Rates of cervical pre-cancer in women have been cut by more than half in British Columbia and the province’s school immunization program for the human papillomavirus is being given credit for the results.
A study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases says those who took part in the program to prevent the sexually transmitted infection had a 57 per cent reduction in incidence of pre-cancer cells compared to unvaccinated women.
The program has been in place in public schools for 12 years and the first groups of women who were vaccinated in Grade 6 entered into the cervix screening program, allowing researchers to compare outcomes with those who hadn’t been vaccinated.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a senior research adviser at B.C. Women’s Hospital, says the study adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the positive impact of the vaccine.
HPV is common in both men and women.
It can be easily spread through sexual contact and while most HPV infections clear up on their own, some pre-cancerous lesions can develop into cancer if not treated.
The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer says HPV immunization is offered to children in all provinces and territories, generally between grades 4 and 7.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the lower rates of pre-cancer shows the importance of having children immunized early.
“The dramatic success — pre-cancer rates dropping by over half, shows us the importance of having children immunized early to protect their lives,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
HPV has been identified as the cause of almost all cervical cancers.
The province implemented a voluntary publicly funded school-based HPV immunization program in 2008.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said the study reinforces the importance of such school-based programs.
“The decline we are seeing in HPV-related cancer rates highlights how strong partnerships between school districts and health authorities can significantly improve the well-being of B.C. students.”
Syphilis infections in B.C. have hit a 30-year high, due to a sudden increase of more than 30 per cent.
While the majority of infections are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, infections among women 15-49 years old increased by nearly 40 per cent.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recorded 919 new cases of the sexually transmitted infection last year, including two cases of congenital syphilis in newborn babies, who can acquire it from their mother during pregnancy or birth.
The bacteria can be passed to anyone through oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact and through skin-to-skin contact with a lesion or chancre.
In response to the increase in infections among women, B.C. will temporarily screen all pregnant women for syphilis around the time of childbirth. Women are already routinely screened during the first trimester of pregnancy.
“This is an interim measure in response to an outbreak and aligns with actions taken by other provinces to prevent a serious infection that can harm both mother and baby,” said Dr. Mark Gilbert, medical director for Clinical Prevention Services at the BCCDC.
Alberta and Manitoba have each reported more than 10 cases of congenital syphilis in the past year and have also adopted screening in early and late pregnancy.
Left untreated during pregnancy, syphilis can lead to low birth weight, deafness, deformity, premature birth and stillbirth.
In sexually active adults, possible symptoms of an infection include a hard, painless sore on the genitals, mouth or anus, a skin rash on the back, chest hands or genitals, fever, swelling of the glands and fatigue.
Some people show no symptoms of infection.
Using condoms during sex will reduce the chances of acquiring or transmitting an infection, but it can be transmitted through contact with parts of the body not protected by a condom.
Pregnant women and people most at-risk of syphilis infection should be tested, especially if you have multiple sexual partners or show any symptoms, according to the BCCDC.
BCCDC also operates a discreet testing service for STIs called GetCheckedOnline, which allows uses to register and then deliver a sample directly to a lab for testing. Users can be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C.
When wildfire smoke enveloped Metro Vancouver last summer, Nikki Rogers noticed soot collecting on the walls of her White Rock condo and closed her windows to keep the bad air out.
“I tried to stay inside because I did not enjoy being outside,” recalled Rogers, who works in a hair salon. “I would never do any kind of exercising or jogging or walking outside because anything that promotes heavy breathing outdoors would be terrible.”
This summer she will take even greater precautions because she is pregnant. And this is the first year that Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver have included pregnant women on their list of people especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, along with asthmatics, the elderly, and people with chronic heart and lung conditions.
Rogers said she will research the best way to keep herself and her baby safe, but laments that wildfire smoke is one more thing expectant mothers will likely need to worry about this July and August.
“We shouldn’t have months of just smoke in the air. That’s just awful,” she said. “Every year it gets worse and worse. It is just getting out of hand.”
