Christie Blatchford has died in Toronto.
The respected Canadian journalist was diagnosed with cancer in November 2019; she had lung cancer that had metastasized to her spine and hip.
She died Wednesday morning in hospital at age 68.
In the same month as her diagnosis, Blatchford was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame. She could not attend the ceremony, but her award was delivered to her hospital room by Mayor John Tory.
In a statement at that time, Blatchford said the most meaningful work in her career was as a war correspondent reporting on Afghanistan, where she travelled in 2006-07.
(Her book on those experiences, Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army, won the Governor-General’s Literary Award in 2008. Blatchford also wrote four other non-fiction books and published two collections of humour columns from the Toronto Sun.)
Her first choice of war correspondent notwithstanding, Blatchford became a superstar of journalism through her coverage of crime and the courts. Her writing changed the face of court coverage.
According to lawyer Alan Shanoff, who vetted Blatchford’s columns in her days at the Sun, she pushed the boundaries of justice writing, pulling court coverage into the modern era and testing the rules of contempt. She added comment and opinion to what had been previously a dry recital of facts and events.
“It took a brave person to push the limits, to challenge the law. And she was right,” said Shanoff.
“I often told her she would have made a great lawyer.”
The result was riveting reading that brought an audience right into the courtroom.
Blatchford worked for every major newspaper in Toronto: The National Post, the Sun chain, Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail.
Besides crime and the courts, she wrote everything from sports and politics to personal lifestyle stories.
Blatchford began her career at The Globe and Mail almost 50 years ago, starting while she was still a student and landing a full-time job in 1973 when she graduated from Ryerson. Within two years, she broke gender barriers by becoming a sports columnist at the paper. There were no more than about six women writing sports in North America at that time.
She moved to the Toronto Star as a general assignment reporter before taking a job at the Toronto Sun (in the lifestyle section) in 1982. She returned to writing news in 1988 and moved to the National Post in 1998. There was a return to the Globe in 2003, but she eventually went back to the Post in 2011.
She was born in Rouyn-Noranda, Que. on May 20, 1951. Blatchford, who has an older brother, and her family moved to Toronto when she was in high school.
Blatchford was a high-profile journalist from the beginning of her career until the end — she was known to take no prisoners on the page, although friends knew her flinty exterior hid a very soft centre. Blatchford was shy in person and cried easily, particularly over crime stories involving children or other vulnerable people.
Postmedia Executive Chairman Paul Godfrey recalled finding Blatchford weeping in the newsroom one night.
“She was at her computer, crying as she wrote up the murder of Jane Creba, the young woman shot outside the Eaton Centre. Christie was crying her eyes out, trying to write that story.”
Blatchford was a workaholic and wedded to journalism, but she was married twice, to Jim Oreto and then to David Rutherford (whom she wrote about as “The Boy” in many columns.)
According to Lorrie Goldstein, her close friend and colleague at the Sun, Blatchford had recently decided to work less and enjoy her free time more.
“I think she was happy, and that, at least, is something to be grateful for,“ said Goldstein. “Although 20 more years would have been perfect.”
THE BLATCHFORD FILE
Christie Blatchford was a newshound — she ate, slept and inhaled those breaking stories — and a woman of very strong opinions.
People either loved or hated her, but even her enemies seemed to respect her. Everyone who worked at the Sun was accustomed to the inevitable question that came after “Where do you work?”
It was: “Do you know Christie Blatchford?”
Her career was a series of high points.
*Blatchford was working at The Globe and Mail while still a student and was hired full-time in 1973. Within 18 months she was nationally known for her new role as a sports columnist.
*Over almost 50 years as a writer, she worked at all four major Toronto papers: The Sun, Star, National Post and Globe and Mail.
*She covered everything. Blatchford’s byline is on sports and Olympic coverage, lifestyle, humour, personal memoir columns, news, court stories, Toronto City Hall and just about anything else included in a newspaper. Crime coverage was her passion.
*She covered her first criminal trial in 1978. Blatchford eventually wrote a book (Life Sentence) about losing her faith in the criminal justice system, describing it generally as unaccountable. She was not a fan of many judges. She wrote about innumerable high-profile trials and the cast of characters involved killers Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams and Mohammed Shamji, for example, public figures such as Jian Ghomeshi and Mike Duffy, and victims including Rehtaeh Parsons and Randal Dooley.
*Blatchford wrote five nonf-iction books and two books of Toronto Sun humour columns. She got a lot of blowback in 2010 for her book, Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy and How the Law Failed All of Us.
Her account of what happened to a Caledonia family in conflict with Six Nations residents (and how the OPP didn’t help) drew accusations of racism and saw her talk at the University of Waterloo cancelled.
*Her media presence was huge. Blatchford had a voice on CFRB NEWSTALK 1010 Radio for years and was a welcome guest/commentator on television.
