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21Feb

Against the odds, a Canadian woman is granted asylum in the U.S. under the UN Convention Against Torture

by admin

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.


As part of a relentless campaign to control her, Rachel’s tormentor coerced her into prostitution and made her audition for a porn film. His abuse was only beginning.

CARL DE SOUZA /

AFP/Getty Images

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.

It’s cruel and absurd.

dbramham@postmedia.com

twitter.com/bramham_daphne


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20Feb

B.C. woman diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning from Iran

by admin


B.C.’s health officials are set to share an update on novel coronavirus.


Genome BC / PNG

Another case of the coronavirus has been diagnosed in British Columbia.

The provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, says a woman in her 30s has been diagnosed with COVID-19 after returning this week from Iran. The woman lives in the Fraser Health region.

“Our continued view is that the risk to B.C. is low, we are acting with vigilance,” she said.

Henry said staff were surprised by a new case linked to Iran, which only recently reported it had five cases of COVID-19 and two deaths.

“That triggered interest from people around the world,” Henry said. “I expect there will be an investigation to determine where the exposure occurred.”

Iran has reported at least 20 other people in various areas who are being tested, Henry said.  “And we’ll be linking with them to see where this person had been in Iran — we’re tracing her travel all the way back to Iran.”

Henry says the woman’s case is relatively mild and a number of her close contacts are in isolation.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the patient’s samples have been sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Man., for final confirmation.

This brings the number of cases of COVID-19 in B.C. to six.

“So far in B.C. all of our cases have been relatively mild and managed mostly at home,” she said.

Henry said earlier that four of the five people diagnosed with the virus were symptom free.

The fifth person, a woman in her 30s who returned from Shanghai, China, is in isolation at her home in B.C.’s Interior.

Henry said over 500 people have been tested for the virus in B.C. and many of those tested positive for the flu.

“We’re in containment,” she explained, adding that because many cases are mild, the virus can be transmitted when people few symptoms.

“It makes it very difficult to contain the virus. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Three cases of the virus have also been confirmed in Ontario.

As of Thursday, the World Health Organization said there were 75,748 confirmed cases globally, with 548 new cases reported in the past 24 hours. The majority of those cases are in China, with 2,121 deaths recorded to date in the country.

Outside of China, there have been eight deaths across 26 countries. In Canada, there have only been eight cases to date, with only one case being transmitted outside of China. There have been no deaths due to COVID-19 in Canada.

— With files from Lynn Mitges, Stephanie Ip, and the Canadian Press

20Feb

Flu vaccine protected 6 out of 10 in B.C. during unusual influenza season: study

by admin


A flu shot


Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

VANCOUVER — Getting vaccinated for the flu may have prevented about six out of 10 people from becoming infected in an early Canadian flu season, says a study involving a network of family doctors who monitored patients in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, lead author of the study and lead epidemiologist for influenza at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said the study involved about 2,800 patients who were seen by their physicians for a flu-like illness between Nov. 1, 2019 and Feb. 1.

The current flu season was the most unusual in about five years because of an early spike in influenza B as influenza A was circulating across Canada and the northern hemisphere.

Skowronski said the doctors are part of the Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance Network involved in helping to determine vaccine effectiveness. They took nasal swabs from patients who were at least a year old and were seen within seven days of the start of symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat.

The study, published Thursday in Eurosurveillance, a journal on infectious disease surveillance, epidemiology, prevention and control, found about an equal number of people were sickened by influenza A and B.

“This vaccine prevented about 60 per cent of cases of influenza that would have otherwise occurred in unvaccinated cases,” Skowronski said.

She said vaccination effectiveness was estimated by comparing vaccine coverage of patients who tested negative for influenza versus those who tested positive.

The so-called test-negative method was pioneered by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control in 2004 and has come to be used globally in place of randomized control trials, which would require a group of unvaccinated patients, an unethical scenario given everyone should get the vaccine, Skowronski said.

“Other countries have now adopted that methodology,” she said. “Collectively, we submit our findings to the World Health Organization. Later this month the WHO will be meeting to decide whether it needs to update the vaccine strains for next season’s formulation,” she said of the virus that changes every year.

“This is good news in that the vaccine is performing better than it has in previous years,” Skowronski said of the findings, adding they highlight the fact that the public should get vaccinated annually to protect themselves against various strains of the influenza virus, especially if they have a heart or lung condition or are in contact with vulnerable people including the elderly.

“If you want to prevent a miserable illness, and influenza is a miserable illness, a vaccine will protect you against that. But that might be an individual decision. For me, it’s really a kind of double tragedy when high-risk individuals experience these severe outcomes and they could have been prevented through vaccination.”

