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Distrust in RCMP, some call for rebuild

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Harry Bond is blunt in his assessment of the RCMP’s role on the night his mother and father died in the Nova Scotia mass shooting — and of the force’s potential to reform in the future.

“My trust for the RCMP is gone,” he said during a recent telephone interview from his home near Mahone Bay, N.S., where he’s been going over the hundreds of hours of testimony heard at a public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020 rampage.

His parents, Peter and Joy Bond died at their Portapique, N.S., home between 10:04 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. on the first night, murdered by a 51-year-old neighbour who drove a replica police car and carried on his killings the next day — taking a total of 22 lives, including a pregnant woman.

During the public inquiry, Bond heard senior Mounties testify they didn’t send out an emergency alert that night due to lack of protocols; that just four officers were available to enter Portapique because of chronic staff shortages; that no RCMP air support was available; and that basic smartphone apps to let police officers track one another in the dark also weren’t available.

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And he said the explanations for these and a multitude of other shortcomings — including failures to probe early reports of domestic violence by the perpetrator — never seemed to begin with an admission that the force’s rural policing has failed to adapt to modern times.

“The biggest thing we need is for some of the senior people to say, ‘We screwed up. This is what we did wrong’ ΓǪ Otherwise, nothing is going to be solved. This will happen again,” he said.

The revelations during the mass shooting inquiry are the latest to fuel a distrust in Canada’s national police force that some experts suggest has been building for years. There were calls this year from an Indigenous group in Newfoundland and Labrador and from a government committee examining systemic racism in British Columbia for those provinces to get rid of the RCMP, while Alberta’s United Conservative Party government is working on a plan to replace the Mounties with a provincial police force.

In Cumberland County, where some of the Nova Scotia killings occurred during the rampage’s second day, the municipal council recently voted to seek proposals for local policing, including from police agencies other than the RCMP.

A poll commissioned by the force earlier this year showed only 51 per cent of Canadians believe the Mounties are honest, a drop of five percentage points from the year before. Only a third of Canadians feel the RCMP treat visible minorities and Indigenous people fairly.

“The RCMP is in for a reckoning. They really need to rethink what they’re doing as a police force,” said Michael Boudreau, a criminology professor at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. With the force’s missteps unfolding before the public during the mass shooting inquiry, Boudreau said it would be a missed opportunity if the commission’s recommendations don’t prompt sweeping changes — though he said he’s only “mildly optimistic” that will happen.

“Unfortunately, politicians are going to have to get involved if we’re going to have a serious discussion about the future of policing,” he said. “We cannot leave it up to the police to fix themselves.”

Historically, the RCMP has been adept at keeping its turmoil out of the public eye, Boudreau said. That all changed a decade ago when several women on the force said they faced discrimination, harassment, bullying and sexual assault at the hands of their colleagues. A resulting class-action lawsuit ultimately paid out about $125 million to more than 2,300 women.

Janet Merlo was among those women, and she was a lead plaintiff in the class action.

She said in a recent interview that she’s seen familiar problems with the force surfacing throughout the inquiry in Nova Scotia, including chronic understaffing, friction with local police, and a “cops first” attitude that delayed a public warning about the shooter driving a replica police car for fear it would put officers in danger.

“It’s all starting to collapse,” Merlo said. “I feel bad for the first responders, the ones that are doing the work.”

She’s now leading an effort to establish independent, external oversight of the RCMP, which she hopes will provide more accountability and help trigger a cultural change within the force. “They shouldn’t be allowed to police themselves, or investigate themselves anymore,” Merlo said. “That’s where public faith is eroding. They investigate themselves all the time, and they come back and say everything looks fine.”

Two years ago, when a final report from the class action she led released a crushing report detailing the force’s “toxic” culture of hateful, sexist and homophobic attitudes, Merlo said she had hope Commissioner Brenda Lucki would change things.

But now, as Merlo watches the inquiry in Nova Scotia and sees little change after the lawsuit, she said that hope is gone.

“I have lost total faith in Brenda Lucki doing anything to right the ship,” Merlo said.

Boudreau believes Lucki should be replaced — preferably by a civilian who has never been a police officer, and who hasn’t been entrenched in the ranks for decades, he said.

The RCMP began as a national police force, and Boudreau argues they should return to those roots rather than stretching themselves thin across the country. They should be “looking at corporate crimes, national security and those kinds of things, not responding to 911 calls when someone’s stolen my ATV,” he said.

And while building municipal or provincial police forces to fill in the gap is costly and daunting, Boudreau said any significant change with the RCMP should involve a “fundamental, if not radical” re-examination of policing as a whole, both at the national and provincial level.

