The News Rundown
- Many Canadians, me included, were shocked this week as harrowing details mounted about Montreal’s Résidence Herron nursing home: Medical staff who had abandoned hungry and desperately ill patients. An owner with a long criminal history. Thirty-one dead in less than one month — five from confirmed cases of coronavirus.
- Across the country, nursing homes from British Columbia to Alberta to Ontario have been devastated by the lethal spread of the virus. In mid April, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, attributed about half of Canada’s deaths from coronavirus to long-term care homes. This week that percentage has risen to about 70%.
- The scale of deaths at these facilities has raised a difficult question: beyond the obvious insidiousness of a highly contagious virus, how has this been possible in Canada?
- Dr. Susan Bartlett had done stringent due diligence before putting her mother at Résidence Herron. She visited half a dozen nursing homes and interviewed Herron’s medical staff. She even consulted a specialist in placing seniors in homes. In the end, she decided on the Herron, as she was originally impressed by its diligent staff, and services that included a beauty salon.
- Today, Dr. Bartlett laments that even her extensive research failed to turn up the criminal record of the residence’s owner, Samir Chowieri, who in the 1980s served 15 months in prison for drug trafficking and had been convicted of fraud. One of his retirement homes was later the subject of a money-laundering investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Had any of this criminality been exposed I would’ve never put my mom there,” she told me.
- But there was a reason for the lack of a paper trail: In 2014, Mr. Chowieri was successful in obtaining a pardon and having his criminal record expunged. The Quebec premier, François Legault, this week said it was “unacceptable” that a person convicted of serious crimes ended up running a home for the elderly, and asked why there were rigorous background checks for employees of long-term care facilities in Quebec but not for owners.
- Katasa, the company that owns the Herron, has denied negligence at the residence and blamed the regional health authority for not heeding its calls for help. In an email on Friday, it said a majority of the deaths occurred after the authority took the residency under trusteeship in late March.
- The Ontario government announced increased measures to keep vulnerable people in long-term care homes safe, which Premier Doug Ford described as “fortifying the ring” around these facilities. It includes stricter testing and screening measures in homes with outbreaks.
- Quebec Premier François Legault said the outbreak of COVID-19 in the province's long-term care homes is like setting fire to hay — "everything burns rapidly." The "big lesson" he says he's learned is at this stage of the pandemic, is those homes are in dire need of more staff and space, so that in an outbreak, a virus can be better contained.
- 80% of deaths in Quebec have been residents of long-term care institutions and other kinds of seniors' homes. The virus has created "two separate worlds," the premier said Friday — one inhabited by the residents of long-term care homes and the other by the rest of society.
- And this is even without considering that China has bought many retirement homes in BC lately. In 2017, Anbang Insurance, a company with a murky ownership structure that could very well be owned by the Chinese government, bought a retirement home chain that was greenlit by the Trudeau government, one of the very first stories we covered on Western Context. Since then, we have had multiple takeovers and buyouts of retirement companies and now even the largest retirement home chain in BC Retirement Concepts has been operated by a company that is owned by the Chinese government.
- Earlier this year, Delores Broten and others wrote letter after letter complaining about the treatment of their loved ones in a chain of B.C. retirement homes. But they didn’t bother addressing any letters to the owners of the company.
- “It would’ve been a waste of postage,” said the 71-year-old Broten in February. That’s because the company that runs her husband’s care home is owned by the government of China.
- “Of course, the Chinese government sees the homes as just one of their many global investment holdings,” she said.
- Broten’s letters, addressed to officials with the provincial and federal governments, did not mention concerns about COVID-19. At the time, the deadly virus had not yet begun its rampage through Canadian seniors homes.
- But even before coronavirus, Broten alleges that her 85-year-old husband, Don, suffered the ramifications of serious understaffing and mismanagement at Comox Valley Seniors Village, a private seniors home on Vancouver Island. It’s one of 21 senior-care facilities run by Retirement Concepts, the largest chain of private retirement homes in B.C.
- In the past year, health authorities have taken the unprecedented step of seizing control of four Retirement Concepts care homes in the province that failed to meet legislated standards, including Comox Valley Seniors Village. They cited problems that have included disease outbreak, as well as emotional abuse and neglect, according to government reports.
- Broten and others with loved ones in the care homes say their pre-existing concerns have now turned to outrage as they watched the virus devastate other long-term-care facilities. Unable to visit because of COVID-19 lockdown protocols, their anxiety about what their loved ones are facing has skyrocketed.
- “It’s making me furious and scared. Are they being fed properly? Being helped to use the bathroom? Are they being parked in empty rooms alone? The history of problems at Retirement Concepts makes it hard for us to trust them,” Broten said.
- Canada’s first coronavirus death was a man in his 80s, a resident of Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. Currently, 21 B.C. care homes including Dufferin Care Centre, which is part of the Retirement Concepts chain, have a combined total of 266 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 47 deaths. There have been 14 confirmed cases and one death in relation to COVID-19 at Dufferin Care Centre.
- With the coronavirus running through our seniors homes it's clear that we need to have better oversight of our seniors homes especially who owns and operates them. It's clear that the federal government has been lax in taking care of our seniors and it's about time they stood up for seniors healthcare. Certainly companies that are owned by the Chinese government are not going to care about Canadian seniors so it's about time that our government does.
- In a document titled “Opening soon” Alberta detailed the relaunch strategy. This came as a surprise to many because of how soon the restrictions will start to lift.
