There is a very real and deadly health crisis in B.C. from which two people died yesterday and two more will likely die today, tomorrow and the days after that.
It’s not COVID-19, and no news conference was hastily called to talk about it.
Most of those dead and dying are blue-collar guys in what should be the prime of their lives.
This is the reality as B.C. lurches into the fifth year of an opioid overdose crisis. It’s a seemingly unending emergency that by the end of 2019 had already killed 5,539 people here and more than 13,900 across Canada.
Five years in, this crisis has become normalized, with the only certainty as we face another day is that first responders are now better at resuscitating victims because, year over year, the calls have only continued to increase.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed his top ministers to a committee tasked with responding to the COVID-19 crisis. At that point, Canada had only 30 confirmed cases. Of the 21 B.C. cases, four of the patients have fully recovered.
Not to belittle the concerns about COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic, but with nearly 14,000 dead already, no committee — high-level or otherwise — has yet been struck to devise a national addictions strategy that would deal not only with opioids, but also the biggest killer, which is alcohol. A 2019 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 10 Canadians die every day from substance use, and three-quarters of those deaths are alcohol-related.
During the 2019 election, the issue flared briefly after Conservatives placed ads — mainly through ethnic media — claiming that Trudeau’s Liberals planned to legalize all drugs, including heroin.
Already beleaguered, Trudeau not only denied it, he quickly disavowed the resolution overwhelmingly passed at the party’s 2018 convention that called on the Canadian government to treat addiction as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services, and decriminalize personal-use possession of all drugs, with people diverted away from the criminal courts and into treatment.
Trudeau disavowed it again this week when a Liberal backbencher’s private member’s bill was put on the order paper.
Depending on how you read Bill C-236, it’s either calling for decriminalization or legalization. Regardless, the fact that Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s bill will be debated at least gets it on the political agenda because unless there are some major changes, Canadians are going to continue dying at these unacceptably high rates that have already caused the national life expectancy to drop.
Erskine-Smith, an Ontario MP from the Beaches-East York riding, favours a Portugal-style plan of which decriminalization plays only a small part.
But parliamentary rules forbid private member’s bills from committing the government to any new spending, so he said his bill could only narrowly focus on decriminalization.
The slim bill says charges could be laid “only if … the individual cannot be adequately dealt with by a warning or referral (to a program agency or service provider) … or by way of alternative measures.”
Erskine-Smith disagreed with the suggestion that it gives too much discretionary power to police — especially since in B.C., it’s prosecutors, not police, who determine whether charges are laid.
Still, what he proposes is quite different from what happens in Portugal.
There, police have no discretionary power. People found with illicit drugs are arrested and taken to the police station where the drugs are weighed, and the person is either charged with possession and sent to court or diverted to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use to meet with social workers, therapists and addictions specialists who map out a plan.
Since private members’ bills rarely pass, Erskine-Smith doesn’t hold out much hope for his.
It created a firestorm on social media, with some recovery advocates pitted against advocates for harm reduction, including full legalization.
Federal Conservatives also repeated their trope that drug legalization is part of Trudeau’s secret agenda.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s United Conservative government inflamed some harm-reduction advocates with the release of a report on the adverse social and economic impacts of safe consumption sites, even though it didn’t recommend shutting them down.
The report acknowledged that they play an important role in a continuum of care, but it also called for beefed-up enforcement to lessen the chaos that often surrounds them.
The committee questioned some data provided to them that suggested Lethbridge — population 92,730 — may be the world’s most-used injection site.
The committee also questioned why some operators report all adverse events, including non-life-threatening ones as overdoses, leaving the impression that without the sites “thousands of people would have fatally overdosed.”
Among its recommendations are better data collection using standardized definitions as well as better tracking of users to determine whether they are being referred to other services.
More than a year ago, Canadians overwhelmingly told the Angus Reid Institute that they supported mandatory treatment for opioid addiction.
Nearly half said they were willing to consider decriminalization. Nearly half also said that neither Ottawa nor the provinces were doing enough to ease the epidemic.
It seems Canadians are eager for change even if they’re not yet certain what it should look like. The only ones who seem reluctant are the politicians.
After he was arrested for murder, a Surrey real estate agent wanted Kelowna Mounties to investigate his common-law wife for infidelity.
In handcuffs at Kelowna General Hospital, Tejwant Danjou told police he suspected Rama Gauravarapu, who he’s accused of killing, was cheating on him.
“Mr. Danjou stated his wife was having an affair,” RCMP Const. Rick Goodwin testified Wednesday at Danjou’s B.C. Supreme Court trial in Kelowna for the second-degree murder of Gauravarapu.
While being examined at the hospital following his arrest, Danjou told Goodwin that police would find “crucial evidence” of the affair inside an F-150 truck in Surrey. “He wanted me to send officers to Surrey to have this stuff obtained,” Goodwin testified.
Danjou also told Goodwin police should obtain security camera footage from Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in West Kelowna. Danjou and Gauravarapu had visited the winery earlier on July 22, 2018, the day he’s accused of killing her in a West Kelowna hotel room.
“He said there would be video surveillance there, and he wanted me to get the video,” Goodwin said.
Danjou is accused of killing Gauravarapu, an RBC financial planner, in a room at the hotel and then hiding in a nearby dumpster, where he was found by police and arrested.The Crown says the pair’s relationship was a troubled one, characterized by Danjou’s excessive drinking and his jealousy.
Goodwin said Danjou made the comments about suspecting his wife of an affair spontaneously and not in response to any questions that were asked of him. Goodwin said his role was simply to keep custody of Danjou while he was examined at hospital.
“I wasn’t there to solicit any information from Mr. Danjou,” Goodwin said.
