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1Jul

‘Everything will go bad, real fast’: Okanagan cherry harvest faces labour shortages, bad weather | CBC News

by admin

The cherries on Sukhdeep Brar’s 100-acre orchard in Summerland, B.C., are just a few weeks out from ripening. But if he doesn’t manage to find the workers to pick them, they will spoil.

“Everything will go bad, real fast,” said Brar, a 34-year-old, second-generation tree fruit farmer.

Like many growers in the Okanagan Valley, he is desperately searching for pickers. There are fewer available this year because of COVID-19. Some are afraid to travel and others are unable to get to B.C. because of border closures.

“Usually at this point, I have 80 to 90 people call and ask when cherry picking is starting. I think I’ve had four people call,” said Brar. He is now looking to attract locals for the job. 

“We are advertising it as make some money in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoons.”

According to the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, 4,500 migrant labourers are needed every year to work Okanagan fields and orchards. 

Watch | Fruit farmer Sukhdeep Brar explains the struggles the industry is facing:

Fruit farmer Deep Brar is struggling to find enough hands to pick cherries from his B.C. orchards. 0:48

Annually, many farm workers head up from Mexico and the Caribbean. While they’re currently permitted to come into Canada during the pandemic as they are deemed an essential service, the logistics are challenging. 

Roughly 1,500 young backpackers from Quebec also make the annual journey, but fewer have come this year. And some 1,500 backpackers from elsewhere come on travel visas; they will not be able to make it at all.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen estimates that there are 50 per cent fewer farm workers this year overall compared to last year.

It’s the second year cherry picker Lydia Poliquin has traveled to B.C. from Quebec. She says placing the ladder in the right spot is the hardest part but it’s also what makes you efficient at picking the fruit. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Jonathan Desy made the trip from Quebec for his eighth season of cherry picking, but said fewer of his friends made the journey.

“This year there is nobody. Maybe because of COVID or something like that,” he said. 

It’s long been a tradition for students and young people from Quebec to travel across the country and come to B.C. to work the summer months as fruit pickers. The piecemeal work allows them to make good money — if they’re skilled at it. 

Watch | Quebec backpackers describe working conditions on B.C. farms:

About 1,500 people from Quebec usually travel to B.C. to pick fruit every summer, but there are fewer pickers this year.  0:39

Some experienced pickers say they can make up to $2,000 a week, although most people can expect to earn much less. They go to work before the crack of dawn and are usually done by 11 a.m., giving them the chance to enjoy the summer on the lake. 

Too much rain

“It’s really a bad season with the COVID and everything,” said cherry picker Eloïse Dendreon. “It’s hard for farmers and for us, it’s hard because the cherry is not good.”

Cherry picking is piecemeal work, which means pickers get paid based on productivity. The more skilled they are, the more they earn. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

It has been a light crop, and above-average rainfall has severely impacted the fragile fruit this season. Farmers have had to spend thousand of dollars to hire helicopters to dry the cherry trees in hopes of saving them from going bad. 

“Every time it rains and the sun comes out, the cherries split. It causes damage,” said Harman Bahniwal of Krazy Cherry Fruit Company in Oliver, B.C.

When the rain falls, the cherries split and are no longer good enough for market. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

He said the cherries get what are called “nose cracks” and are no longer deemed good enough for market.

“Any spec of rain, they explode, and all that cherry goes to waste,” said Bahniwal, which is why it’s so important to have the labour lined up for those few days when the cherries are ready to pick.

B.C.’s interior tree fruit industry generates $118 million in wholesale revenue and contributes $776 million in economic activity, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

The association says the majority of farmers are seeing reduced fruit production and are worried as prices have been depressed for a number of years. It says COVID-19 is only adding more uncertainty and increased costs.

Harman Bahniwal of Krazy Cherry Fruit Company in Oliver, B.C., says it’s been a tough year for cherries, citing too much rain. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

New precautions

Some orchards have built campsites for workers and have increased washroom access and general sanitation to keep the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 from spreading between workers. 

But in some cases the backpackers camp on Crown land, which can be difficult to monitor — and it lacks facilities like washrooms and showers.

Every year, nearly 1,500 backpackers from Quebec travel to B.C. to work as fruit pickers in the Okanagan. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The B.C. government announced on June 25 that it will provide funding for districts to build and maintain campsites to keep fruit pickers safe.

In Oliver, B.C., the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen manages a campsite called Loose Bay. It has been given $60,000 to manage safety precautions. Upon entry, all visitors fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire, and the site is overseen by bilingual campground managers.

“We ensure social distancing, including tents, and there are no campfires allowed this year, as they tend to lead to gatherings,” said district chair Karla Kozakevich.

She said they’ve also added more washrooms and hand sanitization stations at the campsite. 

Karla Kozakevich, chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, says campgrounds such as Loose Bay have become safer due to new sanitation facilities. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Additionally, the B.C. government has created a mandatory online course in agriculture safety, as it relates to COVID-19, for workers and producers.

There have been worries from some local residents over farm workers coming into the area, especially from Quebec, where coronavirus infection rates are much higher.

So far, there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 among the fruit pickers.

“We welcome them but want them to follow the health steps required, to be respectful in communities they are working — and I have found that they are,” said Kozakevich. 

