Victoria courthouse Lyle Stafford / Times Colonist
A homeless man who used his cellphone to record 78 unsuspecting women using public toilets has been sentenced to 18 months in jail, followed by three years of probation.
Garth Galligan, 34, pleaded guilty last week to unlawfully recording the women in places where they could reasonably expect to have privacy. Galligan also pleaded guilty to breaching his probation by being in the women’s washroom at the Empress Hotel on Aug. 26, 2019, and breaching a court order to meet daily with the Assertive Community Treatment team, which supports him in the community.
Judge Jennifer Barrett accepted a joint submission from Crown and defence asking for the 18-month sentence. She noted that although only one woman was identified, Galligan’s voyeurism has had a significant impact on the community.
“The public’s expectation of privacy when using a public washroom is well recognized and accepted. Mr. Galligan’s offending behaviour directly violated this expectation in a very intimate and personally invasive way. The offence of voyeurism is not a victimless crime,” said the judge.
During the sentencing hearing, Barrett heard that Galligan breached his probation on the same day he was released from jail after serving time for a sexual assault in the women’s washroom of the Royal British Columbia Museum, and for a disturbing incident at the McDonald’s on Douglas Street.
In December 2018, Galligan approached a young woman in the women’s washroom at the museum, tried to push her into a stall and groped her. Another woman intervened and he ran off.
Galligan also followed a woman into the washroom at the McDonald’s and propositioned her for sex. When Galligan pushed on a stall door to see if it was locked and would not take no for an answer, the woman yelled at him to leave and called police.
In March 2019, Galligan was sentenced to jail, followed by three years of probation, with conditions that prohibited him from entering or lingering around women’s washrooms.
Within hours of his release, Galligan was found by a member of the Empress Hotel’s housekeeping staff standing topless on a toilet seat with his pants around his ankles. She ordered him to leave.
On Sept. 1, another housekeeper walked into the women’s washroom and saw Galligan naked inside the stall. She was frightened, told him to leave and alerted security, but Galligan fled, court heard.
On Oct. 7, a woman using a bathroom stall at the hotel noticed a cellphone screen coming from the stall beside her when she flushed the toilet. Galligan ran off, but was later identified through security cameras at the hotel.
That same evening, a housekeeper found Galligan again in the women’s washroom at the hotel. She told him to leave and that he was banned from the hotel.
On Oct. 10, Galligan was arrested and his cellphone was seized. The police found a compilation of videos showing 58 women in toilet stalls. Court heard that the Oct. 6 video is 46 minutes and 18 seconds in length and Galligan’s face appears on the video 13 times. It’s believed the video clips were recorded between Aug. 26 and Oct. 6.
A further 20 women were video-recorded between Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.
Of the 78 women, only six were not recorded in a state of undress or using the toilet.
No one’s face was visible on the video, except Galligan’s. It’s not clear where the videos were taken.
Before imposing sentence, Barrett considered Galligan’s personal circumstances.
The Indigenous man’s biological mother struggled with addiction and lived on the streets in Vancouver. He was removed from her care at birth and lived in a foster home until age five, when he was adopted by the Galligans. His adoptive father died when Galligan was 19. At age 20, he left the family home to seek out his biological mother and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol.
Galligan has a number of very serious challenges, said Barrett. He struggled academically and socially in school, but got through high school. He now collects disability benefits.
He has a low IQ and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, substance-use disorder for both cannabis and amphetamines and anti-social personality disorder. Psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Dugbartey concluded that Galligan’s voyeurism is driven by his strong sexual arousal and interest in seeing women urinating, and that he is at high risk to reoffend sexually.
Dugbartey found Galligan had little insight into his offending behaviour or his need for treatment. Galligan told the psychiatrist he breached his probation order because he wanted to fulfill his sexual desires of viewing and video-recording women urinating.
Dugbartey found Galligan to be “decidedly unrepentant and lacking in remorse,” said the judge.
“There is a need in this case to separate Mr. Galligan from the community, given his current attitude about his offending, the need to make changes in his life and the need for treatment. Without those changes being made, he poses a significant risk to the community,” said Barrett.
A homeless man used his cellphone to record 78 unsuspecting women using the toilet in Victoria public washrooms, provincial court has heard.
Garth Galligan, 34, pleaded guilty to unlawfully recording the women in places where they could reasonably expect to have privacy. Galligan also pleaded guilty to breaching his probation by being in the women’s washroom at the Empress Hotel on Aug. 26, 2019. He will be sentenced next week.
Crown prosecutor Lexi Pace told the court that Galligan breached his probation on the same day he was released from jail after serving time for a sexual assault in the women’s washroom of the Royal British Columbia Museum and a disturbing incident at the McDonald’s on Douglas Street.
In December 2018, Galligan approached a young woman in the women’s washroom at the museum, tried to push her into a stall and groped her. Another woman intervened and he ran off.
Galligan also followed a woman into the washroom at the McDonald’s and propositioned her for sex. Galligan was pushing on a stall door to see if it was locked and not taking no for an answer, said Pace. The woman yelled at him to leave and called police.
Within hours of his release, Galligan was found by a member of the hotel’s housekeeping staff standing topless on a toilet seat with his pants around his ankles. She ordered him to leave.
On Sept. 1, another housekeeper walked into the women’s washroom and found a sign taped outside a toilet stall. The door was slightly ajar and the housekeeper saw Galligan naked inside the stall. She was frightened, told him to leave and alerted security, but Galligan fled, said Pace.
On Oct. 7, a woman using a bathroom stall at the hotel noticed a cellphone screen coming from the stall beside her when she flushed the toilet, said Pace. “She was horrified and didn’t know how to react. The phone was then pulled back into the occupied stall. The woman was shaken and reported the matter.”
Galligan fled but he was later identified through security cameras at the hotel.
On Oct. 10, Galligan was arrested and his cellphone was seized, said Pace. Police found a video which was a compilation of other videos showing 58 women in toilet stalls.
