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30Aug

Province won’t change Robson Square steps despite accessibility complaints | CBC News

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The ramp that zigzags across the steps at Robson Square in downtown Vancouver will not be modified to address accessibility concerns because of the “architectural significance of the site.”

Accessibility consultant Arnold Cheng says the ramp, which was designed in the 1970s by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, is too steep to safely navigate in a wheelchair or while pushing a stroller.

Cheng says the ramp is also a tripping hazard for people with visual impairments because the stairs are all the same colour, which makes it difficult to determine where one step ends and the next one begins.

“A lot of people use architectural significance to justify not making any changes, but historically it has not been a problem for many, many buildings,” he said.

“The Louvre in Paris has more historical significance than Robson Square, but they have changed a lot of things over the years.”

Any changes to the design would have to be approved by the provincial government.

Arnold Cheng, accessibility assessor for spectrum ability, rolls his wheelchair up the ramp he says is unsafe at Robson Square in Vancouver on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Changes coming

The province conducted accessibility audits of Robson Square in 2010 and 2018, both of which determined the stair ramps may be difficult for some people to use.

Despite the findings, the B.C. government will not alter the design.

“There are no plans to update the ramps and as such they should be primarily considered ornamental,” the Ministry of Citizens’ Services said in an emailed statement.

“Access to the building can be attained through a number of other means.”

The province says there is signage to direct people to more than 20 elevators that are located at Robson Square, but more signs and assistance for people with a variety of disabilities will soon be added to the site.

Cheng says he welcomes the changes but he doesn’t think they go far enough. 

“The signage definitely has to be better,” Cheng said.

“For some reason, people think you automatically know where everything is.”

Accessibility consultant Arnold Cheng wants to see improvements to the steps at Robson Square. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Erickson’s vision

Erickson’s father lost both of his legs in the First World War.

Arthur Erickson Foundation director Simon Scott says accessibility was an issue that was always close to the architect’s heart.

“He wanted to make public spaces accessible and enjoyable,” Scott said.

“The steps here, which are part of this wonderful public space, have stairs and ramps so that everybody can enjoy it.”

9Aug

Daphne Bramham: Why won’t B.C. fund Karly’s addiction recovery?

by admin

As of today, Karly has been clean and sober for 30 days after four years of battling addiction.

Addiction made the 17-year-old from Chiliwack vulnerable to exploitation and bullying. It disrupted her schooling, left her psychotic, suicidal, near death and unable to care for her year-old baby.

“In addiction, I never thought I could be this happy without drugs,” she said earlier this week.

“There’s obviously times when I’m feeling like I don’t want to live any more. But I realize a lot of people do care for me, and it would hurt a lot of people if I did leave.”

Up until now, Karly didn’t worry that fentanyl laced in the cocaine, crystal meth and other street drugs she’s used might kill her, as it has more than 4,000 other British Columbians in the past four years.

“Honestly, I just thought I wasn’t going to get that wrong batch. I thought I could trust my dealers. Now, I’m starting to realize the risk. I was using alone. It’s pretty scary now that I think about it.

“I could have overdosed, my poor son he would have had no mom.”

But Karly’s recovery is at risk because the B.C. government is refusing to pay for her treatment. The question of why was bounced from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, back to addictions, then back to MCFD, and finally to Fraser Health over two days.

Friday afternoon, MCFD responded that due to privacy concerns it could not discuss the specifics of the case.

The spokesperson did confirm that the government pays for youth residential treatment. Funds are allocated by the health ministry to regional health authorities. MCFD social workers are supposed to refer youth and families to the health authority, which is supposed to do the assessments and placements.

Reached late Friday afternoon, Fraser Health said that it does not have provincial funding for youth beds at Westminster House, where Karly is getting treatment, only adult beds.

Postmedia editors and I are also concerned about Karly’s privacy and vulnerability. For that reason, we are not using her real name, or that of her mother.

•••

On July 10, her mother Krista found Karly white-faced and barely breathing on the floor. It was a moment she had been bracing for since 2015.

Krista, who is a nurse, didn’t need the naloxone kit that she keeps at the ready. She shook Karly awake and got her into the car to take her to Surrey Creekside Withdrawal Management Centre.