Throughout his interactions with Danjou, Goodwin said the accused was civil, unemotional, compliant and seemed to be aware of what was going on.
“Mr. Danjou was polite the whole time,” Goodwin said. “He was always calm, never yelled at me, never swore at me.”
During cross-examination, Danjou’s lawyer, Donna Turko, noted that Danjou had asked Goodwin his name five times during their interaction.
Turko asked Goodwin if it didn’t seem that Danjou was “a little off,” and if he wasn’t surprised to be asked his name five times.
“I don’t recall being shocked Mr. Danjou didn’t remember my name,”
Goodwin responded. “Maybe he had a lot on his mind.”
A homeless man used his cellphone to record 78 unsuspecting women using the toilet in Victoria public washrooms, provincial court has heard.
Garth Galligan, 34, pleaded guilty to unlawfully recording the women in places where they could reasonably expect to have privacy. Galligan also pleaded guilty to breaching his probation by being in the women’s washroom at the Empress Hotel on Aug. 26, 2019. He will be sentenced next week.
Crown prosecutor Lexi Pace told the court that Galligan breached his probation on the same day he was released from jail after serving time for a sexual assault in the women’s washroom of the Royal British Columbia Museum and a disturbing incident at the McDonald’s on Douglas Street.
In December 2018, Galligan approached a young woman in the women’s washroom at the museum, tried to push her into a stall and groped her. Another woman intervened and he ran off.
Galligan also followed a woman into the washroom at the McDonald’s and propositioned her for sex. Galligan was pushing on a stall door to see if it was locked and not taking no for an answer, said Pace. The woman yelled at him to leave and called police.
Within hours of his release, Galligan was found by a member of the hotel’s housekeeping staff standing topless on a toilet seat with his pants around his ankles. She ordered him to leave.
On Sept. 1, another housekeeper walked into the women’s washroom and found a sign taped outside a toilet stall. The door was slightly ajar and the housekeeper saw Galligan naked inside the stall. She was frightened, told him to leave and alerted security, but Galligan fled, said Pace.
On Oct. 7, a woman using a bathroom stall at the hotel noticed a cellphone screen coming from the stall beside her when she flushed the toilet, said Pace. “She was horrified and didn’t know how to react. The phone was then pulled back into the occupied stall. The woman was shaken and reported the matter.”
Galligan fled but he was later identified through security cameras at the hotel.
On Oct. 10, Galligan was arrested and his cellphone was seized, said Pace. Police found a video which was a compilation of other videos showing 58 women in toilet stalls.
“These are single clips which have been strung together in one video. Most reveal the women’s buttocks and genital areas,” said Pace. “From watching the video, I can say it might surprise the court how proximal and clear the view is. … It’s extremely intimate and invasive.”
The Oct. 6 video is 46 minutes and 18 seconds in length and Galligan’s face appears on the video 13 times, she said. It’s believed the video clips were recorded between Aug. 26 and Oct. 6.
A further 20 women were video recorded between Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.
Of the 78 women, six were not recorded in a state of undress or using the toilet.
No one’s face was visible on the video, except Galligan’s. It’s not clear where the videos were taken.
Galligan suffers from serious mental-health problems and drug addiction. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, substance use disorder for both cannabis and amphetamines, anti-social personality disorder and paraphilic disorder.
Galligan was required to report daily to the Assertive Community Treatment team, which helps him. Although Galligan was ordered to live at the Salvation Army, he didn’t and he began using hard drugs, said Pace.
Galligan was warned by the Crown to abide by his conditions, but breaches persisted.
Mitigating factors are Galligan’s Indigenous background and his early guilty pleas, said the prosecutor.
“This is not a trial that anyone wants to attend,” Pace said.
Galligan’s planned, deliberate, practiced actions are aggravating factors, she said. “It’s not impulsive. It’s not a one-off at all.”
Even though he’s under the highest level of supervision in the community, he still visited women’s washrooms at the Empress Hotel three times in a 2 1/2-month period.
Court-ordered reports prepared to assist with sentencing show Galligan has a high risk to reoffend.
Pace and defence lawyer Alex Tait presented a joint submission to the court asking for an 18-month global sentence followed by a three-year probation order.
“This is a very difficult case and Mr. Tait and I have been struggling with it. We’ve had numerous discussions,” said Pace. After his release for these offences, Galligan will be referred again to the Assertive Community Treatment team, she said.
Tait noted that his client’s offending only started at age 30 in 2016.
Galligan was apprehended at birth from the Buffalo Tribe in Saskatchewan and was eventually adopted at age five.
“His underlying problem is homelessness. He has nowhere to go,” said Tait.
Galligan now understands his behaviour unacceptable, said the defence lawyer.
“He has a long road ahead to get help. He needs to stay away from drugs and get housed. … If he had his own place to go, he may have a much better opportunity for success,” said Tait.
“Last time, he was released to the street or the Sally Ann.”
The judge is expected to sentence Galligan on Tuesday.
There was some good news in the 2019 data from the B.C. Coroners Service. Overdose deaths in the province declined for the first time since fentanyl-tainted drugs hit the streets and a public health emergency was declared in 2016.
The decrease was significant — down 36 per cent from 2018 — even though the death toll remains heartbreakingly high. As B.C. enters its fifth year of the crisis, nearly three British Columbians are dying every day.
It does mean that all of the money poured into this crisis — for naloxone kits, the training for paramedics, medical professionals and laypeople in how to use naloxone, more supervised consumption sites, and more people now on prescriptions for drugs like methadone and Suboxone to staunch addicts’ opioid cravings — is keeping more people alive.
But that’s really where the good news ends.