Experts believe British Columbians are about to experience another hot, smoke-filled summer, basing their prediction on the higher-than-average temperatures and drought so far in 2019 — a trend that is expected to continue.
“We expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest where we are,” said a Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer, Francis Ries.
Just in the last week, a stubborn wildfire on steep terrain near Lions Bay snarled traffic on the busy Sea to Sky Highway for days, and a fire broke out Monday near Pender Harbour on the Sechelt Peninsula.
Fires started earlier in 2019
Hotter, drier conditions contributed to fires in early spring, far sooner than in other years. Since April 1, the B.C. Wildfire Service has recorded 377 fires that have burned more than 110 square kilometres.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies — a provincial state of emergency was declared both years over wildfires — and much of the haze in Metro Vancouver drifted in from big fires in other parts of B.C.
The smoke led officials to issue a record number of air-quality advisories, and give extensive advice on how residents should try to remain healthy.
This year, local health and municipal agencies added pregnant women to the list of those most vulnerable to the smoke after lobbying by Sarah Henderson, an environmental health scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
She advocated the change based on an “evidence review” and academic research that showed mothers exposed to extreme wildfire smoke give birth to smaller babies.
A University of California, Berkeley study found that pregnant women breathing in wildfire smoke during their second trimester in 2003, a terrible fire season in Southern California, had babies that were about 10 grams lighter than women not exposed to smoke. The results were small but “significant,” researchers found, because they showed “climate change can affect health.”
Ten grams would be enough to “push some babies into a low-birth-weight category,” added Henderson, noting undersized infants can face challenges.
Based on pregnancy and population statistics, Henderson predicts a repeat of last summer’s smoky skies could lead to 20 babies in B.C. being born a bit smaller. It’s not a big number, but one that could hurt 20 families.
“And that is kind of the tip of the iceberg in some ways because nobody has looked at preterm birth or malformations, if that smoke exposure happens to pregnant women,” added Henderson, who is also an associate professor in the UBC school of population and public health.
She has applied for funding to do her own study of the outcome of women who were pregnant in B.C.’s Interior, where the smoke was the thickest during the last two summers.
Wildfire smoke is a toxic, chemical soup
Wildfire smoke contains many pollutants, but the most dangerous to human health is fine particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that are generally 2.5 micrometers or less in size — about one-30th the diameter on a strand of hair.
“The very small particles can be inhaled deeply into your lungs and then get into your blood stream, and irritate and lead to inflammation,” said Emily Peterson, a Vancouver Coastal Health environmental health scientist.
A typical summer day in Metro Vancouver would feature 10 or 15 micrograms a cubic metre of these fine particulates, but during the height of last summer’s smoky skies the quantity jumped tenfold.
Smoky air makes it harder for lungs to get oxygen into the blood stream, and it can irritate the respiratory system and cause inflammation in other parts of the body. Common symptoms include eye irritation, sore throat, coughing, wheezy breathing and headaches, and there is an increased risk of infections for some, such as pneumonia in older people and ear infections in children.
At-risk people — including those with chronic lung or heart conditions and now pregnant women — should “pay attention to the smoke much earlier” this summer, said the VCH medical health officer, Dr. James Lu.
“We do start with the vulnerable population, but if the smoke (concentration) is high enough we do encourage people who are normally healthy to take precautions as well,” Lu added.
Among the precautions backed by medical experts: Stay inside places with filtered air, such as most community centres, libraries or malls; drive with the windows up, the air conditioning on, and the recirculate-air button activated to reduce the amount of smoke getting into your car; and drink lots of water.
Because most people typically spend 90 per cent of their days indoors, Henderson highly recommends buying a portable air cleaner, which plugs into a wall socket and can be moved from room to room. These purifiers remove 40 to 80 per cent of the fine particles found in smoke, but people with respiratory conditions are encouraged to buy higher-performing HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, the Centre for Disease Control says.
If people are outside and want to wear a mask, Henderson said the best option is a well-fitted N95 respirator. A surgical mask can offer limited protection. A cloth mask is close to useless at keeping out the fine particles in smoke.