Concerns about the novel coronavirus should create a greater appreciation for influenza vaccines, Skowronski said.

In place of no vaccine for COVID-19, people should rely on conventional public health measures used for other coronaviruses, such as washing their hands and sneezing and coughing into their elbow, she said.

However, she said knowing who will or won’t get the flu is complex and could include issues such as which influenza subtypes were prevalent around the time someone was born, giving them a lifelong immunity to those subtypes.

British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick are the only provinces that do not offer publicly funded vaccination for influenza for all residents but provide it in limited cases, including for pregnant women.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said an average of 12,200 people are hospitalized for the flu every year and 3,500 people die of it annually.

It says everyone aged six months and older should get immunized, and the best time for that is between October and December, before the virus begins spreading.

‘Working in a pressure cooker’: Violence against B.C. nurses linked to heavy workload

by admin


In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.


The heavy workload faced by B.C. nurses put them at higher risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their patients, according to new research from the University of B.C.

The study, published in the journal Nursing Open and funded by the B.C. Nurses Union, “validates” anecdotal evidence from nurses on the front lines of the health care system, BCNU president Christine Sorensen said Thursday.

“Nurses are working in a pressure cooker,” she said. “That pressure in the system transfers to patients … which can sometimes lead them to take it out on the first person who helps them.”

According to the union, 26 nurses each month suffer a violent injury at work, accounting for 31 per cent of all injuries from acts of violence in B.C.

Nurses report being verbally assaulted, which includes yelling, swearing and racial slurs, as well as physical abuse, which ranges from throwing food or bed pans to sexual and physical assault.

In September, a nurse at Abbotsford Regional Hospital was ambushed by a patient who struck her with an exercise weight, leaving her with a broken jaw and fractured cheekbone.

The UBC study found complaints from patients or their families are sometimes a precursor to emotional or physical violence.

Complaints can be part of the “spiral of aggression” that eventually leads to violence, said study author Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.


‘We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,’ says Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor of nursing at UBC.

Handout

The complaints often stem from workload issues, which affect the quality of patient care. The study looked at several factors to determine workload, including common measures such as staffing and patient load, as well as the number of interruptions, number of admissions and how sick or how much assistance patients required.

“The evidence shows that when nurses are overworked, they get more complaints. If they don’t have time to deal with the complaints, the situation can escalate,” said Havaei.

Nurses said they received an average of one complaint per month and experienced emotional or physical abuse from patients or their families at about the same frequency.

“We need to address the root cause of the problem, which is the heavy workload,” said Havaei, adding that a system to better track patient complaints would only be a “bandaid approach” to preventing violence.

Sorensen called on the provincial government to provide additional nurses to provide better patient care and help with workload, as well as protection safety officers to ensure safety.

In December, the provincial government announced a new agency to tackle workplace safety for health care workers, earmarking $8.5 million over the next three years.

The province’s health-sector bargaining associations, health employers and the provincial government will lead the new non-profit organization, which was born out of a working group of the same stakeholders.

In 2018, injury claim costs from health care workers totalled more than $107 million, an increase of about $11 million from the previous year, according to the province. It is expected the new agency will be operational by late spring.

gluymes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

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18Feb

B.C. Budget 2020: B.C. finance presents stay-the-course budget

by admin

VICTORIA – B.C.’s finance minister has unveiled a hold-the-course budget, with modest new money for electric vehicle rebates and post-secondary grants, funded by new taxes on high-income earners and sugary drinks.

People with taxable income of more than $220,000 will see a tax hike from 16.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent, in a move the government estimates will generate $216 million in new revenue next year, and $713 million over three years.

“We’re asking those at the top, who benefit the most from our economy, to contribute a little bit more,” said Finance Minister Carole James.

“Nearly half the revenue of this tax increase will come in from individuals with income above $1 million, and even with this tax rate B.C.’s personal income taxes remain very competitive.”

While the new income tax affects a relatively small number of people, a second new tax on sugary drinks will impact far more consumers.

The government will end a Provincial Sales Tax exemption on sugary drinks, like pop, starting July 1, said James. Adding the seven per cent PST to such beverages will generate more than $30 million annually.

“This is a health initiative to look at how we grow healthy young people,” said James.

“I think it’s interesting if you take a look at the largest consumption of pop, sweetened drinks, it is 14-18 year olds. We want to make sure we’re doing our part to set them on the stage of having a healthy life ahead.”

