One dead following crash on Highway 97 near Monte Creek, B.C.

BC Highway Patrol confirmed Tuesday evening that one person has died following a multi-vehicle accident on Highway 97 around the Monte Creek area, near Kamloops.

DriveBC closed the highway Tuesday morning around 11:30 a.m. due to the crash and later re-opened it around 7:30 p.m.

The incident involved two vehicles, a semi-truck, and a car, BC Highway Patrol says the truck rolled onto the vehicle.

A spokesperson for BC Highway Patrol told Global News that the BC Coroners Service, Collision Analyst Service, and emergency crews were called to the scene.

One person has been confirmed dead and any other injuries have yet to be determined.

The investigation is ongoing.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

At least 2 dead in Texas as winter ice storms batter large parts of U.S.

WATCH: Winter storm packs powerful punch in U.S., bringing tornadoes and heavy snow

Winter weather brought ice to a wide swath of the United States on Tuesday, canceling more than 1,700 flights nationwide and snarling highways. At least two people died on slick roads in Texas and two law officers in the state were seriously injured, including a deputy who was pinned under a truck, authorities said.

Several rounds of mixed precipitation — including freezing rain and sleet — were in store for many areas through Wednesday, meaning some regions could be hit multiple times, the federal Weather Prediction Center warned.

Emergency responders rushed to hundreds of auto collisions across Texas and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to stay off the roads.

Authorities said one person in Austin was killed in a predawn pileup Tuesday. A 45-year-old man also died Monday night after his SUV slid into a highway guardrail near Dallas in slick conditions and rolled down an embankment, according to the Arlington Police Department.

More than 900 flights to or from major U.S. airport hub Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and more than 250 to or from Dallas Love Field were canceled or delayed Tuesday, according to the tracking service FlightAware. At Dallas-Fort Worth, more than 50% of Tuesday’s scheduled flights had been canceled by Tuesday afternoon.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines canceled more than 560 flights Tuesday and delayed more than 350 more, FlightAware reported.

About 7,000 power outages in Texas were reported as of late Tuesday morning, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said following a briefing in Austin on the worsening conditions. He emphasized the outages were due to factors such as ice on power lines or downed trees, and not the performance of the Texas power grid that buckled for days during a deadly winter storm in 2021.

Fleets of emergency vehicles were fanned out among 1,600 roads impacted by the freeze.

In Texas, a sheriff’s deputy who stopped to help the driver of an 18-wheeler that went off an icy highway on Tuesday was hit by a second truck that pinned him beneath one of its tires, according to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. About 45 minutes after the crash on State Highway 130, the deputy was freed from the wreckage and taken to a hospital, where he was in surgery Tuesday afternoon, officials said. The deputy is expected to survive, officials said.

Officials investigate an accident involving 18-wheelers on SH 130 south of Texas 71, in Austin, Texas, during an ice storm on Tuesday Jan. 31, 2023. Winter weather is bringing ice to a wide swath of the United States, causing the cancellation of more than 1,600 flights nationwide and knocking out power to thousands of Texans. ( Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Officials investigate an accident involving 18-wheelers on SH 130 south of Texas 71, in Austin, Texas, during an ice storm on Tuesday Jan. 31, 2023. Winter weather is bringing ice to a wide swath of the United States, causing the cancellation of more than 1,600 flights nationwide and knocking out power to thousands of Texans. ( Jay Janner /Austin American-Statesman via AP)

In another wreck, a Texas state trooper was hospitalized with serious injuries after being struck by a driver who lost control of their vehicle, said Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“The roadways are very hazardous right now. We cannot overemphasize that,” Abbott said.

As the ice and sleet enveloped Memphis, Tennessee, Memphis-Shelby County Schools announced that it will cancel classes Wednesday due to freezing rain and hazardous road conditions. The school system has about 100,000 students. The University of Memphis said it would announce plans for Wednesday classes by 6 a.m. tomorrow.

In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency Tuesday because of the ice storm. In her declaration, Sanders cited the “likelihood of numerous downed power lines” and said road conditions have created a backlog of deliveries by commercial drivers.

One of the main thoroughfares through Arkansas — Interstate 40 — was ice-coated and “extremely hazardous” in the Forrest City area on Tuesday, according to the city’s fire department.

The department responded to two bad wrecks and about 15 other crashes Tuesday morning, Division Chief Jeremy Sharp said by telephone. In many of the crashes, the drivers pick up speed on the highway but run into trouble when they reach a bridge, he said.

“They hit the ice and they start wrecking,” he said.

“When I-40 shuts down like that, that can be hours of waiting,” said John Gadberry, who lives in Colt, Arkansas, not far from the highway. “I-40 is usually one of the first things that freezes over due to its slight elevation.”

