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Category "BBG"

21Jun

Coalition calls for B.C.’s COVID-19 $300 disability top-up to be made permanent

by admin

VANCOUVER —
A coalition of groups representing people with disabilities and people living in poverty is calling for a temporary income supplement to be made permanent.

According to a survey conducted by the coalition, people who got the extra money have used it to buy healthy food, get out of debt and avoid “extreme rationing at the end of the month.”

On April 2, the B.C. government announced an extra $300 for people who receive disability benefits or welfare payments. The top-up was part of emergency supports provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is temporary and is only available for three months. The extra $300 is only for those who were not eligible for the federal emergency support programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

In a petition on Change.org, the coalition says many people with disabilities are immunocompromised and cannot return to normal activities as quickly as many other British Columbians. According to the petition, COVID-19 is pushing up costs for people with disabilities, an effect they expect to persist for some time.

“We continue to face added financial pressures, including delivery fees, increased utility bills from staying home, telecommunications costs, and alternatives to now-inaccessible medical care and home supports,” the petition says.

“Until a vaccine is developed, we face a new reality of living with COVID-19.”

Many people living on income assistance were already struggling to pay rising costs for food, rent and basic necessities, according to the coalition. Based on a survey of 260 people who received the $300 top-up, people spent the money on healthy food, medication and therapy, housing costs, and avoiding having to choose which bills to pay at the end of the month.

Some also said the extra money prevented “extreme rationing and starvation at the end of the month” and allowed them to “temporarily stop engaging in survival sex work to make ends meet,” according to the petition.

The petition has a goal of 2,500 signatures and has currently gotten 2,063 responses.

Without the $300 top-up, a single person receiving disability payments gets $808.42 a month, according to the B.C. government.

A single person on income assistance receives $385 a month.

18Jun

Should Vancouver’s Stanley Park reopen to vehicles? Emergency park board meeting to decide

by admin

VANCOUVER —
The Vancouver Park Board is holding an emergency meeting Thursday to decide the future of Stanley Park.

The city’s crown jewel has been closed off to vehicles since the start of the pandemic and some advocates are pushing to keep it that way.

Commissioners are considering reducing Stanley Park Drive to one-way, single lane vehicle traffic.

The debate started back in April, when cyclists were banned from the seawall due to overcrowding concerns.

The bikes were subsequently moved onto the roadway, shutting non-essential vehicles out.

Commissioners tasked park staff with looking into the feasibility of permanent traffic calming measures earlier this month.

Those findings are expected to be presented at Thursday night’s meeting. Advocates for the lane closures argue it will make the park safer, greener and more appealing.

Those against the permanent closure are raising concerns about parking and accessibility for seniors, young families, and people with disabilities.

Owners of nearby businesses say the potential reduction of vehicle traffic would be devastating to their livelihoods.

The Tea House, Stanley Park Brewing and Ocean Wise are some of the groups that have spoken out against the change.

They’re urging Vancouverites to write the park board and sign an online petition, which has gained more than 12,000 signature so far.  

15Jun

Socially distanced movies coming to Vancouver’s Rio Theatre

by admin

VANCOUVER —
Vancouver’s Rio Theatre is hoping to reopen to customers in July with socially distanced screenings.

Corinne Lea, the theatre’s owner and operator, says she’s already been in touch with Vancouver Coastal Health and is hoping to be open again sometime after Canada Day.

In a cheeky video announcing the reopening posted to the theatre’s YouTube channel, a concession stand worker wearing a mask throws popcorn, soda and a packet of Junior mints at a customer standing six feet away.

“We’ve put a lot of work into trying to figure out how it’s going to work with the new social distancing restrictions,” Lea said. “Our video was just to have a bit of fun with it…and you know, just try to get the word out that we’re going to be coming back to entertain people.”

Lea says theatre-goers will need to leave two to three seats between each other, but people from the same pod or family will be allowed to sit together. Seats will be cleaned between each film, and bathrooms, door handles, and other high-touch surfaces will be sanitized regularly. Staff will wear masks, and customers will be strongly encouraged to wear them, especially in the lobby, washroom and lineup.