The revenue from the new taxes will help fund a new $24-million grant program to offer up to $4,000 a year for low-income college and university students in September. That grant program will be overhauled to include students taking diploma and certificate courses in trades, education and health-care programs, which were previously ineligible.

“Access to education creates opportunities that span generations,” said James. “It has the power to change a family forever.”

It will also help pay for another extension to existing electric vehicle rebates of up to $3,000, at a cost of $28 million next year.

Overall, the 2020/21 budget, which starts April 1, estimates a $227 million surplus on $60 billion in spending.

Spending is rising faster than revenue, at a 3.1 per cent expenditure increase compared to last year, on 2.6 per cent in new revenue.

The budget, which comes with $900 million in contingency and forecast allowances, is a far cry from the large-scale spending plans delivered by the NDP government since it formed power in 2017.

James continued to warn Tuesday of a softening economy, international economic risks and the need for prudence in spending. The province’s economic growth remains estimated at 1.8 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“If you took a look at past governments, what would often happen at this time during a moderating economy is you’d see programs and services cut,” said James. “We’re not doing that.”

Business groups gave lukewarm reviews to the budget.

B.C. Business Council president Greg D’Avignon said he was “disappointed” in the budget.

“The budget is virtually silent on the agenda let alone the implementation of a sustainable economic plan,” he said.

Greater Vancouver Board of Trade gave the budget a “B-“ grade.

She said roughly $300 million in internal government cuts to discretionary spending have proven successful. However, government officials could not provide a breakdown of costs saved by ministry and James said no such list exists because the money is reinvested into programs and services.

While some revenue sources are up in the budget, such as the carbon tax and property transfer tax, other revenues are lagging, including personal and corporate income tax.

B.C.’s share of cannabis taxes from Ottawa sat at $6 million in 2019/20 due to the slow rollout of stores and what critics have said are more attractive prices and products in the black market. However, the budget projects a spike in cannabis revenue to $50 million next year, and $70 million annually after that.

James said $18 million is also being set aside on public health and enforcement for cannabis.

The budget largely holds the line for housing affordability and child care, two key election promises from the NDP government in the 2017 election.

Child care funding in particular is largely frozen for the next three years, and it was unclear Tuesday from budget documents how that impacts the 10-year plan to bring in $10-a-day child care.

The federal government recently renewed its child-care funding payments, which allow B.C. to continue to operate several $10-a-day pilot sites across the province.

Sharon Gregson, from the Coalition of Child Care Advocates, said government honoured its funding commitment for next year, but is concerned it is $200 million short for future years. She said she’s confident the government will revise the funding next year to help keep the $10-a-day plan on track.

On housing, James said government will continue it’s $7-billion 10-year plan to build more housing. Although home sales dropped 1.5 per cent last year, and average home prices fell 1.6 per cent, James said the housing market is nowhere near affordable and prices need to drop further.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who would say we’ve reached affordable housing in British Columbia,” she said.

The NDP government’s speculation tax continues to bring in roughly $185 million annually.

Tuesday’s budget also re-announced the Child Opportunity Benefit payment first made public in last year’s budget. The program, which starts this fall, will pay up to $1,600 per child based on a family’s income up to $114,000 annually.

The largest funding increase in the budget was 9.5 per cent to health authorities and hospitals. Total health care spending now accounts for $24.3 billion, or 40 per cent of the entire provincial budget.

The funding was mostly welcome by health groups, but both the B.C. Nurses Union and the Care Providers Association of B.C. said the missing ingredient was an expansion of the new post-secondary grant program to nursing and seniors care workers.

The second-largest increase was a 7.4 per cent jump to post-secondary education, expanding training spaces for in-demand jobs.

Education for K-12 schools received only a 2.2 per cent lift on almost $6.7 billion in spending, with no additional money set aside for a new contract with teachers above the previously-stated two per cent mandate held by James.

More than half the government ministries – 13 of 20 – will see their budgets frozen or reduced next year.

The government has set aside $11 million to fund a public inquiry into money-laundering over the next two years.

The province will also raise monthly earning exemptions for people on disability by $100, at a cost of $20 million over three years.

Other programs received funding just enough to cover caseload pressures, such as $131 million over three years for income assistance, disability and other social supports and $121 million for Community Living B.C.

The budget forecasts other small increases for children and youth, indigenous youth, community safety, wildfire management and legal aid.

Social groups said it was not nearly enough money, and government has failed to address the systemic challenges and wait lists for services such as sexual assault support, youth homelessness and legal aid.

“This budget is overly cautious,” said Iglika Ivanova, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Government should be stepping up with increases to welfare rates and a coordinated plan for youth homelessness, she said.