1Jul

‘Everything will go bad, real fast’: Okanagan cherry harvest faces labour shortages, bad weather | CBC News

by admin

The cherries on Sukhdeep Brar’s 100-acre orchard in Summerland, B.C., are just a few weeks out from ripening. But if he doesn’t manage to find the workers to pick them, they will spoil.

“Everything will go bad, real fast,” said Brar, a 34-year-old, second-generation tree fruit farmer.

Like many growers in the Okanagan Valley, he is desperately searching for pickers. There are fewer available this year because of COVID-19. Some are afraid to travel and others are unable to get to B.C. because of border closures.

“Usually at this point, I have 80 to 90 people call and ask when cherry picking is starting. I think I’ve had four people call,” said Brar. He is now looking to attract locals for the job. 

“We are advertising it as make some money in the morning and hit the beach in the afternoons.”

According to the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, 4,500 migrant labourers are needed every year to work Okanagan fields and orchards. 

Watch | Fruit farmer Sukhdeep Brar explains the struggles the industry is facing:

Fruit farmer Deep Brar is struggling to find enough hands to pick cherries from his B.C. orchards. 0:48

Annually, many farm workers head up from Mexico and the Caribbean. While they’re currently permitted to come into Canada during the pandemic as they are deemed an essential service, the logistics are challenging. 

Roughly 1,500 young backpackers from Quebec also make the annual journey, but fewer have come this year. And some 1,500 backpackers from elsewhere come on travel visas; they will not be able to make it at all.

The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen estimates that there are 50 per cent fewer farm workers this year overall compared to last year.

It’s the second year cherry picker Lydia Poliquin has traveled to B.C. from Quebec. She says placing the ladder in the right spot is the hardest part but it’s also what makes you efficient at picking the fruit. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Jonathan Desy made the trip from Quebec for his eighth season of cherry picking, but said fewer of his friends made the journey.

“This year there is nobody. Maybe because of COVID or something like that,” he said. 

It’s long been a tradition for students and young people from Quebec to travel across the country and come to B.C. to work the summer months as fruit pickers. The piecemeal work allows them to make good money — if they’re skilled at it. 

Watch | Quebec backpackers describe working conditions on B.C. farms:

About 1,500 people from Quebec usually travel to B.C. to pick fruit every summer, but there are fewer pickers this year.  0:39

Some experienced pickers say they can make up to $2,000 a week, although most people can expect to earn much less. They go to work before the crack of dawn and are usually done by 11 a.m., giving them the chance to enjoy the summer on the lake. 

Too much rain

“It’s really a bad season with the COVID and everything,” said cherry picker Eloïse Dendreon. “It’s hard for farmers and for us, it’s hard because the cherry is not good.”

Cherry picking is piecemeal work, which means pickers get paid based on productivity. The more skilled they are, the more they earn. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

It has been a light crop, and above-average rainfall has severely impacted the fragile fruit this season. Farmers have had to spend thousand of dollars to hire helicopters to dry the cherry trees in hopes of saving them from going bad. 

“Every time it rains and the sun comes out, the cherries split. It causes damage,” said Harman Bahniwal of Krazy Cherry Fruit Company in Oliver, B.C.

When the rain falls, the cherries split and are no longer good enough for market. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

He said the cherries get what are called “nose cracks” and are no longer deemed good enough for market.

“Any spec of rain, they explode, and all that cherry goes to waste,” said Bahniwal, which is why it’s so important to have the labour lined up for those few days when the cherries are ready to pick.

B.C.’s interior tree fruit industry generates $118 million in wholesale revenue and contributes $776 million in economic activity, according to the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

The association says the majority of farmers are seeing reduced fruit production and are worried as prices have been depressed for a number of years. It says COVID-19 is only adding more uncertainty and increased costs.

Harman Bahniwal of Krazy Cherry Fruit Company in Oliver, B.C., says it’s been a tough year for cherries, citing too much rain. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

New precautions

Some orchards have built campsites for workers and have increased washroom access and general sanitation to keep the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 from spreading between workers. 

But in some cases the backpackers camp on Crown land, which can be difficult to monitor — and it lacks facilities like washrooms and showers.

Every year, nearly 1,500 backpackers from Quebec travel to B.C. to work as fruit pickers in the Okanagan. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The B.C. government announced on June 25 that it will provide funding for districts to build and maintain campsites to keep fruit pickers safe.

In Oliver, B.C., the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen manages a campsite called Loose Bay. It has been given $60,000 to manage safety precautions. Upon entry, all visitors fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire, and the site is overseen by bilingual campground managers.

“We ensure social distancing, including tents, and there are no campfires allowed this year, as they tend to lead to gatherings,” said district chair Karla Kozakevich.

She said they’ve also added more washrooms and hand sanitization stations at the campsite. 

Karla Kozakevich, chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, says campgrounds such as Loose Bay have become safer due to new sanitation facilities. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Additionally, the B.C. government has created a mandatory online course in agriculture safety, as it relates to COVID-19, for workers and producers.

There have been worries from some local residents over farm workers coming into the area, especially from Quebec, where coronavirus infection rates are much higher.

So far, there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 among the fruit pickers.

“We welcome them but want them to follow the health steps required, to be respectful in communities they are working — and I have found that they are,” said Kozakevich. 

30Jun

Boiling ramen noodles a weapon in vicious feud between B.C. high school girls | CBC News

by admin

In a girl’s washroom in a British Columbia high school in December 2018, two students faced off.