By late Tuesday morning, I-40 was cleared and traffic had resumed, the Arkansas Department of Transportation announced. The interstate connects Little Rock, Arkansas, to Memphis, Tennessee.

The storm began Monday as part of an expected “several rounds” of wintry precipitation through Wednesday across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“Generally light to moderate freezing rain resulting in some pretty significant ice amounts,” Chenard said.

“We’re expecting ice accumulations potentially a quarter inch or higher as far south as Austin, Texas, up to Dallas over to Little Rock, Arkansas, towards Memphis, Tennessee, and even getting close to Nashville, Tennessee,” according to Chenard.

The flight disruptions follow Southwest’s meltdown in December that began with a winter storm but continued after most other airlines had recovered. Southwest canceled about 16,700 flights over the last 10 days of the year, and the U.S. Transportation Department is investigating.

The weather service has issued a winter storm warning for a large swath of Texas and parts of southeastern Oklahoma and an ice storm warning across the midsection of Arkansas into western Tennessee.

A winter weather advisory is in place in much of the remainder of Arkansas and Tennessee and into much of Kentucky, West Virginia and southern parts of Indiana and Ohio.

Schools and colleges in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas planned to close or go to virtual learning Tuesday.

Martin reported from Woodstock, Georgia. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Adrian Sainz in Memphis; and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

SNC-Lavalin and construction: Calgary city councillors question Green Line officials

Officials with Calgary's Green Line LRT project were on hand at city hall on Tuesday to update councillors on progress. As Adam MacVicar reports, there were several questions over transparency and construction work.

Calgary city councillors had several questions about the procurement process for the Green Line LRT project after concerns from some residents over the involvement of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin.

The questions came as part of an update to the city’s Executive Committee on Tuesday from officials with the Green Line project.

SNC-Lavalin, as part of a consortium of five other companies called CSIX, was awarded a contract last November to be the delivery partner for the LRT mega-project.

The other companies in the consortium include Aldea Services Inc., Altus Group, Mott MacDonald and Turner & Townsend.

According to project officials, CSIX will be tasked with supporting the builder of the first phase of the LRT line with commercial management, technical support, project controls, and construction management.

The Montreal-based firm announced its involvement in the Green Line in a press release last week, after the city announced the company’s involvement in November.

Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean said his office has received calls from residents with questions about the procurement process for the project.

“SNC-Lavalin is a very contentious company and so that’s what they were concerned about, how the selection process is done,” McLean told reporters. “To be clear, I share those concerns.”

The company has been involved in some political controversy in Canada in recent years.

Last year, SNC-Lavalin was ordered to pay Quebec nearly $30 million to settle criminal bribery charges stemming from bridge work in Montreal.

In August 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was found by Canada’s ethics commissioner to have broken the Conflict of Interest Act after revelations that Trudeau improperly influenced former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to offer a deferred prosecution agreement in a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin.

Green Line CEO Darshpreet Bhatti told councillors the city’s principles are transparency and fairness when selecting partners bidding on City of Calgary contracts.

Bhatti said the consortium was vetted through an independent review to determine any conflicts of interest or legal issues that would make the companies ineligible to bid on a city contract.

“We look at a whole gambit of things from what the city policies are, what the best practices are and legally and legislatively, are they compliant with not just the requirements in the province but Canada at-large,” Bhatti told committee. “They have to go through the process and if they’re evaluated in a way where they score higher than the others, then from a fairness and transparent perspective, we have to then award the contract to them.”

Calgary’s mayor also clarified that city councillors are not involved in the selection process.

“Council did not choose them, council simply provided direction to complete this project,” Jyoti Gondek told reporters.

McLean said he was happy with the answers provided by Green Line officials.

“They committed to transparency and that’s all I’m looking for,” McLean said.

New road closures and underground work

There will be another road closure in the Beltline area near Victoria Park as underground utility relocation work continues to make way for a future LRT tunnel.

According to Green Line officials, the next major road closure will be the intersection of 11 Avenue S.E. and Olympic Way, which is expected to begin in March.

Last year, Olympic Way and 12 Avenue S.E. was closed so crews could install new deep and shallow utility lines so the current lines can be removed in the future when tunnelling begins under the downtown core.

The Green Line tunnel is slated to run under 2 Street S.W. and Bhatti said there is preliminary work by third party providers underway across the downtown core to prepare for relocated utility lines.

“Because we’re moving stuff off of 2 Street, we not only have to put it on 1 Street and 3 Street S.W., but we have to connect it on all of these cross streets; that’s why you may see work all over the place,” Bhatti told Global News. “We’re making sure that once we’re done, there’s really nothing for shallow utilities that will remain on our alignment in the downtown piece.”

Green Line officials urged businesses impacted by construction work to get in contact with their Business Support Program team to provide feedback and get updates as the project progresses.

The utility relocation work is scheduled to be complete in 2024.