Doctors’ visits, asthma prescriptions skyrocket
Most people can manage irritations from smoke without medical attention, but those with severe symptoms should see a doctor.
Wildfire smoke caused a slight rise last summer in the number of people visiting Vancouver Coastal Health emergency rooms, although the increase wasn’t even across all communities: North Vancouver and Richmond had more hospital visits, while other cities did not, said Lu.
“What we did see were increased visits with respiratory symptoms, asthma and people short of breath,” the medical health officer told Postmedia.
The B.C. Health Ministry could not provide information about higher traffic in emergency rooms in other health regions, saying its data does not let it differentiate between treatment specifically for wildfire smoke and other respiratory issues.
However, Centre for Disease Control statistics suggest medical services across B.C. were harder hit when wildfire smoke was heavy. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, 45,000 extra doses of asthma medication were dispensed and there were 10,000 extra visits to doctors for asthma-related conditions in B.C., Henderson said.
“It does stack up, the impact is quite extreme,” she said. “On a very smoky day in Metro Vancouver, there were 350 extra doctor visits.”
The Centre for Disease Control tabulates this information daily in the B.C. Asthma Prediction System, which was launched after previous severe wildfire seasons. The surveillance system tracks asthma-related doctor visits and the prescriptions filled for lung conditions, and is used to warn health officials about the anticipated effects of wildfire smoke.
This summer is also expected to experience a boost in asthma treatments, given what happened in May after a significant wildfire near Fort St. John. “We had this one day of smoke in Fort St John, and the asthma visits skyrocketed,” Henderson said.
During the past few years, Vancouver Costal Health has sent reminders to family physicians to help their patients get ready for smoke expected in July and August — such as ensuring medications for patients with chronic heart or lung disease are up to date.
“I think what we are hoping for is to perhaps educate the public and primary-care physicians in helping people to be prepared so that they don’t really need to come to the emergency,” Lu said.
More than 3,000 ‘smoky skies’ bulletins issued
The provincial Environment Ministry issues “smoky skies” warning bulletins when wildfire smoke gets bad in all areas of the province except Metro Vancouver, which releases its own air quality advisories.
In 2017, 1,646 air-quality advisories were issued across B.C., and that jumped to 1,742 in 2018. There have been 69 warnings so far this year, but that number will likely increase as the majority of 2018 bulletins were issued between late July and late August.
The province monitors 63 regions, and six of those have had 100 or more smoky skies bulletins since 2017 due to bad fires nearby, including Quesnel, Penticton, Prince George, Williams Lake and Kamloops. Other communities in B.C.’s Interior and the Cariboo region have also been hard hit, with just under 100 bulletins issued in the last two years in Vernon, Kelowna, Cranbrook and 100 Mile House.
Only Haida Gwaii, off B.C.’s northwest coast, has had no smoke-related air quality warnings since 2017.
The Environment Ministry was unable to provide information about how many advisories it issued in years with far fewer forest fires than 2017 and 2018. But statistics from Metro Vancouver indicate those two years were off the charts.
There were 22 days in Metro Vancouver last summer with poor air quality due to forest fires, mainly between late July and late August. In 2017, it was 19 days of unhealthy amounts of smoke.
The region’s figures, dating back to 1996, showed no other years with near that number of hazy days, the closest being 10 days in 2009 and 2015, when there were also some forest fires. In several years, including 2011, 2013 and 2016, there were no days with poor air quality.
Metro Vancouver’s advisories show much of the air pollution came from forest fires in other parts of the province, but the air was also affected by some local blazes, such as a bog fire in Richmond and a barge blaze in Surrey.
No air quality advisories have been issued so far in 2019; Metro Vancouver said the smoke residents smelled earlier this week from the Lions Bay fire was “below advisory thresholds.”
Some smoke from the Strip Creek wildfire south of Lions Bay has reached western portions of Metro Vancouver. Air quality levels remain below advisory thresholds however concentrations may vary as winds and wildfire behaviour changes. https://t.co/qyfTAdCeW5
Metro Vancouver’s summer 2019 outlook warns of the potential for increased ozone due to higher temperatures and wildfires. Ozone is described as “good up high; bad nearby” — ozone in the atmosphere protects from UV radiation, but when lower to the ground it damages lungs and destroys ecosystems according to a Colorado State University academic paper, Ozone Levels Elevated in Presence of Wildfire Smoke.