“The biggest challenge is, of course, our theatre was built in 1938 so the lobby is not very big, so we’ve come up with some creative ways that we could organize lineups and things like that so that people can have the space,” she said.

The concession stand will have its full menu available, which includes popcorn, candy and grilled cheese sandwiches.

When it comes to what films will be shown at first, Lea says it’s been tough finding new content as many films that were scheduled to come out have been bumped, and a lot of productions have been shut down during the pandemic.

“We will be turning to a lot of our cult classics. People’s all-time favourite films that they want to see up on the big screen,” she said. “We’re definitely going to put a focus in support of Black Lives Matter to show films made by Black artists, directors, or films that address the issues of racism.”

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the theatre had never needed to shut down before and Lea says the week they decided to close was difficult and emotional since they had fought very hard in the past to keep the Rio open.

She says she’s grateful to be her own landlord since she’s been able to benefit from the six-month mortgage deferral, but she has concerns over the 50-person capacity limit for events.

“There isn’t a venue across this country that can survive with only 50 customers,” Lea said, adding that equals about 12 per cent of her capacity. She hopes the government will eventually raise the limit to 100 people.

“Nobody is expecting to make a profit during this time, but we don’t want to be in a position where we can’t stay in business,” she said. “So we’re just trying to keep afloat.”

Lea says she’s in touch with many other small business owners throughout the city who have reopened but are still concerned about whether or not they will survive. As a result, she says she has “mixed emotions” about the theatre opening its doors again.

“I know people who have hair salons, restaurants. And they’re all saying it’s not easy. They’re all saying that being open has its own challenges compared to being closed,” she said. “Either the business isn’t there because people aren’t coming or they can’t function at full capacity, or there’s just the stress of managing everything. You want to keep staff safe. You want to keep customers safe.”

Lea says the public health benefits of the economic shutdown have been evident in B.C. and that it’s in everyone’s best interest both health and business-wise that there are no setbacks during the pandemic. But she says she and the other small business owners are worried about what the future holds.

“I feel like I’m starting all over again,” she said. “It took me 12 years to build up this business into a very successful operation, and now I feel like I’m back to square one again. It’s a little defeating to say the least.” But she says her efforts will be focused on keeping the theatre open, despite the challenges the pandemic has created.

“My main focus is to make sure the Rio is going to still be standing by the end of this,” she said. “Even if I’m the last theatre standing. That’s my goal.”

9Jun

Traffic in Stanley Park could be permanently reduced as park board considers options

by admin

VANCOUVER —
Options to reduce traffic permanently in Vancouver’s Stanley Park are being considered by the city’s park board.

On Monday, the Vancouver Park Board voted to explore the feasibility of reducing vehicle traffic, including reducing roadways to single lanes while increasing accessibility for those with disabilities.

The park was closed to vehicle traffic in April to reduce the number of visitors during the novel coronavirus pandemic and provide those who do use the park more room to physically distance. Two park board commissioners put forward a motion to consider reducing traffic in the park permanently. 

But not everyone was happy with the suggestion, and a small group of protesters gathered to demand that Stanley Park Drive be entirely reopened.

Critics of the proposal say they’re worried switching to a single lane would cut off access to families with young children and people with mobility issues. 

The issue was discussed at length during Monday’s virtual park board meeting and while the motion was passed, it came with several amendments. Staff will now review the feasibility of several options, including adding more bus stops along the causeway. 

In the meantime, the park board says it plans to reopen the road to cars in the coming weeks.

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Regan Hasegawa 

7Jun

‘What happened inside the hospital?’ Family of Abbotsford football player wants answers

by admin

REGINA —
Grieving relatives of a football player who they say died by suicide after seeking help at a hospital believe a recent change by Saskatchewan health officials may have saved him.

Samwel Uko, 20, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, was in Regina visiting an aunt when his body was found in the city’s Wascana Lake two weeks ago.

Justin Nyee, an uncle in Calgary, says he received a call from a relative who told him that the young man they called by his tribal name “Dunga” had taken his own life.

Nyee remembers hanging up and phoning Uko’s father, who was crying when he answered.

