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Ottawa’s share of health-care funding to be top concern at premiers’ meeting in B.C.



A group representing emergency room doctors across the country has a message for Canada’s premiers: come up with a co-ordinated plan to prevent their workplaces from being closed due to staffing shortages that are creating an unprecedented crisis in health care.

Dr. Atul Kapur, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, said premiers gathering at a meeting in Victoria on Monday and Tuesday need to prioritize the recruitment and retention of health-care professionals, and not just in the short-term.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm about shortages of physicians and nurses for quite some time,” Kapur said, adding the temporary closure of emergency rooms is particularly troubling in rural areas because the next closest ER is often far away.

One of the biggest gaps in the health-care system is the lack of nurses, said Kapur, an ER doctor in Ottawa.

“We recognize that our nursing colleagues are vital, that in (emergency) especially, the stresses on them are even more than they are on us because they bear more of the brunt of patient and family anger than we do.”

A lack of nurses on wards means patients who have been admitted to hospital languish in emergency departments, leaving fewer beds available for those stuck in waiting rooms, including people who don’t have a family doctor, Kapur said.

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows admitted patients across Canada waited 38.3 hours in emergency rooms in 2019-2020, up from 29.3 hours five years earlier. The total number of visits spiked to nearly 1.6 million during that time, up from just over 1.1 million.

The figures apply to 90 per cent of patients, and Kapur said 10 per cent waited even longer.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan, chair of the Council of the Federation made up of the country’s 13 premiers, has joined his colleagues to call on the federal government to increase its share of health-care spending from 22 to 35 per cent as they try to implement initiatives aimed at improving the system.

Horgan said he met with Justin Trudeau last November when the prime minister visited British Columbia following catastrophic floods. He said he told Trudeau about the premiers’ concerns regarding health costs, which will be discussed at their first in-person meeting in three years.

Trudeau committed to assembling a team to work on health funding, but that has not yet materialized, Horgan said in an interview.

“Eight months of what I thought was going to be a concerted effort has produced nothing other than a meeting in Victoria where all of us will gather to express our profound disappointment at the lack of leadership from Ottawa,” he said.

Trudeau has said the federal share of spending on health-care transfers would be negotiated after the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.

Horgan, who criticized April’s federal budget for not including health funding, said he and his colleagues are ready to address Ottawa’s expectations of any accountability measures that would come with more money.

But premiers first need to know what types of “strings” will be attached to it, he said, adding national solutions are needed to deal with problems plaguing provinces and territories.

But Horgan suggested he was not in favour of jurisdictions working together to nationally license health-care professionals, allowing them to work anywhere in the country, because that would amount to “poaching” people after their training has been paid for.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province has an ambitious plan to rebuild its health-care system, and the federal government can help by paying its fair share of health funding.

“The premiers have been asking the federal government to come to the table and be a true funding partner,” he said in a written statement.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said that when universal health care was implemented in Canada, it was envisioned as a 50-per-cent split between the federal and provincial governments.

“COVID-19 showed the weaknesses in Canada’s health-care system, and we need to address those weaknesses for Canadians,” he said in a statement.

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said enabling health workers to be mobile would “alleviate pressure points” as part of one solution to increase resources where they’re needed.

“When a universal health system is not able to provide basic health care needs to Canadians, we must accept that it has failed and work together to fix it,” she said in a release. “This will take more than simply investing more money.”

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said some emergency and intensive care departments that would have been staffed by 20 nurses now have half that number.

Legislation in Ontario restricting wages has meant many nurses are leaving to work for agencies so they have flexible hours and a choice of employers, or they’re quitting the profession because of poor working conditions, Silas said.

“So, the message I’m trying to give to premiers is: I have never, in 30 years of union work, seen nurses so angry. And they’re a tough bunch.”

Some premiers have indicated they will focus on other priorities at the meeting.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said during a recent news conference he wants to address issues with Canada’s energy supply.