The $5.5 billion Green Line project has been divided into stages, with the first stage set to run from Shepard in the city’s southeast, under the downtown core to Eau Claire.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Jury begins weighing recommendations at inquest into VPD Const. Nicole Chan's suicide

WATCH: The inquest into the suicide of a young Vancouver Police constable has gone to the jury. As Rumina Daya reports, the last witnesses testified there have been few significant changes to the system in the four years since Nicole Chan took her own life.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details and may not be suitable for all readers. Discretion is advised.

A jury is now deliberating on recommendations in the inquest into the suicide of a Vancouver police constable who complained about inappropriate relationships with senior officers.

Nicole Chan, 30, took her own life on Jan. 27, 2019, hours after she had been released from hospital where a psychiatrist had declined to admit her on mental health grounds.

It came amid investigations into the actions of two senior officers who she had reported inappropriate relationships with, one of whom she said had coerced her into sex.

“The Chan family’s desire for outcomes from this inquest was really to a amplify Nicole’s voice. We heard from herself in her victim impact statement that she didn’t want to be a victim, and she was asking everybody to help her stop being a victim,” Gloria Ng, inquest counsel for the Chan family told Global News on Tuesday.

“What the Chan family hopes is that everybody understands that Nicole tried her best. And she simply didn’t have, for reasons we may never fully understand, she simply didn’t have the proper resources to help get her to that point where she got to see really the full implications of her complaint and her allegations.”

Chan’s sister Jenn testified that the Chan felt “blackmailed” into a sex with Sgt. Dave Van Patten, who was her superior and worked in the Human Resources department.

The inquest heard evidence that Van Patten had recorded video of photos depicting her genitals from another officer’s phone, then threatened to reveal it to her husband if she didn’t maintain a sexual relationship with him.

Supt. Shelly Horne, who interviewed Chan while working for the VPD sex crimes unit, said Chan told her she complied, but felt “disgusted” by it. She continued with the relationship out of fear Van Patten could hurt her career, she testified.

Chan reported her complaints in 2017, and was placed on stress leave amid deepening mental health issues as the investigation progressed.

Several witnesses described how she was upset that Van Patten remained on the job, while she had been sidelined and felt ostracized within the department. Her sister testified that Chan was fighting depression and anxiety, but yearned to go back to work.

Her friend and mentor, Sgt. Corey Bech, testified that Chan worried a “rumour mill” within the department would destroy her reputation and prevent her from ever getting back on the job.

The inquest also heard Chan’s own words, in the form of a victim impact statement she wrote to then-New Westminster Police Department (NWPD) Chief Dave Jones, who was handling the external investigation into her case.

“I was already suffering from mental health challenges and this incident aggravated my condition. I was betrayed, coerced and taken advantage of by somebody whom I respected and looked up to,” Chan wrote.

In the letter to Jones, Chan said since trying to go back to work in February 2018, she had “developed a fear of being inside other people’s homes.”

“I feel unsafe and the constant need to escape, which I believe stems from what I maintain was a sexual assault inside Dave’s apartment. I am unable to develop or maintain personal relationships due to all the issues I have developed.”

The inquest heard that the NWPD conducted a criminal investigation into Van Patten and recommended sexual assault charges, but the BC Prosecution Service did not pursue them.

Separate Police Act investigations concluded Van Patten and the other officer Chan had complained about, Sgt. Greg McCullough, had committed misconduct. McCullough received a 15 day suspension and later retired. Van Patten was dismissed. All of the discipline occurred after Chan’s death.

Numerous witnesses at the inquest testified about the chaotic final hours before Chan’s death.

The night before she took her own life, Chan was frantic about the ongoing investigation into the complaints she had lodged, her boyfriend Jamie Gifford testified.

Chan had threatened to kill herself with a noose she’d fashioned from a dog leash, and had hidden a knife in the bathtub and a knife or scissors in her bed, he said.

The inquest heard that 911 was called and she was transported to hospital, and how police and paramedics had raised concerns about her being discharged given her history of prior suicide attempts.

VPD Const. Warren Head testified he’d told doctors he’d virtually never seen a doctor decline to admit someone in similar circumstances. He testified he advocated for her admission, telling the doctor that as an experienced police officer, Chan would know what to say in order to get them to release her.

Evidence presented at the inquest showed Chan only spent about an hour and 20 minutes before being sent home from hospital.

Psychiatrist Dr. Kiran Sayyaparaju testified he didn’t have all the information about Chan’s case, and that the constable had told him she didn’t try and kill herself.

He testified he could not legally hold Chan against her will. He offered Chan the opportunity to stay in hospital voluntarily for a few days, but she declined.

Police took Chan home, and in the early morning hours of the following day she hanged herself from a bedroom door.

