Posts Tagged "change"


Daphne Bramham: Time for radical change as overdose deaths, involuntary hospitalizations soar

by admin

Opinion: Overdose deaths and involuntary hospitalizations are soaring. Evidence indicates that independent, recovery-based housing is a solution.

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For nearly a month, David Eby and Sheila Malcolmson have had a 27-page proposal on their desks that could radically alter how homelessness, drug addictions and mental health are addressed.


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While the proposal with its Sept. 1 implementation date has been sitting there, the cabinet ministers have made dozens of announcements similar to what’s been done for close to five years. More group housing. More congregated services.

They’ve expressed the usual condolences and regret at the most recent overdose-death numbers — 851 deaths in the first five months of this year already — that has 2021 on-pace to be the worst year ever.

In response to that, they and others have renewed calls for decriminalization — which has essentially been in place in Vancouver for most of the last decade — and more free drugs, a so-called ‘safe supply’ that goes beyond what’s normally prescribed to stabilize users and quell cravings.


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Even with a few dips along the way, the number of deaths have inexorably risen over the past two decades when Vancouver first acknowledged the burgeoning problem with illicit drugs in the Downtown Eastside, and over the past five years since a provincewide public-health emergency was declared.

And, so far, silence on the proposal that has been talked about for close to a year by people including former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, Bill MacEwan, the former head of psychiatry at St. Paul’s Hospital, Simon Fraser University researchers and some non-profit groups.

Based on more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and reports, recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and guidance from Indigenous people with lived experiences, SFU psychologist Julian Somers et al insists that there’s a better — and, yes, a cheaper way.


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The $37 million proposal is for three years and would affect the lives of 1,500 people across B.C. who are the most deeply entrenched homeless, addicted and mentally ill.

It’s rooted in research that Somers was involved with nearly a decade ago — the federal government’s $110-million, At Home/Chez Soi project, which involved 2,000 people across Canada in the largest, randomized trial in history to evaluate solutions for homelessness.

Subsequent randomized trials done by SFU researchers supported the findings that people able to live in independent, recovery-oriented housing resulted in a 71 per cent drop in crime, a 50 per cent decrease in their hospital use and improved quality of life and community well-being.


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For context, here’s what the group’s research on the current situation shows:

• There are more than 2,200 British Columbians with mental illness as well as addiction, who over a five-year period average 4.9 hospital admissions, 4.2 court-ordered sentences to custody and 4.4 sentences to community supervision.

• Over 80 per cent of those living in The Downtown Eastside moved there from somewhere outside the Vancouver area.

• Between 2010 and 2017, involuntary hospitalization rose by roughly 50 per cent.

• They are eligible to receive $19,155 in shelter payments and $36,258 in income support.

A five-year study in Vancouver of 107 people with concurrent addictions and mental illness found that they spent an average of 59 days in hospital, received income assistance for 48 of 60 possible months, had 19 criminal convictions, spent 590 days in custody and another 631 days under community supervision.


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So what is independent, recovery-based housing?

It starts with listening to what people need, what they want and what they hope for. It includes asking them where they want to live and, again, research suggests that it’s not the Downtown Eastside, modular housing or an SRO.

A 2020 Vancouver survey found that 84 per cent would prefer to live somewhere else, away from others with similar problems. And before you NIMBY up, consider that the At Home study placed people in regular apartment buildings around the city, provided the necessary supports and recorded no problems or complaints from the neighbours.

Once clients have set their goals, they’re provided with the appropriate psycho-, social and medical services to begin the journey toward improved well-being, health, and meaningful social inclusion.


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Harm reduction will be part of it. For some, opioid replacement therapy may become a permanent part of their lives, while others may choose abstinence.

If they’re able and willing, employment services would be part of it. One international study cited found that between 70 and 90 per cent of people with mental illness and addictions want to work.

In some ways, there’s nothing really radical about this plan. It’s exactly what happens when pilots, physicians, public servants and politicians are identified as having substance-use problems.

With money available from their employee benefits plans, they’re whisked off to psychologists or counsellors for assessments, residential treatment if required, and then months, if not years, of followup counselling and treatment.


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But what happens to the poorest and most vulnerable is that they’re revived with naloxone, patched up in hospital, dealt with in the courts and then sent back to the streets or being warehoused and ghettoized in rundown hotels and social housing that provide few of the supports that they need.

The evidence points to potentially millions of dollars in public savings offsetting any additional costs if we revised our assumptions that only the wealthy, the powerful or those with employee benefit plans are able to get better or at least deserving of the opportunity to try.

The only mystery is why governments haven’t followed the science before and why they’re still slow to do it now.