Alarmingly, the number of 911 calls has continued to climb.
Paramedics and other first responders took more than 24,000 calls last year, with calls spiking to more than 130 overdose alerts on “cheque days” or “welfare Wednesdays.”
Being revived from an overdose or living with an opioid addiction comes at a high cost.
Opioids affect the receptors in the brain, causing breathing to become dangerously slow, which in turn slows the heart and sometimes causing cardiac arrest. When the hearts doesn’t pump at capacity, less oxygenated blood makes it to the brain. Without oxygen, brain cells die — and they don’t regenerate.
It’s called toxic brain injury.
Within the coming weeks or months, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control will release data on the prevalence of brain injury among opioid users, including those who have been successfully restored to life with naloxone.
“We know that many hundreds of people will need a lifetime of care,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, who raised the alarm during the coroner’s news conference earlier this week. “It will be a tremendous burden.”
It’s far from the only one.
The burden carried by first responders is different and no less costly. They are burning out and checking out of the system, unable to cope physically, mentally or emotionally with the constant stress of being called to deal with all the overdoses.
This is not to say that harm-reduction measures aren’t working. No one disputes that they are keeping many people alive.
But until now, little attention has been focused on the quality of their lives, post-overdose.
Five years into the public health emergency, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said B.C. still doesn’t have a comprehensive system that includes prevention, treatment and recovery.
The lack of a seamless system is particularly problematic and even deadly for people in rural areas and those coming out of jails and prisons, according to Dr. Nel Wieman, senior medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority.
The numbers back that up. The death rate in the Northern Health Authority, at 22.5 per 100,000, trails Vancouver Coastal, which has the highest rate, by a mere half a percentage point.
Regardless of where they live, Lapointe said families frequently tell coroners how their loved ones managed through detox only to come out and die while on the waiting list for a recovery bed.
The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t enough treatment beds. On most days, some lie empty because the government only funds treatment for welfare recipients. Everyone else has to pay their own way. And except for those with generous employee benefits, many can’t afford treatment that comes at a cost of $900-plus a day.
Lapointe also decried the lack of provincial treatment standards. Different operators have different approaches. Some aren’t evidence-based. Some are strictly abstinence-based and refuse to accept people on drug therapies such as methadone and Suboxone, even though without that, they are more vulnerable to overdose if they relapse.
Decriminalization is touted by some as the answer. Without fear of criminal charges, the theory is that people would be more willing to seek help.
They point to Portugal, where decriminalization was brought in as part of a massive overhaul of its drug treatment system.
But decriminalization has only worked there because Portugal also boosted spending on the other three pillars — prevention, enforcement and treatment.
Here, the crucial elements are missing. With a minority government in Ottawa, the Liberals already have enough problems on their plate to risk raising the controversial idea of decriminalization.
Meanwhile, most provinces, including B.C., haven’t invested enough in the infrastructure to put a Portugal-style model in place.
This week, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy agreed that there are enormous gaps in B.C.’s fragmented system.
When the New Democrats were elected less than three years ago, she said the drug treatment system had been neglected for so long that it was not able to cope with regular tasks, let alone a public health emergency.
The government is taking steps to fix that. But whether it’s moving fast enough is a conversation that both the coroner and chief medical health officer are pushing British Columbians to have because the lives of many loved ones depend on it.
WARNING:This story contains graphic accounts of sexual violence that may be disturbing to some readers.
For 17 years, she criss-crossed Canada trying to flee the man who raped and tortured her and coerced her into prostitution and sexual slavery.
Regardless of what she did or where she went, her tormentor and the gang that he ran with were never far behind.
When she became pregnant with his child, he beat her badly enough that police were called. No charges were laid.
Over the years, he was twice arrested and convicted, but never jailed for assault or for breaching no-contact orders as part of his probation.
He spray-painted one of her homes with racist epithets, torched another and dropped off an eviscerated rat at yet another. Police were called. No charges were laid.
It all ended 12 years ago when, against incredible odds, the United States granted her asylum under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
She didn’t have a lawyer, only two law students who with a professor’s help took it on as a class project.
U.S. Immigration Judge Kenneth Josephson relied on court precedents in concluding that domestic violence constitutes persecution, noting, “If the government is unable or unwilling to control persecution, it matters not who inflicts it.”
“There was no meaningful assistance provided to her,” he said, according to a transcription of his oral decision. He noted that she had made more than 30 attempts to get help from police and spent time in more than a dozen different transition houses across Canada and the United States.
“Obviously, Canada is a democratic, first-world country,” Josephson said. “While it is rare for a citizen of Canada to seek asylum, it is not rare to have claims presented on the basis of domestic violence.”
The judge also leaned heavily on Lisa Rupert’s affidavit describing how women are treated by Canadian police and courts. Rupert is the YWCA’s vice-president of housing services and violence protection in Vancouver.
Between 2003 and 2016, only 79 of 276 Canadian applicants were given asylum, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Because the reasons for decisions aren’t tracked, a spokesman said it’s not known how many were escaping domestic violence or gangs.
Because Rachel is still deemed by Canadian police to be at high risk, Rachel is a pseudonym. For her protection, other identifying details have been deliberately omitted or altered from the mountains of documents that she has meticulously saved over the years.
At our first meeting, Rachel insisted on one thing: “This story is not about him (the perpetrator) or the people he is involved with. … They get enough publicity for being the creepy people who they are.”
The story, she said, is about the failure of the Canadian police and courts to protect her and others like her.
Rachel is furious with Canada. She bitterly points to the country’s boast that it is a world leader when it comes to women’s rights.
“Between the RCMP and the court system, they dropped the ball and slid me down a million crevices, and then they did everything they could to cover it up.”
