heartache.

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twitter.com/ianmulgrew

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19Jul

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

by admin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jason Payne /

PNG

A senseless death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He invited me to visit any time.


Zach Plett.

PNG

Low tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PNG

Problems left unresolved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[email protected]

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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27Jun

Supporting successful lives through independent communication

by admin

Adults with severe communication disabilities will be supported in living with independence and as full participants in their communities through $9.3 million for augmentative communication technology and professional support.

The Province will provide the funding over three years to Communication Assistance for Youth and Adults (CAYA) to update aging equipment and client systems, and to continue helping people with severe communication disabilities.

“Speaking aids help people with communication disabilities to overcome barriers to full participation in their communities,” said Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. “This funding supports CAYA’s important role in providing services and technologies that help hundreds of British Columbians to communicate and participate equally in all aspects of their own lives.”

CAYA gives a voice to people through a provincewide program that supports adults aged 19 years and older who require an augmentative alternative communication system due to speech that is not functional for daily communication. Over the past three years, CAYA has provided new or replacement communications technology to about 820 clients annually.

“This new funding ensures that adults in B.C. living with communication disabilities, as a result of conditions ranging from autism to ALS, will continue to have the supports and technology to communicate independently with their families, co-workers, friends and neighbours,” said Jeff Riley, program manager, CAYA.

“Communication assistance is more than just handing out devices,” said Glenda Hyatt Watson, a CAYA client. “It is also equipping people with specialized strategies and supports to deal with challenging situations, such as when you find yourself in a serious health-care situation without access to your communication system.”

The funding was announced at a CAYA demonstration and information session for alternative and augmentative communication technology, highlighting B.C.’s diversity and the importance of accessibility for everyone in the province.

Learn More:

B.C. government accessibility: www.gov.bc.ca/accessibility

Communication Assistance for Youth and Adults (CAYA): https://cayabc.org/

CAYA client stories: https://www.cayabc.org/client-stories/


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5Jun

Rapid response to B.C.’s overdose crisis saved thousands of lives: report

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Firefighters and BC Ambulance paramedics in Vancouver take a woman who suffered an fentanyl and heroin overdose to the hospital, in January, 2018.


Jason Payne / PNG

A study by the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the rapid harm-reduction response to the province’s overdose crisis saved more than 3,000 lives during the peak of the emergency.

Researchers looked at a 20-month period from April 2016 to December 2017 when 2,177 people died of an overdose, concluding that the number of deaths in B.C. would have been two and a half times higher.

The study gives three programs the credit: take-home naloxone which saved almost 1,600 lives, the expansion of overdose prevention services, stopping 230 deaths, and increased access to treatment that saved 590 lives.

The centre’s Dr. Mike Irvine led the research and says despite the highly toxic street drug supply, the average probability of death from accidental overdose decreased because of the services provided to keep people alive.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy says the study speaks to the importance of harm reduction and the services are essential to turning the tide in the overdose crisis.

The province declared a health emergency over the crisis in April 2016 and the centre says in a news release that overdose remains the leading cause of preventable death in the province.


A Vancouver Fire Department Medical Unit responds to an unresponsive man after the male injected a drug, in the Downtown Eastside at Vancouver in December 2016.

RICHARD LAM /

PNG

Irvine says their study is the among the first evidence that shows a combination of harm reduction and treatment interventions can save lives.

“It is useful information for jurisdictions considering how to respond to the overdose crisis.”

Overdose deaths increased rapidly in 2016, coinciding with the introduction of the powerful opioid fentanyl into the illicit drug supply.

Fentanyl or its analogues were detected in 87 per cent of all illicit overdose deaths last year.

Jane Buxton, the harm reduction lead at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says the take-home naloxone program was already in place when the crisis emerged, allowing them to quickly expand the program to help save lives.

“Since the program ramped up in mid-2016 in response to the ongoing crisis, we’ve distributed between 4,000 and 5,000 kits every month.”

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