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Change needed after funny, smart Indigenous girl died on 17th birthday: report

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Death of Indigenous teen in foster care reminiscent of the fates suffered by residential school students, Children’s Representative says in new report

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Skye’s life began as a mischievous, funny, inquisitive girl who loved fishing and being in nature; it ended years after she was ripped from her Indigenous family and put into foster care, with a fatal overdose on her 17th birthday in 2017.

“She was spunky, outgoing and vivacious, with a zest for life — a child who bubbled with energy. … Skye also struggled with anger rooted in the trauma she experienced as a child,” Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth says in her newest report, Skye’s Legacy: A Focus on Belonging.

“Skye always seemed like she was a hundred years old, even as a little girl. She had a very funny, playful side to her. But she just always seemed like she’d lived a really hard life … She just seemed worn down, like kind of old before her years,” a former social worker told Charlesworth.

The colonialism that led to generations of Indigenous youth being forced into residential schools still influences child protection decisions today, the report says. “(Skye) became part of what many have described as the modern-day residential school: the child welfare system,” Charlesworth told reporters Thursday.


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Skye Crassweller.
Skye Crassweller.

Skye, a member of the Teetlit Gwich’in band in the Northwest Territories, was removed from her family and Dene culture at age five and forced into a traumatic life, a similar fate to the estimated 215 children whose remains have been discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School.

“They are different chapters of the same continuing saga — the story of colonialism and the devastating damage it has done, and continues to do, to First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Urban Indigenous children, families and communities,” says the report, released today.

Indigenous children make up more than two thirds of kids in care, but represent just 10 per cent of the provincial population.

Skye Crassweller with her mother Marnie.
Skye Crassweller with her mother Marnie.

Skye’s own mother was removed from her family as an infant as part of the Sixties Scoop, and placed with abusive non-Indigenous adoptive parents, which led to mental health and substance abuse challenges.

With Skye, social workers pursued three unsuccessful adoption attempts, rather than trying harder to keep her connected to family, community and culture — such as by supporting a return to her mother, or placing her with relatives, or letting her stay with a “nurturing” Indigenous foster family, the report says.

“During her nearly 12 years in care, Skye was moved 15 times, lived in eight different foster homes, attended eight schools and had 18 different social workers,” Charlesworth wrote. “Skye wasn’t able to realize the sense of belonging that all humans need and seek.”


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Skye Crassweller.
Skye Crassweller.

While many improvements have been made to the child welfare system since Skye’s birth 20 years ago, the representative continues to see families dismantled because of perceived poor parenting, rather than addressing their vulnerabilities caused by trauma, racism or poverty.

On Thursday, Children and Family Development Minister Mitzi Dean promised, without specifics, to follow through with one of the report’s three recommendations: that all staff read the document to improve care plans for youth. Another recommendation was for a “substantive investment of new resources” by April 2022 to better promote a sense of belonging in First Nations youth; Dean said that request must be discussed in the context of the next provincial budget, but added improving the child protection system has been a priority for her government.

Since being elected in 2017, the NDP has reduced the priority on adoption when it’s not right for some youth and tried to keep more children with extended families, Dean said. “We also know that there is much more to be done to support Indigenous children, youth and families,” she added.

Skye’s mother, Marnie Crassweller, lived for years in supported housing run by the Atira Women’s Resource Society, and became friends with CEO Janice Abbott.

“She was wicked smart, she was articulate, she had just an infectious laugh,” Abbott told Postmedia in 2020. “Marnie never, ever really was able to deal with the trauma of losing Skye. … The system failed Marnie and it failed Skye.”


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Crassweller fatally overdosed in November 2016, and her daughter suffered the same accidental death nine months later, on Aug. 11, 2017, her 17th birthday.

Skye Crassweller with her mother Marnie.
Skye Crassweller with her mother Marnie.

When Skye’s mother, a talented artist, was unable to care for her young daughter, she asked social workers to place her with a Métis friend who was raising Skye’s older sister. But after two years of lifting Skye’s hopes, that plan fell apart, as did two other failed adoption attempts.

Throughout this fractious process, Skye’s trusted relationships with a counsellor and Indigenous foster parents were inexplicably severed, and the Teetlit Gwich’in unsuccessfully asked for adoption to be paused until a band member could be found to take her in, Charlesworth wrote.

Crassweller asked social workers many times to see her daughter, and records indicate Skye wanted to visit her mom, but they never saw each other again after Skye was taken away at age five. “I have always had you in my heart. And I have spent time every day since I last saw you, crying for you,” Crassweller wrote in one letter to Skye.