Both clutched the cell phones which had served to escalate a war between two rival factions of teenage girls in the months leading up to this chance meeting.

But at the end of the confrontation, it was another unlikely object that a provincial court judge would declare a weapon: a boiling hot bowl of ramen noodles that one of the girls — a 14-year-old Grade 9 student named SH — hurled into the chest of the 15-year-old victim.

The details are spelled out in a youth court judgment that provides a vivid window into teen violence, the insidious power of social media to stoke and fuel resentments, and the efforts of high school administrators to address behaviour they’re largely powerless to police.

And in trying to apply the law to the complex facts underlying a teenaged feud, Judge Judith Doulis was also asked to consider whether the accused had acted in self-defence as she claimed, as a zombie-like automaton, powerless to control or remember her actions.

SH was convicted of assault and assault with a weapon last week in a B.C. provincial court for an attack that left the victim — MVT — in need of skin grafts after suffering second and third-degree burns.

Beset by ‘bro fights’

The names of the students, the high school, the teachers and even the community where the incident occurred have been removed from the court decision in an effort to protect the identity of SH.

According to Doulis’ decision, in the months leading up to the incident, the school had been “beset by a spate of ‘bro fights’ or consensual ‘friendly fights’ which were popular on YouTube at the time.

In the months leading up to the confrontation, the high school was beset by problems with “bro fights” and cyberbullying. (CBC)

Administrators thought ‘bro fights’ were dangerous and had suspended students — male and female — for engaging in them. At the same time, Doulis says cyberbullying was also a problem.

“Using various social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snap Chat, the offending students published comments intended to denigrate, intimidate or humiliate their nemesis,” the judge writes.

“Unfortunately, the school administrators had limited jurisdiction to deal with the communications if they occurred off … premises.”

She ‘wanted to kick MVT’s ass’

Animosity between SH’s group and the faction including MVT dated back two years. It had rec​​​​​​ently expanded to include the younger sisters of both girls, whose “friendship soured over a boy.”

Members of SH’s group accused MVT through social media posts of having lip injections and being fat. They wrote “Nobody likes you MVT.”

And MVT wrote posts to SH’s younger sister, referencing a ‘bro fight’ and saying: “Come at me next.”

Both factions accused each other of bullying. MVT’s parents, both teachers at the school, advised MVT to steer clear of SH and her group.

Two rival factions of teenage girls taunted each other through posts on social media in the months leading up to the assault. (Shutterstock)

Things came to a head after a school-wide assembly held to confront the problem of bro-fighting once and for all. SH’s friends sent her messages saying other girls were laughing at her and accusing her of hiding.

SH flew into the vice-principal’s office to say she wanted to “kick MVT’s ass.”

The vice-principal told SH to calm down and return to class. Instead, she got a cup of noodles from her locker, filled it with boiling water and went to the girls’ washroom, where she set the noodles on the counter to cool and began texting her friends.

That’s when MVT had to go to the bathroom.

‘Your ugly face’

SH started laughing as MVT walked through the door. MVT asked her what was so funny.

“SH replied. ‘Your ugly face,'” the judge wrote.

SH pulled out her phone. MVT did the same.

The judge in the case found that instant ramen noodles could be considered a weapon if they were used to kill, injure, attack, threaten or intimidate. (Elsie Hui / Flickr)

Both started recording each other. SH posted a video of their encounter to Snap Chat, which was seen by a friend. The friend asked if she was needed and rushed out of class to join them in the bathroom. She witnessed what happened next as MVT and SH traded insults and profanities. The video was also played in court.

“You say I get lip injection, butt injections, you make fun of my family, for no reason,” MVT said.

“Who said? Who said?” SH said.

“I have screen shots,” MVT replied.

The back and forth escalated, as SH continued to text. She then picked up her cup of noodles, and threw it toward MVT and her camera.

Covered in noodles, MVT rushed at SH and the two girls fell to the floor. 

SH claimed she was “just getting triggered and triggered and triggered.” She also said she remembered grabbing the noodles, but “blacked out” and had no memory of throwing them.

An offensive blow

In assessing the facts of the case, Doulis had to consider whether a bowl of hot ramen noodles could even count as a weapon.

As it turns out, any object can constitute a weapon if someone uses it to “kill, injure, attack, threaten or intimidate someone else.”

The judge rejected SH’s claim that she acted involuntarily. The teenager provided no evidence to support the idea that some disorder had left her an automaton. 

Doulis found that SH did perceive MVT as a threat, given the culture of bullying among female students at the school and their past history. But the judge said she believed SH had thrown the noodles “as an offensive not a defensive strike.”

“She was angry and frustrated at MVT’s harangue,” the judge said.

SH has yet to be sentenced. 

19Jun

Stanley Park will reopen to vehicles again after board vote, but for one lane only | CBC News

by admin

The Vancouver Park Board has voted to ease traffic restrictions in Stanley Park, meaning cars will soon be allowed to return — but not with the same level of access as before.

Board commissioners voted in the early hours of Friday for a plan to reopen just one lane of park traffic for cars. The other lane will be a separated bike lane.

The 5-2 decision came after an hours-long emergency meeting Thursday that stretched well past midnight.

More than 100 people were registered to speak at the meeting, which was called by NPA commissioners Tricia Barker and John Coupar, who asked that the park be opened the way it was before the COVID-19 pandemic — without a separated bike lane.