“We’ve seen high ozone levels at monitoring stations which we never, under normal circumstances, expect to have high ozone,” said Metro Vancouver’s Ries. “We almost never have high ozone in the western part of the valley, downtown Vancouver and through into Burnaby,” he said, except in 2017 and 2018 when “the highest ozone levels we received were in that part of the region.”
Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
In 2017, 65,000 British Columbians were evacuated and 509 buildings burned during wildfires that scorched 12,000 square km of land. The 2018 forest fires were even more destructive, consuming 13,500 sq. km — although fewer people were evacuated (6,000) and fewer structures lost (158).
Over the last two summers, the provincial government grossly outspent its wildfire budgets — by 10 times in 2017, when it cost more than $650 million to fight the fires. This year, the NDP is trying to be better prepared for the unknown by nearly doubling its wildfire budget, boosting it from $64 million in 2018 to $101 million.
Smoky summers in Vancouver may become “the new normal,” if not every year then at least every other year, VCH’s Lu predicted.
“We do not expect this to go away. This is going to be a way of life, unfortunately,” he said. “So I think the need to include that in your consideration of how to stay healthy is important.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.4-billion annual commitment to support women’s global health at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday. LINDSEY WASSON / REUTERS
The federal government is pledging to spend $1.4 billion a year “advancing the health and rights” of women, teens and children around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on the first full day of Women Deliver 2019, an international conference on gender equity being held in Vancouver this week.
The aid package renews Canada commitment to women’s health abroad by pledging to extend the current $1.1 billion a year aid beyond 2020, when it was set to expire, and increase it.
Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, called the 10-year commitment “unprecedented.”
She said the announcement means funding is promised under her government until 2030, and the $1.1 billion amount will increase gradually to $1.4 billion a year by 2023.
A 10-year maternal, newborn and child health policy that expires in 2020 had been brought in in 2010 under the previous Conservative government.
Monsef and her staff said most of the extra funding of $300,000 a year would be spent on the “neglected” area of sexual reproductive health rights, including abortion.
When Trudeau announced the funding commitment at the start of Tuesday’s plenary, he said such funding was needed more than ever.
He noted there are 200 million women around the world who have no access to contraceptives, and he and several other presenters at the conference spoke of “pushback” to gains for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
“The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where rights are increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said in a brief announcement.
Speaking in French, he said only women should have the right to determine what is best for their bodies and that abortion “must be accessible, safe and legal.”
“We can’t talk about sexual and reproductive rights in isolation from the rest of women’s health because, just as there are 200 million women who don’t have access to contraception, hundreds more die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.
The Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) called the federal promise of funding an “historic day.”
“The investment will not only ensure that Canada’s long, proud tradition as a leader in women and children’s health continues, it comes with a purposeful approach that addresses critical gaps in the health needs of women and adolescents,” the organization said in a news release.
It said it renews funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health and nutrition and adds aid for the “most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Its acting executive director, Julia Anderson, said in the release that the funding comes at a critical time “when rollbacks on women’s health rights are being acutely felt around the globe.”
Soon after his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that deliver any counselling or abortion services, no matter what nation pays for that service, from receiving U.S. government support.
A number of U.S. states have recently or are considering abortion bans.
After more than three years, dozens of community meetings and testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry will deliver its final report to the federal government at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que. today.
The report, which CBC News obtained before its official release, includes many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.
CBCNews.ca will carry the closing ceremonies live starting at 9 a.m. ET.
Beyond defining the level of violence against these women as a “Canadian genocide,” recommending official language status for Indigenous languages and a guaranteed income for all Indigenous peoples, the commissioners are also recommending sweeping reforms to the justice system and policing in this country, including stiffer penalties for men who carry out spousal or partner abuse.