In an emailed statement from the RCMP’s national headquarters, Cpl. Kim Chamberland said reforming workplace culture and addressing harassment and discrimination is a priority for Lucki. “We know that ending workplace harassment and discrimination, and improving workforce culture, is critical to achieving operational excellence and to our success as a modern organization,” Chamberland wrote.

She said the force has identified five key priorities toward this goal, including addressing systemic racism and improving accountability.

Meanwhile, Assistant Commissioner Dennis Daley, the new commander of the RCMP’s Nova Scotia division, has pointed to lessons learned from the mass shooting, such as the force beginning to use an emergency alert system, and commitments to improve communication with the public, municipalities and other police forces.

However, Boudreau said he agrees with Harry Bond that the force has not come to grips with its failings.

“I’m starting to think that maybe it is time for the federal government to get involved to really strip this force down to its bare bones and start again,” Boudreau said. “Because it’s a broken police force.”

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Forecast: Coldest temperatures this winter coming to Eastern Canada – CTV News

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The beginning of February is expected to bring Arctic-like temperatures across much of Eastern Canada, thanks to frigid air from the polar vortex.

“I think it will be a real punch in the face for easterners,” Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CTVNews.ca. “It’s going to be pretty short-lived and it’s going to be right across the east.”

The cold snap will descend on Eastern Canada between Thursday night and Friday, with temperatures becoming seasonable again on Sunday. In between, much of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada can expect the coldest days yet this winter.

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“We’ll see temperatures that are really, brutally cold,” Phillips said from Toronto. “It’s really a one-and-a-half-day wonder.”

According to Environment Canada, as the cold air tracks east, daytime highs will only reach -13 C in Toronto, -20 in Ottawa, -21 in Montreal and -23 in Quebec City on Friday, and -18 in Fredericton, -15 in Halifax, and -18 in Charlottetown on Saturday.

“It’ll be sunny and bright, because it’s Arctic air,” Philips said. “It’s very dry, and it will be crisp”

Overnight temperatures on Friday night could dip as low as -20 in Toronto, -31 in Ottawa, -30 in Montreal, -34 in Quebec City, -28 in Fredericton, -21 in Halifax, and -23 in Charlottetown – all more or less double what’s normal for this time of year.

“The last time it was that cold in Ottawa was 27 years ago,” Phillips explained. “You can go year after year after year and not see a temperature of -20 in Halifax.”

These temperatures do not factor in wind chill, which could make things feel even icier.

“It’s going to be very punishing,” Phillips said. “It’s clearly an Arctic invasion of frigid air.”

The short-lived and bitter winter blast is being blamed on a weakened polar vortex, which causes icy Arctic air to push south, leading to rapid and sharp temperature drops.

There is a silver lining for those who have been missing out on winter activities.

“The second half of winter, according to our models, seems certainly a little colder, more winter-like, than what we saw at the beginning of the winter,” Phillips said. “But everywhere in Canada, we’re now well the beyond the halfway point. There’s more winter behind us than ahead of us!”

While much of Western Canada has been shivering through the winter, it’s been a different story in the unseasonably mild east. Phillips says December and January in Ottawa, for example, were the third warmest on record in 150 years; and both Ottawa and Montreal have experienced no days below -20 this winter, when normally they would each have about 10. Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Skateway is also still closed when it typically opens in January. Warmer winter temperatures, however, have also brought abundant snow.

“If you’re in the east, it’s looking like winter, but it doesn’t feel like winter,” Phillips said. “But it’s going to feel like winter when the cold arrives.”

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Canada province experiments with decriminalising hard drugs – BBC

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Needles of drugs being preparedGetty Images

Canada’s province of British Columbia is starting a first-in-the-nation trial decriminalising small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

From Tuesday, adults can possess up to 2.5g of such drugs, as well as methamphetamine, fentanyl and morphine.

Canada’s federal government granted the request by the west coast province to try out the three-year experiment.

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It follows a similar policy in the nearby US state of Oregon, which decriminalised hard drugs in 2020.

Ahead of the pilot’s launch, British Columbia and federal officials outlined the rules under the federally approved exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

While those substances will remain illegal, adults found in possession of a combined total of less than 2.5g of the drugs will not be arrested, charged or have their substances seized. Instead, they will be offered information on available health and social services.

Federal minister of mental health and addictions Carolyn Bennett on Monday called the move “a monumental shift in drug policy that favours fostering trusting and supportive relationships in health and social services over further criminalisation”.

Some 10,000 residents have died from drug overdoses since British Columbia declared drugs to be a public health emergency in 2016, officials said.

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“Decriminalising people who use drugs breaks down the fear and shame associated with substance use and ensures they feel safer reaching out for life-saving supports,” said Jennifer Whiteside, the British Columbia minister for mental health and addictions.

