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'I don't want to be scared anymore:' physical distancing tough for the blind – National Post

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The physical distancing rules put in place across Canadian society are supposed to shield everyone from the ravages of COVID-19, but Nick D’Ambrosio doesn’t feel protected.

Maintaining a two-metre distance from members of the public is a challenge for the 49-year-old, who has lost most of his eyesight and now travels with a white cane.

Neither that mobility aid nor his remaining vision are up to the task of keeping him at a safe distance from others, either in the Montreal-area drug store where he’s stocked shelves for 22 years or while running essential errands further afield.

Other potentially protective measures — such as the widespread distribution of hand sanitizer dispensers or the installation of floor markers intended to manage crowds in public spaces — also leave him and other Canadians living with vision loss on the margins, D’Ambrosio said. Sometimes the only way to locate the new additions involves soliciting sighted assistance from strangers — thereby further increasing exposure to the novel coronavirus.

D’Ambrosio said he’s fortunate to have supportive colleagues and loved ones who help mitigate his personal risk, but the additional barriers add another dimension of anxiety for blind Canadians navigating an already troubling time.

I’ve been scared for a good portion of my life and I don’t want to be scared anymore

“I’ve been scared for a good portion of my life and I don’t want to be scared anymore,” D’Ambrosio said in a telephone interview. “But does the anxiety linger in me at times? I’d be lying to you if I say no.”

While the ravages of COVID-19 are being felt across all of society, a growing chorus of voices has been sounding the alarm about the virus’s impact on people with disabilities around the world.

Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for governments to place greater focus on the unique needs of their disabled citizens.

“People with disabilities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19,” Guterres said in a statement. “They face a lack of accessible public health information, significant barriers to implement basic hygiene measures, and inaccessible health facilities. If they contract COVID-19, many are more likely to develop severe health conditions, which may result in death.”

Canadians living with vision loss are among those feeling a disproportionate impact from both the virus and the measures meant to protect against it, according to a recent survey commissioned by the Canadian Council of the Blind.

The online questionnaire, surveying more than 500 blind, partially sighted and deafblind Canadians, identified myriad concerns involving nearly all facets of everyday life.

Nearly half the respondents said they did not feel safe when leaving their home since the pandemic began, largely due to difficulties observing physical distancing protocols or failure of the able-bodied population to maintain a safe distance. Other concerns included the accessibility of COVID-19 testing sites, the ability to use public transit safely, heightened economic vulnerability and the increased toll that social isolation will take on mental health.

Council President Louise Gillis said blind Canadians have even been subjected to public scorn, being “hollered at” for inadvertently running afoul of public health measures that are inherently difficult for them to observe.

In nearly every case, she said, the community’s fears stem from pre-existing systemic issues now exacerbated by COVID-19.

“We seem to be more vulnerable when something happens,” she said.

For Penny Leclair, who is deafblind, vulnerability comes from an increased sense of isolation and the withdrawal of key social supports over the course of the pandemic.

The 68-year-old North Bay, Ont., resident said she feels excluded from many of the workarounds most of society is turning to for social connection, such as video conferencing and other platforms that rely on sound and sight.

She’s also cut off from the intervener services she relied on before the outbreak, since they’ve been scaled back and concentrated on people living alone.

Delegating all outside tasks to her husband, she said, has left her wrestling with both a loss of independence and powerful feelings of isolation.

“For deafblind people, touch is a must and dependence on an intervener is a part of life — not social,” Leclair said in an email interview. “The intervener is not just a family support person, they are eyes and ears for deafblind people.”

For deafblind people, touch is a must and dependence on an intervener is a part of life

For Barbara Amberstone, a legally blind Indigenous elder living in Victoria, the greatest frustration comes from proposed coping solutions that she said leave large swaths of the community on the margins.

Most efforts to respond to COVID-19 have involved the use of technology, she said, noting everything from reading government information to maintaining social connection depends on an internet connection and accessible hardware and software. Such reliance on tech is further entrenched in the vision loss community, she added.

But Amberstone said those who can’t afford or access the technology, including those living in poverty or remote parts of the country, are now coping with an additional layer of isolation on top of those already imposed by the pandemic.

“It’s so privileged,” Amberstone said of the national response. “There’s so much that poor people and disabled people are left out of.”