“These are single clips which have been strung together in one video. Most reveal the women’s buttocks and genital areas,” said Pace. “From watching the video, I can say it might surprise the court how proximal and clear the view is. … It’s extremely intimate and invasive.”
The Oct. 6 video is 46 minutes and 18 seconds in length and Galligan’s face appears on the video 13 times, she said. It’s believed the video clips were recorded between Aug. 26 and Oct. 6.
A further 20 women were video recorded between Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.
Of the 78 women, six were not recorded in a state of undress or using the toilet.
No one’s face was visible on the video, except Galligan’s. It’s not clear where the videos were taken.
Galligan suffers from serious mental-health problems and drug addiction. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, substance use disorder for both cannabis and amphetamines, anti-social personality disorder and paraphilic disorder.
Galligan was required to report daily to the Assertive Community Treatment team, which helps him. Although Galligan was ordered to live at the Salvation Army, he didn’t and he began using hard drugs, said Pace.
Galligan was warned by the Crown to abide by his conditions, but breaches persisted.
Mitigating factors are Galligan’s Indigenous background and his early guilty pleas, said the prosecutor.
“This is not a trial that anyone wants to attend,” Pace said.
Galligan’s planned, deliberate, practiced actions are aggravating factors, she said. “It’s not impulsive. It’s not a one-off at all.”
Even though he’s under the highest level of supervision in the community, he still visited women’s washrooms at the Empress Hotel three times in a 2 1/2-month period.
Court-ordered reports prepared to assist with sentencing show Galligan has a high risk to reoffend.
Pace and defence lawyer Alex Tait presented a joint submission to the court asking for an 18-month global sentence followed by a three-year probation order.
“This is a very difficult case and Mr. Tait and I have been struggling with it. We’ve had numerous discussions,” said Pace. After his release for these offences, Galligan will be referred again to the Assertive Community Treatment team, she said.
Tait noted that his client’s offending only started at age 30 in 2016.
Galligan was apprehended at birth from the Buffalo Tribe in Saskatchewan and was eventually adopted at age five.
“His underlying problem is homelessness. He has nowhere to go,” said Tait.
Galligan now understands his behaviour unacceptable, said the defence lawyer.
“He has a long road ahead to get help. He needs to stay away from drugs and get housed. … If he had his own place to go, he may have a much better opportunity for success,” said Tait.
“Last time, he was released to the street or the Sally Ann.”
The judge is expected to sentence Galligan on Tuesday.
Women in the Lower Mainland will get training and work experience in the road-building industry, giving them opportunities for job success and improved lives, thanks to more than $370,000 in provincial government funding.
“This program gives women the training, skills and confidence they need to find and keep jobs in non-traditional career paths,” said Lisa Beare, MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows. “Having meaningful work helps people improve their quality of life by connecting them to their community and providing new and exciting opportunities.”
YWCA Metro Vancouver (YWCA), in partnership with the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 115, is delivering the 25-week YWCA Breaking Ground Heavy Equipment Operator Training and Employment Program for Women.
“B.C.’s Labour Market forecasts more than 4,000 construction and labourer job openings across our province in the next 10 years,” said Bob D’Eith, MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission. “This WorkBC Community and Employer Partnerships training program for women will provide graduates a great entry point into B.C.’s road-building industry and support them on the path to a rewarding long-term career.”
Participants’ training includes road building, heavy equipment operation, heavy construction, on-the-job work experience with an IUOE Local 115 signatory employer, personalized job placement and follow-up support with a YWCA job coach.
The Breaking Ground Heavy Equipment Operator Project Based Labour Market Training project is recruiting for the Feb. 24, 2020 start date in Maple Ridge. There are spaces for 10 participants. Anyone interested in applying or learning more can contact their local WorkBC Centre or visit: www.ywcajobseeker.org/breaking-ground
Mitzi Dean, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity —
“Women are vastly under-represented in the trades, which provide good-paying jobs. By supporting more people with the training they need, we are making a difference that can change lives for the better.”
Tina Hurd, program manager, YWCA Breaking Ground —
“We are excited to be able to expand our employment services in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, and support even more women on their path to personal and economic independence. YWCA Breaking Ground will help address a major gap in B.C.’s skilled trades sector. This program is about providing skilled workers directly to a sector that needs them, while empowering women with the tools and training they need to start a rewarding career.”
Brian Cochrane, business manager, IUOE Local 115 —
“We partnered with YWCA in this program so we can enhance the number of women in the trades. Despite a skilled worker shortage, the number of women in trades remains woefully under-represented. It’s programs like this that not only raise awareness, but also get us closer to genuine equity. The IUOE Local 115 is proud to play its part to have women rise above and be a large part of the trades in B.C.”
The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction is providing $373,243 through the Project Based Labour Market Training stream of the Community and Employer Partnerships (CEP) program. CEP’s goal is to increase employment and work experience opportunities in communities throughout B.C.
About $15 million will be invested in CEP projects around B.C. in 2019-20.
Tamara Loyer proudly wears a bright red lanyard around her neck, from which dangles keys to the modest office where she oversees a unique Downtown Eastside drop-in program for trans woman that she designed this year.
She’s come a long way in the past decade: from a despondent homeless woman trapped inside a body with male genitalia to someone who has undergone gender-confirming surgery and now has a home, goes to school and is employed.
“I’ve not been in an office setting since the mid-1980s,” laughs Loyer during an interview at Atira Women’s Resource Society, where she started the Beyond the Street drop-in for trans women in September.
Now 57, Loyer believes her internal war with her gender was at the root of her 30-year spiral into drug addiction, sex work and homelessness, and that the surgery she had in April 2014 gave her the confidence to start putting her life back together again.
“After surgery, I thought I don’t want to have to think about (gender) the way I did before. I can be part of the world. I can go and do things now without being self-conscious,” she reflected. “I walk around here and I don’t have to be afraid that what’s in my head and what people see aren’t the same.”