“If we could go back in time and rewrite history, what Nicole’s family would have liked would have been for a consistent stream of information to have been translated from those who were at her apartment, whether that be Mr. Gifford or the police to the EHS paramedic, to the social worker or the nurse … to the ultimate assessing psychiatrist,” Ng said outside the Burnaby coroners court.

“The difficulty is what we’ve seen in Nicole’s case is there was a complete breakdown in consistent and complete information. There certainly was information.”

The inquest is not a criminal proceeding, and the coroners jury cannot find fault or guilt.

The presiding coroner has charged the jury with developing a set of recommendations to help prevent similar deaths in the future, however those recommendations are non-binding.

— with files from Global News’ Rumina Daya

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1 for immediate help.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca.

Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Return of snow leads to crashes, delays across B.C.'s South Coast

WATCH: The overnight snowfall was forecast but the amount of it surprised many. Across Metro Vancouver cars littered ditches and many vehicles were spun out on roadways. Catherine Urquhart now with how people coped with the latest blast of winter. And senior meteorologist Kristi Gordon has an update on the forecast.

There were many crashes across the Lower Mainland Tuesday morning after snow fell across the region.

In Coquitlam, a transit bus crashed into oncoming cars on Laurentian Street.

In Abbotsford, some drivers lost control along Highway 1 due to the slick road conditions.

There was also a crash on Highway 1 eastbound east of 160 Street in Surrey,

Crashes in Burnaby, Vancouver, Langley, Port Moody, New Westminster, Port Moody, Delta and Maple Ridge snarled traffic as drivers tried to make it to work or school.

B.C.’s Transportation Minister Rob Fleming said while the snow “wasn’t particularly in the forecast,” the contractors were aware of the weather and were out overnight salting and brining the roads and highways.

“Certainly the evidence of the plowed highways was there, which was good,” Fleming said. “We got lucky this time that it was a light dusting.”

On Monday evening, Global BC meteorologist Kristi Gordon said there was a 70 per cent chance of snow for the South Coast morning commute.

Fleming said the road maintenance contracts were renewed five years ago and the province now requires plows to clear down to the pavement as much as possible, and the companies undergo rigorous vetting to obtain those contracts.

When a snowstorm hit the South Coast last November, two Metro Vancouver councillors called for a snow summit to make sure the chaos that many drivers in the region faced does not happen again.

Hundreds of drivers were trapped in their cars and on bridges, some for hours, after heavy snow that was in the forecast fell.

Councillors Daniel Fontaine of New Westminster and Linda Annis of Surrey wanted to bring together all Lower Mainland municipalities, the B.C. government, transit operators and road maintenance contractors.

“The snow that hit us on (Nov.29) wasn’t a surprise,” Fontaine said. “But the impact was a complete shutdown that closed roads and bridges and really brought much of the Lower Mainland to a complete halt.

“I think it’s important to know why, and to work on a regional plan that does better next time. This has to be a combined effort of the province and local municipalities across the Lower Mainland.”

The snow summit has not taken place at this time.

Fleming said he is satisfied that municipalities now have a better plan to work with the province’s contracting crews to get roads cleared as soon as possible.

“No one controls the weather, of course,” he said. “I think there’s going to be some significant snowstorms in the years ahead of us.

A mix of rain and snow is expected to fall Tuesday evening and could impact the early morning commute, according to Gordon.

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure maintenance contractors will be monitoring conditions and will be out in full force to plow, sand and salt roads as necessary, the province said in a release.

Drivers are urged to use caution, avoid travel in poor weather conditions, prepare for delays and longer commutes, and ensure their vehicles are properly equipped with winter tires.

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens dropped by Ottawa Senators 5-4 before All-Star break

The final game before the All-Star Game break found the Montreal Canadiens completing a back-to-back with the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa completed the sweep with a 5-4 win.

Wilde Horses 

There have been some fairly good performances lately by individuals not getting much praise this season. Mike Hoffman is a good example. He has been absolutely wiring shots from the right face-off circle during this home-and-home series.

Finally, with five seconds left in the second period, one of the shots found the back of the net. That was his ninth goal of the season to go with a bundle of goal posts, as the Canadiens hit the post a whopping five times in the two games.

Another player not getting much ink, but playing nice hockey is Jesse Ylonen. On an outstanding Canadiens club that they are trying to build, it will not be easy to find a spot for Ylonen. He doesn’t seem to have top-six potential, but he could be a strong back-end player.

If Ylonen can make sure that he is responsible defensively, there is enough offence in his game to win a spot in the back-six of a talented club.

Another player who could fight for a future spot on the back-six is Rafael Harvey-Pinard, who has played extremely well since his call-up. In this one, Head Coach Martin St. Louis bumped Havey-Pinard up to the top line halfway through the second period to play with Nick Suzuki, and it immediately the trio played with more spark.