The council report found public awareness and more effective messaging from all levels of government are needed to limit the effects of COVID-19 and its aftermath on the vision loss community.

D’Ambrosio agrees, saying the unique challenges he and his peers all face can’t be ignored forever.

“Right now we’re at the very early stages and things are changing daily,” he said. “So I don’t know if this is the new norm, I don’t know if this will persist … but eventually our rights will have to be heard.”

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Calls intensify for public inquiry into Nova Scotia mass murders – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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TRURO, N.S. — The daughter of one of Nova Scotia’s mass shooting victims is calling for an immediate start to a public inquiry into the April tragedy.

Darcy Dobson, daughter of victim Heather O’Brien, posted a message on Facebook to “formally request” the start of a public inquiry into shootings on April 18 and 19 in northern Nova Scotia that left 22 people dead.

“We are now 40 days past this tragic event, we aren’t able to heal properly because, and to be quite frank, the amount of information being kept from us is deplorable,” Dobson said. “I urge you to put yourselves in our shoes. The woman who was the center of our world was taken from us in a manner that no one could ever even imagine.”

Dobson’s plea echoes earlier calls for an inquiry, including one last month from 33 of Dalhousie University’s approximately 40 faculty members of its Schulich School of Law. A group of seven Nova Scotia women fighting femicide have also called for a public inquiry “with a feminist analysis.”

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has previously said such a review should be led by the federal government, with support and assistance coming from the province.
Cumberland-Colchester MP Lenore Zann is also calling on Ottawa to begin a public inquiry into the event.



“I am officially requesting an independent public inquiry into the recent mass shootings that took place here in our usually peaceful community of Northern Nova Scotia,” she wrote in a letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. “There are issues of concern about the murderer’s behaviour long before, leading up to, and during the horrendous events of April 18 and 19, when in a period of 13 hours, 22 innocent people in several small rural communities were viciously murdered.

“Many of my constituents want answers.”

That position was supported by Dobson in her Facebook post. 

“We understand that there is an active investigation,” the Debert resident said. “We also know we have rights to information, especially regarding our individual circumstances. I think we can all agree that public safety is of the utmost importance and feeling safe in our communities is a must. The back and forth about who’s responsible for an inquiry is unreal. It causes the families of this senseless crime more distress and again I’m sure we can all agree that is not okay.”

The mass murders by a Halifax denturist who was ultimate fatally shot by police have been described as the worst massacre in Canadian history. 
If that is so, Dobson said, “… why are we not trying to learn from it? 

“The fact that any one of us has to ask these questions is all very concerning and only makes everyone feel, inadequate, unimportant and unsafe.”

Zann said she spoke personally with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week to request his support for an independent public inquiry. She said he “appeared supportive of the idea and open to working out something with the province…” which leases RCMP services from the federal government.

“The PM seemed to clearly understand the grief, pain and fear that this horrendous violence has brought upon Nova Scotians and the growing frustration due to the lack of information,” Zann said.

“Thirty years after the Polytechnique massacre in Montreal which, shockingly, did not ever receive a public inquiry, surely this time it is our duty to do the right thing and hold a substantive independent inquiry into this recent tragedy,” she said.

Zann said she does not think a public inquiry should be held before the RCMP completes its investigation of the tragedy, but stressed the public should know that one will be forthcoming.
 

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Nova Scotia court ruling orders province to better protect endangered species – CTV News

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HALIFAX —
The Nova Scotia government has failed to meet “certain statutory duties” to protect species at risk says a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, who also ordered the province’s minister of lands and forestry to fulfil his obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

In a ruling issued Friday, Justice Christa Brothers says the public record has shown a “chronic and systemic failure” to implement action required under the act.

“The minister and the department must uphold the law, all the more so when their duties are as plain as they are in this case,” Brothers wrote. “If they conduct themselves unlawfully without good reason, the court must hold them to account.”

The judge quoted from the 1971 Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” in the preamble to her 58-page ruling: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Brothers also cited a 2016 report by the provincial auditor general that criticized department inaction, a followup report by the department on the auditor’s recommendations in 2018, and the 2018 Lahey Report on forestry practices to back her conclusion.

The ruling is the result of a judicial review application by the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists Society, the Halifax Field Naturalists and wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft that was heard last fall.