Skye Crassweller.
Skye Crassweller.

By Grade 8, Skye was skipping school, drinking and cutting herself. She ran away from her foster home, and was in an “exploitive” relationship with an older man. She threatened suicide.

The report documents efforts by social workers to try to connect Skye to help and housing. One sent a note to Skye’s mother, saying her daughter “is desperately seeking a sense of belonging.”

Skye, like all children, just wanted to belong to someone, to belong somewhere. But our child welfare, education and justice systems often “unbelong” children in crisis — removing them from their families, suspending them from school, detaining them in hospitals or youth jails. That, the report urges, must stop.


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Skye Crassweller.
Skye Crassweller.

A youth outreach worker who bonded with Skye at the age of 15, wrote in her notes that Skye was empathetic and had incredible “intelligence and insight” about family, trauma and addictions, and thought she would “make an amazing social worker one day.”

By the fall of 2016, Skye enrolled in an alternative high school, where she made good friends and listed her goals as graduating, getting a job, and “being happy without using drugs.” But those hopes were dashed later that fall by the death of her mother, which caused a grieving Skye to increase her drug use again, the report says.

Skye Crassweller.
Skye Crassweller.

“Both could have had better lives, might have had a lasting relationship with one another and might have had different fates, had they been better supported to deal with past traumas,” Charlesworth said Thursday.

Marnie Crassweller and her 17-year-old daughter Skye Crassweller died nine months apart of overdoses.
Marnie Crassweller and her 17-year-old daughter Skye Crassweller died nine months apart of overdoses. jpg


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Egerton Ryerson statue toppled amid growing calls to change university’s name | Watch News Videos Online

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Calls are growing to rename Ryerson University, because its namesake Egerton Ryerson was a key architect in Canada’s residential schools. Eric Sorensen explains what happens now that the statue of Ryerson has been toppled, and how the university is considering its next steps.


How B.C.’s accessibility act will change life for the deaf, hard of hearing community | CBC News

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This week, a new piece of legislation in B.C. aimed at improving accessibility for those with disabilities will go through a second reading.

If passed, the accessible British Columbia Act will remove barriers and create accessibility standards throughout the province, which according to the B.C. government, would help 900,000 British Columbians.

Lisa Anderson, who is part of the B.C. Deaf Accessibility Caucus and helped work on the legislation, said the deaf community doesn’t identify as disabled, but would like to be recognized as a cultural linguistic group. 

“We don’t refer to ourselves as people with a disability, but people with a specific linguistic and cultural identity,” she told All Points West host Kathryn Marlow, with the help of an American Sign Language interpreter. 

Accessibility, Anderson said, means having interpretation services to allow for communication. 

Anderson, 50, was born deaf. To illustrate her case, she points to a situation that arose when she was 18 years old, after she broke her teeth in a skiing accident. She had to go to several dental appointments, none of which made an interpreter available. As a result, she says she was unaware of her dental issues and other factors that affected her well-being.

“For mental health and for health, access to interpretation is absolutely essential,” she explained.

Pandemic shines light on challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on some of the challenges faced by the deaf, deaf and blind, and hard of hearing community, particularly when it comes to wearing masks and trying to communicate through plexiglass.

Sign language interpreter Kristi Falconer hopes that will encourage lawmakers to push the legislation through.

“What it has done is allowed people to, if you will, sort of have a slight moment of immersion into the barriers that many hard of hearing and deaf individuals have every day,” said Falconer, who is also the manager of communication services at Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre. 

ASL interpreter Nigel Howard, right, is seen at a coronavirus press conference alongside B.C.’s Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, the province’s health minister, on March 17, 2020. (CPAC)

Seeing interpreters as part of COVID-19 briefings has also made people more aware of those communication barriers, Falconer said, adding that making interpretation services commonplace is key in creating inclusion.

‘Scarce’ employment opportunities

Until recently, Anderson was living and working in Ottawa. She lost her job due to COVID-19, and moved home to Victoria to be with her parents. 

“As a deaf person, it is really not easy to find employment,” Anderson said. 

“The opportunities are very, very scarce. And it’s about do people understand what deaf people can do? Are they willing to give us a chance to hire us? Typically not.”

When she lost her job, she had to access CERB, which, while helpful, she found difficult to navigate as a deaf person; she described the video relay service as “cumbersome” and “frustrating.”

Eventually, Anderson did find work, but she had to move to Vancouver. 

“It’s very challenging to try to sell yourself to employers as a good employee. And we, like everybody else, we have to earn money. We have to pay our bills. We have to survive.”


Anderson said education is key, especially for non-deaf parents who have a deaf child. 