*She was recognized for her work. Blatchford won several Dunlop Awards, a National Newspaper Award, the Governor-General’s Literary Award for non-fiction writing (for the book Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army.) and the George Jonas Freedom Award. In 2016 she was a finalist for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing (for Life Sentence).
She was inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame in November 2019.
*Blatchford took up running in middle age and was finishing marathons in short order. That can stand as an example of her drive, determination, work ethic and general can-do spirit.
*She probably liked dogs more than she liked people. Blatchford used to bring her lovely dog Blux to the Toronto Sun newsroom; she probably had a dog or two after Blux roaming the National Post hallways with her.
Last September, Blatchford wrote an emotional goodbye to her dear bull terrier, Obie, describing him as “the one” special canine of her life.
He was her last dog.
In Canada and abroad, COVID-19 super-spreaders could be anywhere – CTV News
You may have heard of “patient 31” in South Korea, a woman who was thought to be the source of thousands of COVID-19 infections in that country. Or more recently, a man in India who had returned from Europe and reportedly infected people in more than a dozen villages. They are known as “super-spreaders” – individuals who can infect a large number of people easily.
The World Health Organization estimates someone with COVID-19 can infect between 2 and 2.5 individuals, but super-spreaders infect a large number of people, often in a crowded and busy environment like a church or a conference.
“In a weird way, that seems to be the pattern for this disease. It’s not just that it spreads universally across the landscape,” said CTV News’ science and technology specialist Dan Riskin.
“You get these hot spots where a whole bunch of people get infected at once, and when that happens you can call that person a super-spreader.”
In Canada, while no specific individual has yet been identified as super-spreader, there have been clusters, or hot spots, from coast-to-coast involving a significant number of people.
More than 60 cases of the 135 cases identified in Newfoundland and Labrador are tied to two wakes held at a funeral home on March 15. The funeral home has since been closed as the investigation continues.
“Many of our numbers right now are related to this one cluster, either directly or indirectly, and that will have an influence on what we see,” Dr. Janice Fitzerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health told reporters over the weekend, when asked when she might expect to see cases peak in the province.
On the other side of the country, up to 32 people infected with the virus could be tied directly or indirectly to the Pacific Dental Conference held in Vancouver earlier this month, according to the province’s medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. One of those attendees has since died.
Some of the factors that can make a patient a super spreader may be related to biology – if they produce more of a virus, for example, or if they take longer to recover from an infection and spread the virus over a longer period, according to experts.
Historic research showed that Mary Mallon, a cook in New York City infamously known as “Typhoid Mary”, was the source of a typhoid fever outbreak in the early 1900s that infected thousands, despite never having any symptoms herself. Scientists are researching how much of a role silent carriers of COVID-19 – those who exhibit no symptoms – play in unknowingly spreading the disease.
This is why self-isolation is important, Riskin said.
“It’s a reminder that for Canadians, we all have to take this seriously, because you don’t know if you’re that one person who unknowingly could infect thousands.”
Majority of Canadians think COVID-19 pandemic will get worse: Nanos – CTV News
A majority of Canadians say they are pessimistic about the outlook of the COVID-19 pandemic but support the federal government’s response to the crisis, according to the latest survey from Nanos Research
According to results of the survey released Sunday night, 67 per cent of Canadians believe the coronavirus crisis will get worse in the next month, while 17 per cent believe it will get better, 10 per cent said it would remain the same and six per cent were unsure.
Those in households of five or more, or who frequently check the news, are more likely to think the situation will worsen, the research firm reported. Nearly six-in-ten Canadians say they check news about the new novel coronavirus several times a day.
Nanos Research said it found most Canadians think the federal government has had a good or “very good” response to COVID-19.
Two-thirds of Canadians say the Trudeau government’s handling of the outbreak has been very good (22 per cent) or good (40 per cent). Residents of Atlantic Canada reported the highest approval of the government’s response at 48 per cent, while Quebec has the lowest at 16 per cent.
To minimize bias, the survey’s questions related to physical distancing and financial security asked respondents to comment about their neighbours, rather than themselves. Nanos said the responses should be considered a likely proxy for personal behaviour.
The survey found that fewer than three-in-10 Canadians believe their neighbours are following public health guidelines.
It also found that four in five Canadians believe their neighbours are strictly (29 per cent) or “somewhat strictly” (51 per cent) following health authorities’ advice including avoiding crowded places, limiting non-essential gatherings and keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from others. Fewer than one-in-five think their neighbours are not following this guidance.
Worries increased with age, as nearly 87 per cent of respondents over 55 said they were concerned about their neighbours’ physical distancing practices. About 80 per cent of responders aged 35 to 54 said the same, while fewer than 69 per cent of Canadians under age 34 agreed.