She is happy with her outward appearance, but is inwardly still haunted by gender dysphoria — a crippling unhappiness with one’s biological gender.
“After surgery, we all like to think that it will never bother me again. It still does. I think about it every day,” she said.
Her dark thoughts are often triggered by still-lingering male gender traits, such as facial hair and a low voice. “That bothers me still to this day. I’m not as critical, as I was, at what I see in the mirror, (but) it doesn’t go away 100 per cent.”
The Vancouver Sun documented Loyer’s story in 2014: the challenges of applying for the surgery and organizing the logistics when you have a vulnerable lifestyle, no fixed address, a panhandler’s income, and no family supports. At the time, B.C. funded sex-reassignment surgeries, but the only place in Canada that performed them was a private Montreal hospital, where Loyer was flown by a charity airline.
“I had nobody with me and it was terrifying,” she said. “It was daunting. There is so much red tape to go through.”
The number of B.C. patients that must endure that flight to Montreal is expected to decrease in the coming years. A new gender surgery clinic opened in Vancouver General Hospital in late September, where the Health Ministry anticipates full-scale gender-affirming surgeries will be performed, likely next year.
B.C.’s new gender surgery clinic
Two surgeons with specialized skills have been hired to work at the clinic, and since September have done repairs and revisions to previous surgeries, and performed parts of so-called “lower surgeries” — but not yet the entire procedure, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Until this year, patients in every province had to travel to Montreal for “lower surgeries” — which include vaginoplasty for trans women and phalloplasty for trans men. In June, Ontario started to offer these complex surgeries at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, and B.C. plans to be the next province to do so.
“The trans community has advocated over a number of years for improved access to care, including access to complex lower surgeries within B.C.,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said in November 2018, when he first indicated the services offered here would expand.
“For those seeking lower surgery, people were required to travel to Montreal or to the U.S., resulting in additional medical risks associated with travelling long distance after surgery and in receiving followup care if there were complications.”
The number of British Columbians travelling to Montreal has been on the rise, with about 100 patients annually in recent years. That number is expected to stay roughly the same in 2020, while the B.C. program fully ramps up, the Health Ministry said.
An estimated one per cent of the population identifies as trans, which includes a wide range of people for whom their gender is different from their assigned sex at birth. In B.C., the Health Ministry says, about 46,000 people identify as “trans or gender diverse,” but only a few will pursue medical or surgical services.
Offering the service closer to home will make it simpler to access and to allow friends to visit during recovery. That may encourage more trans people to consider surgery, especially those from marginalized communities like the Downtown Eastside, Loyer said.
And, she argued, it will benefit society in the long run to help more people feel in sync with their own bodies.
“You are going to get a person who is going to be more productive. Somebody who might want to go to school, get a job. Somebody who might want to join their family again,” she said. “You don’t have to live in despair, overwhelmed with what is described as an illness. You can be functional.”
Trans people face discrimination and harassment, which often leads to poor mental health and a greater risk for suicide, says the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention.
Loyer speaks softly when she remembers trans friends who committed “suicide, got killed, ran away, were never seen again, overdosed or became mental patients.” She hopes these tragedies will be less frequent among her peers with the new local access to medical help.
Another set of surgeries many trans people pursue — breast augmentation or chest construction — were, until recently, offered in only Vancouver and Victoria. Now B.C. has 16 surgeons who do this work, and these procedures have been extended to Abbotsford, Burnaby, Port Moody, New Westminster, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George.
The demand for these upper surgeries in B.C. has quadrupled in just three years, with 49 performed in 2015-16 and 254 in 2018-19. The Health Ministry anticipates 300 breast or chest surgeries will be completed by the end of this fiscal year, in March 2020.
And B.C. has a waiting list for this procedure with more than 200 names.
In 2015, the Provincial Health Services Authority launched Trans Care B.C., which offers details about health care and support for trans people or their families. Its service directory lists dozens of drop-ins and information groups across the province, including in communities outside Metro Vancouver such as Prince Rupert, Fort St John and Cranbrook.
She hoped B.C. would offer acceptance
So much as changed since Loyer first arrived in Vancouver in 1984, at age 23, leaving behind a turbulent childhood on a Quebec military base. She came here to seek acceptance. She assumed the name Tamara, found work as a computer programmer and continued to pursue post-secondary education.
But she faced discrimination, numbed her pain with drugs, and eventually worked the streets to earn income. In 1989 she began inquiring about a sex-change operation, but had no stability to pursue surgery.
She was homeless, sick and dejected in 2011 when an outreach worker took her to the first place she felt at home: a shelter for woman, run by Atira. Despite the obvious challenges of sharing communal bathrooms with the female tenants of the modest shelter, Loyer began to heal and, through a new network of support, was able to get her surgery in March 2014.
The Healthy Ministry paid $20,000 for the procedure and $2,000 for her post-surgery care in Montreal. Doctors removed her male organs and created a vagina.
The Vancouver Sun’s first feature on Loyer was published one month after the operation, when she was still healing and had modest ambitions to live a more stable life.
Today, she says that it took her about six months to physically heal from the invasive surgery while she lived in Atira-supported housing in the heart of the Downtown Eastside. There were infections that required cleaning, extreme tenderness, and a daily routine of using dilators to ensure her new vagina wouldn’t close up.
And there are post-operation steps that will be necessary indefinitely. Attached to her stomach is a patch that supplies very large doses of estrogen, a female hormone that her body considers a foreign substance and tries to reject.
But, overall, she is elated with the outcome of the surgery. “I wake up in the morning and I’m happy that I don’t have to encounter a body that is what I had. That was one of the most horrible things in the shower and the washroom and getting dressed. And that is gone.”
Loyer does not wear makeup, jewelry or fancy clothes, but rather prefers basic, gender-neutral garb.
“I am happy with what I look like,” she said. “It’s not the outside that’s the problem. It’s the inside that is giving me the problems.”