“It was the worst news ever,” said Nyee.

Uko and his family emigrated from South Sudan in 2005. He had entered his second season with the Langley Rams Junior Football Club in B.C. after playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon.

Loved by his community and always there for his family, Uko was an all-around great young man who laughed a lot, Nyee said.

A GoFundMe campaign for Uko’s family has raised more than $13,000. A funeral was held for him Saturday in Abbotsford.

Nyee said the family is still trying to piece together Uko’s last moments on May 21.

Uko’s cousin Ginawi Ginawi said Uko had asked to go to a hospital.

“He kept telling me I’m seeing things. I can’t go in the basement. There’s people trying to kill me,” recalled Ginawi.

Ginawi said he took Uko to the emergency room at the Regina General Hospital. But when they got in line to enter, Ginawi said a nurse told him he couldn’t accompany Uko inside due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ginawi said he left his cell number so staff could reach out if they had questions, but no call came.

About 45 minutes later, Uko called his cousin and told him he had left the hospital.

The pair then went to a grocery store, where Uko bought a sleeping pill from the pharmacy, said Ginawi. He next dropped Uko off at the aunt’s house.

“He just keep shaking his head,” said Ginawi. “He kept telling me that mental illness is not a good thing. I’m ill, I’m ill, I’m ill.”’

At some point, Ginawi said he believes Uko left the home through a window. Police said witnesses reported seeing a man in the lake about 7:30 p.m.

Later, Ginawi identified the man’s body as his cousin.

The family wants to understand what went wrong, said Nyee.

He said Uko’s friends also forwarded the family a Snapchat video he apparently made while in the hospital. “It seems like he’s saying, ‘I need help guys.’ ‘I need help.”’

“We need to know what happened inside the hospital, because in the hospital … was the last place he visited to show them, ‘I need help.”’

This week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority changed guidelines for when emergency room patients are entitled to have someone with them despite the pandemic.

Before, people with mobility, hearing, visual or memory impairment and who were seeking emergency care could bring a companion. Other challenges were to be assessed on an individual basis, said health authority spokeswoman Lisa Thomson.

The new guidelines include “mental-health disability” – anyone in crisis or experiencing any mental-health-related issue that compromises decision-making.

The health authority said the revision was already in the works and is unrelated to Uko’s death.

But Nyee believes otherwise.

He said it’s clear Uko needed to have a person with him in the hospital.

“Samwel comes in with mental-health issues. How’re you going to deal with it? It’s not something you can see. It’s not something you can put under an MRI and you will know.

“They need someone to be there.”

Saskatchewan’s chief coroner is looking at the case seriously, but will not decide whether to hold an inquest until the investigation is complete, said a spokeswoman with the Ministry of Justice.

Citing privacy concerns, the health authority said it cannot talk about the case.

Scott Livingstone, head of the health authority, said earlier this week that officials were working with Uko’s family members to answer their questions.

Nyee said that didn’t happen right away.

And the family still doesn’t have answers.

“Did they give him the help that he needed? Did they at least try to do something?

“We want to know what happened.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2020

7Jun

Abbotsford football player died by suicide after seeking help at Sask. hospital; family wants answers

by admin

REGINA —
Grieving relatives of a football player who they say died by suicide after seeking help at a hospital believe a recent change by Saskatchewan health officials may have saved him.

Samwel Uko, 20, of Abbotsford, British Columbia, was in Regina visiting an aunt when his body was found in the city’s Wascana Lake two weeks ago.

Justin Nyee, an uncle in Calgary, says he received a call from a relative who told him that the young man they called by his tribal name “Dunga” had taken his own life.

Nyee remembers hanging up and phoning Uko’s father, who was crying when he answered.

“It was the worst news ever,” said Nyee.

Uko and his family emigrated from South Sudan in 2005. He had entered his second season with the Langley Rams Junior Football Club in B.C. after playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon.

Loved by his community and always there for his family, Uko was an all-around great young man who laughed a lot, Nyee said.

A GoFundMe campaign for Uko’s family has raised more than $13,000. A funeral was held for him Saturday in Abbotsford.