When it comes to employment, more than six-in-ten Canadians say their neighbours are worried (34 per cent) or “somewhat worried” (28 per cent) about losing their job due to COVID-19.
Almost two-thirds said their neighbours are worried (33 per cent) or “somewhat worried” (32 per cent) about paying bills.
The survey found the majority of financial worries were reported by Canadians living in the Prairies, where 68 per cent worried about job loss and 72 per cent worried about their financials.
Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,013 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between March 24th and 27th, 2020 as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The sample included both land- and cell-lines across Canada. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest Census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.
The margin of error for this survey is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
This study was commissioned by CTV News and Globe and Mail and the research was conducted by Nanos Research.
One will live, one will die: How Canada is preparing for tough coronavirus choices – Global News
There is one ventilator, two people.
The first person is a 12-year-old with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The second person is 74 years old and has COVID-19, too, but he’s an infectious diseases doctor and an expert in vaccine development.
Neither is breathing very well, and the window to choose who gets the machine, which mechanically helps patients struggling to breathe, is closing quickly. Unlike other forms of treatment, experts note, “the decision about initiating or terminating mechanical ventilation is often truly a life-or-death choice.”
So, says Timothy Christie, a medical ethicist, you have the 12-year-old, the 74-year-old and a choice:
“One is going to live and one is going to die.”
Who do you save?
Save the child or save the doctor is the first scenario that Christie, regional director of ethics services for Horizon Health Network in New Brunswick, will put to the network’s ethics board this week.
He’s writing a discussion paper outlining different scenarios, which the board will discuss at length. What they decide will become policy should New Brunswick reach the point where COVID-19 patients overwhelm its health-care system and force its doctors into the same position as their Italian counterparts, who’ve had to make heartbreaking life-or-death decisions with alarming frequency.
That hasn’t happened in Canada. Yet.
But across the country, hospitals and medical ethicists are readying for similar shortages.
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A recent study from the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Sunnybrook Hospital says Ontario could run short of machines and space to ventilate very sick patients in a little over a month. Companies like Dyson are trying to produce as many new ventilators as fast as they can.
“Public health is going to do whatever it can to reduce the impact of this epidemic so that you don’t go beyond your capacity,” chief public health officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, told reporters on March 28.
“Having said that, of course, you have to prepare for much more worst-case scenarios.”
A worst-case scenario is an inadequate number of ventilators.
It’s what’s happening right now in Italy, where doctors consider age, pre-existing medical conditions and whether a person has a family to help them recover before deciding who gets a coveted intensive care unit (ICU) bed — where they can access intubation, ventilators and other life-saving treatment — and who doesn’t.
It’s also happening in the United States. The country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on March 29 that he expects upwards of 100,000 deaths linked to COVID-19.
In Michigan, one hospital says patients who have severe health issues like heart, lung, kidney or liver failure, as well as terminal cancer or severe burns, may be ineligible for critical care in a worst-case scenario.
In states like Alabama and Washington, similar worst-case plans indicate that people with intellectual disabilities may not be prioritized for life-saving treatment.
In New York, Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena said it already feels as though “we’ve ventured into a battle.”
In the likely event Canada runs short, Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, says Canadians need to talk about how we choose who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t.
The hope is that if Canadians continue to self-isolate and physically distance themselves, we will flatten the curve, reduce the surge of people needing critical care resources at the same time and, in doing so, avoid more deaths.
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But if it isn’t enough, Bowman says, “people have a fundamental right to know” how we’ll pick who gets what care.
“It’s not just what decisions were made but how people made those decisions that’s going to be very very important,” he says.
“Trust is the cornerstone of every element of health care.”
In 2003, the SARS outbreak killed 44 Canadians and infected more than 400 others in Toronto. In the aftermath, a provincial working group, made up of doctors and ethicists, put together a report for providing critical care during future pandemics.
“Every human life is valued and every human being deserves respect, caring and compassion,” the group noted — even if not every person gets critical care. Like Bowman, the working group said transparency and accountability in developing triage protocols are key.
To do that, the group stressed that health-care systems would need an effective strategy for when their services were stretched thin by a sudden influx of patients. In the short term, doctors and nurses can double up on shifts, but a pandemic is about long-term sustainability.
Part of ensuring sustainability will mean knowing when to implement pandemic triage protocols, the group wrote. Do it too soon and you risk unnecessarily hurting patients, do it too late and you’ll use many resources on only a few patients and risk filling all critical care beds, limiting care options for anyone who comes after.
For all the great strides Canada has made post-SARS — including creating the Public Health Agency of Canada — there are still limits to what can be done. Many hospitals were struggling with overcrowding before the COVID-19 outbreak hit in earnest in March.
Coronavirus outbreak: Dr. Fauci says deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. could top 100,000
“One of the strongest recommendations after SARS was our hospitals had to have surge capacity. They don’t,” Bowman says. He isn’t blaming hospitals; he’s blaming a lack of public funding.