In the third period, they really clicked with Suzuki making a brilliant pass to Harvey-Pinard to tie the contest briefly. After the Senators took the lead again, Montreal needed more Harvey-Pinard magic.

The man they call RHP picked up a loose rebound to score his fifth goal of the season in only seven games. He’s been outstanding since being called up from Laval.

It would completely send the wrong message to send him down when the club becomes healthy again. He’s been that good.

Wilde Goats 

The Canadiens are having difficulty starting well. Many times this season, the first period has been the worst period. In this one, Montreal trailed 2-0 after three minutes and 49 seconds. Claude Giroux and Tim Stutzle scored in 52 seconds early in the first and right away, Montreal was playing a much harder game of catch-up.

The Canadiens were outshot in the first period 11-4. There have been some horrible starts for Montreal at the Bell Centre with the worst against the Kraken, when Seattle outshot Montreal 19-6 in the first building a 3-0 lead.

The Canadiens don’t have the firepower to come back from poor first periods. They can’t pick the second to find their better game.

Wilde Cards

The more centres that you have on your team, the better. Centres can play wing, but wings can’t play centre. When the Canadiens are constructing their hockey club, they’re trying to do it by winning the middle of the sheet.

Right now, the Canadiens have two strong players at the centre position as top-six in Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach. What happens, though, if an even more elite centre joins the club eventually after the NHL Entry Draft of 2023?

This year’s draft is the strongest in decades. The first six players that are chosen will be better than the first player chosen in many other draft years. This draft is that good.

If the Canadiens win the lottery, they would add to their elite lineup down the middle, Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli.  If they don’t win the lottery, and maintain their position around sixth worst, they could draft Will Smith. He plays at the United States Development Program and is putting up numbers that equal the all-time gold standard Jack Hughes.

Smith plays centre and is achieving a points-per-game average of nearly two. Last year, the third choice overall Logan Cooley had a points-per-game average of 1.3. Jack Hughes counted just over two points per game in his draft year.

All of this is passed on to make the case that whether it be Bedard, Fantilli or Smith, the Canadiens’ new centre will have the pedigree to be their best centre. They have the potential to be 90- to 130-point players, depending on who it is.

Simple math says there is a wonderful problem in the offing by 2024 or 2025, when the Canadiens’ top pick this summer is ready to shine at the NHL level. For argument’s sake, imagine Fantilli, Suzuki, and Dach as three centres and only two centre spots available.

It’s only two spots because the best players should be on the top-six of any club. It would be illogical to be giving Suzuki or Dach third line minutes and lesser talent to play with. The upcoming draft pick is likely to be the best centre on the club with the pedigree that these players have at the top of the draft.

That leaves Suzuki and Dach — one will be centre and one on the wing on the first line. If one argued who goes where using only their play in the last month, Dach is on fire with eight points in his last nine games, and Suzuki has one goal in his last 19 games.

However, Suzuki could be tired with 22 minutes per night. He could also be missing his mate Cole Caufield. He also faces the other team’s best lines. He may also be injured. There are a lot of intangibles in the mix.

All season long, though, even when Suzuki was racking up big points, the better shot share analytics were held by Dach. Dach is a more natural centre. He carries the puck up from his own zone to exit the zone at a very high talent level. Dach also is strong at entering the zone with the puck, instead of dumping it in.

Dach, as they say, is a possession monster.

In points, Suzuki’s career high is 61. This season he is on pace to attain 62 points. He’s becoming consistent at a point level around 60 at the age of 23. His ceiling could be higher, of course, and everyone hopes it is.

Dach’s hitting his career high in points right now, but from a lower level. He is two years younger than Suzuki. It’s difficult to know how much Dach will still grow his game, but this feels like a break-out season for a player drafted third who may just be living up to that high pedigree.

Both have played 50 games this year with Dach closing the point total 40 to 33. With 31 games left this season, it just might be that Dach passes Suzuki before this season concludes.

What an outstanding development for General Manager Kent Hughes. He acquired Dach from the Hawks for the 13th pick overall, and he may have just found a top-six centre for the next decade.

It’s a small sample. It’s recency bias. Hughes hopes that with a bigger sample size, the bias is real. Hughes said himself two weeks ago: “Long term, I see Kirby Dach as a centre”.

It is impossible to know exactly how this shakes out. Firstly, this summer’s draft has to go well for Montreal. If they don’t get a star centre who is available because the Canadiens draft 10th, this entire discussion becomes moot and both Suzuki and Dach will be top-six centres.

If they get Fantilli, then one of Dach or Suzuki will go to the wing to play with Fantilli, and the other player will centre his own line.

All Canadiens fans should be doing is celebrating, because the arrival of Dach at a higher level only opens the possibility that the club could have an extremely good top six.  It is possible that the only two true wingers in the top-six will be Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky, with the other four having trained as centres. That’s a good thing.