En route, Karly flailed about, kicking in the glove box, banging her head against the window and screaming.

“She was in psychosis. She was not my child,” Krista said. “It took six nurses and two doctors to get her inside.”

At 9 p.m, Karly called her mom to say that if they didn’t let her out, she was going to escape, prostitute myself and get enough money to kill herself.

“I felt in my heart that she was really going to do it.”

Panicked, Krista called Susan Hogarth, Westminster House’s executive director, and begged for help. Westminster House is a residential treatment centre for women, with four designated youth beds in New Westminster.

Even though it was past midnight, Hogarth agreed to take Karly.

“We can’t not put a child somewhere,” Hogarth said this week.

The cost for treatment at Westminster House is $9,000 a month, meaning Krista needs $27,000 to pay for the three months of treatment that counsellors say Karly needs to be stabilized enough to go into second-stage care.

The crucial first month of treatment was covered using donations from individuals, and Hockey for the Homeless.

Now there are bills to be paid.

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Krista’s only contact with the government has been through MCFD. A social worker helped Karly get mental health services, pre- and post-natal care and helped Krista gain guardianship of her year-old grandson last month.

It’s the social worker who told the family that the government would pay for a 10-week, co-ed live-in treatment program at Vancouver’s Peak House, but not Westminster House.

But Krista and Westminster House’s director believe a co-ed program that has no trauma counselling is not a good fit for Karly.

The only other option suggested was outpatient treatment. But Karly’s already tried and failed at that. Besides, her dealer lives two blocks from their home.

If Karly was an adult on welfare, the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction would pay $30.90 a day for her room and board in residential care.

Bizarrely, Krista said the social worker suggested maybe Karly could just wait a year and then her treatment would be fully covered.

“This is f–ing BS. I can’t wait until she’s older. She’ll be dead,” said Krista, who has had her own problems with addiction. An alumni of Westminster House, she is four years into recovery.

Concerns about how to pay for Karly’s treatment in addition to caring for Karly’s baby and Karly’s younger sister are wearing heavily on Krista. She’s had to take a medical leave from her job, and is worried about how she will pay her rent.

She’s already spent four years in a constant state of readiness in case Karly overdoses. There’s naloxone in the house. The razors are hidden because “Karly cuts, cuts.” Every time Karly took a bath, Krista stood apprehensively by the door because her daughter had threatened to drown herself.

But now?

“She is doing amazing,” Krista said. “The first time I saw her was 15 to 16 days in, and she had colour in her cheeks and they were my kid’s eyes, beautiful brown . . .

“When I brought her son to see her, her smile so genuine. I had not seen it in so many years. The smile was what I remember of her as a kid.”

Hogarth wonders why the government can’t look at the bigger picture of what Karly’s untreated addiction might cost — from more overdoses to her mother’s fragile state to the fate of her son.

Everybody, Hogarth said, deserves a chance at recovery and not just harm reduction interventions.

“Karly is not the easiest client in the world,” she said with a laugh. “But she’s worth it because we want her to go home to her son and to be able to raise him.”

For now, the non-profit Westminster House is covering Karly’s costs with donations augmented by a GoFundMe campaign organized by Krista’s friends.

But it can’t do that forever, or without more donations.

As for Karly, for the first time in years she’s thinking about a future. She won’t be ready to start school in September, but plans to go back as soon as she can for Grade 12 and then go on to study so that she can work in health care.

“I feel like my story can help other people.”

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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9Jul

Taxi borders won’t change under B.C.’s new ride-hailing regulations

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Taxi cabs will keep their municipal boundaries even when ride-hailing is introduced in B.C. later this year.


Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

VICTORIA — Existing boundaries for taxis in most of B.C. won’t change with the introduction of ride-hailing later this year, according to the independent tribunal charged with making the decision.

The Passenger Transportation Board, which will set boundaries and fares for ride-hailing and taxis by next month, is not considering any large-scale changes to current taxi areas that are often based on regional or municipal borders.

“As an administrative tribunal we’d have to discuss changes of boundaries and that would be very contentious and time-consuming and yet another delay in implementing ride-hailing,” board chair Catharine Reid said Tuesday. “And we don’t want a delay in implementing ride-hailing.