“Those parents need the right information right from the start, they need to get on board with providing accessible language acquisition for their deaf children,” she said.  

That means making sure they have strong sign language skills from a young age. 

“We don’t hear, but our lives are very similar to yours,” Anderson said. 

“The only time we encounter barriers to what we can do is when it’s about communication and language, and so that is what we’re asking for when it comes to accessibility, interpreting services, intervenor services and just to see more and more aspects of society offered and made accessible through interpreting and intervening.

“Please include us.”

Read a transcription of the All Points West interview with Lisa Anderson and Kristi Falconer below: 


‘Different is beautiful’: 2-year-old born without hands to get puppy without a paw to change perceptions

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A Chilliwack, B.C., mother is hoping a dog can help show her two-year-old daughter Ivy who was born without hands that being different makes her special.

What started out as a quest to find the perfect dog turned into a mission to change how others view disabilities.

When Vanessa McLeod was just 19 weeks pregnant she was told by doctors she should terminate.

“One doctor said you have to think about her quality of life she is going to have no hands. It still makes me a little bit sick thinking that she could have not been here if we had listened to those doctors,” said McLeod.

Now, little Ivy is two years old and she is thriving.

“Her favourite thing to do is colour and she just uses her toes to hold the markers so she has just learned to do things differently,” said McLeod.

McLeod says Ivy doesn’t really notice she is different yet but knows as she gets older she will start to question things.

“Why she doesn’t have hands and why she was born that way and why her and not other people,” said McLeod.

She wanted to find a way to make those conversations easier and thought a puppy that was also born with a limb difference could help Ivy embrace her differences.

“You know you were born that way but different is beautiful and this puppy was also born that way and that is also a beautiful thing and I just think it would be a magical bond,” said McLeod.

They expected a long search for the right dog but it was meant to be. A puppy they named Lucky was born a few weeks ago right in their home community.

“Missing her front paw so it just feels like fate,” said McLeod.

Now that their family has found the perfect pup. Her hope is that speaking out changes the way others view disabilities in the first place.

“She’s a happy rambunctious little toddler and I love everything that is different about her so I encourage people not to view disabilities as sad or something to be pitied but something to be celebrated,” said McLeod.

McLeod has since written a letter to the doctors that told her to abort telling them what she wished they would have told her instead.

“I wish you (they) would have told me that we would find support within the limb difference community, within the disability community,” said McLeod.

McLeod says the genetics counselor responded to her letter and invited her to talk to genetics medical students to help teach them how to deliver diagnoses in a way that is not so negative.

“I’m excited for that opportunity to kind of challenge the way doctors think and maybe teach the next generation of doctors that differences are beautiful and it’s ok and these parents will find support and make it through and they will love their babies,” said McLeod.  


A grim year by the numbers: 2020’s busiest days for overdoses, and what needs to change in 2021

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B.C. declared a public health emergency 5 years ago, but the overdose crisis worsened in 2020 when paramedics responded to 74 calls a day

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Paramedic specialist Brian Twaites worked in ambulance dispatch on New Year’s Eve, monitoring 911 calls from across the province. The pandemic had kept many people home, so there wasn’t the usual chaos in bars or on the streets, but there was an alarming increase in another type of plea for help.

B.C. residents reported a suspected drug overdose 110 times on Dec. 31. That day had the eighth-highest number of 911 overdose calls in 2020, a year that also smashed records for drug toxicity deaths.

On Wednesday, it will be five years since B.C. declared a public health emergency on April 14, 2016, after hundreds of people were fatally poisoned by drugs laced with fentanyl and other contaminants. The situation grew even more dire in 2017 and 2018, when about 1,500 British Columbians died each year, but new responses by community advocates, front-line workers and governments lowered that death toll to less than 1,000 in 2019.


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Those improvements would be erased in 2020. Pandemic restrictions imposed last spring led people to use alone and led to a more toxic drug supply. It made 2020 the deadliest year yet, with 1,724 drug users fatally poisoned in B.C. — nearly five people every day.

This has made the fifth anniversary a grim reminder that without significant changes — a safer drug supply, more health-care support, improved treatment options — there is no end in sight to the crisis.

On New Year’s Eve, paramedics were able to save most of the 110 people on the other end of those 911 calls. But they are tough assignments for first responders, and even more difficult for the families and friends who phoned for help — and for the drug users poisoned by their fix.

“It’s such a blur when you’re sitting there and these alerts keep coming across your (dispatch centre) screen: An overdose, an overdose, suspected overdose. And it’s not just the Downtown Eastside. It is every corner of the province. We’re seeing it in Houston, we’re seeing it in Prince George, we see it in Victoria. It’s not limited to the back alleys, it is in Kitsilano, UBC, Shaughnessy,” said Twaites. He’s a 35-year veteran who works both in dispatch to provide clinical support to co-workers on the road and on the street as an advanced life support paramedic.