It will take years to sort out.  All we have to do is wait for better days and see who has the highest ceiling by 2025.

Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.

 

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Drug crisis ‘unabated’ for First Nations in B.C., doctor says

Legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey has some sobering numbers on how B.C.'s Indigenous population continues to be hit hard by the toxic drug crisis.

Indigenous people, especially women, are dying from toxic drugs at disproportionately high rates in British Columbia as the overdose crisis continues “unabated,” nearly seven years after the province first declared a public health emergency, said the top doctor for the First Nations Health Authority.

Dr. Nel Wieman, the acting chief medical officer, said illicit drugs are killing First Nations people at five times the rate of B.C.’s general population.

That figure rose to 8.8 per cent for First Nations women, specifically, compared with non-Indigenous women in the province in the first half of 2022, she said.

She noted that number contrasts with the overall toll for the province, which shows 79 per cent of those who died from toxic drugs last year were male.

Wieman’s remarks came as B.C.’s chief coroner released data Tuesday showing suspected drug toxicity claimed 2,272 people last year.

B.C.’s exemption to federal drug laws also took effect Tuesday. The three-year pilot project allows adults to carry up to 2.5 grams of certain illicit substances without fear of being arrested or having their drugs confiscated by police.

The underlying reasons for the increased impact of the toxic drug crisis on Indigenous people in B.C. are “complex and varied,” Wieman said.

They include intergenerational trauma stemming from Canada’s residential school system and the apprehension of Indigenous children for placement in government care, along with a lack of access to culturally safe mental health and substance use supports, she said.

“There are also the impacts of ongoing events, including the discovery of the unmarked graves of children who attended residential schools, various climate change emergencies and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wieman told a news conference where the annual statistics were released.

Substance use and mental health are closely linked, she said. People use substances to change how they feel, and the health authority’s response to the crisis involves helping people develop healthier coping mechanisms while expanding harm reduction and treatment options rooted in Indigenous values and culture.

“We recognize that seeking treatment alone, in the standard western format, may not meet the needs of all First Nations people,” Wieman said.

“Offering treatment that’s grounded in culture and ceremony addresses (that), addressing the underlying trauma will have a better longer-term outcome.”

Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, similarly said substance use among Indigenous people is often rooted in trauma from ongoing racism and centuries of colonialization.

“B.C. and Canada must act urgently to fund meaningful healing and supports, especially initiatives by Indigenous people for Indigenous people, and end discrimination in the health-care system,” Tom said in a statement.

Wieman said many people have died while using drugs alone, in private homes, where no one was around to call for help.

“Stories have been shared with us of women who used substances privately, because of the fear they have of losing their children or personal supports.”

The illicit drug supply is “unpredictable and so incredibly dangerous that people risk their lives by accessing it even once,” Wieman said.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said Tuesday that a range of measures are urgently needed to address the crisis, including expanded access to safe prescription alternatives, drug-checking services, overdose prevention sites and a “continuum of care” involving treatment, recovery and medical and mental health support options.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

B.C. already moving on new long-term care standards, but ready to do more: Dix

WATCH: A national report hopes to raise the standard in long-term care. Richard Zussman has more.

British Columbia’s health minister says the province has done much to improve conditions in its long-term care homes, but is ready to do more if necessary to meet new national standards released Tuesday.

The new standards, drafted by the Health Standards Organization with the input of 20,000 long-term care residents, workers and community members, include the expectation that residents get at least four hours of direct care every day.

“These are the most comprehensive standards that have ever been created in Canada, and it’s a real opportunity to really elevate the care we are providing for every single resident at every care home in the country,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, the chair of the technical committee that developed the updated standards.

“We actually led the world with the highest percentage of deaths occurring in our long-term care homes (during the pandemic) basically because we were poorly staffing our homes across the country. We weren’t actually enforcing clear accountabilities towards standards, and it really made it clear we need to have better standards and we need to be better funding the care that actually occurs in homes.”

The standards also call for more single rooms — both for privacy and improved infection control — improved pay for workers, and new guidelines for the design of care homes and practices to prevent infection.

British Columbia’s current standards call for 3.36 hours of direct resident care per day, however about 80 per cent of care homes in the province are accredited, meaning one in five are not bound by those requirements.

“(B.C.) should follow the example of Quebec. Quebec has said this is the national standard, and they legislate their homes to all be accredited against the standard and to publicly report their findings as well,” Sinha said.

The pandemic exposed significant flaws in Canada’s long-term care system, which was the site of more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 fatalities, accounting for over 17,000 deaths.

British Columbia’s long-term care homes fared better than many provinces, but still experienced deadly outcomes. A 2021 report from the province’s seniors’ advocate found residents were 32.6 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the general population.

B.C. has made significant changes to the system since 2020, including wage levelling for long-term care workers and improved training and retention.

