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Food banks in Canada sound alarm for record-breaking visits

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Food Banks Canada’s report, Hunger Count Report for 2022, shows more Canadians than ever need access to food.

Despite low unemployment rates in March 2022, the report says there were 1.5 million visits to food banks across Canada, the highest usage on record. This was a 15 per cent increase from the year prior and a 35 per cent increase from March 2019.

Food Banks Canada used statistics from “most” organizations and only recorded numbers from March 2022. This “snapshot” means some people accessing the food bank may not have been counted. Income data from StatCan Income Survey reported 5.8 million Canadians lived in food-insecure households in 2021.

“(These are people) who are going into work and having to say, ‘Am I going to pay my rent this month or buy food for my kids?,’” Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s the human toll of being in a situation where you have to make a choice like that. It’s really awful.”

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For the first time, there was a significant increase in the number of food bank clients who have a source of income, rising 14.1 per cent in 2022.

“According to the survey respondents, the top three reasons people accessed a food bank this year were food costs, low provincial social assistance rates, and housing costs,” the report reads.

This comes as Statistics Canada said Wednesday the October inflation rate was 6.9 per cent, the same reported for September. Inflation has been declining for several months, even as the prices of gas and groceries continue to soar.

The report explains, “generally” food bank usage mirrors unemployment rates, as seen after the 2008 recession. At that time food bank visits were “a last resort” and people turned to organizations only after severance pay, employment insurance, and savings had run out.

“‘Working poor’ is kind of the terminology that’s being used,” Stephane Sirois, executive director of the New Brunswick Food Depot told CTVNew.ca Wednesday in a telephone interview. “It’s not just the people on social assistance who are poor… If you’re close to minimum wage, you can’t make it.”

Sirois oversees 64 food banks and community kitchens across N.B. The province is recording 25,000 to 30,000 visits to food banks each month. At the time of the national Hunger Count, Sirois said inflation hadn’t reached the Atlantic provinces.

“We kind of caught up over the summer (to inflation) so we saw a major increase here in June, July, August, where typically we see a decline,” he said.

 

 

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and mass employment occurred, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) rolled out keeping many out of poverty and away from food banks.

“In last year’s report, we referred to this as a ‘perfect storm,’ with the rare combination of largescale unemployment occurring simultaneously with food and housing inflation,” the 2022 Hunger Count reads. “This year’s findings indicate that last year’s storm may have been just the beginning.”

Beardsley says all organizations across Canada are concerned about the impending recession and what it could mean for the future of donations.

“The public donations and some of the food recovery donations have declined (so) food banks have had to buy food to fill in the gaps,” Beardsley said. “So those budgets are obviously also stretched.”

Those hit the hardest are already people with lower incomes struggling to keep food on the table.

Indigenous people accessing food banks rose from 8 per cent in 2021 to 15.3 per cent a year later. This alarming rise is impacted by the number of Indigenous households already dealing with food insecurity and a reduction in income.

The report acknowledges that climate change is contributing to food insecurity in Indigenous communities because it limits traditional foods and reduces the ice roads to northern areas.

“Food insecurity in Nunavut was already called the longest-lasting public health emergency in Canadian history,” Rachel Blais, executive director of Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, previously told CTVNews.ca. “And this is before the drastic increases in food prices and the resulting demand on food charities in the territory.”

Blais said the food centre used to serve 150 meals a day. That number has increased drastically, as inflation rose, to between 450 and 500 meals a day.

“It’s been a really startling increase in demand, especially considering 400 to 500 people (accessing food) in a community of 7,500 people is really substantial and beyond anything that we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

The increase in food bank usage during the pandemic was a stark increase from years prior, but organizations continue to see increases in usage despite unemployment dropping.

Almost half (45.4 per cent) of food bank users rely on provincial social assistance, which includes general welfare and disability support, as their main source of income.

The youngest Canadians make up 20 per cent of the general population, however, they are greatly overrepresented at food banks with 1 in 3 clients in 2022 being children. The report says, due to the higher costs of raising a family and inflation, more children are vulnerable to poverty and hunger.

Seniors accessing food banks has increased 8.9 per cent from 2019. Food Banks Canada says low-income seniors “generally” are on fixed incomes making them more vulnerable to inflation.

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Beardsley says these food bank usage statistics highlight the need for investments in affordable housing, a minimum income bracket aiding anyone from falling into “deep poverty”, reform for employment insurance and further investments in social assistance programs.

“Food insecurity is a systemic issue, so it requires a systemic response,” Beardsley said.

“We see the solution really as a policy solution,” she added.

She noted Food Banks Canada was created to advocate to the federal government, aiming to reduce the number of people dependent on local food banks.

Through research gathered by reports like the Hunger Count, Beardsley is able to see where food insecurity is highest and understand the troubling trends.

“So by and large, we see this as a systemic and a government issue,” she said. “Food banks are there to do the day-to-day community work, finding the food, making sure people have the food, but it really it is on governments to address the issue at its roots.”

At an individual level, Beardsley said donating food and monetary donations to local organizations will help feed communities into what is likely to be a tough year ahead.

 

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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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