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Canada autism strategy one step closer after report – CTV News



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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What's a derecho and why is it so destructive? The science behind this powerful storm – CBC News



When Canadian tornado expert David Sills studied the forecast on Saturday morning, he never expected the line of storms headed for Windsor, Ont., would soon strengthen into Canada’s first derecho in decades, wreaking havoc across southern Ontario and Quebec. 

Sills, who is the executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project at Western University, was outside doing yardwork at his London, Ont., home when he heard a rumble in the distance; he couldn’t believe the line of storms was still so active. 

“I’m thinking, ‘What? Why is this thing still going?'”

He went back inside to study the forecast, and that’s when the storm arrived at his doorstep.

“All of a sudden it hits and it’s just like a hurricane,” Sills said. “It’s just getting stronger and stronger … I watched as a tree came down on my neighbour’s roof across the street.”

That’s when he knew it wasn’t a normal thunderstorm. 

Powerful winds lift up dirt before the storm arrived in Saint-Bernard-de-Michaudville, Que. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

An ominous wall of wind and rain

A derecho, pronounced deh-RAY-cho, is a long-lived, fast-moving thunderstorm that causes widespread wind damage. This particular storm system was fed by a heat dome over the eastern United States. 

According to Sills, the system formed south of Chicago on Saturday morning, then crossed the border into the Windsor area, where it started to cause damage. 

By the time it arrived in Kitchener, Sills said the thunderstorm was producing gusts of up to 132 km/h. 

Unlike the rotating winds in a hurricane or a tornado, a derecho’s winds are straight. That doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging; its winds can topple trees and lift up roofs. Another feature of a derecho is that unlike the slow building of a supercell thunderstorm, the business end of a derecho is at the front. 

That’s why when you witness a derecho, Sills said, it often looks like an ominous wall of wind and rain. 

“When it hits, usually the worst of it is within a couple minutes of it hitting,” he said. 

Part of a utility pole lies on a driveway, along with the roof of a hardware store that was lifted off by extreme winds during Saturday’s storm, in the community of Hammond in Clarence-Rockland, Ont. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Making that destructive wall of wind even worse, is that it can sometimes produce tornadoes as well.

“Really, it’s just a spectrum of wind that affects a long area,” Sills said. 

So far, field crews with the Northern Tornadoes Project have identified at least one EF2 tornado, which hit Uxbridge, Ont., with wind speeds of up to 195 km/h.

The team is investigating at least four other possible tornadoes in southern Ottawa, London, Ont., and Rawdon, Que.

Sills said he expects there could be even more.

Even if that’s the case, “the overwhelming majority of the damage was caused by straight line derecho winds,” said Environment Canada warning preparedness meteorologist Peter Kimbell.

He said both Ottawa and Toronto airports reported 120 km/h winds.

A rare event: Canada’s 1st derecho since 1999

The last string of derechos that hit Canada were in the 1990s, including one in 1999. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that storm cut a path through Thunder Bay and sparsely populated areas of northern Ontario before crossing into Quebec, where it killed one person, toppled trees, damaged buildings and overturned boats in the Montreal area.

“It is the widespread nature of a derecho that can really cause havoc in a city,” Sills said. 

What made Saturday’s storm especially unlucky was that several urban centres were directly in its path.

“This was an unusual event because it affected the most populated part of Canada,” Kimbell said.

The system formed south of Chicago on Saturday morning, and then it moved through Ontario, according to tornado expert David Sills. (Environment and Climate Change Canada/CBC News)

Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a broadcast alert for a severe thunderstorm, setting off alarms on people’s cellphones in Ontario and Quebec. It was the first time a new feature was tested, allowing the forecaster to trigger an alert for extreme thunderstorms with high winds.

“That’s the first time they’ve done that, and it probably saved lives,” Sills said.

Still, the storm left a path of destruction in its wake, killing 10 people and leaving roughly 900,000 homes and businesses without power in Ontario and Quebec at its peak. It continued all the way to Maine, where there were also reports of damages.

Climate change could bring more derechos

Pinning down whether or not the rare event could be linked to climate change is difficult. Because derechos are so infrequent in Canada, Sills said it’s impossible to say whether they’re increasing or not. 

But, he said, the ingredients necessary to form a derecho “may come together more often” as a result of the effects of climate change.

A derecho happens when there’s a lot of heat and moisture available and they are often tied to heat domes. Sills said climate projections point to a warmer atmosphere that will creep northward, which means this is the kind of storm Canadians can expect to see more of in the future. 

Aerial images shot from a drone show the aftermath of Saturday’s storm in Uxbridge, Ont. (Sue Reid/CBC News)

There is always something to learn from extreme weather events, Sills said, and a key takeaway for him after this storm is that computer modelling needs to catch up.

“There wasn’t much in the way of any indication in the models of this big derecho coming through,” he said.

“The computer models we rely on to give us a heads up for these types of events, they’ve got a long way to go.” 

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One of two Alberta men accused of killing hunters to take witness stand



EDMONTON — A man accused of killing two Metis hunters on a rural Alberta road is scheduled to testify today.

Anthony Bilodeau has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the deaths of Jacob Sansom and Maurice Cardinal in March of 2020.

His lawyer, Brian Beresh, has told the jury trial that the 33-year-old plans to take the witness stand.

Bilodeau’s father, Roger Bilodeau, who is 58, has also pleaded not guilty to the same charges.

The Crown has argued that the father and son thought the hunters were thieves who had earlier been on their property, so they followed them on the highway and Anthony Bilodeau shot both men without justification.

Lawyers for the Bilodeaus say there was a confrontation, the men feared for their lives and they acted in self-defence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.


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Judge to decide if ‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich heads back to jail



OTTAWA — An Ottawa judge is expected to decide today whether “Freedom Convoy” organizer Tamara Lich should return to jail.

Moiz Karimjee, a Crown prosecutor, says Lich violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept an award for her leadership during the Ottawa protest, and should be sent back behind bars to wait for her trial.

Lich and fellow protest organizer Chris Barber are jointly accused of mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

She was released with a long list of conditions, including a ban from all social media and an order not to “support anything related to the Freedom Convoy.”

Lich’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, says her bail conditions should be loosened to allow her to come to Ontario and use social media.

The “Freedom Convoy” protest evolved into a weeks-long demonstration that gridlocked the streets of Ottawa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


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