Now in her mid-50s, she lives at the edge of poverty in subsidized housing, scraping by on part-time and temporary work to supplement a $212-a-month disability pension from the U.S. government.
“I want the Canadian government to acknowledge what happened and repair as much of the damage as they can,” she said during one of many conversations over the past six months.
Rachel has paid dearly for her safety. It’s cost her everything she’s ever had and nearly everyone she’s known and loved.
She can never return to Canada. If she were to come even for a visit, she might be denied re-entry to the U.S. because the reason she was given asylum is that she’s at risk if she returns home.
Between the RCMP and the court system, they dropped the ball and slid me down a million crevices, and then they did everything they could to cover it up
Rachel has had to reinvent herself in a place where no one knew her or why she was there. She’s had to do it without any credentials, because her hard-earned college certificates are in her old name, and without job references because contacting Canadian employers risks having her new identity exposed.
She’s struggled with the effects of the trauma and abuse she’s endured, as well as guilt over the pain her life has caused her children.
Exile has also alienated her from Canada’s safety net, including health care, social assistance and the Canada Pension Plan.
That’s in addition to what she lost earlier when fear forced her to give up permanent custody of one of her children, cut off contact with her elderly parents, abruptly leave jobs and sell the family home she inherited from her parents in order to finance her fugitive life.
After 12 years in hiding, Rachel yearns for home. Canada Day, Canadian Thanksgiving and even Boxing Day trigger memories of happier times and thoughts about what might have been.
When she contemplated visiting Canada earlier this year, Canadian police advised her that she would be at high risk even if she only came for a few days.
The United States is the only place on the continent where she is safe. The man who hunted and abused her can’t cross the border because of his criminal convictions.
But even now, she’s extremely cautious, fearing he’ll find her again.
Meantime, her abuser has carried on. He’s served jail time for forcibly entering a home and assaulting another woman.
FATEFUL FIRST MEETING
Nearly 30 years ago, the vivacious, single, 20-something mom was singing with a band in a bar and attracted the unwanted attention of a guy who was never going to take no for an answer. It changed her world forever.
After she rebuffed him at the bar, he surreptitiously followed her home that night. The stalking had begun. He’d turn up at odd places. When she refused to go to his house for a barbecue with her child, he called repeatedly until she finally relented.
She thought that might be the end of it.
It was only the beginning.
His home was a grow-op. When she realized that, she grabbed her child and fled. He grabbed a rifle and fired a shot at her.
The phone was already ringing when she walked in the door of her home. She knew too much, he said. If she made trouble, his gang would kill her and her family.
Rachel changed her phone number, moved and quit her job. But a few weeks later, he was standing over her in her bedroom with a knife. He raped her repeatedly, pressing a pillow into her face to muffle her screams so she wouldn’t wake her child.
It went on for three days before he agreed that the child should be allowed to go stay with her father.
Over the next few weeks whenever she left the room, he went with her, carrying the switchblade knife. He began inviting some of his friends over. The more compliant she was, the more freedom he gave her. She began plotting her escape to a friend’s house in another community.
But he found out, took her car keys and her money and assaulted her. A few weeks later, he coerced her into taking him with her and the violence escalated.
He punished minor slights by locking her in the basement. In her U.S. immigration affidavit, Rachel wrote that he started humming the music from Psycho.
The RCMP report from one of the assaults that sent Rachel to hospital includes her statement describing how he wrapped a sheet around her neck and choked her before he lunged at her with a large knife.
She was thrown against a wall, thrown to the ground and kicked, according to the RCMP victim assistance supplementary report. He kept repeating that he was going to kill her.
When police interviewed Rachel about the assault, they didn’t want to hear about anything that had gone before that, she told the immigration judge. They refused to listen when she tried to tell them about how he’d coerced her into living with him, tortured and beaten her before.
Instead, they were the first of many to describe him as her boyfriend and suggest the violence was the result of her bad choices.
Although he was arrested, they didn’t detain him. They escorted him out of town as if it were all part of a Wild West movie.
It was no movie. A few days later, Rachel was released from hospital. As she was scrambling to pack the car and leave, he came out from behind the garage, grinning.
“Where are we going now?” he asked.
A month later and in another town, he beat her until she was unconscious. Once again, police weren’t interested in what had happened before, only what had happened that night.
He was charged with aggravated assault, but he later pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to nine months of probation and ordered to attend anger-management classes. There was no restraining order.
That night, he found her and raped her.
Within that first year, he coerced her into prostitution and made her audition for a porn film.
He also got her pregnant. When she refused to have an abortion, he assaulted her. Police came, but no charges were laid. A month after the child was born, he breached the order, robbed and assaulted her, burning her with a cigarette and punching her in the jaw.
“Strongly recommend that the accused be released only if a restraining order is put into effect,” the attending officer wrote. “No contact direct or indirect as accused harassing victim by repeated phone calls.”
Also in the report is the accused’s comment: “She’ll pay for this. She will know how this feels.”
Why police responded as they did, why he was never jailed for breaching no-contact orders and why he was never jailed at all are all questions that haunt Rachel and remain unanswered. Police don’t comment on individual cases and, aside from their decisions, judges don’t comment at all.
For 17 years, Rachel describes her life as a cat-and-mouse chase.
“I thought he’d eventually give up and move on. I didn’t think it would be a 17-year problem or that I would eventually have to leave the country,” she told me.
“I kept thinking, ‘Now, the police will do something. Now, it’s going to stop.’”
But the timeline chronicling her torment runs to eight pages. He’d breach the orders. She’d escape to a shelter and he’d find her. He’d beat her; police would be called. Only twice were restraining orders issued. He was never sent to jail.
