Posts Tagged "millions"


Gone Country for a cause: Twin brothers raise millions for cancer charities | CBC News

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On a warm, breezy Thursday at the Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre in Surrey, B.C., a small army of volunteers is hard at work. 

Tables and chairs are meticulously placed, giant banners are hung and the bar is starting to come together. A small mountain of beverages grows as case upon case is hand-bombed onto the main stage. 

The seventh annual Gone Country music festival is taking shape, and on Saturday, this mostly empty field will be transformed into a full-throttle, sold-out, country music barn burner featuring headliners Aaron Pritchett and George Canyon. 

Gone Country is sure to be a boot-stompin, hootin’ and hollerin’ good time. But the event’s mission is unique. Gone Country is firstly, and most importantly, a grassroots cancer charity fundraiser. All proceeds go toward fighting cancer and supporting those who live with it. Over its lifespan, organizers say the event has raised more than $2.2m for cancer charities. 

Chris and Jamie Ruscheinski greet the crowd at the 2018 Gone Country event. (Angela Ruscheinski)

And at the helm of the organized chaos are Chris and Jamie Ruscheinski. In the midst of the action, they’re answering relentless phone calls and being peppered with volunteer questions. They’re delegating with speed and precision.  

Jamie and Chris are twin brothers, Fraser Valley realtors and in this setting, they’re two of the most prolific grassroots cancer charity fundraisers around. They’ve been at it for 20 years.

Jamie says they’re getting close to the $3 million mark over that time span. With the funds the twins have raised to date, they’ve helped renovate the Easter Seals House in Vancouver, established a music therapy room at Abbotsford Canucks Place Children’s Hospice and purchased equipment for the B.C. Cancer Agency.

The Ruscheinskis’ passion for cancer fundraising comes from a deeply personal place. They lost their mother and one of their best friends to the disease.

“When our mom was sick, her rent was $650 a month and her disability check with $675 a month. She had a long fight with breast cancer for about three and a half years … and she wasn’t able to work,” Jamie said.  

Chris and Jamie Ruscheinski address their team of Gone Country volunteers at the Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre in Surrey. (Angela Ruscheinski)

“And so we started doing a couple of cancer fundraisers and … when she passed away we just kept doing it and wanted to help some people that were going through the same stuff. Now it’s turned into this huge outdoor event with 6,000 people. It’s crazy.”

With this year’s Gone Country event being sold out for more than a month now, including the $1,200 per table VIP section, the Ruscheinski twins say they’re on track for their goal of raising $750,000 at this year’s event alone. 

And despite their own considerable efforts, they’re quick to credit their volunteers for the fundraising success. If Gone Country is a fundraising freight train, the volunteers are the fuel that moves it. 

“Some people have a soccer team or some sort of sports team that they play with. We are just one giant fundraising team now. There’s about 30 of us and everybody has a specific job,” Jamie said. 

“There’s one person in charge of ice for the event. You don’t think about keeping drinks cold for six thousand people, but you need one person in charge of that entirely. Everybody has their duties and we rely on all of them and it’s year seven now so they’re all really good at it which is fantastic.”

Ron Bate is a long-time friend of the Ruscheinskis and a volunteer with Gone Country. He says it’s the twins’ demeanour and focus that attracts people to volunteer their time.

It’s a real grassroots organization that comes from the heart. It comes from a real place,” Bate said. 

“They are so casual and welcoming. The way that they conduct themselves personally is the way that they conduct themselves professionally and that’s why it’s become such a success.They’re the type of people that people are drawn to, and they want to help.”


Throngs of country music fans crowd the stage at the 2018 Gone Country event. (Angela Ruscheinski)

But even with that big volunteer push, the Ruscheinski’s remain the events’ lifeblood. To put the 12-months-every-year level of commitment into perspective, two months ago, Chris started booking artists for next year’s event. 

The sold out  Gone Country music festival runs Saturday, July 20, at 2 p.m. at the Bill Reid Millennium Amphitheatre in Surrey.

Listen to the full story here:

The 7th annual Gone Country music festival kicks off this weekend in Surrey … and it’s a boot-stompin’ good time you can feel proud of. 6:19

With files from The Early Edition

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Millions approved for bike lane projects across B.C. | CBC News

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B.C.’s provincial government has approved grants totalling over $10 million for cycling infrastructure projects across the province. 

The grants, administered through the BikeBC program, help communities pay for new bikeways, or improve safety and accessibility on existing pathways. 

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said funding for the program has increased to $10 million this fiscal year from $6 million.

Municipalities apply for the grants through the cycling infrastructure website. 

The grants cover 50 per cent of the eligible project’s costs in larger communities, and up to 75 per cent in communities with fewer than 15,000 people.

This year’s projects — 28 in total — are spread across the province from Vancouver Island to Northern B.C.