The seawall was closed to cyclists in early April to prevent crowding and encourage physical distancing. Cyclists were diverted to Stanley Park Drive — which circles the park — and the road was, in turn, closed to all vehicle traffic. Park board staff and some people accessing local facilities and businesses were granted exceptions.

Those calling for cars to return Thursday said accessibility and parking were major concerns. Some members of the public who spoke in favour of a total reopening said they worried a single car lane would create a traffic “log jam,” while others questioned whether a split-lane system would hinder access for emergency vehicles.

Businesses have also raised concerns about a drop in customers if vehicle access was not restored in full.

Cyclists ride through Stanley Park on April 8. The roads through the park were closed to vehicles and bikes diverted to them to encourage people to practise physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

17Jun

Businesses call for traffic resumption in Stanley Park, park board set to vote | CBC News

by admin

A coalition of businesses is urging the Vancouver Park Board to fully restore vehicle traffic to Stanley Park so struggling restaurants, shops and attractions can start taking in more customers.

Stanley Park Stakeholders — a group of 14 businesses and societies — signed a letter directed at the park board calling for the immediate opening of roadways and the removal of traffic calming concrete blocks. Members say they rely on vehicle traffic for their survival.

Among the signatories are representatives from the Teahouse, Ocean Wise, Stanley Park Brewing, and several tour companies.

“They’re all out of business,” said Nigel Malkin, a spokesperson for the coalition. “We need to stand up.”

The call comes ahead of an emergency meeting on Thursday where the park board will decide whether to open several traffic lanes that have been shut down since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. If approved, traffic would be restored as early as June 21.

The special motion was introduced by park commissioners Tricia Barker and John Coupar earlier this week.

Commissioner John Irwin says completely reopening the road flies in the face of a bigger threat to public health — a second wave of COVID-19.

“Everybody understandably wants to go back to one form of normal or quasi-normal, but are we really there yet?” he told CBC News.

Irwin is one of two commissioners who introduced a motion calling on staff to look at permanent traffic calming measures in Stanley Park, which the board voted in favour of earlier this month. Irwin says cycling traffic has risen substantially since roads were closed.

The coalition opposed to keeping the road partly closed to vehicles says the proposed changes would hamper accessibility for a number of groups, including seniors and people with disabilities. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Temporary changes

In early April, as the pandemic continued to ramp up in British Columbia and officials feared overcrowding issues around Stanley Park, the picturesque seawall was closed to cyclists. 

Cyclists were diverted to Stanley Park Drive, which circles the park. That was in turn closed to all vehicle traffic, with exceptions for park board staff and some people accessing facilities like the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. 

Commissioners Irwin and Stuart Mackinnon subsequently introduced a motion to direct staff to look at permanent traffic calming measures that would reduce vehicle traffic on Stanley Park Drive to a single lane while adding a separated bike path.

The coalition claims stakeholders haven’t been consulted on the proposed changes, which they say would hamper accessibility for a number of groups, including seniors and people with disabilities.

“It’s going to go and put in a bicycle lane that’s a velodrome for beyond seasoned cyclists,” said Malkin. “It’s not being inclusive, this is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”

The group also fears a reduction in parking would have a negative impact on businesses.

Cars have been banned in Stanley Park since April 8. (Karin Larsen/CBC)

A permanent change?

Staff will brief the park board Thursday on the proposal to permanently reduce traffic in Stanley Park. Irwin emphasized that the park would still be accessible, noting that one-way vehicle traffic will still be permitted, and only a small portion of parking stalls would be lost.

The proposal would also consider introducing green bus service to the park. Irwin says the changes would dovetail with Vancouver’s climate targets.

“We have to start figuring out how to do behaviour changes to deal with [climate change], and one of those changes is to change the way we transport ourselves,” he said.

Advocates with HUB Cycling say the motion to immediately restore traffic in Stanley Park will throw a major wrench in long-term plans for a shared roadway.

“The motion appears to ignore that plan and push all the people on bikes to the seawall, where people are walking,” said Jeff Leigh, a HUB committee chair.

“The plan should be to create room for all groups in the park,” he added. “I think there’s lots of room for everybody.”

16Jun

Community installs security camera after Pride crosswalk in Dawson Creek repeatedly vandalized | CBC News

by admin

A camera is being installed by community members to monitor an intersection in Dawson Creek, B.C., where a freshly painted Pride crosswalk has been vandalized several times since it was painted two weeks ago.

The vandalism has included tire marks and homophobic messages written with spray paint.

Dawson Creek Pride Society board member Chelsea Mackay said the vandalism was sad, frustrating and infuriating. 

“I’ve seen lots of homophobia growing up here. I’ve heard lots of transphobia, too,” Mackay told CBC’s Nicole Oud. 

“I know it’s a part of the community but that just means it’s so much more important for us to speak out and to start showing people that it’s not alright anymore.”

The first act of vandalism happened on June 2, the day the crosswalk was painted, when two different vehicles burned tire marks over the rainbow colours. After it was repainted, several more tire marks were discovered on the crosswalk between June 3 and 12.

Derogatory messages were spray-painted on the crosswalks on the nights of June 12 and June 13.

Police investigating the incidents on June 2 said one of the drivers has been identified and charged under the Motor Vehicle Act.

