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Canada autism strategy one step closer after report – CTV News

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For years, families with loved ones who have autism have been pleading with the federal government to issue a national autism strategy, a frame work for how provinces and territories should deliver autism services.

That process is now one step closer to the finish line.

The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) released its assessment of the autism report on Tuesday, outlining structural and systemic gaps facing people with autism and their families.

The organization was selected by the Public Health Agency of Canada to help inform policymakers in the development of a national autism strategy.

“It includes a lot of practical ideas about short and longer-term approaches to actually address these issues in substantive way” said Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, chair of the oversight panel that produced the report. He added that the report “highlights the importance of collaboration across sectors and within the community to move things forward.”

The 412-page report points to key findings that highlight much-needed supports for people with autism and their families. It focuses on five themes:

  • Diversity: The importance for autism supports to meet the extra needs that may come with some differences including, language, learning and housing needs.
  • Social inclusion: Generate ways for people to feel safe and accepted within the community including transportation, workplaces and job training.
  • Diagnosis and supports: Train more health professionals to diagnose autism, develop tools specific to a person’s needs, transparency on diagnosis wait times, more online supports.
  • Economic Inclusion: Government financing, financial support for families, easier access to government support, help for employers to hire and keep workers with autism.
  • Research: More research will help improve support, include diverse groups during research, and follow participants throughout their lives.

The report is the result of 19 months of work by an expert panel. CAHS calls the process unique, involving existing literature, emerging practice and unprecedented consultations with more than 6,000 people.

“It’s a window in terms of the breath of opportunities, as well as challenges that are experienced by autistic people and their families and a guide in terms of the way forward to enable positive change” said Zwaigenbaum.

The assessment comes months after its expected release in January 2022, and years after the Trudeau government committed to a national autism strategy in 2019.

Without a national strategy, some autism researchers believe Canada is failing this section of the population.

“We have so many gaps right now in how our services are delivered across the country, we have so much inequity in how autistic Canadians are accessing critical supports they need to live their best lives,” says Deepa Singal, the director of scientific and data initiatives at the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA).

Singal told CTV National News that “a child born in one province can have a completely different outcome and future depending on the services they were able to access, compared to a child born in a province that didn’t have those sorts of supports or were harder to access.”

This report, while not a full strategy, was highly anticipated for people within the autism community, giving them reassurance the government is committed to moving forward and that a strategy will soon follow.

Many Canadians say the federal government’s long-promised national autism strategy isn’t coming fast enough, with affordable and accessible support varying drastically between provinces and even communities.

Some families who have spoken with CTV News have moved to the United States for better care. Groups including Autism Nova Scotia say they have seen families move across the country in search for better services.

Autism Nova Scotia’s Executive Director Cynthia Carroll says the new report synthesizes the information that has been reported by people across the country. However, she says she would have liked to have seen “more direct and concrete next steps.”

The report points to key findings, but doesn’t offer any “recommendations” for a national strategy. Zwaigenbaum says their directive was to establish an assessment infused with lived experience.

“Ultimately recommendations should be informed by the assessment as well as the key community partners but it wasn’t the role of the academy to make specific recommendations. I think  people will find if they read the report it’s quite clear what the next steps need to be,” he said.

Carroll believes the federal government and policy makers would have benefited from more specific recommendations.

“It may not have been their mandate to make recommendations, but if they’re not going to make recommendations after the extensive consolations and the fact they are some of the most esteemed researchers in Canada, who is going to make those recommendations?” she said.

PHAC says the report from CAHS will be considered “along with all other information gathered through a variety of mechanisms.”

When asked for a timeline on when Canadians will see a national strategy implemented, the government would not commit to a date, only pointing to a national conference in November “to build consensus on the priorities for action under a national autism strategy.”

“Addressing the complex and diverse needs of Canadians on the autism spectrum requires a coordinated effort with all levels of government and service providers,” PHAC said in a statement to CTV News. “We are working collaboratively with provinces, territories, families, Indigenous organizations and other stakeholders to accelerate the development of a national autism strategy.”

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Cooler temperatures on the way for B.C., as crews battle more than 400 wildfires

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Forests Minister Bruce Ralston says it is “clear climate change is arriving faster than predicted” as British Columbia faces storms, wind, lightning and drought as crews battle hundreds of wildfires.

He says thousands of lightning strikes brought by recent summer storms led to the surging number of wildfires, although some relief is expected in the north part of the province where rain and cooler temperatures are forecast.