“This is someone’s kid. This is someone’s father. This is someone’s cousin. This is someone’s best friend. So every time this happens, there’s such a cascade of grief around it, that it’s really tragic. And to be the one to tell somebody that their loved one has died is a really tough part of the job.”


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Paramedic specialist Brian Twaites in Vancouver.
Paramedic specialist Brian Twaites in Vancouver. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

He left work at 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2021, hoping the new year would be healthier than 2020.

“How could you not, with everything that’s been going on in the past year, specifically with opioids?”

B.C. Emergency Health Services, the agency that oversees ambulances in the province, provided Postmedia a tally of 911 calls for every day in 2020.

It shows 30 days had 100 or more overdose calls, some immediately after income assistance and disability cheques were issued. Others were celebratory evenings like New Year’s Eve or the day after Halloween. But there are also seemingly random days with high numbers of poisonings.

Ambulance paramedics responded to 27,068 overdose calls in 2020, an average of 74 a day. And the trend appears to be worsening: from an average of 2,255 requests for help a month in 2020, rising to more than 2,500 for the first three months of this year.

“Unfortunately, the high number of overdose calls have continued into 2021,” said BCEHS spokeswoman Shannon Miller.

Here, we take a look at the stark reality of 2020 with the help of paramedics, coroner’s reports, health authority warnings and police bulletins. We do this to ask: Can this narrative be changed in 2021?

March 25-26, 2020: 210 overdose calls

Emergency calls for overdoses were relatively low for most of the first three months of 2020, the BCEHS data shows, but the numbers started to steadily climb after March 20. On that date, in response to the pandemic being declared, the Canada-U.S. border was closed, which experts believe cut off traditional trafficking routes for street drugs and led to a supply being cut with poisonous substances.


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Just as drugs became more dangerous, public health measures to stop social gatherings and prohibit visitors in homes meant many people switched to using alone — with no one around to try to save them.

On March 25, when provincial assistance cheques were released, paramedics fielded 111 overdose calls, followed by 99 the next day. Also in March, the overdose death toll hit 114 people, far higher than the tallies for January or February.

Shane Sander, a paramedic in Cloverdale, said it is a common assumption that overdoses only affect marginalized people, a misconception that he said must be overcome in order to address the crisis.

“Sometimes it’s the housemates checking on their roommate who’s unresponsive due to an accidental overdose, and sometimes it’s the grandmother knocking on the bathroom door, opening it, and finding her grandson unresponsive,” said Sander, a spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union.

“Sometimes it’s the father at home found unresponsive, or the adolescents experimenting with friends that are found down in an alleyway. Sometimes it’s the person who is off work with a back injury and needed pain relief that began abusing substances as a coping mechanism. We never know what the trigger is, but it’s not our place to judge.”

Shane Sander, a primary care paramedic and spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., at the Cloverdale ambulance station in Surrey.
Shane Sander, a primary care paramedic and spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., at the Cloverdale ambulance station in Surrey. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

April 24, 2020: 112 calls | May 28, 2020: 115 calls

Each month last spring, there was a new high for overdose 911 calls. There were 112 on April 24, two days after assistance cheques were issued; there were another 115 on May 28, one day after the handout of cheques.


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A variety of warnings were being issued about the mounting toxicity of the drugs. The Delta school district website, for example, posted a provincial alert on May 6, another was issued May 8 by Northern Health, and a third on May 11 on Vancouver Island.

Paramedics will often respond to several overdose calls in the same shift, and sometimes will recognize patients they’ve revived before. Twaites, a Vancouver paramedic, can’t forget a long conversation with one man he resuscitated, who explained he had a job and wanted to go to the hospital to get help with his addictions.

“It was probably about six or seven months later, and we were doing a resuscitation of a narcotic overdose. And as soon as we woke this person, I realized it was the same guy,” Twaites recalled.

“He just looked at me and he says, ‘I was doing so well. And I had a slip.’ And that’s hard. So calls like that stick with you. You see the turmoil in someone’s life. And then you see the turmoil in their life again, and they’re still fighting it.”

The number of people dying was also climbing, up to 122 in April, and 176 in May.

June 25-26, 2020: 237 overdose calls

June, though, was the deadliest month to date in B.C., with the loss of 185 lives. It also had the highest daily number of 911 overdose calls, with 131 on June 26, two days after cheque distribution.