The rainbow crosswalk has been defaced by tire marks and spray-painted homophobic messages. (Dawson Creek RCMP)

Krista Forshner, an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, has now purchased a high-definition security camera with night vision to place in the window of a fellow ally who lives near the crosswalk.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Forshner started sewing and selling masks, and at the time she vowed to use the money she made to better her community. When she saw the concern and frustration in the local LGBTQ+ community over the repeatedly vandalized crosswalk, she knew what she wanted to use that money for. 

“I don’t think anybody should be shown hate simply just for existing and accepting themselves for the way that they are,” Forshner said.

“A lot of my friends and people that I love a lot are part of this community and they deserve to feel loved as well and not scared.”

Dawson Creek RCMP did not comment directly on community members using cameras to track activity around the crosswalk, but RCMP Staff Sgt. Damon Werrell encouraged residents to report suspicious or criminal activity.

Pride symbols more important than ever

Mackay said the community has shown the society a lot of support since the vandalism, including Forshner’s gesture and volunteers showing up to repaint the crosswalk.

That’s been important because COVID-19 has essentially shut down Pride gatherings and celebrations around the province — and typically, Mackay said, members of the local LGBT community would typically travel to other northern cities to take part in celebrations, as well as host their own.

“It’s hard to celebrate Pride on your own. It’s about community. It’s about meeting new people. It’s about coming together and celebrating our identity, and we can’t do that,” Mackay said.

Painting the crosswalk and flying the Pride flag during Pride month was particularly important to give the group visibility and to bring people together in spirit, she said.

“And then we have this one thing that we can have even during COVID-19 and it’s kind of taken away from us by people who don’t care, who have no investment in our community,” Mackay said.

16Jun

B.C. advocate says proposed federal COVID-19 benefit for Canadians with disabilities leaves many with nothing | CBC News

by admin

The federal government is considering a one-time emergency benefit for people with disabilities to help them cope with the added costs imposed by the pandemic, but a B.C.-based disability advocate says even if the legislation does pass, it won’t go far enough.

Heather Walkus, first vice chair of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, says the legislation only applies to people who currently receive a disability tax credit, which she says is only about 40 per cent of Canadians living with disability.

According to Walkus, the majority of people receiving government money due to a disability receive the Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPPD) benefit and those individuals will not receive the $600 payment recently debated in the House of Commons.

“You are leaving about 60 per cent of people with disabilities in Canada without those supports,” said WalkusTuesday on The Early Edition.

Legislation in limbo

The Liberal government announced their proposed new benefit on June 5. However, the plan remains in limbo after the bill, C-17, failed to secure unanimous consent in the House of Commons on June 10.

The Commons adjourned without any sort of resolution, with the parties at an impasse over how to proceed. 

All of the opposition parties — not just the Conservatives — had problems with the bill as written.

NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, raised the same concerns as Walkus and asked for the disability payments to be sent to more people.

“We are already struggling with inclusion, accessibility and poverty and those are issues that have been opened up greatly in the COVID response,” said Walkus, adding the disability community suffered disproportionately to the rest of the population due to the pandemic.

She said specific examples include: lack of accessible accommodation for people with disabilities who need to self-isolate, reduced home support staff, lack of personal protective equipment, challenges accessing information for the blind community, and challenges accessing appointments and stores because of reduced public transportation service.

“Most systems in the emergency response plan did not contemplate people with disabilities,” said Walkus, adding the government should have included disability advocates in conversations about emergency provisions at the onset of the health crisis.

There are approximately six million people living with a disability in Canada.

Tap here to hear the complete interview with Heather Walkus on The Early Edition.

13Jun

The difficult history of prosecuting hate in Canada | CBC News

by admin

Warning: This story contains some disturbing details.


Late one night in April 2015, a drunk man entered a convenience store in the town of Hinton, Alta., and told the person behind the till he didn’t want to be served by a Black woman.

Riley Bryn McDonald used the n-word. He asked for the manager. He then picked up a cup of hot nacho cheese sauce and threw it in the clerk’s face. 

The sauce stung her eyes and dripped across her face, hair and upper body. McDonald told her she should “go back to Somalia.” Then he walked out.

The case was not widely reported, but a record of McDonald’s sentencing turns up in the Canadian Legal Information Institute database, which keeps track of court judgments from across the country.

The past weeks have seen a focus on the racism that is a reality of life for Canada’s visible minorities. There has been a spike in attacks against Asian-Canadians in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China.

Meanwhile, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has shone a light on police brutality against Black and Indigenous people in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even acknowledged systemic racism.

Given that backdrop, McDonald’s case provides an insight into racist offences in this country and the complexity of prosecuting them. No province is immune.

WATCH | Professor Kathy Hogarth talks about addressing racism in Canada:

CBC News Network’s Michael Serapio speaks with Kathy Hogarth, associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s school of social work. 6:52

The Criminal Code contains provisions for hate crimes but they’re largely reserved for offences involving hate propaganda or the promotion or advocacy of genocide. McDonald was originally charged under one of those sections, but the charge was stayed and the Crown proceeded to treat the offence as a hate-motivated assault instead. 

That’s how the majority of crimes involving racism are prosecuted in Canada — as regular offences under the Criminal Code, with bias, prejudice or hate considered aggravating factors for sentencing.