The BC Wildfire Service says in its report on Wednesday that much of the province is returning to more seasonable temperatures with the exception of the southeast where hot and dry conditions persist, but it notes that Thursday will bring the “coolest temperatures in over a month” across B.C.

There are more than 430 fires burning in the province and 80 per cent of them were started by a series of lightning storms that swept across the province in the last few weeks.

Emergency Management Minister Bowinn Ma says there are about 550 people under evacuation order and another 5,000 under evacuation alert as of Wednesday.

She says those numbers are currently “manageable” for the province and while that could change very quickly, it is seeing “nowhere near” the number of evacuations it did in 2023.

“However, for those individuals who are evacuated, the impacts are equally as harrowing when you are away from your home and you do not know whether your home and all of your prized possessions and your memories have survived,” she told a news conference Wednesday.

B.C. also saw an influx of travellers from Jasper, Alta., after a fire forced park visitors and 4,700 residents to escape from the town with little notice on Monday.

Ma noted that the only safe route for 25,000 evacuees was to travel along Highway 16 into B.C.

“Alberta has directed evacuees to three emergency reception centers, one in Grand Prairie, one in Calgary, and another in Edmonton,” she said, noting B.C. has worked closely with Alberta to assist them in their evacuation efforts.

In B.C., she noted the number of people under evacuation alert dropped by about 2,000 since Tuesday after the alert covering Williams Lake was lifted. That change came after crews were able to contain the River Valley Wildfire that crept into the city on Sunday. That blaze is currently “being held.”

There are currently four wildfires of note in B.C. including the “aggressive” Shetland Creek blaze that has already destroyed at least six homes.

Jeff Walsh, an incident commander with the BC Wildfire Service, says crews were using heavy equipment on the mountain slopes above Spences Bridge to prevent fire from burning downslope toward the southern Interior community.

The homes lost were in the Venables Valley, near Spences Bridge. Colton Davies with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District says they were among 20 buildings destroyed by the nearly 200-square-kilometre Shetland Creek fire.

Ma said during the news conference that the province is focused on the wildfire fight and returning people safely to their communities. Until then, she said, the province won’t be able to assess the damage, but regional districts may release their own information.

Several communities are in the path of wildfires in B.C. as crews fight the most threatening active blazes. Sixty per cent of the current wildfires remain out of control.

Walsh says in a video update that hot and dry conditions coupled with gusty winds have fuelled erratic and aggressive fire behaviour at the Shetland Creek blaze, driving its spread to the north.

The wildfire service says people using bodies of water near out-of-control fires, such as Shawnigan Lake adjacent to the Old Man Lake wildfire on Vancouver Island, have been told to “keep well away” from aircraft either skimming water or operating in the area.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Woman tells court Nygard’s actions ‘tainted’ her life as sentencing hearing underway

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TORONTO – One of the women sexually assaulted by former fashion mogul Peter Nygard teared up in court Wednesday as she described how the attack decades ago “tainted” her life, eroding her mental health, interfering with her career and deterring her from forming long-term relationships.

The woman, who cannot be identified under a publication ban, said she started having panic attacks and anxiety after Nygard raped her in his former company’s Toronto headquarters in the late 1980s.

After that, the woman “couldn’t bear being seen,” which hampered her previously successful acting career, nor could she trust men or develop deeper relationships, she told a Toronto court as Nygard’s sentencing hearing began.

“This rape has tainted my life,” she said. “I did not live up to my full potential.”

“I’m now a 63-year-old woman and I’m deeply saddened by the lack of love in my life,” she added. “In retrospect, I realize it’s the direct result of the violation.”

Nygard, 83, was found guilty on four counts of sexual assault last November, but was acquitted of a fifth count, as well as a charge of forcible confinement.

The charges relate to allegations dating from the 1980s until the mid-2000s.

Two other complainants, neither of whom can be identified, also laid bare Wednesday the lasting emotional and mental impact of the sexual assaults.

“The damage caused by my sexual assault is endless,” one of them said in a statement read in court by the prosecution.

“The nightmares are never-ending, not to mention the hurt and shame,” she said, adding the court proceedings — and the delays at the sentencing stage — have made her relive the trauma and have prolonged the healing process.

Another complainant said her life was derailed by Nygard’s actions, and that she now lives “in a veil of sadness.”

“I am still frail, I am still fragile,” she said.

The mother of one of the complainants also described her ongoing guilt in a written statement read by the Crown, saying she was misled into taking her daughter “into a trap where she was raped.”