Major projects in Saanich, North Vancouver

Some major projects include $1 million for the District of Saanich for buffered bike lanes between McKenzie Avenue and Torquay Drive, and another $1 million for the District of Tofino for a separated, multi-use path from the Tofino Information Centre to the northern boundary of the Pacific Rim National Park.

The Regional District of East Kootney will receive $1 million for a separated 25-kilometre multi-use pathway from Invermere to Fairmont Hot Springs.

Vancouver is receiving $1 million for upgrades to the downtown bike network. North Vancouver will get $1 million toward the Casano-Loutet cycling and pedestrian bridge over Highway 1. 

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TransLink still losing millions to fare evaders but it’s not tracking numbers

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Three years after spending $200 million to install fare gates at its SkyTrain and Canada Line stations, TransLink hasn’t collected any data to show they are cutting down on fare evasion. Meanwhile, the number of tickets related to fare gate offences has barely slowed.

TransLink acknowledges it continues to lose revenue to fare evaders but hasn’t measured evasion since 2014, said spokeswoman Jillian Drews. She said TransLink is studying ways to track fare evasion including “manual counting using CCTV, broadening the use of automatic people counters and programming fare gates to count the number of times fare gate panels are forced.”

“There are a lot of smart people working on it,” said Drews, but they haven’t been able to estimate the number of fare dodgers because “they don’t tap in and out.”

“It’s ridiculous that they have put so much of our money into this and yet they don’t bother to check and actually monitor how well these gates are working,” said Kris Sims, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“There is strong evidence our fare gates deter fare evaders,” said Drews, pointing out that annual fare revenue rose by $30 million for the first nine months the fare gates were operational on the SkyTrain and Canada lines from April to December 2016. The Evergreen extension to the Millennium Line opened in December 2016, which makes revenue comparisons difficult in the ensuing years.

Tampering with fare gates — including following a paying passenger through the gates without tapping a Compass card — has become such a problem that Transit Police have been given new powers to ticket that specific offence.

The tickets cover a wide range of offences but the “majority of these incidents are associated to officers’ active observations and enforcement … of the misuse of fare gates,” according to a report presented to the TransLink board in December by Transit Police.

Those violation tickets have climbed 23 per cent under the Provincial Transit Conduct Law banning fare gate misuse, while violations under the law banning other behaviour on or near TransLink property, including misusing an emergency exit, selling or trading proof of purchase, or obstructing or lying to a police officer are up 39 per cent. Each violation carries a fine of $173 for those ticketed.

Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said it was hoped once people saw they would be ticketed for gate crashing, the number of offences would drop.

But instead they went up: There were about 6,600 of the new violation tickets issued in 2016. That jumped to 14,000 in 2017 and 16,400 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the number of fines issued by Transit Police for fare evasion specifically has dropped the past two years. There were 23,400 fines for fare evasion in 2016, 19,000 in 2017 and 14,500 in 2018.

Drews said TransLink did 850,000 security checks last year for fares on buses and at bus loops.

In Toronto last week, the city’s auditor general released her audit on fare evasion on the Toronto Transit Commission and found it accounted for 5.4 per cent of total revenue, more than twice what the TTC estimated. She said TTC lost $60 million in revenue and that was “probably understated.” The TTC audit found fare evasion to be highest — 15 per cent — on streetcars, where there is unsupervised all-door boarding.

The TTC board chair called the evasion levels “critical” and “frustrating” and the mayor said he, too, was frustrated and mused about publicly shaming offenders.

The TTC accepted the auditor general’s 27 recommendations, including hiring 45 more fare inspectors, issuing more tickets (fines range between $235 and $435) and developing a public education campaign.

Warren Mirko, a communications consultant and regular user of public transit, said there may have been a drop at first, but “I see more and more people (illegally) going through the fare gates every day,” including students with knapsacks, people who appear homeless and even well-dressed people.

“When you see other people doing it and you see that nobody’s watching, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Stephen Rees, a former TransLink planner who has blogged extensively on fare evasion, said there will always be evaders.

“(The new gates) were supposed to eliminate it, but you just get a different kind because they get better at it,” he said.

But he said it’s not cost-effective to spend more to prevent it than it costs in losses, and if you increase the number of fare inspectors, it could intimidate and drive away paying users.

Rees said there are ways to track fare evasion, including viewing CCTV footage as the Toronto audit did, but he added, “What gets measured, gets improved. So by not measuring, you’re not required to improve it.”

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Daphne Bramham: B.C. opioid deaths up despite spending millions

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2018 was British Columbia’s deadliest year for illicit drug overdose deaths despite the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into mitigating the continuing public health crisis.

An average of four British Columbians died each day, a rate that has resulted in a drop in the predicted life expectancy for everyone living here.