“We call upon the federal government to include cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse as murder in the first degree under section 222 of the Criminal Code,” the report reads.
First-degree murder is the most serious of all the homicide offences. If convicted, offenders usually spend longer in prison, with fewer chances for parole.
The inquiry said that, too often, murder investigations are “marked by indifference” and negative stereotypes that result in Indigenous deaths and disappearances being investigated and treated differently from other cases — differences that result in fewer solved cases.
And when there is a reasonable chance of a conviction, the inquiry said, Crown attorneys too often are willing to accept plea bargains or reduced charges in exchange for guilty pleas in cases of murdered Indigenous women.
To that end, the inquiry calls for more “Indigenous-specific options” for sentencing, without specifying what exactly the government should change on that front. It called for a strengthening of Gladue principles in Canadian courts, a legal term that stipulates an offender’s Indigenous ancestry should be considered in the sentencing process.
“While the prosecutorial decisions … may well be justified, the frequency with which this occurs understandably raises questions in the Indigenous community, particularly when the sentences on conviction escape the mandatory parole ineligibility of 10 or 25 years on the more serious charges.”
To ensure more equitable outcomes, the inquiry said, more Indigenous judges, justices of the peace and police should be hired to ensure Indigenous voices are in positions of power in the criminal justice system. Failing that, the report said a separate court system for the Indigenous population should be established to lead to more “meaningful and culturally appropriate justice practices …”
Far too many murder cases aren’t solved and don’t make it to trial at all, the inquiry said — and that means the federal funds ought to be bolstering the ranks of Indigenous police forces across the country to ensure better investigations.
“We call upon all governments to immediately and dramatically transform Indigenous policing from its current state as a mere delegation to an exercise in self-governance and self-determination over policing,” the report reads.
“The federal government’s First Nations Policing Program must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework, consistent with international and domestic policing best practices and standards, that must be developed by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.”
The report also calls on provincial and territorial governments to improve the restraining order system by making them “available, accessible, promptly issued and effectively serviced and resourced” — to help Indigenous women stay out of harm’s way when faced with a violent partner.
Beyond facilitating access to restraining orders (or “protection orders,” as they’re often known in Canada) the inquiry is calling on the government to offer guaranteed access to financial support, legislated paid leave and disability benefits and “appropriate trauma care” to Indigenous victims of crime or other traumatic events.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett would not comment on the report’s recommendations ahead of their official release.
“Out of respect for the independent National Inquiry and the families, we won’t comment on the details of the final report before then. After decades of demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, families are finally getting the answers they have been looking for,” a spokesperson for the minister said.
In an interview with CBC News before the news organization obtained a leaked copy of the report, Bennett said the government accepts that the status quo isn’t keeping Indigenous women and girls safe.
She said, however, that the government already has moved ahead with meaningful reforms, including its overhaul of the child and family services regime and a de-colonizing push for greater self-government for Indigenous peoples, part of a larger fight for equality.
“The inquiry is really only a beginning. We’ve got to do the work, and we’ve got to change attitudes, and we’ve got to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls wherever they are in this country,” Bennett said.
“Indigenous women and girls need to be safe wherever they live in this country — whether it’s in their home communities or a downtown urban centre. That’s the only way we’ll stop this national tragedy.”
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Last week, women working in the B.C. legislature won the right to bare arms — that is, to wear sleeveless attire — after publicly rejecting orders from legislature staff to cover up. It was a win for reporters and political staffers, but one that’s geographically limited — nothing has changed within the walls of New Brunswick’s legislature, or Manitoba’s, for example.
The rules of these essential spaces are determined at the whim of speakers and, in B.C.’s case, have not been reconsidered since 1980 — a time when women accounted for just 10 per cent of the seats in the B.C. legislature.
Last Thursday, I was among nine women to proudly bare my arms in the halls to protest vague rules and inconsistent policing of women’s clothing by legislature staff. A quick snap posted to social media kicked off the #RightToBareArms campaign.