It has also upgraded facilities to include better infection control, more single rooms and better ventilation.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said many of the standards outlined in Tuesday’s report dovetail with work B.C. is already doing, including implementing resident and family councils to inform care.

“Which is I think a big emphasis I think in this report, the need to ensure that the resident voice and the family voice be heard,” Dix said.

“B.C. has gone absolutely in the direction of these standards, and we’re of course prepared to review this and do more if that’s required.”

British Columbia’s seniors representative welcomed the new standards, adding she was pleased to see they centred around the rights of residents, the importance of family members, the focus on ensuring home-like environment and the discussion around autonomy and choice.

But she said she still has concerns about how they will be applied.

“How are care homes going to be monitored in their compliance with these standards, and what’s going to be the accountability if a care home does not meet the standards?” Isobel Mackenzie said.

“You can have the best standards in the world. And arguably these could be. But they are meaningless if they are not enforced.”

Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said the new standards showed the need for investment in two crucial areas: staff and infrastructure.

He said the province had made “tremendous” investments on the labour side, with regards to training and wage levelling.

But on the infrastructure, he said B.C. is lagging. While there are some new spaces in development in the province’s Interior, he said there has been little announced for the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island.

Not only does the province need new spaces to accommodate an aging population, he added, but it needs to replace aging facilities that aren’t up to modern infection control standards.

“They don’t have air conditioning, they don’t have the ventilation systems that are needed, so there’s a lot of money that needs to be invested there,” he said.

“Unless the federal and provincial government, and largely the provincial government, invest more money in care it simply won’t occur. I mean you will get more private spaces built, but it will be at the higher end of cost.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Toronto police chief, union president highlight call for bail reform

RELATED: Citing the recent spike in violence on the TTC, Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman called on the public minister of safety and the government to reform its "weak" bail system that leaves "repeat violent offenders out on our streets," during question period in the House of Commons on Monday.

Toronto’s police chief is highlighting a renewed push for bail reform in Canada after he and several other senior police figures made their case to officials at the Ontario legislature.

On Tuesday, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s justice committee heard a series of presentation on the topic of bail reform, particularly for people accused of violence or firearm offences.

The Ontario Provincial Police’s commissioner and its union president were among the first to speak. Toronto’s chief, Myron Demkiw, was also on the list.

“Toronto, along with many other communities across Ontario and Canada, continue to deal with a troubling number of incidents of gun and gang violence, and far too often, they involve individuals who are out on bail at the time,” Demkiw, who took over as Toronto’s top cop at the end of 2022, said in a statement.

He said that his force began its current bail reform campaign in May 2022, before a series of police killings in Ontario moved the conversation back up the agenda.

“Some may attempt to characterize our ideas as a knee-jerk reaction by law enforcement,” Demkiw said. “They clearly are not.”

Jon Reid, the president of the Toronto Police Association, also spoke.

“While the rights of an accused are important — they cannot, and should not, be at the expense of public safety,” he said in a statement.

The committee meeting comes as calls for bail reform within Ontario’s policing community grow louder.

On Sunday, for example, Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah used a media release about an alleged armed attempt to break into a Mississauga, Ont. business to repeat the demand.

“This violent incident was avoidable,” he said in a statement after four young people allegedly tried to break into a business with a handgun.

“Two of the arrested in this incident failed to adhere to the conditions of their release on previous charges. This is why we must pursue bail reform. Real change is needed to keep our community and our officers safe.”

Roland D. Morrison, Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, spoke as the final police figure to appear in front of the committee. Women in Canadian Criminal Defence, The Society of United Professionals and the Criminal Lawyer’s Association all also presented on Tuesday.

In mid-January, Canada’s premiers unanimously sent a letter to the federal government calling for “immediate action” to make Canada’s bail laws stricter.

The letter, which came originally from Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office, was dispatched soon after the late December killing of 28-year-old Const. Greg Pierzchala, a member of the Ontario Provincial Police.

Court documents show that one of the two people facing a first-degree murder charge in his death, Randall McKenzie, had been initially denied bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons charges but was released after a review.

The documents show a warrant had been issued for McKenzie’s arrest after he didn’t show up for a court date in August.

The letter from premiers notes a growing number of calls for changes to prevent accused people who are out on bail from committing further criminal acts.

“The justice system fundamentally needs to keep anyone who poses a threat to public safety off the streets,” it reads.

“And this starts with meaningful changes to the Criminal Code, an area solely within the federal government’s jurisdiction.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Community, wraparound supports key in transitioning unsheltered people into housing: organizations

Organizations working with Winnipeg's most vulnerable caution the number of unsheltered people is only going to grow without further government help. Global's Rosanna Hempel examines the housing solutions that are already working to transition those living outside.