British Columbia — and Vancouver, in particular — is the centre of the national crisis even though it has long been the testing ground for harm-reduction strategies that have included free needles, supervised injection sites and opioid replacement therapies including methadone, Suboxone and, more recently, pharmaceutical grade heroin.

B.C. has led Canada in getting free naloxone — the antidote for opioid overdoses — into the hands of emergency responders and users. It has set up free drug-testing sites.

Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver funded an expansion of a pilot project to provide pharmaceutical-grade heroin to users on the Downtown Eastside. Soon, addicts may be able to get their daily dose from vending machines.

Yet, the number of the dead hasn’t decreased, it’s only plateaued.

Also unchanged are the characteristics of the majority who died. Men aged 30 to 59 made up 80 per cent of the dead. Of those who died, 86 per cent were at home alone. Four out of every five had contact with the health care system within a year of their deaths, with 45 per cent reporting having pain. Of those dead men, 44 per cent were employed in the trades, transport or service industries.

But Vancouver is unique. It has the highest rate of overdose deaths and those deaths are concentrated in the Downtown Eastside in the low-barrier shelters, supportive housing units and SRO rooming houses that exist cheek-by-jowl with supervised injection sites, naloxone stations and testing sites.

Heading into the fourth year of a public health emergency, politicians need to set a new course.

The course that Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s chief medical health officer, plans to recommend is even more harm reduction. She said it will include “de facto decriminalization,” more pharmaceutical grade heroin, more drug testing sites, more Suboxone, more naloxone, more supervised injection sites.

On Thursday, Henry did admit that her plan will require that she “evaluate it effectively so that there are not unintended consequences.”

Chief among those unintended consequences is that if British Columbia goes it alone, it would be at risk of becoming even more of a magnet for users from across Canada, even from other countries. What drug user, let alone addict, could resist the allure of free, pharmaceutical grade drugs?

There is also a financial risk to going it alone. Last year, British Columbians’ bill for methadone and Suboxone was $90 million. The number of people on the opioid replacement therapy had risen to 22,012 people from 11,377 in 2009 and is predicted to double again by 2020-21.

British Columbians are already paying for more than 300 people who get injectable hydromorphone (pharmaceutical heroin) daily at a cost of approximately $25,000 a person every year and in January, 50 Vancouverites were enrolled in a pilot program where they get it in the cheaper pill form, which they then crush and inject under supervision.

Police speak to a man and woman on East Hastings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Thursday, Feb 7, 2019. More people fatally overdosed in British Columbia last year compared with 2017 despite efforts to combat the province’s public health emergency, the coroner says.



While a provincial strategy is needed, the crisis isn’t unique to B.C. From 2016 until June 2018, more than 9,000 Canadians have died of overdoses largely from fentanyl-laced drugs.

The opioid crisis isn’t just a big city problem. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, hospitalization rates were 2.5 times higher in small communities of 50,000 to 100,000 compared with Canada’s largest cities.

Across Canada, hospitalization for opioid-related poisoning has risen 27 per cent in the past five years to an average of 17 a day.

While there is no good data on damage suffered by survivors of near-fatal overdoses, it’s estimated that 90 per cent of drug-overdose patients in intensive care have some sort of brain trauma. The trauma ranges from temporary memory loss to complete loss of brain function.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe, left, looks on as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference about the release of the latest provincial statistics by the BC Coroners Service at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 7, 2019.



A comprehensive national plan is required. But it must focus not only on keeping people alive, but on helping them to get healthy.

Decriminalization — as opposed to legalization — might be part of the answer. Certainly, evidence from Portugal, which was the first in the world to decriminalize possession of small amounts of all drugs, indicates that it can be effective.

But Portugal’s success has come only because decriminalization is accompanied by strict enforcement of the amounts that individuals can possess as well as a dissuasion system that provides both a carrot and a stick to get users into treatment.

The opioid crisis is complicated. It’s been fuelled by over-prescription of highly effective pain reducing synthetic opiates, whose manufacturer convinced physicians that it wasn’t addictive.

Those synthetics then made their way to the street and while some users are unaware that their illicit drugs are laced with fentanyl, others go looking for its intense and often fatal high.

So far, staunching the flow of those drugs on to the street has proven to be little more effective than the harm reduction measures aimed at keeping users safe.

For this crisis to abate, there needs to concerted efforts on all fronts by all governments. It won’t be cheap, but then neither is the alternative.

[email protected]

Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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Public Guardian seeks to manage millions for B.C.’s ‘most vulnerable’ child

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At 11, he was tasered by police.

By 13, he was identified as one of B.C.’s “most vulnerable” children in a scathing report on the child welfare system.

And last year, the province agreed to a record-breaking multi-million dollar settlement for his future care.

Now — months after the young man reached his 19th birthday — the Public Guardian and Trustee has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to have him declared incapable of managing his own affairs.