In early 2019, Loyer was upgrading her high school credits at the South Hill Adult Education Centre in south Vancouver, but she was also still panhandling, which she found increasingly demeaning, to supplement her disability pension.
“I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to be in school.”
Loyer appeared “isolated,” recalled Janice Abbott, the executive director of Atira, so she suggested Loyer open a drop-in for trans women. Atira offered space to hold the meetings, a small budget for food and communication, and the encouragement for Loyer to independently create a program that was needed in the Downtown Eastside.
“The trans community is complex, it’s not homogeneous in any shape or form. So I think that more opportunities for safe space in ways that trans women identify their own communities, I think that there needs to be more (of) that,” said Abbott, adding that Loyer’s drop-in is a low-key environment where people can make friends and share challenges.
“I think everyone in the Downtown Eastside needs an informal place, where you don’t have to come in and fill out a form that says I need social services. It’s a place to get a snack and have a cup of coffee and hang out for a couple of hours. And I think that’s part of what makes it beautiful.”
Beyond the Street trans drop-in
Loyer’s program, Beyond the Street, is among the first peer-led drop-ins for trans women in Vancouver. It has been holding two-hour sessions every Sunday afternoon since September.
It focuses on offering people help in three main areas: housing questions, such as dealing with transphobia while looking for an apartment or getting evicted; legal matters, such as how to change your name or marriage breakup help; and counselling issues, such as being trapped in a lifestyle that isn’t true to your identity. The program also offers fun activities like Thanksgiving dinner and movies.
“Sometimes trans women get stalled. Something happens and you stop. You can’t get anywhere, whether it’s housing or medical. The idea is to keep them going,” said Loyer.
The three-month-old drop-in has 12 regular attendees, but Loyer also helps women in other communities by phone or email.
She hopes the program can offer marginalized trans woman better options than they often faced in the past: “You end up on the street corner, or you end up in the alleys, or you break down and cry, or you suicide.
“We try to keep people from saying, ‘Oh well, this is what I get.’ Which is easy to think when you don’t have anybody saying anything different,” Loyer said.
Among Atira’s many social housing buildings, which accommodate more than 1,500 women and children every year in the Lower Mainland, up to 20 per cent of the adult female tenants identify as trans, depending on the building type and location, Abbott said.
Many trans women also use Atira’s SisterSpace, which is described as the first women-only overdose prevention site in Canada. Evaluation reports on Atira’s website quote trans women who say the “safe space” offers empathetic workers and an escape from transphobia.
Trans issues have increasingly been in the news. In a high-profile court case, a local father who opposes his transgender child’s pursuit of testosterone therapy fought lower-court decisions all the way to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
For Loyer, trans issues are not new. They’ve been bottled up inside of her for five decades. She hopes, though, that more attention will lead to increased acceptance.
Since her surgery in 2014, she said, her health has improved drastically. The hepatitis C she contracted in 1989 from intravenous drug use is now not detectable in her blood. She is drug-free and quit her 30-year smoking habit. She can walk without a cane, which she had used since her leg was broken in a nasty 2011 assault. Her sight has improved after a hole in her cornea, likely from a beating, was repaired. And she now weighs 165 pounds, up from the 109 she weighed when she arrived on Atira’s doorstep nearly nine years ago.
She no longer lives in supported housing, and has moved to a mixed-income Atira building where many of her neighbours have jobs and go to school. While B.C. Housing subsidizes her rent, Loyer must pay for utilities, internet, and other living expenses.
Perhaps she is most excited about the high school science and math courses she is taking to boost her marks so she can one day apply to the University of British Columbia for a combined degree in astronomy and physics. A downtown investment firm, who read about Loyer in 2014 in The Vancouver Sun, has told her it will pay for her tuition if she gets accepted to UBC.
But with that excitement also comes the fear of failure.
“I need to find a place to apply myself. But the science part I was really nervous about. I didn’t want to think that I could do something and find out that I made a total mess of it and lose confidence,” she said.
Loyer will need confidence to complete her academic goals. She has displayed confidence already, though, in the pursuit of her gender goals. And she has a favourite saying that has, in the past, given her courage and determination: It’s a song title from the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which she saw in Toronto in 1978 after she ran away from home, at age 16, so she could start living as a woman.
Q: You are described as a feminist geographer. What does that title mean to you?
A: It means that no matter what kind of space I’m looking at, I’m always concerned with power. This includes considering how any space functions to uphold (and in rare cases, challenge) the norms, values, and beliefs of the society that created and maintains it. As a feminist I pay particular attention to how gendered norms are “built into” spaces such as cities, but I also think about inclusion and exclusion more broadly across a wide range of identities and differences like ability, race, class, and sexuality.
Q: How do cities continue to marginalize women and make their daily lives more difficult?
A: Women remain under-represented in the professions and positions that shape cities: municipal politics, policy-making, business development, real estate development, architecture, and urban planning. A lack of consideration for women’s needs and ignorance of their daily experiences means that women struggle with everything from getting a stroller onto the bus to balancing their safety needs with their needs for affordable housing and good jobs.
How many women turn down or ignore employment opportunities that would require them to work or travel at night or in unsafe areas? How much money do women spend taking cabs or public transit rather than walking or biking? How many women see their careers stalled because they can’t effectively juggle parenthood and work in cities with too few/too expensive daycare spots, unreliable and inaccessible mass transit, and a lack of affordable housing near places of good employment?
Q: How can we begin to change our cities into more gender equal places?
A: One top-down approach is gender-mainstreaming: making sure all policy and spending decisions are oriented toward gender equity. Cities like Vienna have seen enormous progress with this method.
Issues such as safety and freedom from fear must be prioritized; public space and services must be safe and accessible; there should be communal or collective options for responsibilities such as child care, cooking, and care of the elderly and sick.