Robert was recovering from frostbite on both feet at a pop-up St. Boniface Street Links warming space over the weekend, after spending hours outside Friday in freezing temperatures while high on meth.

“If it weren’t for the organization, I, well, I might be dead for one thing.”

Global News isn’t providing Robert’s full name to protect his identity. He’s been struggling with addictions, bipolar disorder and homelessness for years.

Robert says he doesn’t feel safe in shelters or on the street. He’s looking for a place to call his own but knows he can’t be alone.

“One of the reasons that I think I and others have been drawn back into to addiction and homelessness is ironically, because we are looking for connections to our community,” he said.

His desire for community is common, and Breda Vosters and Talia Potash with Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY) say many find it in encampments.

Talia Potash with Resource Assistance for Youth says Winnipeg already has great examples that help unsheltered people transition into permanent housing, including the Bell Hotel.

Talia Potash with Resource Assistance for Youth says Winnipeg already has great examples that help unsheltered people transition into permanent housing, including the Bell Hotel.

Rosanna Hempel / Global News

“The crux of the issue for us, though, is will they stay housed?” Vosters, RAY’s grants and information director, told Global News on Thursday.

Community should be considered in transitioning people into housing, Vosters said.

“Taking individuals from encampments and placing them into one-bedroom apartments in an area of the city they’re not familiar with doesn’t work,” said Potash, who serves as RAY’s housing director.

Winnipeg already has great examples that work, including The Bell Hotel on Main St., Potash said. It offers 42 independent suites with around-the-clock cultural and health supports.

“Crises happen, and they don’t necessarily happen between nine and five,” she said.

The Bell Hotel offers 42 independent suites with around-the-clock cultural and health supports.

The Bell Hotel offers 42 independent suites with around-the-clock cultural and health supports.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

Kate Sjoberg with Main Street Project oversees the building, which takes a Housing First approach. Residents aren’t required to be sober or have a job.

The City of Winnipeg’s arms-length development corporation CentreVenture bought the property in 2007. In partnership with Main Street Project and other municipal, provincial and federal departments and initiatives, The Bell Hotel reopened as supporting housing in 2011.

Kate Sjoberg with Main Street Project says The Bell Hotel's community atmosphere and wraparound supports encourage residents to reach out when they need help.

Kate Sjoberg with Main Street Project says The Bell Hotel's community atmosphere and wraparound supports encourage residents to reach out when they need help.

Jordan Pearn / Global News

The community atmosphere encourages them to reach out to supports when they need it, Sjoberg said.

“It’s really clear to me in talking to people who are in those kind of edge times, maybe there’s been a crisis in the family or a change in their own health where they’re like, ‘No, like I need to stay here, and so I’m willing to work with you on figuring out what I’m going to need to do to be successful,” she said.

Yet few other places like The Bell have opened since its launch more than a decade ago.

“We need five or 10 Bell Hotels in this city,” Potash said.

The number of unsheltered Winnipeggers is only going to grow as the supply of affordable and public housing shrinks, Sjoberg said.

“As much as the private sector can step up, that’s really important, but the volume that we need is going to be achieved through major investments of dollars, and that’s going to have to come from the public sector,” she said.

Potash and Sjoberg are looking to all levels of government for more funding to cover projects and subsidize housing.

Manitoba’s homelessness strategy will be released in the coming months, and providing housing with supports will make up a part of that plan, a spokesperson for Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Janice Morley-Lecomte said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

“Housing First is and will continue to be part of the housing continuum,” they said.

The province gives ongoing support to the Bell Hotel and recently provided St. Boniface Street Links with $215,000 for its outreach team, the spokesperson said.

“The province has also provided funding for Home First Winnipeg, which will soon open another project in Winnipeg that uses a Housing First model.

Ottawa acknowledges it’s getting harder for Canadians to afford a place to live, a spokesperson with the Office of the Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion told Global News Tuesday.

The federal government has already provided $228 million for affordable housing in Winnipeg, which translates into more than 6,200 units, including through its Rapid Housing Initiative and Reaching Home Program, they said.

“We recently launched our $1.5 billion third round of the Rapid Housing Initiative, including millions … dedicated … to Winnipeg,” they added. “Projects funded through this program will be constructed rapidly, within 12 to 18 months of when funding is provided.”

Direct rent assistance through the Canada Housing Benefit will also help people in this city, they added.

“Nearly 2 million renters across the country, including 64,000 households in Manitoba, who are struggling with the cost of housing can now apply for a direct federal $500 one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit,” they continued. “We are also committed to tackling excessive profits from investment properties and introducing measures to end ‘renovictions.'”

Meanwhile, Robert said he hopes a more connected system that embraces a person’s need for both community and independence could be on the horizon.

“We are collectively paying a price, you know, whether it’s, you know, money spent on ERs and police response or in loss of life,” he said. “There’s got to be a better way.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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