Nyee said the family is still trying to piece together Uko’s last moments on May 21.

Uko’s cousin Ginawi Ginawi said Uko had asked to go to a hospital.

“He kept telling me I’m seeing things. I can’t go in the basement. There’s people trying to kill me,” recalled Ginawi.

Ginawi said he took Uko to the emergency room at the Regina General Hospital. But when they got in line to enter, Ginawi said a nurse told him he couldn’t accompany Uko inside due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Ginawi said he left his cell number so staff could reach out if they had questions, but no call came.

About 45 minutes later, Uko called his cousin and told him he had left the hospital.

The pair then went to a grocery store, where Uko bought a sleeping pill from the pharmacy, said Ginawi. He next dropped Uko off at the aunt’s house.

“He just keep shaking his head,” said Ginawi. “He kept telling me that mental illness is not a good thing. I’m ill, I’m ill, I’m ill.”’

At some point, Ginawi said he believes Uko left the home through a window. Police said witnesses reported seeing a man in the lake about 7:30 p.m.

Later, Ginawi identified the man’s body as his cousin.

The family wants to understand what went wrong, said Nyee.

He said Uko’s friends also forwarded the family a Snapchat video he apparently made while in the hospital. “It seems like he’s saying, ‘I need help guys.’ ‘I need help.”’

“We need to know what happened inside the hospital, because in the hospital … was the last place he visited to show them, ‘I need help.”’

This week, the Saskatchewan Health Authority changed guidelines for when emergency room patients are entitled to have someone with them despite the pandemic.

Before, people with mobility, hearing, visual or memory impairment and who were seeking emergency care could bring a companion. Other challenges were to be assessed on an individual basis, said health authority spokeswoman Lisa Thomson.

The new guidelines include “mental-health disability” – anyone in crisis or experiencing any mental-health-related issue that compromises decision-making.

The health authority said the revision was already in the works and is unrelated to Uko’s death.

But Nyee believes otherwise.

He said it’s clear Uko needed to have a person with him in the hospital.

“Samwel comes in with mental-health issues. How’re you going to deal with it? It’s not something you can see. It’s not something you can put under an MRI and you will know.

“They need someone to be there.”

Saskatchewan’s chief coroner is looking at the case seriously, but will not decide whether to hold an inquest until the investigation is complete, said a spokeswoman with the Ministry of Justice.

Citing privacy concerns, the health authority said it cannot talk about the case.

Scott Livingstone, head of the health authority, said earlier this week that officials were working with Uko’s family members to answer their questions.

Nyee said that didn’t happen right away.

And the family still doesn’t have answers.

“Did they give him the help that he needed? Did they at least try to do something?

“We want to know what happened.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2020

6Jun

UBC educators ‘Geering Up’ for online summer camps

by admin

VANCOUVER —
One of the missions of Geering Up – the engineering outreach program at the University of British Columbia – is to teach young people about engineering, with the goal of inspiring them to go into the field as adults.

To fulfill that mission, Geering Up has traditionally held summer camps and year-round programs, often meeting people in remote and Indigenous communities in hopes of improving the diversity of the engineering profession.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the organization has been unable to follow that model during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID happened, it kind of swept the rug out from under us,” said Jakob Manning, outreach manager for Geering Up, in an interview with CTV News Vancouver.

“Normally, throughout the year, we go out into communities – over 30 communities across B.C. – and work with youth,” Manning said. “This time of year, normally, we’d be working with 20,000 youth from May to August. None of that is happening right now.”

But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening at all. In fact, the opposite is true.

Faced with the closure of schools in March and knowing that parents would be looking for online educational resources for their children, Geering Up made the decision to turn all of its usually in-person offerings into virtual ones.

“I didn’t think what we did could be done online, but the community need we serve was still there,” Manning said. “Parents were looking for educational opportunities for their kids, kids were looking for places to be creative and build things and make friends, and so we’ve moved everything we do online.”

Since March, that has meant a free daily livestream at 11 a.m. on the Geering Up YouTube channel, as well as online homework and activity clubs for which the organization charges registration fees.