In a more radical way, though, we have to challenge the structures that make women responsible for most of this labour. A more gender equal city would offer affordable housing that doesn’t assume or prioritize a traditional nuclear family, for example.
Q: What are the foremost signs of a city’s livability?
A: Most people would agree that factors like walkability, green space, and safe public spaces are hallmarks of livability. I don’t disagree, but I think we have to ask harder questions about who has the means and the perceived right to enjoy these factors; who is excluded by surveillance and over-policing; and who decides what the appropriate activities and behaviours are in such spaces.
Q: What do you hope the individual and groups (government, planning departments, developers) in charge of cities take away from your book?
A: That moves made toward gender equity in cities are about more than making women’s lives “easier.” They are about fundamental issues of economic and social equality. At the same time, the changes I talk about are also connected to wider issues such as accessibility and environmental sustainability, and have the potential to benefit everyone in cities, not just women.
Q: How does gentrification fit into this story, this issue?
A: Women continue to experience a wage gap, are more likely to be single heads of household, have higher rates of core housing need (such as living in unsuitable or unaffordable housing), and are more reliant on the close urban connections between school, work, and home. As gentrification pushes housing costs up, women are further disadvantaged in the market. As women are displaced out of central areas, they are stretched thin trying to juggle their already complicated routines around work, home, and family.
Q: What kind of affect has #MeToo had, or will have, on making cities more livable?
A: #MeToo is exposing the widespread nature of all forms of sexual harassment and assault, including those in the urban public sphere, and illustrating that these are not momentary experiences: they have profound effects on women’s ability to participate in public life.
#MeToo is also helping to illuminate rape myths, including those that suggest that women are responsible for avoiding certain places and staying out of the public realm at night. The more we can continue having this conversation, the further we can move toward creating a public realm where women are equal and unafraid.
Q: Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has long been a place of marginalized people and great unease. What do you see as vehicles for change and what can citizens do to help support that change?
A: I think anti-gentrification movements and the push to maintain affordable housing and a locus of social services in the DTES are key to creating a supportive yet livable neighbourhood. When people are well-housed, have access to harm-reduction sites and services, feel connected to community, and have their basic needs met, the things that make people uneasy start to fade away. Citizens can support the work of the DTES Women’s Centre, safe injection sites, and affordable housing campaigns.
Q: Let’s talk about public toilets. Why are they so terrible?
A: Not only are they terrible, but true public toilets are almost non-existent today. As part of many cities’ rush to revitalization, toilets have become focal points for fears about things like drug use, public sex, sex work, and homelessness.
Getting rid of public toilets or severely curtailing access is not only a harsh punishment for homelessness. It also makes life much more difficult for people with illnesses and disabilities that lead to frequent toilet use, for parents and caregivers, and for those who don’t have the means to purchase items in stores and cafes that have washrooms for customers only.
Q: When did headphones become armour for women?
A: Probably when the first Walkman appeared! Headphones are a subtle, non-aggressive way to signal the desire to be left alone. They can permit women to ignore men’s comments and questions without seeming rude or angry. Given that women are often faced with verbal and physical assault when they “hollaback” or even just ignore men, headphones offer a line of first defence against unwanted intrusions.
Q: How do we women learn to reframe how we think about our choices and instincts? How do we go from: “that was a stupid thing to do. I’m so lucky I wasn’t murdered,” to: “That was smart. That was brave?”
A: The “I’m so lucky” response is the only logical one in a world where violence against women is normalized, and even expected. I don’t blame anyone for having that reaction. Moving toward the “I made smart choices” response requires a greater respect for women’s agency and intelligence.Ideally, however, we have to move toward a world where violence against women, against anyone, is so rare that neither response is needed.
Rates of cervical pre-cancer in women have been cut by more than half in British Columbia and the province’s school immunization program for the human papillomavirus is being given credit for the results.
A study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases says those who took part in the program to prevent the sexually transmitted infection had a 57 per cent reduction in incidence of pre-cancer cells compared to unvaccinated women.
The program has been in place in public schools for 12 years and the first groups of women who were vaccinated in Grade 6 entered into the cervix screening program, allowing researchers to compare outcomes with those who hadn’t been vaccinated.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie, a senior research adviser at B.C. Women’s Hospital, says the study adds to the growing body of evidence highlighting the positive impact of the vaccine.
HPV is common in both men and women.
It can be easily spread through sexual contact and while most HPV infections clear up on their own, some pre-cancerous lesions can develop into cancer if not treated.
The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer says HPV immunization is offered to children in all provinces and territories, generally between grades 4 and 7.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the lower rates of pre-cancer shows the importance of having children immunized early.
“The dramatic success — pre-cancer rates dropping by over half, shows us the importance of having children immunized early to protect their lives,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
HPV has been identified as the cause of almost all cervical cancers.
The province implemented a voluntary publicly funded school-based HPV immunization program in 2008.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said the study reinforces the importance of such school-based programs.
“The decline we are seeing in HPV-related cancer rates highlights how strong partnerships between school districts and health authorities can significantly improve the well-being of B.C. students.”
Syphilis infections in B.C. have hit a 30-year high, due to a sudden increase of more than 30 per cent.
While the majority of infections are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, infections among women 15-49 years old increased by nearly 40 per cent.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recorded 919 new cases of the sexually transmitted infection last year, including two cases of congenital syphilis in newborn babies, who can acquire it from their mother during pregnancy or birth.
The bacteria can be passed to anyone through oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact and through skin-to-skin contact with a lesion or chancre.
In response to the increase in infections among women, B.C. will temporarily screen all pregnant women for syphilis around the time of childbirth. Women are already routinely screened during the first trimester of pregnancy.
“This is an interim measure in response to an outbreak and aligns with actions taken by other provinces to prevent a serious infection that can harm both mother and baby,” said Dr. Mark Gilbert, medical director for Clinical Prevention Services at the BCCDC.
Alberta and Manitoba have each reported more than 10 cases of congenital syphilis in the past year and have also adopted screening in early and late pregnancy.