“We’ve put off ethical decisions and we’ve put off major (health-care) changes… which has gotten us into big trouble with this outbreak.”
Right now, Judy Illes, professor of neurology at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in neuroethics, says Canada is “in triage… not rationing.”
In other words, we’re deciding who goes first and who goes second. We haven’t yet started deciding who gets and who doesn’t.
But any plan requires “good ethics principles,” she says.
“There’s no black and white, no right and wrong — it’s all balance.”
In balancing risk and benefit, Illes says a utilitarian framework used by Canadian hospitals and health-care systems will focus on making choices that maximize the best outcomes for the highest number of people.
These are hard choices but “a necessary response to the overwhelming effects of a pandemic,” wrote 10 doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 23.
“The question is not whether to set priorities, but how to do so ethically and consistently.”
Those 10 doctors recommend prioritizing COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, ICU beds, ventilators and vaccines for front-line health-care workers and those who provide the critical infrastructure that keeps hospitals operating.
How to support health-care workers during the COVID-19 crisis
“These workers should be given priority not because they are somehow more worthy but because of their instrumental value,” the doctors wrote. “They are essential to pandemic response.”
The doctors also suggest that in some cases, it will be necessary to remove somebody who is already on a ventilator to give it to someone else who may have a better prognosis.
“(That) will be extremely psychologically traumatic for clinicians,” the doctors cautioned, and yet:
“Many guidelines agree that the decision to withdraw a scarce resource to save others is not an act of killing and does not require the patient’s consent.”
In cases where two patients have a similar prognosis, the doctors recommend deciding based on a lottery method because sticking with the usual “first come, first served” health-care approach would be unfair to those who become critically ill later during the outbreak.
Trudeau promises “millions more items” of protective gear
“These are essential conversations,” says Bowman, even though he expects to be called a fearmonger for trying to discuss it now with the public.
“We cannot simply wait until people are being taken off ventilators or denied ventilators to start having this conversation,” he says.
“Let’s hope this never happens, but we have to be prepared.”
If Toronto health organizations learned anything after SARS, it is that not speaking openly about difficult life-or-death decisions can be damaging, several ethicists wrote in the BMC Medical Ethics journal a few years after the outbreak.
“The costs of not addressing the ethical concerns are severe,” they wrote in 2006. “Loss of public trust, low hospital staff morale, confusion about roles and responsibilities, stigmatization of vulnerable communities and misinformation.”
Christie, the bioethicist in New Brunswick, says that after the ethics committee decides on a policy, it will be communicated to the broader public.
The work, Christie says, is very much in progress — a point echoed by many of the hospitals, provincial health authorities and physician licensing bodies to which Global News reached out.
In Nova Scotia, a health ministry spokesperson said an ethical framework is in progress but “it’s a little too soon” to share publicly. While a ministry spokesperson in Quebec did not respond to requests for comment, a spokesperson for the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal said there is a provincial working group putting together triage guidelines.
Ontario recently announced an ethics table, which the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics would lead, to help devise a plan for prioritizing who gets treatment.
While a spokesperson for B.C. did not provide responses on the province’s approach, Bowman says his understanding is a provincial ethics group has also been convened there.
It would be beneficial to have those policies sync up nationwide, says Illes, the neuroethicist.
“We have disproportionate people with disabilities, socio-economic challenged people, Indigenous people across different provinces, but their rights and their views and their needs need to be taken into consideration,” she says.
“A strong policy that’s harmonized, that takes all those factors into consideration, is the best way forward.”
Taking stock of Canada’s ICU beds, number of ventilators
While Canadians cannot gather in person right now to share their opinions, Illes says she is pleased to see “vital” public engagement happening through medical opinion pieces and webinars, like the two-hour virtual discussion the University of Alberta recently hosted on pandemic ethics.
“We want to stay socially engaged, even more than we are normally, and support each other,” Illes says. “If there’s a silver lining to this story, it’s how well we can band together as Canadians in terrible times.”
Christie has had to make life-or-death decisions before. But this might be the first time he has to make end-of-life decisions “because of blatant rationing.”
“We were trying to be conservative, realistic and practical, but this is exponentially worse than any of us had planned for,” he says. “It’s hard to believe how big it’s getting and how quickly.”
It’s why he says this needs to be a community endeavour. It’s not only about an ethics committee deciding who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t — if that’s what it comes to.
It’s about asking people to self-isolate when they’re sick or have been exposed to the virus or are newly home from travelling abroad. It’s about asking everyone to take physical distancing seriously so there is no surge in patients needing critical care.
“This situation is no one’s fault, but we have to deal with it,” Christie says.
“I would rather us be heartbroken but really agonize over making good decisions.”
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
Email us: Jane.Gerster@globalnews.ca
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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