Paramedic Shelby Weber can remember responding to an overdose call at the New Westminster pier, and then another one in a nearby residence, in late June, sweating in her plastic gown, gloves, face shield and mask, which she was required to wear to avoid exposure to COVID-19.


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“It was hot and sunny and just a lot to deal with in one day … (And) this is the other challenge with COVID: How are people coping with mental health?” asked Weber, also a spokeswoman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

Paramedic Shelby Weber.
Paramedic Shelby Weber.

Another trend that Weber finds worrying is that it often takes paramedics longer and longer to wake people from overdoses.

On June 18, Northern Health sounded the alarm about benzodiazepines — which slow down brain activity — being mixed with opioids, making users more prone to overdoses and more difficult to rouse.

July 22-25: 425 overdose calls

July was the first month to have four bad days for 911 overdose calls in a row, starting with 106 on July 22 (cheque day) and ending with 121 on July 25.

Overdose advisories continued across B.C. that month, including a provincewide warning July 17 about smoking opioids and stimulants, and a July 20 Interior Health alert about “severe outcomes” from using a dark reddish-brown substance with green specks being sold as an opioid in Cranbrook.

In July, Liberal critic Jane Thornthwaite called on the NDP to invest more in mental health and addictions, “to fill the gaps in the system exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Aug. 16: 103 calls | Aug. 26: 108 calls

August marked the beginning of a new troubling pattern that would be repeated in the final five months of 2020: An additional high-volume day for 911 overdose calls that did not overlap with assistance cheques.

On Aug. 16, paramedics responded to 103 calls. The day before, Interior Health issued an overdose alert for the Kootenay-Boundary area, warning of “highly toxic amounts of fentanyl and benzodiazepines.”


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Later that month, the NDP’s then-minister of mental health and addictions, Judy Darcy, issued a statement saying the gains her government made to reduce overdose deaths continued to be “strained” by fallout from the pandemic, including losing in-person supports, financial pressures and growing mental health challenges.

But advocates argue the government’s response to the drug crisis needs to be stronger, as nearly twice as many people fatally overdosed in 2020 as had died from COVID-19.

Sept. 5: 103 calls | Sept. 23-25: 319 calls

In addition to three frenzied days around cheque distribution, this month had more than 100 overdose calls on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend.

About a week later, Interior Health issued a warning about a beige drug sold as “down” that contained fentanyl and can cause “hallucinations and death.”

An Insights West poll released in September found one out of every three British Columbians have someone in their immediate family or friend group who struggles with addiction or has fatally overdosed.

Shane Sander, a primary care paramedic and spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.
Shane Sander, a primary care paramedic and spokesman for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“What we don’t emphasize enough is that drug overdoses affect everyone,” said Sander. “Sometimes we’re not just treating the patient in front of us, but also the emotional toll it takes on friends and families.”

Oct. 7: 114 calls | Oct. 21: 105 calls

There were 114 overdose calls on Oct. 7, a time when drug toxicity levels were clearly high.

On Oct. 5, four people overdosed outside the Campbell River courthouse and were revived by first responders. On Oct. 17, Surrey RCMP said five people overdosed inside one house and each required about four doses of Narcan, a medication to reverse overdoses.


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Twaites, who worked during Vancouver’s heroin overdose crisis in the 1990s, said the potency of today’s drugs often requires him to use 10 or more times the dosage of Narcan than he used three decades ago.

“(Patients) are almost clinically dead because it knocks out their respiratory drive. So we have to get to them quickly … so they don’t get brain damage,” said Twaites, who once responded to 24 overdoses in one shift.

Nov. 1: 100 calls | Nov. 18-20: 331 calls

One of the highest days for overdose calls in November came on the first day of the month, coinciding with a series of drug toxicity alerts.

Island Health advised Greater Victoria residents on Nov. 3 against injecting or inhaling opioids and stimulants. Interior Health warned Nov. 4 about a dark pink or purple drug in Penticton. And, on Nov. 6, Abbotsford police said street drugs were four times more potent, affecting many people in their 20s.

After cheques were issued Nov. 18, there were three days of more than 100 overdose calls, including the Surrey RCMP responding to fatal overdoses at three locations.

With a monthly death toll of more than 160, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe added her voice in November to those calling for significant change.

“We encourage clinicians to support those at risk of overdose by prescribing safe supply and reducing the numbers of lives lost to toxic substances. We also continue to advocate for an accessible, evidence-based and accountable treatment and recovery system.”


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Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Dec. 16-17: 211 calls | Dec. 31: 131 calls

By the end of 2020, 1,716 people would fatally overdose. Two-thirds were 30 to 59 years old, and four out of every five were men, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. The majority of deaths occurred inside, more than half in private homes. No one died in a supervised-consumption site.