Soon, it will mean online summer camps for children ranging in age from kindergarten through Grade 12. Participants will meet online for two hours each day to do activities with their instructors, many of whom are UBC engineering students. Lists of materials needed for each day’s projects will be provided in advance.

Sheryl Staub-French, associate dean of equity, diversity and inclusion and a professor of civil engineering at UBC, is one of the leaders of the Geering Up program. She said the online summer camp programs have been designed based on what the organization has learned from its first few months of online-only programming.

One of those takeaways has been a notable increase in demand for financial assistance for participants.

Kale Gosen works in administration support and registration for Geering Up. Last year, she said, roughly 3 per cent of families with children participating in Geering Up programs applied for and received bursaries to cover some or all of their program fees.

This year, that number has ballooned to 45 per cent, Gosen said, adding that the program has provided approximately $26,000 in bursaries so far in 2020.

Some of the surge is likely a product of increased financial hardship because of the pandemic, but organizers also deliberately sought to increase awareness of the availability of financial aid, Gosen said.

“This year, we realized things were going to be different, once COVID started and once we wanted to run our online programs,” she said. “We just made it – or tried to make it – as easy as possible, because we want people that need to come to our camps to be able to come to our camps.”

Accessibility – particularly for those who are underrepresented in the engineering field – is a key goal of Geering Up, said Staub-French.

“We need more engineers,” she said. “Engineers really are problem-solvers, and society has a lot of significant problems.” 

27May

Gender equality report card finds some progress in B.C. but other areas of ‘serious concern’

by admin

VANCOUVER —
A new report card on gender equality and human rights in British Columbia finds the province has made some progress but still shows areas of “serious concern.”

The report was released by West Coast LEAF, or Legal Education and Action Fund, a non-profit that advocates for gender equality through law and education. It examined access to justice, economic security, freedom from gender-based violence, health, justice for people who are criminalized and the rights of parents, children and youth.

“While recognizing that B.C. has taken some steps in the right direction between December 2018 and early April 2020, the B.C. Gender Equality Report Card also finds that many of these steps have left marginalized women and gender-diverse people behind,” the report says.

The highest grade earned by the province in this year’s report card was just a C+, which was in the area of health care. While the province eliminated MSP premiums and made gender-affirming lower surgery accessible under MSP, the report says more needs to be done to make health care more affordable and comprehensive.

“Further action is needed to ensure universal access to gender-specific and sex-specific health-care, as well as contraception, dental care and other health services,” the report’s summary says. “B.C. needs to be proactive in tackling the stigma and discrimination that create barriers to health care for marginalized communities.”

B.C.’s move to introduce a safe drug supply during COVID-19 was “critically important” but must be maintained after the pandemic has passed, the report says.

The province received its lowest mark, a D-, in the area of justice for people who are criminalized.

“The B.C. government has still not adequately addressed major human rights concerns surrounding criminalization,” the report says. “Indigenous people continue to be incarcerated at appallingly disproportionate rates, and transgender people in prisons continue to face dangerous conditions.”

B.C.’s move to reform solitary confinement practices was described as “encouraging and long overdue,” but concerns were expressed over two recent pieces of legislation that could potentially exacerbate the criminalization of marginalized groups: the Community Safety Amendment Act and the Civil Forfeiture Amendment Act.

The report found B.C. had only taken “very limited steps” to address violence against members of gender minority communities and that the province’s temporary funding top-up for services for survivors of domestic violence fell far short of what is needed. Overall, the province was given a D+ for its approach to eliminating gender-based violence, noting that there had been very limited action.

The province was given a C in the area of the rights of parents, children and youth and was recognized for moving towards universal child care, but the report noted “inaction” in other areas.

“The child welfare system is riddled with systemic problems that disproportionately harm Indigenous families,” the summary says. “While B.C.’s move to end birth alerts is a positive and hard-won change, questions remain about what will happen to children previously apprehended as a result of birth alerts, and what new supports (if any) the government will provide so that infants and new parents can thrive together.”