Independent children’s representative Jennifer Charlesworth echoed the criticism, saying she’s concerned the government has yet to address major caps in youth who age out of government care but can’t get into post-secondary education.

The forestry sector continues to decline as it faces a softwood lumber dispute with the United States, slumping lumber prices, an eight-month coastal strike with Western Forest Products and a shortage of timber in the interior.

Forestry revenue is estimated to drop 12.5 per cent next year and the projected harvest of Crown timber lands is 20 per cent below last year’s expectations over the next four years.

James announced a new $13-million fund, spread over three years, to retrain forest workers, and revitalize the industry, on top of $69 million in aid previously-announced for the interior sector and $5 million in aid to contractors on the coast.

Forestry workers rallied on the lawn of the legislature Tuesday in protest at government inaction on the sector.

Wilderness Committee of B.C. spokeman Torrance Coste said the budget appears to make cutbacks to the forestry ministry that will make it harder to have the expertise and staff required to complete a review of old growth forests that his group hopes will boost protection for forests.

Capital spending was set to rise, at almost $1 billion next year and $3.1 billion over three years, for added hospitals, schools and health care facilities.

Total taxpayer-supported debt will jump $4.6 billion to $49.2 billion. Taxpayer supported debt-to-GDP will jump from 14.6 per cent to 15.5 per cent. Interest on the debt will eat up 3.9 cents of every dollar of revenue.

“We have an election in a year and a half now and I think we’re in good shape fiscally,” said James.

The budget also provided a third-quarter update to the current 2019/20 fiscal year, which ends March 31. The projected budget surplus has risen to $203 million, from $148 million last quarter.

James said that modest increase is mainly due to an increase in income tax revenue and lower spending on refundable tax credits for the film and TV sector.

rshaw@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robshaw_vansun

18Feb

Most parents believe kids will leave Metro Vancouver due to cost: poll

by admin


More and more B.C. parents believe their children will have to leave Metro Vancouver one day due to the high cost of living.


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More and more B.C. parents believe their children will have to leave Metro Vancouver one day due to the high cost of living.

According to a new Research Co. poll, 66 per cent of B.C. parents who participated in the survey said they expected their child or children would have to move away in the future due to the financial constraints of living in Metro Vancouver. That percentage is up 24 points to a similar poll conducted in 2019.

The newly released poll also found that the majority of B.C. parents struggle with stress due to work and finances, with 58 per cent of respondents saying they experienced work-related stress “frequently” or “occasionally” and 57 per cent saying they experienced finance-related stress “frequently” or “occasionally.”

Still half of parents (51 per cent) say they deal with housing-related stress, while 40 per cent say it is “moderately difficult” or “very difficult” to make ends meet.

Financial stress appears to affect more parents in Northern B.C., with 60 per cent saying they have a hard time getting by financially. Meanwhile, 45 per cent on Vancouver Island, 40 per cent in the Fraser Valley, 39 per cent in Metro Vancouver and 28 per cent in Southern B.C. put themselves in that same category.

The survey also found that three-in-five parents say it is “very difficult” or “moderately difficult” to put away savings, while two-in-five parents struggle with paying for day-to-day expenses (44 per cent), paying for childcare (42 per cent) and paying for transportation (39 per cent).

The survey was conducted online from Feb. 4 to 7, 2020 among a representative group of 623 B.C. parents between the ages of 0 to 18 years. The margin of error is +/-3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

14Feb

Fifth case of coronavirus reported in British Columbia

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Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said the newest patient is a woman in her 30s who lives within the Interior Health Region.


Jason Payne / PNG

B.C. health officials said Friday that a fifth presumptive case of novel coronavirus has been reported in British Columbia.

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said the newest patient is a woman in her 30s who lives within the Interior Health Region.

The woman recently returned from Shanghai, China.

Henry said the woman did not visit Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak.

“She came home from Shanghai through YVR and travelled by private vehicle to her home in the Interior,” said Henry.

Henry says the woman is in isolation at home and in good condition.

Henry says the woman wore a mask on the plane and contacted health officials when she had symptoms of an illness before being tested positive Tuesday for the virus called COVID-19.

The results came back positive on Thursday.

Henry says officials will be contacting passengers who sat three rows ahead and behind the woman on the aircraft that arrived from China but the risk to them is “very, very low.”

Interior Health is actively investigating. Her close contacts have been identified and are being contacted,” said Henry.

It will remain a presumptive case until the test results are confirmed at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg within 48 hours. If confirmed, it would be the fifth case of COVID-19 in B.C., and the first outside the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Henry says the first person to be tested for the virus in the province is recovering well and has tested negative in the first of two tests that would indicate the virus no longer exists.