In the case of a emergency, please cover your arms <a href=”https://twitter.com/jthornthwaite?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@jthornthwaite</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/righttobarearms?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#righttobarearms</a> <a href=”https://t.co/l9DDVWmiok”>pic.twitter.com/l9DDVWmiok</a>
The B.C. legislature’s speaker questioned the premise of our complaint, claiming the province’s approach “is consistent with practices in place across legislatures in Canada.”
But we know that’s not true. Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wore a sleeveless shift dress enough for it to be a signature outfit. In the House of Commons, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland frequently wears a similar frock.
By Monday, the speaker’s office had reversed its position, stating sleeveless options are an appropriate choice for women. Acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd is conducting a full review of the legislature’s dress code to ensure it is “in line with modern, parliamentary expectations.”
Dress code enforcement may seem trivial to some, but it’s important in terms of ensuring equitable workspaces. Men are not the only ones walking the halls of power in 2019, and the rest of us deserve to do so without worrying about being hassled about the length of our sleeves. As Mitzi Dean, NDP MLA and B.C.’s first parliamentary secretary on gender equity, noted in an interview with CBC: “Women are over-scrutinized and over-policed in terms of how they present what they wear.”
What are the rules?
What men wear in Canadian legislatures has historically been subject to specific rules, but provinces have different interpretations of what constitutes appropriate apparel.
Beauchesne’s Parliamentary Rules and Forms, the book on which many of Canada’s parliamentary rules are based, calls for “conservative, contemporary standards” of dress. Men are required to wear a jacket and tie; when it comes to proper parliamentary attire, Beauchesne’s makes no mention of women.
Like B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador do not have specific dress codes, relying instead on Beauchesne’s standards and the vague notion of “business attire.” Nunavut, calls for members to wear traditional clothing or dress “in a manner appropriate to the dignity of the assembly.”
Jackets, ties and collared shirts are the norm in the House of Commons, but the dress code alsoallows for traditional cultural clothing, military uniforms, clerical collars and kilts.
Therein lies the problem: while the rules for men are usually laid out in black and white, what is appropriate for women is often open to interpretation, leaving us vulnerable to random policing of our outfits.
This can result in demeaning situations that distract women from their work. Some have suggested that the dress code issue could be settled by requiring women to dress as men do — jackets and ties for everyone! A simple fix but not a satisfying one for those of us who prefer progress over hallowed tradition. It’s certainly not a solution to address the fact that legislature dress codes have simply ignored the existence of women, in some cases, for decades.
If rules are to be enforced, they should be clear and accessible to those expected to respect them. But do we really need dress codes for professional adults? I say no — men and women alike are perfectly capable of dressing themselves professionally and with appropriate respect for the gravitas of the legislature. Those who are offended by the sight of women’s bare arms — or men’s for that matter — are free to look elsewhere.
What is worn in the legislature is trivial. What is done, in the chamber and in the halls, is what matters. If a standard is required, what is allowed in the House of Commons should suffice for the rest of Canada’s legislatures.
Women have always had to fight: to be considered people with the right to cast a ballot and to be accepted in institutions built with only men in mind. But it’s 2019 and an incremental, piecemeal approach to women’s equity and inclusion is not good enough.
Legislatures around the country need to take a proactive approach to ensuring their rules and policies don’t make women an afterthought. This means taking a hard look at everything from washroom access to parental leave and making changes where the status quo is outdated or discriminatory. And bonus points for having women lead the way.
In Monday’s memo, B.C.’s speaker noted the legislature is “a workplace setting that has been dominated by one gender for far too long.” That needs to change — and not just in B.C.
This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.
Right, and then the conversation progressed into a kind of inappropriate area?
He kept saying that, oh, she sounded so smart for her age, and he asked about her favourite foods and he kept saying that, “Oh, I’m going to give you my number, I want you to call me, and I want to take you out to eat.”
She was just ignoring all of this, obviously trying to be friendly, but not wanting to make plans to see him.
It kept going on and on and, eventually, I finally stood up and confronted him because he was asking for a dirty photo from her.
What did he do when you confronted him?
He acted like he didn’t hear me and he just stood up and went to use the washroom in the back of the plane.