Canadians have been grappling with the question of how the law should tackle hatred for more than half a century. If the courts are any indication, they’ve yet to come up with a consistent answer.

“There’s a lot of issues as to how seriously our criminal justice system sees hate crimes,” said Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto. “What is even more disheartening right now is that a lot of these cases are not even investigated as hate crimes.”

Attacked for ‘wearing a scarf around her head’

Some incidents have resulted in jail time. Some haven’t. 

Judges have often expressed outrage at the offences, and some have called on lawyers to craft suggestions for sentencing that can both make amends to the community and produce some kind of change in an offender.

McDonald blamed alcohol for his outburst and claimed he was embarrassed by his actions. Defendants usually try to offset punishment in criminal offences through mitigating circumstances, which largely amount to excuses for their behaviour.

On May 8, Clara Kan and her mother were victims of racist Asian slurs in Richmond, B.C. Police say victims of racist attacks are often reluctant to come forward. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Is incarceration the way to stamp out the type of behaviour that politicians and the public frequently denounce? At the very least, experts say judges, prosecutors and police need to be on the same page when it comes to the seriousness of hate-motivated crimes. 

In a 2012 case used as a precedent to sentence McDonald, a Nova Scotia judge insisted a 51-year-old grandmother with a clean record spend time behind bars for attacking, insulting and shoving a woman of Pakistani heritage at a mall “for no reason other than wearing a scarf around her head.”

“We do not ask or require that every Canadian be the same, whether you are from Newfoundland, Nunavut, British Columbia or any place in between,” Pictou Supreme Court Justice Ted Scanlon told the offender, Katherine Feltmate.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian no matter what their vintage, religion or attire,” he said, sentencing her to 60 days in jail.

Despite this precedent, Riley Bryn McDonald spent no time in jail.

‘Hate is as old as man’

Calls for legislative action to deal with hate date back to Nazi propaganda seeping into Canadian society in the build-up to the Second World War. Concerns heightened in the 1950s and ’60s with the emergence of extreme right-wing groups and the widespread distribution of hate literature, most notably in Ontario and Quebec.

In 1965, the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda tabled a report that would give birth to Canada’s hate crimes legislation. The committee was chaired by Judge Maxwell Cohen and included Pierre Elliot Trudeau, then a university law professor. Trudeau was prime minister when the amendments to the Criminal Code were passed into legislation in 1970.

As Cohen noted in an essay reflecting on his commission’s work, the enactment of the hate laws sparked fierce debate. The tensions he described have dogged the prosecution of hatred ever since.

Pierre Trudeau was prime minister when amendments to the Criminal Code regarding hate crimes were passed into legislation in 1970. (CBCX News/CBC Archives)

“On the one hand, there was a new emphasis on individual freedom,” he said. “On the other side, there was a growing recognition that these very liberties could be dangerously abused.”

The preface to the 1965 report warns, “Hate is as old as man and doubtless as durable.” It also contains a warning that could as easily refer to the current spread of anti-Asian slurs through social media as the anti-Semitic pamphlets and slogans that emerged in Cohen’s day.

Ours is “a world aware of the perils of falsehood disguised as fact and of conspirators eroding the community’s integrity through pretending that conspiracies from elsewhere now justify verbal assaults,” Cohen wrote. He called them “the non-facts and the non-truths of prejudice and slander.”

‘A tough thing for a lot of people to hear’

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian police reported 1,798 criminal incidents motivated by hate in 2018, the second-highest number in a decade. Only 31 per cent of those crimes were solved, and of those, 68 per cent resulted in charges against one or more individuals.

Section 318 of the Criminal Code deals with promoting and advocating genocide, whereas Section 319 concerns the public incitement of hatred.

On its face, Section 319(2), the section Riley Bryn McDonald was originally charged under, says that “every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty” of an offence.

But RCMP Const. Anthony Statham, one of two members of B.C.’s hate crime team, says those charges are generally used in situations where offenders are inciting others through speech and propaganda to act in a way that might breach the peace. Charge approval also requires a sign-off from the provincial attorney general.

Instead, most acts people might think of as “hate crimes” are charged as regular offences under the Criminal Code — like assault, uttering threats or harassment.

Last July, a man accosted an Arabic-speaking woman and her two-year-old daughter on a Montreal street, uttering racial slurs and sexually violent threats. The incident was caught on video. (Facebook)

But Section 718 of the code requires judges to consider an enhanced sentence based on evidence an offence was “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any similar factor.”

Statham and his partner work the rare cases that involve Sections 318 and 319, but they also assist police around B.C. in dealing with other offences where hatred plays a part.

He said the complexity of the law can make it seem as though people can “get away” with hurling racial epithets at strangers on the street.

Statham said the majority of cases are what police would term “hate incidents” — they may be offensive, hurtful and harmful to the community, but many are non-criminal.

“Using a racist slur is typically something that’s protected as a form of freedom of expression,” Statham said. “Which is a tough thing for a lot of people to hear.”

Fight to have offence recognized as hate-motivated

But many hateful incidents go far beyond offensive language.

In 2010, the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC) in Toronto helped victims prepare for the prosecution of Trevor Middleton, who was charged with aggravated assault after he and others pushed Asian anglers into the water near Mossington Park Bridge off Lake Simcoe.

A scuffle ensued between members of the two groups, and one of Middleton’s friends was badly beaten. When the anglers drove off, Middleton chased them in his pickup truck, ramming their car repeatedly until it crashed into a tree. The driver of the car — who was not Asian — suffered brain damage.