“The second reason is we don’t have good origin destination information. So if we try to change taxi boundaries, we don’t know if we’ll make things better or worse.”

Ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft can begin applying for licences in B.C. on Sept. 3, after the B.C. government announced Monday it has set the licensing and insurance regulations. Premier John Horgan has said ride-hailing could be in operation by the end of the year.

Drivers must have a class four commercial licence, and companies will be required to pay a $5,000 fee as well as a 30-cent-per-trip levy to improve accessibility services, under the government rules.

But the exact details on fares and boundaries are to be set by the Passenger Transportation Board, which is an independent tribunal.


The Uber app is displayed on an iPhone as taxi drivers wait for passengers at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Reid and the board began public discussions on those issues with taxi companies in Prince Rupert on Tuesday. She said the rest of the taxi sector, as well as ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft will be consulted by the end of next week.

“The policy will be up sometime in August that will provide policy on boundaries, fleet size and rates,” she said.

Uber and Lyft have said they want to operate free of borders, to give their drivers flexibility on responding to demand for a ride anywhere.

The taxi sector is divided on the issue. Eliminating borders could solve problems like “deadheading” — where taxis from Vancouver, for example, take a passenger to Surrey but can’t pick up anyone on the return trip due to licensing restrictions. But removing borders could also devalue taxi licenses that hold value based on their scarcity in a certain area, causing significant financial losses for companies, drivers and those who’ve borrowed money to purchase or lease part shares in vehicle licenses.

The board has released two public discussion papers that lay out its options.

For the rest of the province outside of Metro Vancouver, it offers no options to change taxi boundaries. The report says ride-hailing companies could either follow the same borders, or be given larger regional or provincial areas in which to operate, depending on industry feedback.

In Metro Vancouver, three of the four options proposed would keep the existing municipal taxi boundaries for Vancouver, Surrey and elsewhere.

However, one option does propose opening up the Metro Vancouver region as a single area in which both ride-hailing vehicles and the traditional taxi sector could operate equally.

“It is not clear that taxis would want this approach as they are free to launch their own (ride-hailing) service and could also maintain the advantages of taxis that each has within their current operating area,” read the board report.

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An open metro region would give the public “faster and more reliable service, including at peak times,” reduce the numbers of trips refused and tackle the problem of deadheading, according to the report.

However, it would also result in “taxi service likely reduced for suburban areas,” wrote the board.

Taxi licenses would see a “large reduction” in value if ride-hailing was region-wide or provincewide, especially in the City of Vancouver, according to the report.

The B.C. Taxi Association, which attended consultations in Prince Rupert on Tuesday, said all boundaries should be removed for everyone.

“There’s no need for boundaries,” said president Mohan Kang. “If they have the ability to move around Metro Vancouver, so should we.”

The Vancouver Taxi Association, where taxi licenses hold the most value and its operators face the largest risk, could not be reached for comment.

The Passenger Transportation Board is also considering whether to limit the size of ride-hailing fleets, but its discussion papers note that no other governments do so and it would be impossible to set a defensible limit.

Fares are also up for consideration. The board notes no other governments impose maximum price limits on ride-hailing, despite concerns about surge pricing during peak demand. One option up for consideration is setting the minimum fare for an Uber or Lyft ride at the same rate as a taxi, or setting no minimum rate at all.

Uber and Lyft declined to comment. Both oppose B.C.’s class four commercial licence requirement and neither company so far has committed to opening in the province later this year.

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24Apr

Daphne Bramham: Decriminalization alone won’t end B.C.’s overdose crisis

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A man injects drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. Despite significant efforts to combat overdose deaths in British Columbia, the provincial coroner says illicit drug overdose deaths increased to 1,489, just over the 2017 death total.


JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The problem with the provincial health officer’s special report recommending decriminalization of all illicit drug users  is that Dr. Bonnie Henry chose to make that her only recommendation.

Three years after a public health emergency was declared because of an epidemic of deaths from illicit opioids, B.C. still has no comprehensive addictions strategy.