Left untreated during pregnancy, syphilis can lead to low birth weight, deafness, deformity, premature birth and stillbirth.
In sexually active adults, possible symptoms of an infection include a hard, painless sore on the genitals, mouth or anus, a skin rash on the back, chest hands or genitals, fever, swelling of the glands and fatigue.
Some people show no symptoms of infection.
Using condoms during sex will reduce the chances of acquiring or transmitting an infection, but it can be transmitted through contact with parts of the body not protected by a condom.
Pregnant women and people most at-risk of syphilis infection should be tested, especially if you have multiple sexual partners or show any symptoms, according to the BCCDC.
BCCDC also operates a discreet testing service for STIs called GetCheckedOnline, which allows uses to register and then deliver a sample directly to a lab for testing. Users can be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C.
When wildfire smoke enveloped Metro Vancouver last summer, Nikki Rogers noticed soot collecting on the walls of her White Rock condo and closed her windows to keep the bad air out.
“I tried to stay inside because I did not enjoy being outside,” recalled Rogers, who works in a hair salon. “I would never do any kind of exercising or jogging or walking outside because anything that promotes heavy breathing outdoors would be terrible.”
This summer she will take even greater precautions because she is pregnant. And this is the first year that Vancouver Coastal Health and Metro Vancouver have included pregnant women on their list of people especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, along with asthmatics, the elderly, and people with chronic heart and lung conditions.
Rogers said she will research the best way to keep herself and her baby safe, but laments that wildfire smoke is one more thing expectant mothers will likely need to worry about this July and August.
“We shouldn’t have months of just smoke in the air. That’s just awful,” she said. “Every year it gets worse and worse. It is just getting out of hand.”
Experts believe British Columbians are about to experience another hot, smoke-filled summer, basing their prediction on the higher-than-average temperatures and drought so far in 2019 — a trend that is expected to continue.
“We expect increased wildfire and smoke risk, and that includes in the southwest where we are,” said a Metro Vancouver air-quality engineer, Francis Ries.
Just in the last week, a stubborn wildfire on steep terrain near Lions Bay snarled traffic on the busy Sea to Sky Highway for days, and a fire broke out Monday near Pender Harbour on the Sechelt Peninsula.
Fires started earlier in 2019
Hotter, drier conditions contributed to fires in early spring, far sooner than in other years. Since April 1, the B.C. Wildfire Service has recorded 377 fires that have burned more than 110 square kilometres.
The summers of 2017 and 2018 were the worst on record for smoky skies — a provincial state of emergency was declared both years over wildfires — and much of the haze in Metro Vancouver drifted in from big fires in other parts of B.C.
The smoke led officials to issue a record number of air-quality advisories, and give extensive advice on how residents should try to remain healthy.
This year, local health and municipal agencies added pregnant women to the list of those most vulnerable to the smoke after lobbying by Sarah Henderson, an environmental health scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
She advocated the change based on an “evidence review” and academic research that showed mothers exposed to extreme wildfire smoke give birth to smaller babies.
A University of California, Berkeley study found that pregnant women breathing in wildfire smoke during their second trimester in 2003, a terrible fire season in Southern California, had babies that were about 10 grams lighter than women not exposed to smoke. The results were small but “significant,” researchers found, because they showed “climate change can affect health.”
Ten grams would be enough to “push some babies into a low-birth-weight category,” added Henderson, noting undersized infants can face challenges.
Based on pregnancy and population statistics, Henderson predicts a repeat of last summer’s smoky skies could lead to 20 babies in B.C. being born a bit smaller. It’s not a big number, but one that could hurt 20 families.
“And that is kind of the tip of the iceberg in some ways because nobody has looked at preterm birth or malformations, if that smoke exposure happens to pregnant women,” added Henderson, who is also an associate professor in the UBC school of population and public health.
She has applied for funding to do her own study of the outcome of women who were pregnant in B.C.’s Interior, where the smoke was the thickest during the last two summers.
Wildfire smoke is a toxic, chemical soup
Wildfire smoke contains many pollutants, but the most dangerous to human health is fine particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that are generally 2.5 micrometers or less in size — about one-30th the diameter on a strand of hair.
“The very small particles can be inhaled deeply into your lungs and then get into your blood stream, and irritate and lead to inflammation,” said Emily Peterson, a Vancouver Coastal Health environmental health scientist.
A typical summer day in Metro Vancouver would feature 10 or 15 micrograms a cubic metre of these fine particulates, but during the height of last summer’s smoky skies the quantity jumped tenfold.
Smoky air makes it harder for lungs to get oxygen into the blood stream, and it can irritate the respiratory system and cause inflammation in other parts of the body. Common symptoms include eye irritation, sore throat, coughing, wheezy breathing and headaches, and there is an increased risk of infections for some, such as pneumonia in older people and ear infections in children.
At-risk people — including those with chronic lung or heart conditions and now pregnant women — should “pay attention to the smoke much earlier” this summer, said the VCH medical health officer, Dr. James Lu.
“We do start with the vulnerable population, but if the smoke (concentration) is high enough we do encourage people who are normally healthy to take precautions as well,” Lu added.
Among the precautions backed by medical experts: Stay inside places with filtered air, such as most community centres, libraries or malls; drive with the windows up, the air conditioning on, and the recirculate-air button activated to reduce the amount of smoke getting into your car; and drink lots of water.
Because most people typically spend 90 per cent of their days indoors, Henderson highly recommends buying a portable air cleaner, which plugs into a wall socket and can be moved from room to room. These purifiers remove 40 to 80 per cent of the fine particles found in smoke, but people with respiratory conditions are encouraged to buy higher-performing HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, the Centre for Disease Control says.
If people are outside and want to wear a mask, Henderson said the best option is a well-fitted N95 respirator. A surgical mask can offer limited protection. A cloth mask is close to useless at keeping out the fine particles in smoke.