If granted, the order would give the Public Guardian legal and financial responsibility for the man’s estate.

It’s a unique situation which the woman who highlighted the teenager’s plight says should be navigated carefully in order to avoid having one arm of government pay millions to another, while the individual whose future is at stake lives like a lost cause under 24-hour supervision.

“This is a very important case and this individual is a very significant individual — as is anyone else. But the level of jeopardy of his liberty, his choice in his life is enormous,” says Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s former representative for children and youth.

“I want him to have peace in his life. I want him to get support. I want him to have siblings, friends, family, community and to have every opportunity to address the damage that was done. That was my wish for him when I had his case. But knowing how these systems work, it’s haunting when you think about the power of the state here.”

Neglect, abuse, isolation, cold showers

According to the Public Guardian’s petition, the young Aboriginal man turned 19 in June. He can’t be identified because of a publication ban.

The petition claims medical and factual evidence prove he can’t look after himself or his finances. The Public Guardian may be appointed to take on that role when no appropriate family or friends are willing, able and suitable to act.

Former B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wrote a scathing report about the youth’s time in government care. (CBC)

Turpel-Lafond, who is now a law professor at the University of B.C., wrote about the young man in a 2013 report entitled Who Protected Him? How B.C.’s Child Welfare System Failed One of Its Most Vulnerable Children.

Her investigation painted a horrific picture of his childhood: his parents raised him for two years in an atmosphere of violence, neglect and substance abuse; he then bounced between foster homes; one family kept him locked in a shed; another punished bed-wetting with cold showers and bad behaviour with hot sauce in his mouth.

A succession of foster parents used unsanctioned “safe rooms” to punish him. Police were first called to deal with his tantrums when he was eight. He was tasered when he was 11 after he stabbed a group home manager with a knife.

In the wake of Turpel-Lafond’s report, the public guardian hired outside counsel to sue the province and a foster parent on behalf of the youth.

The case resulted in a settlement last February that included $2.75 million to pay for legal costs and the establishment of a trust fund that is not allowed to dip below $3 million over the course of the youth’s lifetime.

‘Too easy to blame the child and the youth’

Turpel-Lafond says she believes the settlement is the largest of its kind ever reached in Canada and will likely ultimately be worth tens of millions. She says the money at stake should trigger extra legal scrutiny.

Police tasered the youth when he was 11 years old during an incident in which he stabbed a group home manager with a knife. (CBC News)

“There should be a special kind of accountability when you have someone who’s been through foster care and been abused. They turn 19 and you go to declare them incapacitated; my feeling is there should be more accountability around how are they doing,” she says.

“Someone should be overseeing that as opposed to those who are administering those funds. Checks and balances need to be there. I’m not saying there’s problems. It’s just too easy to blame the child and the youth.”

In a statement, the Public Guardian and Trustee said the office would have an obligation under the law to “act in the best interests of the adult represented” if the petition is granted.

The office won’t comment on the specifics of the case, but said that if a person is incarcerated, the Public Guardian would still retain the authority to act in their place.

‘Support workers ‘shadowed’ his movements’

According to the court documents, the youth has mostly lived at a Lower Mainland residential facility since 2012. He is the lone occupant. Support workers help him and monitor his activities 24 hours a day.

The youth was tasered in 2011 by police after he stabbed a manager at this group home in Prince George. (CBC)

“During his residence there, he was permitted to leave but when he did, two support workers ‘shadowed’ his movements to monitor his activities to try to ensure his safety,” the petition reads.

“(He) engages in high risk behaviour including seeking and taking illicit drugs but not medications prescribed for him, drinking hard alcohol, seeking sexual encounters in public places and walking non-attentively on roads with moving traffic.”

When he turned 19, support and services for the young man were handed from the Ministry of Children and Family Development to Community Living B.C..

The public guardian claims the youth has overdosed on illicit drugs, engaged in threatening behaviour and committed crimes that have resulted in criminal prosecutions and convictions.

He was detained and certified under the Mental Health Act in the spring and has been admitted to hospital several times since, most recently in July for a drug overdose.

‘A very sweet, personal young man’

The court file includes letters from two psychiatrists and a family doctor.

One gives a “guarded” prognosis for the future. Another says his “(intellectual disability), impulsivity and significant deficits in organizing means that he is not able to budget, plan and manage money even on a weekly basis.”

But there is hope.

“It is important to point out that (name withheld) can be a very sweet, personal young man,” writes another psychiatrist.

Turpel-Lafond says that given the amount of money available for the young man’s future care, the system should be able to come up with some creative ways to kindle that kind of possibility.

“It’s expected in our society that we’re going to have complex cases. But kids that are abused and maltreated in extreme ways, they don’t just recover. They need support and they need lifelong support,” she says.

“And it’s hard to point within the ministry for children and families or Community Living B.C. to the branch or arm that has that expertise.”

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