“The No. 1 ask would be to have a very serious look at the policy positions that the government of Canada is taking that are preventing … production of some of the most sustainable energy in the world,” Moe said.

Kenney said the premiers will also be discussing internal trade and how they can address the tens of billions of dollars in economic activity lost every year due to barriers put up by provinces.

Canada’s “historic labour shortage” is also a concern for Ford. Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson echoed the sentiment, saying lower immigration during the pandemic has contributed to the problem.

“We need the federal government to work with us to tackle the labour shortfall to help ensure our economy remains strong during these challenging times,” Ford said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 10, 2022.

— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg and Colette Derworiz in Edmonton


Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Medical assistance in dying given to 10K Canadians in 2021 – CTV News



More Canadians are ending their lives with a medically-assisted death, says the third federal annual report on medical assistance in dying (MAID). Data shows that 10,064 people died in 2021 with medical aid, an increase of 32 per cent over 2020.

The report says that 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2021 were assisted deaths. On a provincial level, the rate was higher in provinces such as Quebec, at 4.7 per cent, and British Columbia, at 4.8 per cent.

“It is rising remarkably fast,” University of Toronto law professor Trudo Lemmens, who was a member of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying, wrote in an email to CTV News. He noted that some regions in the country have quickly matched or surpassed rates in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the practice has been in place for over two decades.

Advocates say it isn’t surprising because Canadians are growing more comfortable with MAID and some expect the rising rates may level off.

“The…. expectation has always been it (the rate) will be something around four to five per cent, (as in) Europe. We will probably, in the end, saw off at around the same rate,” said Dr. Jean Marmoreo, a family physician and MAID provider in Toronto.

The report uses data collected from files submitted by doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists across the country involving written requests for MAID.

Among the findings:

  • All provinces saw increases in MAID deaths, ranging from 1.2 per cent (Newfoundland & Labrador) to a high of 4.8 per cent (British Columbia);
  • More men (52.3 per cent) than women (47.7 per cent) received MAID;
  • The average age was 76.3 years;
  • Sixty-five per cent of those provided with assisted death had cancer. Heart disease or strokes were cited in 19 per cent of cases, followed by chronic lung diseases (12 per cent) and neurological conditions like ALS (12 per cent);
  • Just over two per cent of assisted deaths were offered to a newer group of patients: those with chronic illnesses but who were not dying of their condition, with new legislation in 2021 allowing expanded access to MAID.

Documents show that 81 per cent of written applications for MAID were approved.

Thirteen per cent of patients died before MAID could be provided, with almost two per cent withdrawing their application before the procedure was offered.

Four per cent of people who made written applications for medical assistance were rejected. The report says some were deemed ineligible because assessors felt the patient was not voluntarily applying for MAID. The majority of requests were denied because patients were deemed not mentally capable of making the decision.

But other countries with long-established programs reject far more assisted death requests, said Lemmens, citing data that shows 12 to 16 per cent of applicants in the Netherlands are told no.

“It ….may be an indication that restrictions (in my view safeguards) are weaker here than in the most liberal euthanasia regimes,” he wrote in his email to CTV News.

But Marmoreo, who has offered MAID since 2016, sees Canada’s low rejection rate differently.

“It is more like that the right cases are put forward,” she said.

“We have a very good screening process right from the get-go. So before people actually even make a formal request to have assisted dying, they have a lot of information that’s been given to them by the intake….here’s what’s involved in seeking an assisted death, you must meet these eligibility criteria.”

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B.C. ‘clear’ there’s not enough housing as Vancouver encampment ordered dismantled



VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s acting attorney general says the province was “clear” with Vancouver officials that the Crown corporation responsible for subsidized housing does not have enough spaces available for people who are being told to dismantle their tents along a street in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Murray Rankin, who is also the minister responsible for housing, says housing is a human right, and the “deeply concerning scenes from Hastings Street demonstrate how much more work we have to do to make that a reality for everyone in our communities.”