Doctors’ visits, asthma prescriptions skyrocket
Most people can manage irritations from smoke without medical attention, but those with severe symptoms should see a doctor.
Wildfire smoke caused a slight rise last summer in the number of people visiting Vancouver Coastal Health emergency rooms, although the increase wasn’t even across all communities: North Vancouver and Richmond had more hospital visits, while other cities did not, said Lu.
“What we did see were increased visits with respiratory symptoms, asthma and people short of breath,” the medical health officer told Postmedia.
The B.C. Health Ministry could not provide information about higher traffic in emergency rooms in other health regions, saying its data does not let it differentiate between treatment specifically for wildfire smoke and other respiratory issues.
However, Centre for Disease Control statistics suggest medical services across B.C. were harder hit when wildfire smoke was heavy. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, 45,000 extra doses of asthma medication were dispensed and there were 10,000 extra visits to doctors for asthma-related conditions in B.C., Henderson said.
“It does stack up, the impact is quite extreme,” she said. “On a very smoky day in Metro Vancouver, there were 350 extra doctor visits.”
The Centre for Disease Control tabulates this information daily in the B.C. Asthma Prediction System, which was launched after previous severe wildfire seasons. The surveillance system tracks asthma-related doctor visits and the prescriptions filled for lung conditions, and is used to warn health officials about the anticipated effects of wildfire smoke.
This summer is also expected to experience a boost in asthma treatments, given what happened in May after a significant wildfire near Fort St. John. “We had this one day of smoke in Fort St John, and the asthma visits skyrocketed,” Henderson said.
During the past few years, Vancouver Costal Health has sent reminders to family physicians to help their patients get ready for smoke expected in July and August — such as ensuring medications for patients with chronic heart or lung disease are up to date.
“I think what we are hoping for is to perhaps educate the public and primary-care physicians in helping people to be prepared so that they don’t really need to come to the emergency,” Lu said.
More than 3,000 ‘smoky skies’ bulletins issued
The provincial Environment Ministry issues “smoky skies” warning bulletins when wildfire smoke gets bad in all areas of the province except Metro Vancouver, which releases its own air quality advisories.
In 2017, 1,646 air-quality advisories were issued across B.C., and that jumped to 1,742 in 2018. There have been 69 warnings so far this year, but that number will likely increase as the majority of 2018 bulletins were issued between late July and late August.
The province monitors 63 regions, and six of those have had 100 or more smoky skies bulletins since 2017 due to bad fires nearby, including Quesnel, Penticton, Prince George, Williams Lake and Kamloops. Other communities in B.C.’s Interior and the Cariboo region have also been hard hit, with just under 100 bulletins issued in the last two years in Vernon, Kelowna, Cranbrook and 100 Mile House.
Only Haida Gwaii, off B.C.’s northwest coast, has had no smoke-related air quality warnings since 2017.
The Environment Ministry was unable to provide information about how many advisories it issued in years with far fewer forest fires than 2017 and 2018. But statistics from Metro Vancouver indicate those two years were off the charts.
There were 22 days in Metro Vancouver last summer with poor air quality due to forest fires, mainly between late July and late August. In 2017, it was 19 days of unhealthy amounts of smoke.
The region’s figures, dating back to 1996, showed no other years with near that number of hazy days, the closest being 10 days in 2009 and 2015, when there were also some forest fires. In several years, including 2011, 2013 and 2016, there were no days with poor air quality.
Metro Vancouver’s advisories show much of the air pollution came from forest fires in other parts of the province, but the air was also affected by some local blazes, such as a bog fire in Richmond and a barge blaze in Surrey.
No air quality advisories have been issued so far in 2019; Metro Vancouver said the smoke residents smelled earlier this week from the Lions Bay fire was “below advisory thresholds.”
Some smoke from the Strip Creek wildfire south of Lions Bay has reached western portions of Metro Vancouver. Air quality levels remain below advisory thresholds however concentrations may vary as winds and wildfire behaviour changes. https://t.co/qyfTAdCeW5
Metro Vancouver’s summer 2019 outlook warns of the potential for increased ozone due to higher temperatures and wildfires. Ozone is described as “good up high; bad nearby” — ozone in the atmosphere protects from UV radiation, but when lower to the ground it damages lungs and destroys ecosystems according to a Colorado State University academic paper, Ozone Levels Elevated in Presence of Wildfire Smoke.
“We’ve seen high ozone levels at monitoring stations which we never, under normal circumstances, expect to have high ozone,” said Metro Vancouver’s Ries. “We almost never have high ozone in the western part of the valley, downtown Vancouver and through into Burnaby,” he said, except in 2017 and 2018 when “the highest ozone levels we received were in that part of the region.”
Ries said more studies, including ones that focus on B.C., are making a strong link between climate change and the exacerbation of wildfire seasons.
In 2017, 65,000 British Columbians were evacuated and 509 buildings burned during wildfires that scorched 12,000 square km of land. The 2018 forest fires were even more destructive, consuming 13,500 sq. km — although fewer people were evacuated (6,000) and fewer structures lost (158).
Over the last two summers, the provincial government grossly outspent its wildfire budgets — by 10 times in 2017, when it cost more than $650 million to fight the fires. This year, the NDP is trying to be better prepared for the unknown by nearly doubling its wildfire budget, boosting it from $64 million in 2018 to $101 million.
Smoky summers in Vancouver may become “the new normal,” if not every year then at least every other year, VCH’s Lu predicted.
“We do not expect this to go away. This is going to be a way of life, unfortunately,” he said. “So I think the need to include that in your consideration of how to stay healthy is important.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a $1.4-billion annual commitment to support women’s global health at the Women Deliver 2019 Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre on Tuesday. LINDSEY WASSON / REUTERS
The federal government is pledging to spend $1.4 billion a year “advancing the health and rights” of women, teens and children around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on the first full day of Women Deliver 2019, an international conference on gender equity being held in Vancouver this week.
