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Ottawa exploring criminal reform as Liberal MP tables bill on long-term care neglect

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OTTAWA — Cathy Legere saw firsthand the conditions that elder residents of long-term care were enduring, and the intense pressure that personal care staff were under, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The retired infection control nurse volunteered her services at the Orchard Villa home where her father-in-law, Nick, was a resident, in April 2020 — and said she witnessed a deeply “broken” system before contracting the virus herself.

As she isolated herself at home, she was horrified to learn that her father-in-law, Nick, was left in a room for almost 24 hours with the dead body of a resident he’d watched slowly succumb to the disease over two days.

The appalling stories that emerged out of long-term care settings during the early pandemic, especially as reported by Canadian military members who were brought in to help, prompted the Liberal government to promise in its 2020 throne speech that it would work on Criminal Code amendments to “explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care.”

Nearly two years later, the government hasn’t made any major moves.

That makes Legere, who is party to a major class-action lawsuit against Ontario care homes, feel all the more cynical about seeing any accountability: “Is this something that is going to do anything, or is this just the Liberals going, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll do this,’ and everybody will just coast again?”

Liberal Hedy Fry, the longest-serving female MP in the House of Commons, is trying to take matters into her own hands and propose changes that could form a road map for the government’s approach.

She introduced a private bill in late June, Bill C-295, that would amend Section 215 of the Criminal Code to specifically criminalize owners and managers of long-term care homes for failing to provide the “necessaries of life” to vulnerable adults.

It would also give judges the ability to prohibit anyone who is convicted or on probation for that offence from volunteering or working in a setting “that involves being in charge of or in a position of trust or authority towards an adult who is vulnerable by reason of age, illness, mental disorder, disability or frailty.”

Fry said her intention is to prevent the failures of long-term care during the pandemic from ever happening again.

“COVID exposed a lot of vulnerabilities that we, smugly, as governments and as caregivers and as a physician myself, always thought were being cared for. It exposed that there were holes in the safety net,” she said in an interview. “The system was not up to the task.”

Fry said Justice Minister David Lametti “does not have any problem” with the bill, and answered in the affirmative when asked whether she believes the government is on board with the approach.

A spokesman for the Justice Department would only say that officials are “exploring potential Criminal Code reform options to better address senior abuse and neglect.”

Experts say the bill is a step in the right direction but risks being a public-relations exercise and falling short of meaningful change if the government ends up supporting it in isolation.

The Criminal Code amendments themselves look like “a very viable approach,” said Graham Webb, executive director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly and previously its longtime staff lawyer.

“I’m really not aware of a single charge ever having been laid for the neglect of a long-term care resident,” said Webb. “I think it’s important that the criminal justice system is able to respond when we see such flagrant cases of institutional abuse and neglect of older adults.”

He added that the definitions around “managers” and “owners” of the homes could be fine-tuned to make sure that individuals at the top who control the money and the resources available to staff are held responsible for neglect, rather than individual front-line workers.

But Krista James, national director of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, said prosecutions under Section 215 are already few and far between, and she is skeptical of the impact of amending it.

“Criminal law reform requires criminal law infrastructural reform in order to be impactful,” she said, explaining that police and prosecutors would need to be trained and the offences and standards of evidence would have to be widely promoted for it to work. “If only it was just about changing a law.”

Asked whether she thought the bill could be a deterrent, James quipped: “You would hope that people providing long-term care would want to provide good care to the vulnerable older adults living in their facilities, whether or not they went to jail if they didn’t.”

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said there has been “no consequence whatsoever” for abuse and neglect that was exposed during the pandemic, or for the needless deaths of residents due to poor infection control and non-COVID-19 reasons such as dehydration and starvation.

Though there is much to be done by the provincial governments that oversee long-term care, Ottawa has a role to play in holding provinces accountable to better standards of care, Mehra said, by attaching more strings to federal health transfers.

That and finally following through on the promise to hold bad actors criminally responsible.

“I think we need to search our conscience if the lives of the elderly are not worth a formal government bill,” she said, “and real change with teeth.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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Wolf found dead by roadside, another still missing after ‘suspicious’ B.C. zoo escape

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ALDERGROVE — One of the wolves that escaped its enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo this week has been found dead on a roadside, and a second wolf is still missing, the zoo’s deputy general manager said Thursday.

Menita Prasad said both the zoo’s perimeter fence and the grey wolf enclosure were deliberately “compromised” early Tuesday, allowing the zoo’s nine adult wolves to escape while five cubs stayed inside the enclosure.

All but two of the adults were contained within the zoo’s property, she said.

The zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., has been shut for three days as workers and conservation officers searched for the wolves, while Langley RCMP investigate the incident as a suspected case of unlawful entry and vandalism.

The fences had been cut, Prasad said. An earlier statement from the zoo said the escape was “suspicious, and believed to be due to malicious intent.”

Searchers were “heartbroken” to find a three-year-old female wolf, Chia, dead by the side of 264 Street in Aldergrove on Thursday morning, Prasad told a press conference through tears.