CSALC director Avvy Go said her clinic pushed to have the offence recognized as a hate crime and they helped the community prepare a victim impact statement. The victims told Go’s organization the incident had changed the way they lived, violating their sense of safety and security. 

Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto, said the criminal justice system is not taking racist attacks seriously. (Susan Goodspeed/CBC)

“This crime is an extreme manifestation of the all too common sentiment that Asians are not ‘real’ Canadians,” said the victim impact statement said, which was provided to CBC. “We are made to feel like we are intruders and outsiders who can be assaulted at random simply because of what we are, and not what we do.”

The Crown wanted eight to 10 years, but Middleton got two years less a day. Go said the community was outraged.

“From our point of view, the criminal justice system as a whole is not taking these crimes seriously,” said Go.

‘Nothing will be done if they don’t report’

Toronto-based researcher Abbee Corb works with police forces across Canada, teaching officers how to investigate hate crime and speak with victims.

She says hate crimes are vastly underreported, and that many victims are wary of speaking to police because they come from backgrounds where police are part of the issue. The result is a circular problem.

“People don’t report because they don’t think anything’s going to be done,” said Corb. “And nothing will be done if they don’t report it.”

Corb thinks more emphasis should be placed on recognizing hate crimes and speaking with victims as part of regular police training. She also said police need to build bridges to minority communities to build trust and solicit help in investigations.

Caught on video

The ubiquity of cellphone cameras has contributed to a growing awareness around racist attacks as victims and bystanders capture offenders on video. While Charter protections around freedom of expression mean many of those incidents don’t rise to the level of a crime, there are exceptions.

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Some judges have acknowledged that constant video recording puts an onus on everyone to take the problem of hate-motivated crime more seriously.

In 2017, Karry Vernon Corbett was caught on video shouting racially charged insults at an Indo-Canadian lawyer, who had turned his camera on Corbett after seeing him yell at a 72-year-old parking officer.

Corbett was charged with what’s known as a “no touch” assault — a provision of the law that has particular relevance to the aggressive behaviour that victims of hate crimes experience. 

Karry Vernon Corbett was given a two-month conditional sentence after he was caught on camera hurling racial slurs at a bystander in Vancouver. The judge said the incident could have been used to craft a sentence aimed at healing the community. (Ravi Duhra/YouTube)

The presiding judge noted that the Criminal Code definition of assault includes when a person “‘attempts or threatens, by an act or gesture, to apply force to another person’ and that other person reasonably believes that the accused has the ability to complete the act.”

The Crown and the defence came to court with a joint submission that saw Corbett avoid jail time through a two-month conditional sentence.

Judge Kenneth Skilnick accepted the proposition — reluctantly. He said he hoped that in the future, the sentence to a similar case might involve the offender making amends to the community in question and perhaps be ordered to enter into some kind of “victim-offender reconciliation process.”

According to Skilnick’s judgment, Corbett argued he hadn’t intended to “publicize his racially offensive outburst so prominently” and he didn’t think the publicity it received should be held against him.

Skilnick didn’t agree.

“We live in an age where almost everyone has a cellphone and almost every cellphone has the capacity to video-record conduct. In addition to the moral responsibility for all of us to treat our fellow citizens with respect, the ubiquitous nature of video-recording is an additional reason for people to conduct themselves properly and lawfully in public.

“Now, more than ever, the rest of the world is watching what we all do.”

13Jun

Where to go? What happens when nature calls during a pandemic | CBC News

by admin

Vancouver taxi drivers like Kulwant Sahota haven’t stopped working throughout the pandemic. They’ve been getting people to where they need to go, but their own need to go to the bathroom while on shift has been a challenge.

“You just stick to a small coffee so you don’t really have to use the washroom as much,” said Sahota, who is also the president of Yellow Cab. 

The usual places drivers would access washrooms, such as gas stations and coffee shops, have closed their facilities. Some are starting to reopen them, but for dine-in customers only.

As more people begin to spend time outdoors, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the need for more public washrooms in communities across Canada. 

Sahota said it’s so difficult to find a bathroom to use or to wash your hands during COVID-19 that many drivers carry milk jugs full of water so they can wash their hands while on the road. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some cities have set up portables to address the problem, including Vancouver. The city has also long had a number of city-operated public toilets available.

But Sahota said those are being overused now that bathrooms in businesses are shut.

“You don’t want to be catching anything and obviously other people are using those washrooms … and they’re not sanitized as much, so you don’t know who has used it before you,” he said.

And the further out from Vancouver’s downtown core you go, the fewer public washrooms are available, said Rania Hatz, executive director for the Cambie Village Business Improvement Association.

“During the pandemic, we’ve been able to see how many people on the street or how many people who might just be going out for a walk, rely on access to a washroom,” she said. 

Rania Hatz, executive director for the Cambie Village Business Improvement Association, said there are fewer public bathrooms the further out from the downtown core you go. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

She and her team even had to pick up human feces from alleyways and doorways of businesses. 

“You have to realize that there are people that are homeless. There are people who used to access the bathrooms in the businesses and these businesses have not been opened for the last couple of months. As a human being they have to go,” she said. 

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Halifax-based journalist Lezlie Lowe, who has been advocating for more public washrooms before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Canada, said cost may be a factor as to why cities haven’t installed more.