When he couldn’t catch and assault her, he’d vandalize her home or threaten her employers. When he couldn’t find her, he’d threaten her parents.
One summer, she and her child lived off the grid in a tent bought at Zellers. When the $300 that she’d hidden from him ran out, she begged a telephone operator to find the number for a women’s shelter and put her through.
Less than a month later, her relentless and well-connected abuser found them there.
Another time and in a different shelter, a gang-connected woman wheedled her way in to deliver the message that he was watching.
Rachel relinquished permanent custody of her child from a previous relationship as a protection from the violence that permeated her life.
Later, exhausted from the threats and running, Rachel asked the child protection ministry to take the child that she’d had with her abuser into temporary care on the condition that the child’s father not be contacted.
But a social worker broke that agreement and contacted Rachel’s abuser even though his name is not on the child’s birth certificate. Because of that breach of privacy, Rachel very nearly ended up having to share custody with the man who was making her life hell.
Not only would it have meant regular contact with him, Rachel could never have got asylum in the U.S. With a custody order in place, she could have been charged with abduction if she had taken the child out of the country without his permission.
Instead, his custody attempt was the impetus for her exile.
REPEATED PLEAS FOR HELP
Over the years, Rachel has approached the Canadian government for help. She’s kept every email and letter, along with names and phone numbers of the various officials she’s spoken to.
Initially, she asked for compensation for the house she was forced to sell at below market price in 1997 to finance her fugitive life. When it sold again recently, it was for $1.4 million.
Last fall, she tried to get help accessing disability benefits under the Canada Pension Plan, which she paid into from the time she started a part-time job as a high-school student.
To get benefits, she needs a birth certificate and social insurance number. Rachel believes it’s too risky to apply for CPP under her old name, so she needs new documents.
After a flurry of email exchanges and phone calls, nothing has happened, just as nothing happened in the 1990s when Rachel begged police to give her a new identity.
Among the problems is Canada’s disjointed system, name changes and birth certificates are provincial. Social insurance numbers and CPP are federal. Each requires a separate application. Each application costs money that Rachel can ill afford.
But even before she can apply, Rachel would have to apply to be allowed to apply from outside Canada. That’s a whole other process.
For nearly 30 years, Rachel has been told there’s another problem with getting her name changed in Canada.
When she was in her late teens, Rachel defrauded a telephone company of $2,000 worth of telephone service by using a fake name.
“It was kid stuff, poor-people stuff,” she said.
She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years’ probation with 200 hours of community service and the requirement that she repay the money. She tried, but couldn’t manage to do all of that.
Even with the support of her probation officer, the judge refused to amend the probation order and clear the way for a later pardon, or what’s now called a record suspension. Because of her record, her only safe choice was an extreme one. Flight.
The United States gave her a waiver before granting her asylum and a new identity. Why shouldn’t Canada do that for her now?
STILL AT RISK
Rachel has lived in fear for half her life. She still struggles to accept that for as long as her assailant is alive, her life is at risk.
Violence, threats and coercion forced her into hiding, into exile and into poverty that affected not only her but her children.
Unable to return to her country of birth, she missed major milestones in her children’s lives. She is unable to visit her parents’ graves.
But among the facts of her life that Rachel finds most galling is that her punishment for defrauding a phone company of $2,000 was three times as long as any sentence her assailant ever received for nearly killing her.
As B.C. heads into the fifth year of a public health emergency due to the high number of opioid overdose deaths, Vancouver Island still doesn’t have a single residential-treatment for youth. Provincewide, the number of youth beds and services lag demand.
For youth who do get one of those precious treatment beds, their transition back to community-based services is badly planned and poorly managed.
Had all of that been in place, 16-year-old Elliot Cleveland Eurchuk might have survived his addiction rather than being counted among the 4,850 British Columbians to have died between January 2016 and Oct. 31, 2019.
But the teen’s legacy could be — should be — that Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan making addictions treatment as much of a priority as harm reduction.
Recommendations from the coroner’s inquest into Eurchuk’s 2018 death released on Monday provide some direction: More acute-care beds for youths including a residential treatment centre in Victoria; more and better access to addictions services; and resources for early detection of mental-health and substance-use disorders among youth.
For more, the government ought to dig out its copies of the 2018 report from the B.C. Centre on Substance Use that recommended a “full, evidence-based continuum of care including building an effective and coordinated addiction treatment and recovery system that has traditionally been lacking.”
That report also singled out the need for youth-specific services and treatment including residential care. It also recommended “recovery high schools” where not only are drugs and alcohol are strictly prohibited, treatment and services are part of the curriculum.
Men aged 19 to 59 make up the overwhelming majority of the people who have died of opioid overdoses. But, an average of 18 youths have died in each of the past four years.
The recommendations aren’t only aimed at preventing youth from dying. They’re aimed at providing treatment to prevent their addictions from becoming entrenched.
In addition to the recommendations, the coroner’s report provides a glimpse of the other opioid crisis far away from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Eurchuk knew about harm reduction services, but he didn’t get his drugs tested, didn’t go to safe injection sites, didn’t seek treatment or replacement therapies such as methadone or Suboxone.
He’d started using cannabis in November 2015 when he was 13. After injuring his shoulder wrestling a year later, he began self-medicating, buying hydromorphone from a classmate at Oak Bay High School.
In December 2016, he broke his jaw playing soccer and, after surgery, was prescribed hydromorphone for the pain. Two months later, he had the first of two surgeries on his shoulder and was prescribed another opioid, Tramacet, for the pain.
After reinjuring his shoulder that fall, Eurchuk was given another prescription for Tramacet. He was also suspended from school, accused of selling drugs to classmates.