Thousands of police officers in the province have been offered training on the rule change, including those in Vancouver, the largest city in the province.

The programme will run from 31 January 2023 until 31 January 2026, unless it is revoked by the federal government.

Some experts have questioned the 2.5g limit, saying that it is not enough to account for the habits of many addicts.

There are some exemptions to the scheme.

The sale of drugs remains illegal. It is also illegal to possess drugs on the grounds of schools, childcare facilities and airports.

Canada legalised the use of recreational cannabis for adults nationwide in 2018.

But the four drugs now allowed in small quantities remain prohibited, meaning there are no plans to sell them in stores, unlike marijuana. Trafficking them across borders also remains illegal.

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Health Canada reviewing safety of controversial breastfeeding drug – CBC.ca

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Health Canada has launched a safety review of the psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping or reducing use of a drug commonly prescribed to help women breastfeed.

The agency confirmed the review in an email to CBC News.

“A safety review is currently under way for domperidone and drug withdrawal symptoms after stopping or reducing the dose of domperidone used to stimulate lactation,” the statement said. 

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Domperidone is approved in Canada to treat gastrointestinal disorders. Health Canada has never authorized its use as a lactation aid, but it is widely prescribed off-label for this purpose. 

The Health Canada review follows a CBC News investigation into severe psychological effects that can occur when some women stop taking the drug. Women who spoke to CBC described anxiety, lack of sleep and thoughts of self-harm severe enough that in some cases they became incapable of caring for their children or returning to work. One woman described multiple attempts to take her own life. 

CBC’s investigation also found domperidone is prescribed by some doctors to stimulate lactation at doses three to five times higher than what is recommended by both Health Canada and the drug manufacturer. Because this is not an approved use or dosage anywhere in the world, there are no large-scale clinical trials that shed any light on how often these side effects occur. 

This makes it challenging for regulators like Health Canada to evaluate the safety of a drug for an off-label purpose, said Mina Tadrous, an assistant professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto who specializes in drug safety.

Toronto pharmacist Mina Tadrous says it is challenging for regulators to evaluate the safety of a drug used for off-label purpose. (CBC)

“The company may not have intended it for that, so the original clinical trials were not designed for that. And so it means that they have to look at different mechanisms to be able to evaluate the safety of these drugs,” he said.

That can include looking at data from other countries with larger populations, according to Tadrous.

Case studies document concerns

There are, however, case studies documenting the withdrawal effects, including three published in November 2022 in the peer-reviewed journal Breastfeeding Medicine. Domperidone blocks dopamine receptors in the brain, which stimulates the release of prolactin. This causes lactation, the authors note, but can also cause domperidone to act as an antipsychotic. The authors also noted withdrawal symptoms are typically less severe when women taper off the drug slowly.

The most recent case studies are from the United States, where domperidone is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for any purpose. CBC’s investigation found some American women get the drug from doctors in Canada.

Health Canada will review “all relevant domestic and foreign case reports,” the statement said.

Reviews can result in Health Canada requesting more information, studies or monitoring by the manufacturer. They can also result in warnings to patients and health care providers, changes to how a drug is labelled or, if necessary, the withdrawal of a drug from the market “if the benefits no longer outweigh the risks of the product,” according to the statement released by the department.

“The decision to take action, including issuing a warning, is not based solely on the number of case reports, but on a comprehensive assessment of the information contained in these case reports,” Health Canada’s statement said. 

“Should new safety risks be confirmed, Health Canada will take appropriate action and continue to keep Canadians informed.”

WATCH | Women report alarming withrawal effects after taking domperidone as a lactation aid:

Women report alarming withdrawal effects from drug prescribed for breastfeeding

2 months ago

Duration 7:08

WARNING: This story contains distressing details about suicidal thoughts and attempts. Correction: A previous version of this video included inaccurate Health Canada data about the number of domperidone prescriptions that were filled in 2020. That publicly available data has since been updated to show that 1.7 million prescriptions were filled that year.

The distinction between quantity and quality of reports is important, Tadrous said, because large numbers of reports, especially from non-clinicians, may only indicate people believe there’s a connection between a drug and a reaction. 

“That’s the lesson we’ve learned with vaccines, for example, where these adverse event systems are flooded,” he said.

“And so if you base something just on the number of reports without doing a thorough investigation and a different type of study design that reduces bias … you might reach a false conclusion.”

Health Canada has conducted multiple safety reviews of domperidone, most recently in 2021. Previous reviews confirmed the risk of serious abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death related to domperidone use. These reviews resulted in Health Canada introducing a maximum daily dose recommendation of 30 mg and restricting its use in patients with certain cardiac conditions or taking other drugs.

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