And what happened when he was in the washroom?
A woman in a row seated behind them, she acted independently. I don’t think she heard me speaking with him.
Her plan was to talk to the teenage woman directly and check in with her and ask if she was comfortable, and [say] that she was just behind them and available for support if the teen needed it.
The teenage woman looked relieved to be having this support.
After … I went up and grabbed a flight attendant and told a flight attendant about what was happening.
I don’t want to say name of airline because journalists have to be careful not to make endorsements but just want to say that this Canadian airline crew handled the situation so well. Workplaces, schools, sports teams etc. can take note. They even gave me and other woman a card. <a href=”https://t.co/6irPimuRZb”>pic.twitter.com/6irPimuRZb</a>
And did they take the complaint or the concern seriously?
I was quite impressed at how quickly they acted.
This is all happening while this man was in the back of the plane in the washroom, and in that time, the flight attendants all worked together and they collected other witness testimonies and they checked in with the teenage girl and they decided to ask the man to move, to leave his seat.
He resisted being moved. He was yelling and shouting. And he was shouting at me, because at this point I was also standing up and watching what was going on. He was swearing at me.
He had asked to see [the flight attendants] higher-up, and she said that, “I’m the boss and this is really serious and we could land the plane if you keep acting this way.”
Is this something you had dealt with when you were younger and traveling alone?
The first time I traveled to Vietnam on a school trip, on the way back … a man next to me was really flirtatious, kind of accusing me of flirting with him when I was confused because I thought I was just having a normal conversation with him.
And the second time I traveled from Montreal, a man actually kissed me without my consent, and I was so shocked I just froze. I was still a teenager at the time.
On Twitter you mentioned you were going to contact this man’s employer to tell them about his actions. Have you had a response? Have you done that?
He told the young woman his name. He also told the woman where he worked. And it’s a pretty big Canadian company, so I’m going to be sending my Twitter thread to to the company and letting them know the details.
And what about the airline? How has it it dealt with this man?
They handled it so professionally, I felt, because they also kept giving me updates about what they were doing. They said they had made a report that they were going to keep a file in this person so they will know the next time he flies.
And when we deplaned, a security official was waiting for him and took him aside.
And how did he look?
On the plane, when he was being confronted by a bunch of women, he was, like, really dismissive, angry, like trying to aggressively shut us down.
But, you know, when the security guard was talking to him, he looked really nervous.
What do you hope comes out of sharing this story?
I actually struggled whether to share the story because this is something that happened to a teenage girl. I decided to share it and to remove any potentially identifying details because I think this is, in a way, a universal experience of harassment.
So I think it’s partly a public service for people to have this discussion.
Like, what can you do on the plane? What are the special safety risks? And what can bystanders do on public transportation in general when we know sexual harassment happens often?
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
A grocery store manager’s bankruptcy over a “very minor” debt of $4,484 shouldn’t protect him from a lawsuit accusing him of surreptitiously filming his coworkers in the bathroom and posting the images online, a B.C. judge says.
Matthew Schwabe is accused of hiding a camera in the women’s washroom at Mattick’s Red Barn Market in Saanich on Vancouver Island, then uploading photos to a Russian “revenge porn” website. Both he and the company are named in a proposed class action lawsuit filed by two alleged victims.
But proceedings against Schwabe were stayed last spring after he filed bankruptcy papers, claiming a debt in the low four figures and a monthly deficit of just $50.
That stay was lifted in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday, when Justice Brian MacKenzie said bankruptcy is no defence against a claim “for bodily harm intentionally inflicted,” as is the case here.
“Additionally, the very minor financial difficulty in which Mr. Schwabe found himself when he decided to file for bankruptcy three months after the plaintiffs filed their claim leads me to conclude that he is not an ‘honest unfortunate’ who should be ‘rewarded … by a release of liability’ if he is found to be responsible for capturing and disseminating the explicit images at issue,” MacKenzie wrote.
The judgment lines up with the arguments of Jennifer Burke and Mallory Colter, the two women who filed the lawsuit. They allege Schwabe only claimed bankruptcy to dodge their claims.