“Bathrooms cost money. They are expensive in terms of capital investment. They can be expensive in terms of ongoing maintenance and with regard to COVID-19, there is additional cleaning that needs to be done and that all costs money,” said Lowe, author of No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Need.

But public bathrooms are necessary to create livable cities for everyone, she said.

Kelly Murphy, the restaurant manager of Yolks on East Hastings Street in Vancouver, wipes down the high-touch surfaces in the washroom, something staff do every 15 minutes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Some smaller cafes in Vancouver have committed extra resources to making sure their washrooms satisfy pandemic standards.

“Right outside the washroom we have a timer that’s set for 15 minutes. It goes off, whoever’s closest turns off the timer, cleans the washrooms and then they initial that they’ve done so and we keep a log of that,” said Kelly Murphy, manager of Yolks restaurant on East Hastings Street in Vancouver.

But Lowe said relying on private businesses to provide bathrooms doesn’t work during a pandemic when those shops are closed and also leads to access being restricted. 

“Often what happens is people who are experiencing homelessness can be denied access and that’s allowable because it’s a private setting. If you have an on-street public bathroom, then that allows everybody to use it, no questions asked,” she said.

Vancouver has installed more portable toilets like this one in the Downtown Eastside to help with the lack of washrooms open during the pandemic. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Homeless advocate and Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Jeremy Hunka agrees the lack of bathrooms has been a huge issue for the most vulnerable.

“It’s actually a really big deal and it impacts people in a really intimate, private and daily way,” said Hunka.

Lack of access to washrooms also limits people’s ability to practice good hygiene, putting them further at risk during this pandemic, he said.

Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Jeremy Hunka said the lack of washrooms has been a huge concern for the city’s most vulnerable population. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

11Jun

Samwel Uko sought medical help twice in hours before he was found dead in Regina’s Wascana Lake, family says | CBC News

by admin

Samwel Uko’s uncle says he recently found out his nephew visited the Regina General Hospital not once, but twice on the day he died.

The second time, he was escorted out by security just a couple of hours before he was found dead in Wascana Lake. 

The 20-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., was in Regina visiting an aunt when he died on May 21.

Justin Nyee, Uko’s uncle from Calgary, said he found out more details about his nephew’s final hours in a phone call with the Saskatchewan Health Authority this week.

Prior to that call, he thought Uko had reached out for medical help once, not twice. 

“We were shocked at first and then we are upset and we are angry because … he went twice,” said Nyee. “Everyone knew this person had a mental health issue, but for whatever reason they decided not to help him. 

“It doesn’t make any sense.”

On the morning of May 21, Uko asked his cousin to take him to the hospital, but he had to be left alone due to COVID-19 measures. Over the course of the next few hours, Uko met with four nurses and one doctor. 

Nyee said the doctor diagnosed Uko with depression, referred him to a mental health clinic, and released him from the hospital at about 10:45 a.m.

‘Red flags’ ignored, says uncle

At 1 p.m., Uko received a call from someone from a mental health clinic who interviewed him until about 2:30 or 3.

Nyee found out that when Uko was asked if he thought about killing himself, he said yes. He even disclosed to the mental health worker that he had made one failed attempt. 

“At the end she decided that his condition was mild … nothing to worry about,” said Nyee. “I told them there were a lot of red flags in his answers. How come she did not pick that up?”

At about 5 p.m., Uko called 911 to say he was having mental health issues and needed help. He was found on the side of the street by police officers. They escorted him to the hospital and stayed with him for about 40 minutes before leaving. 

About 15 minutes after that, the nurse who was talking to Uko called security and he was kicked out of the hospital. 

Uko at his graduation. He had entered his second season with the Langley Rams Junior Football Club in B.C. after playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon. (Samwel Uko/Facebook)

There is no record of his second visit to the hospital. The only proof he was there was CCTV footage from the lobby where he was sitting. 

Nyee said he asked the health authority if the situation was handled according to procedure. He was told it wasn’t, he said.

He asked if Uko was fighting, cursing or arguing with hospital staff. Someone from the SHA said Uko wasn’t doing anything, but was escorted out because he could not provide his name.

Uko’s body was found at about 7:30 that night. 

Uko’s care under investigation: SHA

According to Nyee, the SHA is reviewing Uko’s second visit to the hospital. That review is expected to take three to four weeks.

Nyee said his family is going to have a meeting soon and will likely get a lawyer who can represent them in talks with the SHA. 

He said he wants to prevent another Black person from dying because they could not get adequate help. 

“I always try not to interject race into the problem, but yes, this looks to me as if they did not care because he was a Black kid,” said Nyee.

“Nobody is hearing our problems and it’s out there. We face it like anyone else, and bringing this to light helps other people too.”

Today, it’s his nephew, Nyee said. “But we don’t know tomorrow who it’s going to be.… We have to work to avoid that for the next person.”

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Uko’s case is a “critical incident,” defined as “a serious adverse health event including, but not limited to, the actual or potential loss of life … related to a health service provided by, or a program operated by, a health care organization.”

“We again wish to convey our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of this young man,” a spokesperson said in an email to CBC. “This situation is heartbreaking for everyone involved.”

The SHA said it is communicating with Uko’s family as his care is reviewed. The agency would not respond to specific questions on the case because it is under investigation.


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