It has a stunning lack of treatment services, no universal access to services, no simple pathway to what few services there are, no provincial standards or regulation of privately operated treatment and recovery homes services.

Government ministries such as health, mental health and addictions services, social development and housing remain siloed and the root causes of addiction remain largely unaddressed.

While there has been substantial investment in harm-reduction measures including overdose prevention sites, free naloxone kits (to reverse an opioid overdose), low-barrier shelters and poverty reduction, the needs are greater.

Overdose deaths have only hit a plateau – not dropped. Every day, four people British Columbians die.

Yet, Henry is adamant that decriminalization is the most important next step.

“It’s about a focus and an intent,” she said. “Instead of police focusing on requirement of the Criminal Code, it builds off-ramps to connect with services. And, that in itself, ensures those systems are built.”

The majority of those who have died of overdoses were young men using alone at home. Without fear of being arrested and with the stigma of addiction being reduced, the expectation is that addicts or recreational users would be more likely to go to a supervised injection site, use with a friend (with a naloxone kit at the ready) or call for help if they overdose.

Henry calls decriminalization “a necessary next step to stop the death toll from rising and to make harm-reduction services more readily available.”

But it’s a question whether those recreational users would do that, because many addicts say that they use alone for a variety of reasons — not least of which is that they don’t want to share their drugs or they don’t want anyone to know what they do when they’re high.

The report recommended two options for British Columbia to work around the Criminal Code provisions.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth firmly and quickly said no to both. But he noted there are pilot projects in Vancouver, Abbotsford and Vernon where rather than charging for possession, police are linking users with services. An evaluation of those will be completed in the fall and, depending on the results, they may be expended to other communities.

Henry makes no secret of the fact that her ultimate goals for Canada are full legalization and regulation of all drugs to ensure that there is a safe supply. If that were to happen, Canada would be the first in the world to do that.

Portugal is mentioned frequently in the report and by Henry. Possession for personal use was decriminalized more than 20 years ago. But it was done only as part of a comprehensive, drug strategy.

Police still arrest anyone found with illicit drugs. They are taken to a police station where the drugs are weighed. If the amount is above the maximum limit set for personal use, they are charged and go through the criminal justice system.

If the amount is below the limit, tickets are issued and users told to appear at the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use within 24 hours. There, they meet with a social worker or counsellor before going before a three-person tribunal, which recommends a plan for treatment.

People don’t have to comply. But if they are arrested again, the commission can impose community service, require that they seek treatment, impose fines and even confiscate people’s property to pay those fines.

That’s not the kind of decriminalization Henry is recommending. Instead, the onus here would be on police officers – not trained addictions specialists, psychologists or social workers — to connect users with services.

Part of the reason for the difference is that Portugal’s goal wasn’t legalization or keeping addicts alive until they chose to go treatment. Its focus was and is on getting addicts into treatment and recovery so they could resume their place in society.

Harm reduction is only a small part of the Portuguese plan. Its first supervised injection site has only recently opened. But there is free and easy access to methadone (which dampens heroin addicts’ craving for the drug) and free needles to stop the spread of infection.

These harm reduction measures are deemed to temporary bridges to abstinence for all but older, hardcore, long-term heroin users rather than long-term solutions. Of course, fentanyl and carfentanil have yet to be found in its illicit drug supply.

Its treatment services as extensive and include everything from outpatient treatment to three years’ residency in a therapeutic community during which time the users’ families are provided with income supplements.

Nothing in this decriminalization report moves British Columbia anywhere close to that kind of comprehensive system. And until we get there, it’s hard to imagine that this overdose crisis ending anytime soon.

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Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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12Oct

Nova Scotia says it won’t appeal accessibility ruling by human rights board – Halifax

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The province says it won’t appeal a Nova Scotia human rights ruling that it discriminated against people in wheelchairs by failing to enforce a regulation requiring restaurants to have accessible bathrooms.

The independent board of inquiry said in a decision released in September that the province did not regulate food safety provisions on accessible washrooms in restaurants with patios.

READ: ‘Accessible washrooms should include everyone’: N.S. human rights inquiry begins

Chairwoman Gail Gatchalian ordered the Environment Department to interpret, administer and enforce the regulations as they appear.