The devastating year brought many demands for action.

After a man died in his tent at the Strathcona Park encampment on Dec. 5, advocate Fiona York said more attention must be paid to the reasons behind the rise in overdoses during the pandemic: homelessness, fewer services, isolation and tainted drugs.

All three levels of government poured money into supports in 2020, including into more housing, more treatment, more supervised-consumption sites and improved access to safe supply — but it was not enough to stem overdoses or deaths.

And so the tough calls continue for B.C.’s paramedics.

Weber, who now works in Surrey’s downtown Whalley neighbourhood, can remember an emotional assignment last winter. A man had locked himself in the bathroom, something that isn’t usual for drug users who want to hide their habit from their loved ones, and his family could see through a window that he was lying on the floor.

“It was a young gentleman who was at home and has been off work because of COVID and an injury. And he somehow got into narcotics to help deal with his pain,” she recalled.

“He ended up dying. And there were young children in the family and his wife that he had left behind. And it was quite a distressing thing to see for the family, which can become quite distressing in our own lives. We all know friends that have lost jobs because of COVID or can’t work because of a physical injury that happened at work. And it’s kind of scary to see how that can spiral.”


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Jan., Feb., March 2021: 7,190 calls

The volume of 911 overdose calls continued to go up in 2021. March 25 matched the daily record of 131 calls, set on June 26, 2020.

In response to this crisis, B.C. Emergency Health Services introduced the Downtown Eastside bike squad, which responds to overdoses on two wheels. The service also schedules more paramedics to work on busy shifts, such as on cheque days, said Miller, its spokeswoman. The Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union, though, argues the system often doesn’t have enough workers to handle the high call volumes because staff are burning out.

The BCEHS also joined health authorities to help design the Lifeguard App, which was launched in May. Drug users activate the app before taking their hits and must respond to an alarm that sounds 50 seconds later. If they don’t turn off the ringing within 75 seconds, 911 will be alerted of a potential overdose. The app had been downloaded by 4,735 people, led to 62 calls to 911 and resulted in 16 overdose reversals. No one using the app has died, said Miller.

Paramedic specialist Brian Twaites in Vancouver.
Paramedic specialist Brian Twaites in Vancouver. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

When paramedics are called to help with overdoses, patients have a 95 per cent chance of survival, Miller said.

Twaites said the most important thing that people can do is not use alone.

“People are going to be using drugs. We have to face that. And if you’re gonna use drugs, just do it safely,” he said.

“Make sure you have a Narcan kit, make sure you phone 911 right away, and make sure that there’s somebody there that can help you if something goes wrong. Addiction is a disease and we have to find ways to fight it.”

— With files from Nathan Griffiths, Postmedia data journalist

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Disabled community pushes for policy change after woman died alone at B.C. hospital | CBC News

by admin

Disabled people and their families are calling on the B.C. government to make changes to visitor restrictions in hospitals after a 40-year-old woman with cerebral palsy died alone last month at Peace Arch Hospital. 

Ariis Knight could not speak and depended on caregivers and family members to communicate. But because of visitor restrictions put in place to control the spread of COVID-19, none of Knight’s caregivers or family members were allowed to be with her in the hospital. 

Knight died on April 18, a few days after she was transferred to the hospital from the group home in South Surrey where she had lived for a decade. She had been experiencing breathing difficulties, but tested negative for COVID-19, according to her brother, David Knight. 

Now, a month later, Paul Gauthier is haunted by the tragedy and is mobilizing people to send a message to the B.C. government. 

Paul Gauthier has cerebral palsy and needs a personal support worker for everything from eating to using the washroom to adjusting his computer screen. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Gauthier, who has cerebral palsy, is a community advocate and executive director of the Individualized Funding Resource Centre Society. He says the disability community is devastated, and scared. 

“People with disabilities are telling me they’re not even thinking of going to a hospital,” Gauthier said. “And that’s because they’re concerned that they’re not going to be able to bring their support person in with them.”

Gauthier has been working with individuals and organizations, helping to grow a grassroots movement to send a clear message to the B.C. government — current policies that deal with visitor restrictions in hospitals and health-care settings shouldn’t apply to support workers and caregivers. 

A letter went to a number of senior government officials, including Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Dr. Bonnie Henry on May 5. The letter called for the government to guarantee people with disabilities the right to essential support from caregivers in health-care settings.

“Nurses are amazing. But we need to be realistic about what they can handle while we’re in the hospital,” Gauthier said. 