The province announced in 2019 that it was ending a practice that allowed hospitals to inform child welfare agencies of possible safety risks to infants at birth without the consent of parents. The minister of children and family development said at the time the alerts were primarily used in cases involving marginalized women and disproportionately in births for Indigenous women.

When it comes to access to justice and economic security, the province was given a C- in both areas, with concerns raised about access to legal help and low rates for income assistance and disability benefits.

“More targeted housing, social supports and employment programs are needed for marginalized people to attain economic security in the context of systemic sexism, transphobia, racism, ableism and other inequalities,” the report says.

The report also urges the government to ensure that new legislation implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its recognition of transgender and non-binary identities as “more than just symbolic.”

27May

Masks won’t be required in B.C. schools, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

by admin

VANCOUVER —
More students will be returning to schools in B.C. next week, and while many new safety measures are being put in place, requiring masks won’t be among them.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said during her briefing Tuesday that wearing face masks will be optional for those who want to protect others. 

“We don’t see non-medical masks as being required on an ongoing basis in that setting,” Henry said. “The other measures that we have in place are the most important ones.”

Henry said only small numbers of students will be together in classrooms and they’re not expected to be mixing together. For younger students, Henry said it’s also important to emphasize hand hygiene and that they can’t touch each other.

“Those are the things that we’re focusing on. We know that there are some people who are not able to wear a non-medical mask, whether for medical reasons or for reasons of disability,” she said. 

“They are an extra tool that can be layered on above other things but it’s not something that we would require.”

Instead, Henry said masks can be helpful when it’s not possible to maintain a safe physical distance from others. 

When students do return to class part time on June 1, class sizes will be reduced and extra cleaning protocols will be in place. As well, lunch breaks, recesses and pick-up times will be staggered. 

25May

Drive-in restrictions means events designed for the pandemic likely won’t go ahead

by admin

VANCOUVER —
Two months of careful planning to bring shows and events to cities across Metro Vancouver will likely be scrapped, unless the B.C. government relaxes its drive-in rules.

As B.C. starts to carefully restart many sectors that were shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many event organizers hoped to open in a new drive-in format that would keep patrons in their cars.

But B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has restricted outdoor driving events to no more than 50 cars.

Event organizer Promosa planned to convert fields and parking lots into drive-ins to show nightly movies, concerts and comedy shows.

Promosa said it would need at least a 150-car capacity to make ends meet.

“Our industry has been devastated,” said Scott Emslie, director of business development at Promosa. “So many of our partners are trying to find a way to survive. We saw the drive-in as our lifeline.”

His team was also planning graduations, church services and weddings. They’ve been working with Cineplex, Live Nation and The Jazz Festival. A venue downtown Vancouver was chosen for Pride events and the Vancouver International Film Festival.

“Our goal is to bring people together, because honestly, it really feels like people need it right now,” said lighting and touring manager Jaime DeVloo.

At their headquarters in East Vancouver, staff wore masks at their desks. And every employee had their own disinfectant spray bottle. They are confident they can put on safe events with more than fifty vehicles.

“Absolutely,” said Mitch Merilees, the team’s production and safety coordinator. “It’s just important that we have more keen eyes to make sure things are running like they’re supposed to.”

He means spectators must stay in their cars, except for brief trips to the washroom. Staying put would be a condition of admission. Tickets would be scanned through car windows, without the need to roll them down. Food and drinks would be brought to vehicles and left on side-view mirrors. The more cars, the more staff would be brought-in to keep a careful watch.

“It’s super important that we have those diligent eyes, but as long as we have enough, which we plan to do, we’ll be totally fine with a 150 cars,” added Merilees.

BC’s top doctor remains sceptical.

“We know that people don’t stay in their cars all the time at these events,” said Henry. “The more people we have, the more chances we have that this virus can spread to a lot of other people.”

Henry is also concerned if someone does get sick, the patient will be harder to track down, if the exposure occurs in a large crowd. And she pointed out that each car could contain a group of people, pushing the actual attendance number higher.

The BC Government discusses these rules on a regular basis, and hinted if the province’s situation continues to improve, they might be relaxed.

But Promosa said they’re running out of time. Within a month every show they planned will need to be cancelled.

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