The Justice Department says it will fast track an action plan to ensure the human rights decision is implemented in a timely fashion.

WATCH: Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Advisory Board holds inaugural meeting in Halifax






It will be developed in collaboration with the disability community and the restaurant industry.

The department says its effort will be supported by the newly established Accessibility Directorate and the Nova Scotia Accessibility Advisory Board.




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2Oct

B.C. NDP sets anti-poverty target, but won’t say how it will be done

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The B.C. government has announced anti-poverty targets.


Getty Images

Roughly 50,000 fewer B.C. children will be living in poverty by 2024 if the provincial government meets its new targets to cut child poverty in half and overall poverty by a quarter.

The NDP campaigned in the spring of 2017 on a promise to establish a poverty reduction plan for B.C., the only province without one. But residents will have to wait until March 2019 — two years later — for the unveiling of the plan, and to find out how the targeted reductions will be achieved and how much they will cost.

“I accept and I respect the criticism (about delays), but I would rather take a few more months and get this right. And the reality is we didn’t create this problem overnight, so we’re not going to fix it overnight,” Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction, said.

“We have at this point the second-highest rate of poverty overall and the highest rate of poverty for children (in Canada).” About one in five B.C. children live in poverty.

If achieved, the new targets will improve B.C.’s ranking, he said.

Legislation proposed on Tuesday offers few details beyond targets to reduce B.C.’s population of people in poverty — estimated at 557,000 residents — by one quarter by 2024. That would require lifting 140,000 people above the poverty line, including half of the 100,000 children who are impoverished.

Trish Garner, of the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, said it is a “good first step” to have targets and timelines after years of no action by the previous government.

“We would have liked to have seen a stronger overall poverty reduction target, and faster,” said Garner, a member of an advisory forum that provides advice to the minister. “Although, the target around child poverty is bold.”

First Call’s Adrienne Montani agreed, as her organization has advocated cutting child poverty in half since 2009.

Both women provided a wish list of what measures they thought should be financed in February’s budget and included in March’s plan in order to achieve the government’s targets.

Those include more-accessible child care, better wages, reduction of fees, improved access to jobs and more affordable housing through such things as rent controls.

Garner believes there are several things missing from the new legislation, such as any mention of the “depths” of poverty, which refers to how far someone is below the poverty line. She would have liked to see a commitment to increase the incomes of all poor people to within 75 per cent of the poverty line in the next two years, which she said could mainly be achieved by boosting welfare and disability rates.

Montani also hopes the province will consider enhancing the three-year-old early childhood tax benefit, so the payments are larger and continue longer — as is the case in other provinces. She noted the federal child benefit, which provides money monthly to needy families, has successfully reduced poverty nationally.

Asked when the other 50 per cent of B.C. children could be lifted out of poverty, if the first half is helped by 2024, Montani said she is cautiously optimistic that most of the solutions being discussed will help all kids in poor households.

“I am somewhat hopeful that maybe we can exceed that target,” she said.


Adrienne Montani is the First Call B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition provincial coordinator.

Arlen Redekop /

PNG

Simpson said improvement to the early childhood benefit tax is one of things being investigated, although he made no specific commitment.

Funding this poverty reduction plan will require “significant” spending in the next five provincial budgets, but Simpson would not estimate the overall cost. He said it will include portions of NDP programs, totalling well over $1 billion, that have already been announced, such as the affordable child care plan; new housing and rent subsidy programs; increasing the minimum wage; raising social assistance and disability benefits; and ending tuition for adult basic education and English-language learning.

New measures will also be required, among them how to reduce costs of housing, food and transportation for needy people. Another necessity is jobs, said Simpson, who has met with business groups about trying to get people with mild disabilities into the workforce.

Of the 557,000 people living in poverty, about 200,000 receive welfare, disability or other services from Simpson’s ministry. The rest include seniors, the working poor, and young people aging out of foster care. That means other ministries must be involved in the poverty reduction plan, he said.

The new legislation requires government to report annually on its progress, and it will be monitored by an advisory panel.

“We’re confident that while those targets are bold, we have the capacity to meet those targets as well as to build the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty moving forward,” Simpson said.

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Twitter: @loriculbert




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