At least 7 women allegedly filmed
Burke and Colter are just two of at least seven young women who were recorded while changing, using the toilet or fixing themselves up in the Red Barn bathroom, according to the judgment. In affidavits filed with the court, the women alleged Schwabe often made sexist comments and inappropriate remarks about women’s bodies at work.
“Another former Red Barn employee deposes that Mr. Schwabe exposed his penis to her during an early morning shift,” MacKenzie wrote in this week’s judgment.
The women claim the experience has caused them serious psychological harm, including ongoing anxiety.
Two former employees of the Red Barn Market in Saanich claim they were surreptitiously photographed by a co-worker and their images were posted on a Russian ‘revenge pornography’ website. (CHEK News)
Burke and Colter say they first learned what had happened when Saanich Police contacted them in February 2016. Burke alleges investigators showed her images of six other young women whose privacy had been violated, including five other employees and Schwabe’s former roommate.
When Burke checked out the Russian website where the images had been posted, she says she recognized Schwabe’s bathroom at home in the photos of his female roommate.
Order for police to hand over evidence
Saanich police searched Schwabe’s home in June 2016 and arrested him for voyeurism and publishing intimate images without consent, but he has not been charged. According to Burke and Colter, a criminal investigation is still underway.
Schwabe admits he was arrested and his home was searched, but he argues the women haven’t proven he’s responsible for the illicit photos, saying their evidence about what police officers told them is inadmissible hearsay.
To that end, the judge also granted an order this week for Saanich Police to hand over any documents, recordings and images related to their investigation into the matter.
The claim has yet to be certified as a class action lawsuit and none of the allegations have been proven in court.
In its response to Burke and Colter’s claim, Red Barn says it was not aware of any recording devices installed in its washrooms, and that any damages suffered by the women are solely the result of Schwabe’s actions.
Researchers at the University of B.C. have found that some women don’t consider cannabis a drug and believe it’s OK to light up a joint while pregnant.
The review of six U.S. studies, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, found that an alarming number of women, around one-third, don’t think cannabis could harm their baby.
That’s despite warnings from obstetricians not to consume cannabis during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, and studies that have linked pot with a higher chance of anemia, low birth weight, and stillbirth.
Although the UBC researchers analyzed U.S. data for their report, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, they say the information is relevant for health care providers in Canada, where consuming marijuana for recreational use became legal last year.
Lead author Hamideh Bayrampour, assistant professor in the UBC department of family practice, said they couldn’t find similar studies in Canada likely because of ethical issues. She said there is a need for more Canadian data on the topic.
The concern, said Bayrampour, is that many women surveyed perceived a lack of communication from their health care providers about the risks of cannabis as an indication that the drug is safe to use during pregnancy.
“This is important because if they don’t perceive harm they are more likely to use cannabis,” she said.
“What we know for sure is that we don’t know yet whether cannabis is safe to use in pregnancy, although there is evidence emerging that if a women uses cannabis their baby might be smaller than average.”
She said it would be beneficial here for health care providers to have a discussion with patients about cannabis, just as they do now with alcohol or cigarettes.
Some women surveyed said they smoked pot while pregnant to cope with an illness, such as depression or anxiety, instead of taking stronger pharmaceutical drugs, while others identified cannabis as a way to deal with the nausea of morning sickness.
“If they are choosing between cannabis and a sedative for pain they perceive cannabis as a safer choice,” said Bayrampour.
The UBC review shows pregnant cannabis users were more likely to be under the age of 25 and to have low income and education, or use other substances such as tobacco and alcohol.
In one study, women were asked about their perception of general harm associated with cannabis use, 70 per cent of both pregnant and non-pregnant cannabis users responded that they perceived slight or no risk of harm.
“I think we need to have a question specifically related to cannabis similar to alcohol. We need to provide a safe, non judgmental environment to talk about this,” said Bayrampour. “It is a great opportunity for caregivers to start this conversation and motivate and support them in their decision to quit.”
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommend women not use cannabis when trying to conceive, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
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