It’s presumed Chia was hit by a car, she said.

A one-year-old female wolf named Tempest is still missing and believed to be in the vicinity of the zoo, Prasad said, adding that the animal, which was born at the facility, has a slim chance of surviving in the wild.

Prasad described Tempest as a “shy wolf” who poses no threat to public safety, though she said she could not say what the wolf might do if a person approached her. She urged anyone who sees the animal not to approach her and instead call authorities to report the location.

The wolf’s prime motivation would be to get back to her family, she said.

“As a result of this senseless act, our wolf pack has lost two family members,” Prasad said. “We watched these wolves grow up. We consider the animals at the zoo a part of our family.”

She said the “search and rescue operation” would continue and is asking for the public’s help “to reunite Tempest with her family.”

“She is a small wolf with grey brown puppy fur and white markings on her muzzle and her brow,” Prasad said.

Anyone who spots Tempest is asked contact the Greater Vancouver Zoo, Langley RCMP or the BC Conservation Officer Service by calling 1-877-952-7277.

The zoo, which is about 55 kilometres outside Vancouver, is set to reopen on Saturday, Prasad said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Canada stable, but higher than past summers – Global News

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COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and confirmed case counts across Canada are relatively stable after an early summer wave, but they remain far higher than past years, data shows.

As of Wednesday, Canada is seeing an average of 3,475 lab-confirmed cases and 44 deaths per day, according to provincial and territorial data compiled by Global News. Currently, 5,158 people are in hospital with COVID-19, including 305 patients who are in intensive care.

While those numbers are down slightly from the brief wave of infections in June and July, they remain far higher than the rates seen during the summers of 2020 and 2021.

In past years, there was an average of roughly 350 patients in hospital per day during the summer months. Even as hospitalizations climbed in August 2021 and into September of that year, they peaked at half the current rate.

The current death rate has also vastly eclipsed past summers, when the average number of deaths per day was in the single digits.

Previous evidence pointed to the summer months as predictable lulls in the pandemic, as people spend more time in outdoor spaces where there is less transmission of the virus.

But the more infectious Omicron variant upended that thinking, and further mutations — including the current BA.5 subvariant and its predecessor, BA.2 — have led to more waves of infections this year than in the past.

Read more:

‘We cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week’: WHO warns on rise in COVID fatalities

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that BA.5’s dominance has led to a 35 per cent increase in reported COVID-10-related deaths globally over the past four weeks.

In the last week alone, 15,000 people died from COVID-19 worldwide, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus, but we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week. We cannot live with mounting hospitalizations and deaths,” he said at a press conference.

“We cannot live with inequitable access to vaccines and other tools. Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean we pretend it’s not there. It means we use the tools we have to protect ourselves and protect others.”


Click to play video: 'COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well'



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COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well


COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said the country is in a period of pandemic transition that will likely lead to further waves this year, warning back in June that COVID-19 “has not left the stage.”

Public health officials have shifted their focus toward a potential serious wave in the fall and winter. Planning is underway to provide vaccine booster doses to all adults that request one, while ensuring vulnerable populations receive an extra dose.

Experts say the boosters are important, as current vaccines do not sufficiently protect against Omicron and its subvariants, allowing for “breakthrough cases” and even reinfections among vaccinated people.

“However, there is evidence that if you have the vaccine, more than likely you don’t end up in the hospital,” said Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease researcher and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

“People (infected with COVID-19) will say, ‘It’s just kind of a flu, that’s okay, I’ll stay home.’ That is the result of the vaccines.”


Click to play video: 'Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter'



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Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter


Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter

The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that between June 6 and July 3 of this year, unvaccinated cases were three times more likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to vaccinated cases.

Tedros urged everyone who has access to a booster dose to get one, and to continue to wear masks when it is impossible to keep distance from others.

As of Monday, 86.1 per cent of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, while 82.4 per cent have received at least two doses. Yet just under half — 49.7 per cent — have gotten at least one more booster dose.

Despite hospitalizations nationally remaining relatively stable, signs are emerging that more patients are being admitted with symptoms.

Hospitalizations are on the rise in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, according to the most recent updates. Most provinces besides Quebec have shifted to reporting data weekly, while Saskatchewan is due to release its first monthly report on Thursday.

To date, provinces and territories have confirmed more than 4,125,000 cases of COVID-19 including 43,471 deaths.

— With files from Rachel Gilmore

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Commercial bankruptcies rising in Canada, says business lobby group – CBC News

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A small business lobby group says commercial bankruptcies are rising in Canada and even more small businesses are at risk of closure.

Statistics Canada data shows small business insolvencies have been on an upward trend since May 2021.

But the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says its own survey data indicates only 10 per cent of Canada’s small business owners would file for bankruptcy if their business was no longer solvent.

It says 46 per cent of business owners say they would simply stop operating rather than go through the bankruptcy process.

The CFIB also says more than one in six Canadian small business owners say they are currently considering going out of business.

The lobby group wants government support to help Canada’s small business sector get through the next few months and deal with challenges like pandemic-related debt and supply chain issues.

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