After a second shoulder operation that October, Eurchuk got a five-day prescription for Oxycodone, followed up by a prescription for Tramacet.
In the final months of his life, Eurchuk was routinely using opioids to the point that when he was hospitalized in early 2018 for a serious infection, he got a day pass and got fentanyl and cocaine while he was out. He went into cardiac arrest in the hospital on his return.
He was home briefly in February before being readmitted under the Mental Health Act. Discharged after a week, Eurchuk was in the emergency room of Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital in March because of decreased consciousness and released after a few hours.
On his final day, Eurchuk bought a two-day supply from a street dealer, used with a friend early in the evening and was heavily intoxicated by the time they parted ways. As the evening wore on, people who saw him described him as everything from fine to agitated to disoriented. He was last seen at midnight.
The teen died on the morning of April 10 at home from a heart attack, fluid in the lungs and aspiration caused by “mixed intoxication” from fentanyl, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Attempts to revive him with naloxone, chest compressions, suction and a defibrillator failed.
While the government will provide a written response to the coroner’s recommendations in the coming weeks, last summer it committed $2.4 million over three years to addictions and mental health programs.
It has opened four youth detox beds in Victoria. There are eight Foundry Centres across the province providing comprehensive supports with three more being developed. And, this spring, a 20-bed treatment facility in Chilliwack is scheduled to open.
There is no guarantee that better acute-care treatment, earlier interventions and more comprehensive community services will save the lives of every addicted youth or that they would have saved Eurchuk.
Addiction is, after all, a chronic, relapsing condition.
Elliot Eurchuk was just a kid and there are others like him. They deserve the best chance possible to grow up to be healthy adults.
One person has been arrested after an explosion that led to several homes being evacuated in a Surrey neighbourhood Friday.
Mounties say shortly before 6 p.m. officers attended to a report of an explosion in the area of 124 St. and Iona Place.
Witnesses told police to go to a specific residence where the explosion was believed to have happened.
Police say the surrounding homes were evacuated as a precaution and specialized response teams were brought in to ensure safety.
RCMP have not released very many details. They have not said what caused the explosion, or whether the person arrested is a man or a woman. They only said the person was “emotionally elevated” at the time of arrest.
Surrey RCMP continue to investigate and are looking for witnesses and possible CCTV surveillance video in relation to the explosion.
Anyone with information about the incident or who was in the area that may have dash cam video, is asked to contact the Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Court records show there were four crimes scenes related to the killing of UBC botany lecturer Leonard Dyck last summer.
The recently released records — showing the evidence RCMP needed to obtain a search warrant — state that Dease Lake RCMP went to a pullout on Highway 37, 60 km south of Dease Lake in the far north, at 7:20 a.m. on Friday, July 19, after a report that a truck had burned there and was still smouldering. Police called that Scene 1.
Police arrived half an hour later and found a destroyed 1993 red Dodge pickup and camper, identified later that day as belonging to teen killer Kam McLeod, who, along with Bryer Schmegelsky, murdered three people in July.
At about 8:30 a.m., as RCMP Const. David Ribiero was about to drive south to Iskut, road worker William Sjodin pulled in and said he had just seen a dead man in another highway pullout 2.5 km south.
“There’s a dead body in the pit south of here,” Sjodin told police.
Sjodin and Ribiero then drove to that pullout, called Scene 2, and found Dyck’s body. He had died from multiple injuries — zap straps and a shell casing were found near Dyck’s body. According to the police report, Dyck “bled out at the scene,” as a result of injuries from an edged weapon and a gunshot wound.
Two hours later, Ribiero was told that two highway maintenance workers had dealt with a garbage bin fire from the night before on the south side of the Stikine Bridge. This became Scene 3.
Ribiero went to Scene 3 and, while he was there, a truck driver approached him and said that he saw the bin ablaze at about 10:40 p.m. the night before.
At 3:10 p.m. on July 19, a witness stopped by Scene 2, where Dyck had been found, and advised that there was a bathroom by the Stikine River that was covered in blood. Cpl. Al Smith was sent to that scene, where he found large blood drops on the floor and interior walls of the toilet. The toilet was on the south side of the Stikine Bridge and became crime Scene 4.
Just after midnight on July 20, RCMP went to the home of McLeod and told his parents the vehicle had been found. They learned that McLeod and Schmegelsky had left their homes in Port Alberni on July 12 and had contacted family on three occasions since then. At that point, police believed there was evidence in McLeod’s vehicle that could be linked to Dyck’s murder.
RCMP revealed to the public three days later, on July 23, that McLeod and Schmegelsky were prime suspects.
As a result of the evidence, the police were issued a warrant to search the burned-out vehicle.
McLeod and Schmegelsky were found dead from suicide on Aug. 7 in remote Manitoba after a manhunt.
Tourists Lucas Fowler from Australia and Chynna Deese from the U.S. were also murdered, on July 15 by the side of the Alaska Highway near Liard Hot Springs.
Timeline of the triple murders committed in B.C. last summer by teen killers Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky
For close to a month last summer, Canadians were gripped with a cross-country manhunt for two Port Alberni teens who had decided for reasons unknown to leave their hometown on a murderous rampage that left three dead.
A consortium of media outlets, including Postmedia News, asked the court for release of hundreds of pages of police documents used to secure several warrants to search homes and vehicles, obtain store records, cellphone records and records from other agencies.
Among the details never heard before is that a man apparently narrowly escaped being the fourth murder victim of the teenagers.
Based on those documents, here is timeline of events from Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, leaving Port Alberni to the discovery of their bodies 27 days later.