The aid package renews Canada commitment to women’s health abroad by pledging to extend the current $1.1 billion a year aid beyond 2020, when it was set to expire, and increase it.
Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality, called the 10-year commitment “unprecedented.”
She said the announcement means funding is promised under her government until 2030, and the $1.1 billion amount will increase gradually to $1.4 billion a year by 2023.
A 10-year maternal, newborn and child health policy that expires in 2020 had been brought in in 2010 under the previous Conservative government.
Monsef and her staff said most of the extra funding of $300,000 a year would be spent on the “neglected” area of sexual reproductive health rights, including abortion.
When Trudeau announced the funding commitment at the start of Tuesday’s plenary, he said such funding was needed more than ever.
He noted there are 200 million women around the world who have no access to contraceptives, and he and several other presenters at the conference spoke of “pushback” to gains for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
“The unfortunate truth is that we live in a world where rights are increasingly under threat,” Trudeau said in a brief announcement.
Speaking in French, he said only women should have the right to determine what is best for their bodies and that abortion “must be accessible, safe and legal.”
“We can’t talk about sexual and reproductive rights in isolation from the rest of women’s health because, just as there are 200 million women who don’t have access to contraception, hundreds more die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth,” he said.
The Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH) called the federal promise of funding an “historic day.”
“The investment will not only ensure that Canada’s long, proud tradition as a leader in women and children’s health continues, it comes with a purposeful approach that addresses critical gaps in the health needs of women and adolescents,” the organization said in a news release.
It said it renews funding for reproductive, maternal, newborn and children’s health and nutrition and adds aid for the “most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Its acting executive director, Julia Anderson, said in the release that the funding comes at a critical time “when rollbacks on women’s health rights are being acutely felt around the globe.”
Soon after his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City Policy, which bars international non-governmental organizations that deliver any counselling or abortion services, no matter what nation pays for that service, from receiving U.S. government support.
A number of U.S. states have recently or are considering abortion bans.
After more than three years, dozens of community meetings and testimony from well over 2,000 Canadians, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry will deliver its final report to the federal government at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que. today.
The report, which CBC News obtained before its official release, includes many recommendations to government, the police and the larger Canadian public to help address endemic levels of violence directed at Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people.
CBCNews.ca will carry the closing ceremonies live starting at 9 a.m. ET.
Beyond defining the level of violence against these women as a “Canadian genocide,” recommending official language status for Indigenous languages and a guaranteed income for all Indigenous peoples, the commissioners are also recommending sweeping reforms to the justice system and policing in this country, including stiffer penalties for men who carry out spousal or partner abuse.
“We call upon the federal government to include cases where there is a pattern of intimate partner violence and abuse as murder in the first degree under section 222 of the Criminal Code,” the report reads.
First-degree murder is the most serious of all the homicide offences. If convicted, offenders usually spend longer in prison, with fewer chances for parole.
The inquiry said that, too often, murder investigations are “marked by indifference” and negative stereotypes that result in Indigenous deaths and disappearances being investigated and treated differently from other cases — differences that result in fewer solved cases.
And when there is a reasonable chance of a conviction, the inquiry said, Crown attorneys too often are willing to accept plea bargains or reduced charges in exchange for guilty pleas in cases of murdered Indigenous women.
To that end, the inquiry calls for more “Indigenous-specific options” for sentencing, without specifying what exactly the government should change on that front. It called for a strengthening of Gladue principles in Canadian courts, a legal term that stipulates an offender’s Indigenous ancestry should be considered in the sentencing process.
“While the prosecutorial decisions … may well be justified, the frequency with which this occurs understandably raises questions in the Indigenous community, particularly when the sentences on conviction escape the mandatory parole ineligibility of 10 or 25 years on the more serious charges.”
To ensure more equitable outcomes, the inquiry said, more Indigenous judges, justices of the peace and police should be hired to ensure Indigenous voices are in positions of power in the criminal justice system. Failing that, the report said a separate court system for the Indigenous population should be established to lead to more “meaningful and culturally appropriate justice practices …”
Far too many murder cases aren’t solved and don’t make it to trial at all, the inquiry said — and that means the federal funds ought to be bolstering the ranks of Indigenous police forces across the country to ensure better investigations.
“We call upon all governments to immediately and dramatically transform Indigenous policing from its current state as a mere delegation to an exercise in self-governance and self-determination over policing,” the report reads.
“The federal government’s First Nations Policing Program must be replaced with a new legislative and funding framework, consistent with international and domestic policing best practices and standards, that must be developed by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.”
The report also calls on provincial and territorial governments to improve the restraining order system by making them “available, accessible, promptly issued and effectively serviced and resourced” — to help Indigenous women stay out of harm’s way when faced with a violent partner.
Beyond facilitating access to restraining orders (or “protection orders,” as they’re often known in Canada) the inquiry is calling on the government to offer guaranteed access to financial support, legislated paid leave and disability benefits and “appropriate trauma care” to Indigenous victims of crime or other traumatic events.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett would not comment on the report’s recommendations ahead of their official release.
“Out of respect for the independent National Inquiry and the families, we won’t comment on the details of the final report before then. After decades of demanding a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, families are finally getting the answers they have been looking for,” a spokesperson for the minister said.
In an interview with CBC News before the news organization obtained a leaked copy of the report, Bennett said the government accepts that the status quo isn’t keeping Indigenous women and girls safe.
She said, however, that the government already has moved ahead with meaningful reforms, including its overhaul of the child and family services regime and a de-colonizing push for greater self-government for Indigenous peoples, part of a larger fight for equality.
“The inquiry is really only a beginning. We’ve got to do the work, and we’ve got to change attitudes, and we’ve got to increase the safety of Indigenous women and girls wherever they are in this country,” Bennett said.
“Indigenous women and girls need to be safe wherever they live in this country — whether it’s in their home communities or a downtown urban centre. That’s the only way we’ll stop this national tragedy.”
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