“I have cerebral palsy. For me that means that I can’t go to the washroom by myself. I can’t feed myself. Scratching my head is something I can’t do by myself. A personal support worker is the key to make sure that I continue to live.”

Government says change is coming

Dix responded to the group’s concerns on May 14, noting the COVID-19 policy around hospital access for visitors included provisions for essential visitors to accommodate people with disabilities. 

But he added that the government is working to respond to specific concerns of the disability community that include special needs such as feeding, mobility, communications and decision making.

“We want to make those explicit in the policy, ” he said. 

“We’re going to make changes to the policy that reflect the absolute need to provide protection for everyone involved in a time of pandemic … This is a very serious situation for people who are vulnerable.”

Paul Gauthier sits outside his apartment in Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

When asked when the revised policy might be in place, Dix said he was hopeful the new policy would be available by Tuesday. 

But Gauthier says no one is declaring victory yet.

“We’re pleased that Minister Dix is taking steps to update the hospital visitor policy to address the critical needs of people with disabilities, and clarify the role of essential support people,” he said.

“But we’re disappointed that it’s taken this long. We’re concerned that the minister’s hope for a May 19 release may not happen.”  


Letters, Oct. 1: The real work on climate change starts with each of us

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Over 100,000 people concerned about the state of the Earth’s climate converged on Vancouver City Hall last Friday as part of a global initiative to bring attention to the environment.

Jason Payne / PNG

Naturally, I was delighted to see so many young people taking climate change seriously, and I truly hope they continue the hard work ahead.

However, my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by reality. After watching the very prescient movie WALL-E a few years ago — the story of a little robot left on Earth to clean up the mess humanity made — I was disheartened to note that not a single audience member bothered to pick up their popcorn and drink containers when exiting the theatre. They had been entertained, but learned nothing.

I hope that all the marchers might consider keeping their iPhones, laptops, X-Boxes and such a lot longer than the marketers would prefer, especially given that 350,000 phones are discarded daily in North America, and most of the stylish clothes we all seem to need each season are not recyclable.

While pressuring our politicians is necessary, the real work starts with each of us.

Gorm Damborg, Vancouver

Climate march was no gimmick

The people who marched Friday in Vancouver showed their deep concern for global warning, climate change and the environment.

Perhaps, leaders locally, provincially and federally will truly listen and implement measures that will have healing effects. Hurricanes, floods and forest fires are the results of our selfish actions over past decades and centuries. 

The canaries are singing: Orcas, salmon, caribou and many other species worldwide are threatened.

The climate march was not a gimmick. Let us find solutions to the problems we created. We must come together, cooperate and reach consensus.

Kathleen Szabo, Vancouver.

It’s about time

Finally, climate change is getting the attention it deserves. I was heartened to see The Vancouver Sun’s pictures of hundreds of thousands of people from across Canada who are ready to change how we treat our planet.

If each of us individually is willing to do our own small part, we can have a huge cumulative effect on the Earth’s future. Pledging to have no more than two children (or one child and one pet), staying in our lovely neighbourhoods instead of traipsing the world, and alleviating consumerism as recreation are personal choices that will most certainly make our world a better place for future generations.

Kudos to all who recognize that a solution starts with each of us individually.

Doris Schellenberg, Abbotsford

Changing the status quo

September is when we celebrate the employment of people with disabilities, as highlighted in the recent article, “Untapped talent pool is key to British Columbia’s future” by Ross Chilton. True, many people with disabilities continually face barriers to employment. Thus, there’s been a push to increase the awareness of employers in their hiring practices. However, here are two other perspectives:

First, individuals with disabilities are similar to the rest of the population — some have skills and capabilities for the labour force, others don’t. Everyone has the ability to learn, though some may need support. Unfortunately, assumptions and stereotypes still exist — people with disabilities aren’t capable to learn, thus others have low expectations of them. As a result, some miss out from learning basic protocols, appropriate mannerisms, or creative strategies supporting them in the workforce. We must work together, creating an environment where all feel valued and belonged.

Second, I observe that many leadership and management positions in organizations for people with disabilities, are filled by able-bodied (and white) people. Rarely, we see a person with a visible disability in the role. Why? If we want to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities, then I believe it is the responsibility of disabled organizations to lead the way. Having able-bodied people in these positions emphasizes the power dynamics and perpetuates the stereotypes of individuals with disabilities always needing help. Placing a person with a disability in a leadership role challenges the status quo and shifts the perception of disability.

Karen Lai is an independent consultant in accessibility and inclusion.

Letters to the editor should be sent to The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erickson’s vision

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

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

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

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


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

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

Gerry Kahrmann / PNG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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