McLeod and Schmegelsky leave their Port Alberni homes, telling family and friends they are headed to the Yukon for work. Later that day they arrive at the Cabela’s outdoor gear store in Nanaimo and go straight to the firearm and ammunition section. Using McLeod’s possession and acquisition licence, the pair buy a Soviet SKS carbine, two magazines and 20 rounds of 7.62-mm ammunition.
Lucas Fowler, an Australian, and Chynna Deese, an American, leave Hudson Hope on a trip north to Alaska.
On Sunday evening, tourist Charles Ray is driving on Highway 97 — 20 km south of Liard Hot Springs — when he notices a broken-down van. He stops to help. Fowler and Deese tell him they plan to call a tow truck, eventually (the area they are stopped has no cellphone coverage.) Ray camps three kilometres away and plans to check on them in the morning. On this day, numerous people stop to talk to the couple and offer help, while some passersby contact the RCMP.
Road maintenance worker Alandra Hull drives past the van and notes a man in the middle of the road, facing a man and woman who are close to the van. They are in a heated conversation.
Fowler and Deese are last seen alive at 7:15 p.m.
3:25 a.m. — McLeod’s truck with its white camper stops at the Contact Creek Gas Station on Highway 97, 160 km north of where the couple’s van is broken down.
4:16 a.m. — McLeod’s truck observed 220kms north of the crime scene.
6:20 a.m. — A transport truck driver sees two bodies in the ditch, close to the van, and stops. The bodies are cold.
6:47 a.m. — Hull asks a colleague to drive to the scene to check on the couple. That colleague finds the distraught trucker directing traffic. Two tourists also stop at the scene and note the bodies are both face down with their hands loosely at their sides. They are 10 feet from the van, and about 15 feet from each other.
7:22 a.m. — RCMP Prince George’s operational communications centre gets a call from Hull reporting that two dead bodies had been spotted in a ditch by the side of the road. She had been alerted by a driver who spotted the bodies. Other witnesses also call police.
8:20 a.m. — Fort Nelson RCMP, the nearest detachment, is advised.
9:15 a.m. — Ray, as he had planned, attempts to return to check on the couple. He is stopped by a road maintenance crew.
10:30 a.m. — Fort Nelson RCMP officers arrive and five spent shell cases are located nearby. It’s noted the blue 1986 Chevrolet Van is licensed to Fowler and had the side door open and the back window shattered. A local coroner arrives and it’s noted Fowler and Deese’s bodies have entry and exit bullet wounds.
The RCMP major crimes unit is advised and determine Fowler entered Canada on April 16, 2019, while Deese arrived on July 6, 2019. The pair had travelled to Bosnia together in November, 2017.
4 p.m. — McLeod’s truck is seen parking at a gas station near Whitehorse, Yukon.
9:15 a.m. — RCMP major crimes officers arrive a the shooting scene. They note the van is parked on the shoulder of the northbound lane, near a culvert that goes under the highway. There are footprints leading south from the van. Inside the van is Deese’s cellphone and Bank of America visa card. Fowler’s phone was not located.
Leonard Dyck leaves Vancouver in his Toyota RAV 4 on a road trip to Northern B.C. to watch grizzlies. He tells his wife he will be back on July 24.
Dyck texts his wife.
McLeod makes last contact with his family in Port Alberni, saying he and Schmegelsky are in Whitehorse.
Ken Albertson, of Alaska, pulls over for a nap in a pullout on the Alaska Highway shortly after fuelling up his vehicle in Haines Junction, Yukon. This is about 800 kilometres by road from where the young tourist couple were murdered.
Within five minutes, he spots a white truck pull over 50 metres ahead of him on the same side of the road.
A male passenger gets out of the truck with what Albertson says is a long gun and heads towards the treeline on the side of the road. Suddenly, Albertson told police, the man’s body language changes and he begin creeping toward Albertson “in a tactical or hunting stance.” Then white truck also started moving slowly toward him.
Albertson said he quickly started his own truck and drove away, passing the white truck. Albertson said he tried to get a look at the driver, but he covered his face with a hand and turned his head away as Albertson drove by.
Police received this information on July 22.
Dyck texts his wife for the last time. Police confirm publicly that the deceased are Fowler and Deese and their families are notified.
Schmegelsky’s debit card was last used on July 18 on the Alaska Highway. Later, McLeod and Schmegelsky are seen buying goods (including gloves and a chocolate bar later found at the Dyck crime scene) in Dease Lake.
Dease Lake RCMP is called early in the morning with reports of a burning truck in a pullout on Highway 37. While at the scene, police are told a body has just been found in a pullout a few kilometres south. At this point the body, is not identified. It has numerous injuries and has a pool of blood alongside it. It’s later determined Dyck died from a gunshot wound from McLeod’s SKS rifle.
11:40 a.m. — McLeod and Schmegelsky are seen at a gas station near Terrace in Dyck’s RAV 4.
It is determined the burned truck belongs to McLeod and police release pictures of McLeod and Schmegelsky, who at this point are considered simply missing and are not suspects. Through the vehicle’s insurance, police determine McLeod’s parents’ names.
Autopsies are conducted on Fowler and Deese at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital where it is noted the couple had entry and exit gunshot wounds.
Police release a composite image of the man who Hull saw speaking to Fowler and Deese on the night before their murders. Police speak to McLeod’s parents and aunt to say the burned vehicle had been found and they were concerned for his safety. They learn McLeod and Schmegelsky are close friends and had quit their Walmart jobs and were headed to the Yukon. The pair, who are both slim and very tall, have hunted before.