The groups argued that Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has failed to meet requirements under the act, including requirements to devise and implement recovery plans for species at risk, create recovery teams and identify core habitats.

They cited six animal and plant species as examples — the mainland moose, Canada warbler, eastern wood pewee, wood turtle, ram’s head lady’s slipper and black ash.

“Nature won,” Bancroft said of the court ruling in an interview Monday. “The question is whether they (politicians) will actually do anything or not.”

Bancroft said he believes nature has been compromised over the years on many fronts because of an “industrial agenda” within the department, particularly when it comes to forestry practices.

“At least we got to the bottom of the species at risk issue effectively in law, so I’m grateful to the lawyers and Judge Brothers for that.”

Brothers noted that in the case of the Canada warbler, which was listed as endangered in 2013, the minister had one year to appoint a recovery team under the act.

But she said a team wasn’t appointed until March 2019, shortly after the naturalist groups filed for judicial review and “some five years after the time frame contemplated by the Endangered Species Act.”

Brothers said little action also occurred when it came to the ram’s head lady’s slipper, a plant listed as endangered in 2007.

“The minister neither appointed a recovery team nor prepared a plan in 2008,” she wrote. “According to the record, a draft recovery plan was created in 2009. There is nothing in either the record or submissions to explain why this plan was never finalized.”

Brothers said a plants recovery team was appointed in May 2019 that included the lady slipper and a recovery plan is pending.

“What of the 11 years that elapsed between the designation of the species and the appointment of the team?” the ruling asks.

The judge also said lawyers for the province had cited “several somewhat vague suggestions” of limited departmental resources as justification for the delay.

“There is no apparent support in the record for the claim that institutional restraints, such as lack of resources, are at fault for this failure to observe statutory requirements,” she said.

During two days of hearings last September the lawyer for the naturalist groups, James Simpson, argued that the language in the act, with its use of the word “shall”, creates an imperative for the department to enforce the existing law.

Brothers agreed in her ruling. “The minister has no discretion to avoid this duty,” she wrote.

In an email, Lands and Forestry Department spokeswoman Lisa Jarrett said there’s no word yet on a potential appeal of the ruling.

“The province has just received the ruling and is currently reviewing it to determine next steps,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

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Nova Scotia researchers to evaluate treatments for moderate, severe COVID-19 – The Telegram

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A Nova Scotia study will look into the effectiveness of treatments for hospital patients suffering from moderate to severe COVID-19. 

The study, called CO-VIC for COVID victory, will involve about 600 patients from Nova Scotia Health Authority sites across the province, an NSHA news release said Monday. 

The study, which the authority is doing in conjunction with Dalhousie University, will test out potential therapies and their impact on COVID-19 symptoms. 

“When additional cutting-edge therapies become available, they will also be assessed,” the release said. “Personalized measurements of immune response will help develop future therapies and predict when and how severe COVID-19 happens.”

The work, which is being led by infectious disease clinician and researcher Dr. Lisa Barrett, aims to advance our understanding of how the immune system responds to COVID and help develop future treatments and second-wave vaccines.

 “We need the best knowledge of treatments and immunity, to save lives now and in the future as we continue to fight COVID-19.”

– CO-VIC study leader Dr. Lisa Barrett

CO-VIC is partially funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition.

 “As COVID-19 related deaths increase in the older population, in the young who didn’t ever expect to be ill, and in health care workers, our research community feels the overwhelming urgency to protect Nova Scotians with research that tests treatments, predicts disease, and promotes understanding of immunity,” Barrett said in the release.

 “We need the best knowledge of treatments and immunity, to save lives now and in the future as we continue to fight COVID-19.”

The NSHA called the treatment study an integral part of Nova Scotia’s pandemic response. Compared with other provinces, Nova Scotia’s population includes a high proportion of vulnerable people who are older, have underlying respiratory conditions or are immunosuppressed.

“These are all people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and this work may aid in protecting our population.”

Most Nova Scotians will be eligible to take part at hospitals outside traditional research facilities to ensure fair access to research and potential therapies, the release said. 

“While data will be gathered from Nova Scotians, for Nova Scotians, the study is designed to mirror larger international trials to promote the comparison of global data. This will allow the research team to leverage international information so it can be applied here in Nova Scotia.”

For more information, visit the study website

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