“Public health teams are providing ongoing care and support to all five individuals,” said Henry, adding all four remain in isolation.

She says 715 tests have been done on 500 people returning from China based on a low threshold for testing of the virus that originated in Hubei province.

Confirmed cases in mainland China jumped to 63,851 by the end of Thursday, up 5,090 from the previous day. The death toll in China rose 121 to 1,380.

With files from The Associated Press and Canadian Press

14Feb

Conversations That Matter: Love avoidance

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13Feb

Virtual walk-in clinics increase access to doctors in rural B.C. communities

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Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.


Submitted photo / PNG

For weeks, Candace Marynuik hadn’t felt like herself.

She might have told a doctor about her “weird symptoms,” but since moving to Fort St. John in 2017 she had been forced to rely on the local walk-in clinic, lining up in sub-zero weather before sunrise to be turned away when every space was filled.

“I hadn’t seen a doctor in over two years,” she said. “Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know what to do about it.”

In September, a friend suggested an app she had used to get a prescription refilled.

Within hours, Marynuik had a virtual appointment with a B.C. doctor, and within a week she had done blood tests and an X-ray. She even had a suspected diagnosis — multiple sclerosis. She would need an MRI and a visit to the University of B.C.’s MS clinic in Vancouver to confirm the diagnosis, but doctors she had never met in person connected her with the right specialists.

“I don’t know how long I would have waited (to go to the hospital in Fort St. John),” she said. “By the time I got on the plane to Vancouver, my brain was in a fog.”


Fort St. John resident Candace Marynuik saw a doctor through the Babylon app by Telus Health.

Submitted photo /

PNG

The Babylon app by Telus Health was launched in B.C. in March, at that time the only province in Canada with a billing code to pay doctors for virtual visits.

While Telus was reluctant to provide Postmedia News with information on the number of British Columbians who have used the free app so far, the telecommunications company said “tens of thousands” of people have downloaded Babylon and completed consultations. January saw the highest downloads to date, with a 30 per cent increase over December.

“The growth has been significant,” said Juggy Sihota, vice-president of Telus Consumer Health. “Some of the stories people have told us bring tears to my eyes. It’s been used by a 97-year-old who had trouble seeing a doctor because of mobility issues, someone who said the app saved their family’s Christmas (and) people in rural areas who have to drive hours to see a doctor.”

Sihota said the number of doctors registered with the app is growing, with many drawn to the system by the work-life balance it provides. Some work part-time in clinics or their own practices and take calls through Babylon on the side. Like a physical walk-in clinic, the doctors bill MSP for the consultations.

Sihota said “connected care” is at the heart of the Babylon app. While patients receive access to the doctor’s written notes, they can also play back a video of their consultation. The virtual clinic also helps them arrange the necessary tests and followup appointments.

In a short survey conducted for Telus after each appointment, 92 per cent of respondents said their main request was resolved by the end of their consultation. Asked to rate the service, they gave it an average 4.9 out of five stars, a number that hasn’t dropped since March.

The top conditions treated by doctors through the app include mental health, sexual health, skin disorders and respiratory issues. So far, more women have used it than men.

“We should all have equal access to health care,” said Sihota. “We believe technology can make our health-care system better at less cost.”


The Babylon app by Telus Health connects B.C. residents with doctors.

PNG

Babylon isn’t the only example of virtual health care in B.C.

The primary health-care strategy announced by the provincial government in 2018 included an emphasis on technology solutions. At a news conference, Health Minister Adrian Dix said technology would be used to bring health care closer to home for those in rural and remote areas through the use of telehealth services and new digital home-health monitoring.

B.C. Children’s Hospital uses technology to link specialists to doctors and patients throughout the province through 19 telehealth centres, conducting about 140 virtual appointments per month. Specialists also provide advice to adult patients through a program called Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise.

The government paid nearly $3 million for about 43,000 video-conference visits to doctors in 2015-16. The number of virtual visits rose to over one million in 2016-17.

Telus Health has recently made a push into the health-care field, buying a chain of elite medical clinics and reportedly spending over $2 billion on a variety of digital-health tools.

Some doctors have questioned whether virtual health care erodes quality of care by eliminating long-term doctor patient relationships in favour of episodic care, while also making it more attractive for doctors to work for a virtual clinic, making it even harder to see a doctor in person.

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—With files from Postmedia News

gluymes@postmedia.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

12Feb

Daphne Bramham: Lack of addictions treatment for youth needs urgent fix

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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.

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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.

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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