Rankin in a statement Friday says BC Housing has accelerated efforts to secure new housing for encampment residents including pursuing new sites to lease or buy and expediting renovations on single-room occupancy units as they become vacant.

He says BC Housing is aiming to make a “limited number” of renovated units available next week, with more opening later in the fall.

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents set up along Hastings Street sidewalks dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

Police blocked traffic Tuesday as city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process of dismantling the encampment but little had changed by the end of the week with most residents staying put, saying they have nowhere to go.

The city has said staff plan to approach encampment residents with “respect and sensitivity” to encourage the voluntary removal of their tents and belongings.

Community advocacy groups, including the Vancouver Area of Drug Users and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

The province is not involved in the fire chief’s order or the enforcement of local bylaws, which prohibit structures on sidewalks, but it is “bringing all of BC Housing’s resources to bear to do what we can to secure housing for people, Rankin said.

“I recognize the profound uncertainty and upheaval people impacted by the fire order are facing, and we will provide updates on this work as we have news to share,” he said.

Rankin, who had been serving as minister of Indigenous relations, was appointed acting attorney general after David Eby stepped down to run for leadership of the B.C. NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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N.W.T. RCMP deploy controversial roadside cannabis screening devices



YELLOWKNIFE — RCMP in the Northwest Territories have begun using roadside cannabis-screening technology that has faced criticism from defence lawyers elsewhere in Canada.

Mounties in the territory announced late last month that they had deployed devices designed to take a saliva sample and test for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. They said the technology would help them detect impaired drivers and make roads safer.

But some criminal defence lawyers have raised concerns about these devices’ ability to deliver reliable test results, particularly in cold temperatures. They argue the technology isn’t effective at determining whether someone is impaired.

“It can lead to people being arrested who are actually innocent,” said Kyla Lee, a lawyer based in Vancouver.

Lee said research has shown the devices may be more likely to deliver false results in extreme cold temperatures, and movement during analysis could also affect outcomes. She added that while the devices can deliver either a positive or negative test result, they do not indicate how much THC may be in a person’s bloodstream.

Lee recently represented a Nova Scotia woman in a constitutional challenge of the law that allows for roadside drug testing technology in Canada.

Michelle Gray, who uses cannabis for multiple sclerosis, had her car impounded and her licence suspended for a week after she failed a cannabis saliva test at a roadside checkpoint in 2019, even though she passed a sobriety test that same night.

“The technology just doesn’t exist yet to allow police to make a determination of impairment via drugs using physical equipment,” Lee said.

Lee is awaiting a decision on the constitutional challenge in Nova Scotia. She said she expects there will be further court challenges in other Canadian jurisdictions where these devices are used, including the Northwest Territories.

There are two devices approved for roadside cannabis screening in Canada: the Drager DrugTest 5000 and the Abbott SoToxa mobile test system. The companies that manufacture the devices recommend they be used in temperatures no lower than 4 C and 5 C, respectively.

Cpl. Andree Sieber of the Regina Police Service, which began using roadside devices to detect cannabis use in early 2020, said officers bring drivers to their vehicles for testing to prevent issues with weather conditions or temperatures.

“We’ve used it throughout all seasons here in Regina,” she said. “We have very cold winters and some pretty nasty, snowy cold days and you have the person attend back to your vehicle with you where it’s heated and it’s not an issue.”

Sieber said the more THC a person has consumed, the more likely they are to show signs of impairment and to test positive.

The RCMP said roadside screening devices are just one tool they use to detect and investigate drug-impaired drivers alongside officers’ observations. They said field sobriety testing and drug recognition experts remain the primary enforcement tools.

“Police officers rely on what they see and hear, as well as what they smell when investigating impaired drivers,” the RCMP said in a written statement. “Regardless of how a drug is consumed, there are signs of that consumption and police are trained to recognized them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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