Prosecutors said Wednesday that while a sentence of 19 years would be appropriate, they are asking the judge to sentence Nygard to 15 years to account for his age and health.

The Crown is also asking that Nygard be given one day of credit for each of the more than 1,000 days he has spent in custody so far, rather than 1.5 days.

Among the aggravating factors are premeditation and the fact that Nygard used his wealth, power and position in society to exploit young women for his own gratification, Crown attorney Neville Golwalla argued.

“This pattern should be understood for what it is. Simply put: predatory,” Golwalla said.

Nygard’s violations of consent were “deliberate and overt,” he said, noting the complainants testified they repeatedly said no and the verdict suggests the jury accepted their account.

“Consent was not on Mr. Nygard’s mind. Entitlement was what fed his actions,” Golwalla said.

Nygard’s age and his health are mitigating factors, his defence lawyer said.

Gerri Wiebe said her client is not simply dealing with health challenges due to aging, but requires “enhanced care and treatment” in order to live.

She listed a number of conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, which she said he was previously able to manage partly through his diet before being detained. He is continuously being served “inappropriate food” and has lost a significant amount of weight in custody, she said.

Nygard also has deteriorating vision, chronic pain and multiple allergies, as well as mobility issues and incontinence due to an enlarged prostate, she said.

Wiebe also disputed some of the aggravating factors listed by the Crown.

Golwalla argued it’s up to Nygard to demonstrate that his medical needs can’t be addressed in a correctional facility.

Nygard sat in a wheelchair for part of Wednesday’s hearing, wearing a winter jacket over a hoodie and what appeared to be a visor.

The sentencing hearing that began Wednesday was pushed back multiple times, in part because Nygard’s two previous defence lawyers, Brian Greenspan and Megan Savard, asked to withdraw from the case earlier this year.

Nygard, who once led a multimillion-dollar clothing empire, has also faced health challenges throughout the case.

Aside from the Toronto case, he is also facing charges in two other provinces and the United States.

His Manitoba trial on sexual assault-related charges has been delayed in part due to Greenspan’s resignation as his defence lawyer in that case as well as the Toronto one.

Nygard also faces one count of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement in Quebec.

He was first arrested in Winnipeg in 2020 under the Extradition Act after he was charged with nine counts in New York, including sex trafficking and racketeering charges.

In May, Manitoba’s highest court dismissed Nygard’s application for a judicial review of his extradition order, finding there was no reason to interfere with the order issued by then-justice minister David Lametti.

None of the criminal charges against Nygard in Quebec, Manitoba or the U.S. have been tested in court, and he has denied all allegations against him.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version carried incorrect details for the sentence sought by the Crown.



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The cat came back: Montreal owners reunite with Indie, feline missing for 8 years

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MONTREAL – Indie the cat did indeed come back, but it took her about eight years and a little help from the Ottawa Humane Society.

After years on the lam and with memories of adventures only she knows about, an 11-year-old tuxedo cat has been reunited with her Montreal family after being found by a passerby in Ottawa.

“We were very shocked,” Stephen Smith, a spokesman for the humane society, said in an interview Wednesday. “Of course, it’s not too unusual for us to reunite an animal after, say, a few months or a couple of weeks. But when it gets into the time frame of years, that’s when it becomes a little bit more shocking.”

How Indie ended up in the country’s capital, about 165 kilometres west of Montreal, remains a mystery.

Smith said Indie was brought to them by a community member as a stray on July 16 after she was picked up in the city’s Gloucester suburb.

The animal’s embedded microchip allowed shelter staff to track down her Montreal owners, who he said were “floored” when they got a call to say Indie had been found. They were reunited late last week.

“It was a really touching moment,” Smith said. “The owner actually did begin to cry when they saw Indie, and Indie was clearly very happy to see him as well too: she was all cuddles and love and just instantly wanted to see her family.”

The cat was in good shape despite being away from home for so long. Smith said she was very friendly too.

“I’d have to imagine that at some point a person had picked her up and started caring for her and potentially brought her to Ottawa, but again, there’s just no way for us to know exactly what that looked like,” Smith said.

Smith said that in Ottawa, about 60 to 70 per cent of stray dogs but only 10 per cent of stray cats have microchips. The happy ending for Indie’s owners, he said, shows “the power of the microchip, where if that information is up to date, even when the cat’s been separated for that long, there’s still a chance they can get home.”

Indie’s owners were not immediately available for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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