Police speak to Schmegelsky’s grandmother, who confirms the pair had left on a spur-of-the-moment trip north. Before leaving, Schmegelsky had been rejected by a girl. Police then interview McLeod’s girlfriend, who says the pair had been saving for the trip and that on July 13 he had told her by text that the pair would not be returning.
3 p.m. — A white car is seen speeding north on Highway 37.
7 p.m. — The killers are seen at a gas station in La Ronge, Saskatchewan.
Police determine McLeod and Schmegelsky were keen gamers. Vancouver police confirm the ammunition casings from the Highway 97 and Highway 37 crime scenes were both 7.62 mm.
McLeod and Schmegelsky are seen at a store in Meadow Lake, Sask., driving a Toyota RAV 4 and are publicly identified as suspects.
Helen Dyck contacts the RCMP after seeing the drawing of her husband that had been released that day. She tells police her husband loved to drive and see new places as a way of relaxing. He would sleep in his car on the side of the road, usually in pullouts, though he had a tent. She said he was a lecturer at UBC.
Gillam RCMP in Northern Manitoba get a report of vehicle fire in a remote location.
Canada-wide warrants are issued for the arrest of McLeod and Schmegelsky.
RCMP get a search warrant for Cabela’s in Nanaimo.
Police search the homes of McLeod and Schmegelsky and recover maps and ammunition.
During a search near where Dyck’s RAV 4 was found burned, police find dozens of unspent rounds of ammunition on the ground.
McLeod’s backpack containing his wallet, clothing and ammunition is found.
Police find the killers dead, eight kilometres from where the burned the RAV 4.
They have left a series of videos in which they admit to the killings and have no regrets. The video camera belonged to Dyck. They also claimed they were going to hike to Hudson Bay, hijack a boat and go to Europe or Africa. Police say they died in a suicide pact.
The UGM has a long, respected record of providing supportive recovery housing for people with addictions, including this one, The Sanctuary, for women. Yet it is on a government list of “unlicensed” operators. Blame the government’s confusing and opaque rules. Jason Payne / PNG
For 80 years, the Union Gospel Mission has provided services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, feeding people, providing shelter and helping them deal with addictions.
It has annual revenue of just over $22 million and assets of nearly $7 million. A couple of weeks ago, it served 2,500 people at its annual Christmas dinner.
It is one of the largest providers of supportive recovery housing for people with addictions.
For women, whose needs are greatly underserved, UGM has the eight-bed Lydia Home in Mission and 13 beds at The Sanctuary on Heatley Avenue in Vancouver.
For men, it has a purpose-built facility with 62 beds for addictions recovery, 72 shelter beds and 37 affordable housing units that opened in 2011.
The provincial government put up $12.1 million for the $29 million facility and the city waived $420,000 in development fees, which explains why former housing minister Rich Coleman and then-mayor Gregor Robertson were among the dignitaries attending.
Clearly, UGM is no fly-by-night organization.
But it’s a testament to the complexity and opacity of the B.C. government’s assisted living registry that UGM has found itself on a list on of 26 unregistered (a.k.a. illegal) facilities, which includes both supportive addictions recovery houses and seniors’ assisted living.
“We feel terrible and embarrassed about our mistake as we take regulatory compliance seriously,” programs director Dan Russell said in an email. “We believed our recovery programs did not require registration or licensing because we did not provide any prescribed services.”
When UGM learned that its recovery program “could be interpreted as a therapy program” under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, Russell said it immediately contacted the Health Ministry, which sent inspectors on Oct. 10.
In their report posted on the ministry’s website, the inspectors listed two prescribed services that were being offered at all three houses as “psychosocial supports and medication administration.”
UGM was ordered to reduce the number of people receiving services to no more than two at each location, cease providing the services or immediately apply for registration.
UGM sprang into action, gathering documentation to meet all 30 requirements on the registration checklist. It was ready to submit the application on Nov. 20. But by then, the online application form had disappeared because of new regulations that came into effect Dec. 1.
It meant UGM (along with any others attempting to get off the bad list) had to gather more documentation to prove that it meets the new guidelines. UGM is still working on completing it, but it had hoped that its good intentions would have meant it would be taken off the list.
Among the many reasons that UGM is so eager to get off a list is that the list includes several very bad operators.
Those bad actors are the reason that after years of inaction, the province has finally taken some steps to strengthen regulations and enforcement to protect vulnerable addicts searching for help.
Vancouver Recovery Centre is one of those. Operated by Kyle Walker, four of its houses are on the unregistered list with complaints against them.
The Abbotsford News reported that neighbours of the one on Eagle Street in Abbotsford described it as a flophouse when they went to city council meeting in May to finally get it closed.It also reported that police had been called to the house 32 times between January 2017 and January 2019 for a sexual assault, a domestic dispute and threats and that residents were being charged $800 to live there.
The house was still operating despite orders from the city in April 2017 and the province in September 2018 to close.
For decades, the provincial government and municipalities have been playing whack-a-mole with scammers who promise addictions recovery services and provide only shelter.
Yet, even some government-registered recovery houses have critical failings — failings that have cost five people their lives in the past year.
Union Gospel Mission is not one of those and there are many registered and licensed houses operating to the highest standards.
Protecting them from guilt by association is why registration, licensing, regulation and enforcement are all crucial.
More importantly, a robust system and a credible registry are only ways that anyone — let alone desperate addicts and families — can determine whether a recovery house is safe or whether the best thing about it is a slick website.
Soon British Columbia will mark the fourth anniversary of a public health emergency caused by overdose deaths from a fentanyl-laced supply of illicit drugs.
The number of deaths dropped 30 per cent in the first half of 2019. But the number of times paramedics were called to deal with overdoses remains near its all-time high.
Addiction isn’t going away nor is the need for high-quality treatment and recovery services.
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