- Vehicle access to parking lots and staging areas in parks and on public lands will be opening on May 1.
- A number of boat launches in provincial parks will be opening on May 1 and working to have them all open by May 14.
- Group and comfort camping will not be offered.
- Golf courses can reopen starting May 2nd with clubhouses and pro shops closed.
- Dentists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, audiologies, social workers, dieticians and others will be allowed to open May 4th.
- And most importantly, some scheduled non-urgent surgeries can resume on May 4th.
- Starting May 14th retail businesses such as clothing, furniture, and book stores will be able to open; as well as hair stylists and barber shops.
- Museums and art galleries can also reopen on the 14th.
- Restaurants with no bar service and cafes can reopen at 50% capacity.
- More scheduled surgeries and dental procedures will also be added.
- Daycares with limited occupancy and summer camps including summer school can begin.
- Non-essential travel is not recommended and remote working is still advised where possible.
- Throughout this stage physical distancing is still required.
- Following this Alberta will begin stage 2 at a later date based on the success of stage 1. Successful metrics will be based on limiting rate of infection, hospitalization, and ICU admission.
- Stage 2 will see potential K-12 education re-opened alongside libraries.
- More scheduled surgeries and backlog elimination.
- Movie theatres and theatres will open with restrictions in stage 2.
- Larger gatherings will be permitted but the number will be determined as we get closer to this time.
- Stage 3 will see a full reopening of businesses with timing determined based on the success of stage 1 and stage 2.
- On these changes, Premier Kenney had said that, “we can finally begin to shift our focus from the fear and anxiety of the past few weeks and start looking with hope and cautious confidence towards the future. Together, we will move through the stages of the relaunch strategy with the same determination and commitment to personal and collective responsibility that Albertans have shown over the past two months.”
- Alberta has also managed to pull this off with less strict rules than other jurisdictions. 15% of businesses had to close representing 12% of the workforce and 4% of the total economy.
- Statistically wise Alberta has done well: 5% of hospital beds set aside for COVID patients are in use, 3% of ventilators are being used. These numbers are better than Quebec which is faring the worst and nowhere near situations seen in New York City or Italy.
- Manitoba and Saskatchewan also begin their phased reopening plan on May 4th. Their situations are similar but they are opening retail 10 days sooner than Alberta due likely to the lower volume of cases.
- As the phased reopening continues Alberta will continue with a large number of tests and contact tracing. This is key.
- On Friday the government released the ABTraceTogether app to aid in contact tracing.
- How it works: you sign up with your phone number to verify that you live in Alberta, this activates the app, when out and about the phone broadcasts a secure bluetooth token (essentially a random number) and other app users nearby you will pick up this number.
- For the app to work (presently) on Apple iPhones you must keep the app open. It will work on Android without having the app open.
- If a person tests positive and they use the app they will have the option when contacted by Alberta Health Services to upload their data securely.
- Once the data is received AHS Contact Tracers will use that information to reach other app users who have come into close contact with the infected person.
- The idea is that by quickly identifying people who have been in close contact with an infected person will enable those who are sick to get the care that they need.
- 2 weeks ago, I covered a story about the homeless camp set up in Victoria's city park. I mentioned that Victoria mayor Lisa Helps wanted to put these homeless people into motels and hotels ostensibly to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Now, the BC government has ordered the homeless camps shut down.
- Victoria-area hotels and motels are being leased by the province to house homeless people who are currently living on Pandora Avenue and in Topaz Park. In an ironic twist, that plan may actually be causing others to become homeless.
- Claire Mock and her 17-year-old daughter became homeless three weeks ago. They spent their first night at Topaz Park but didn't want to be in the middle of the overcrowded field. They were told to dismantle their tent and to move on.
- The second night was spent in the back of a friend's pickup truck with a canopy. In the middle of the night a man attempted to break into the vehicle while they were sleeping. That's when Mock says she had enough.
- She is on disability and couldn't afford much but two weeks ago did manage to secure a motel room in the Travelodge on Gorge Road East in Victoria. She is spending around $1,400 a month to stay there, but on Tuesday she got a call from management.
- "They said we're out on Thursday," said Mock. "There were no more renewals, the hotel is closing down and BC Housing is taking over. We've got to get out."
- Mock and her daughter are now being forced back onto the streets so that those living on the streets can have their room.
- "The ironic thing is, if we had stayed at the park, I'd be living here for free," Mock said.
- There are others being evicted from the hotel as well, including families with children and people with health issues, she said. CTV News spoke with another couple who didn't want to be identified. They said they have nowhere to go as of Thursday. The couple, like Mock and her daughter, had to be out of their hotel room by 11 a.m. Thursday.
- In a statement to CTV News, BC Housing said it "spoke to [hotel] operators about our expectation that no one be displaced to accommodate new residents." The ministry said it "will be reaching out to these individuals to support them, and will work with them to find them housing if needed."
- B.C. Housing now admits that more than two dozen paying customers of the Travelodge hotel were evicted from the Gorge Road East building that is now being used to house homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the organization insists that it did not give the order to do so.
- “When we heard that, it was heartbreaking to be honest,” said Heidi Hartman, B.C. Housing director of operations for Vancouver Island.
- What she had heard were the stories of people who had been told to leave the hotel. People who had been paying to live there and are now homeless.
- Now, Hartman says that B.C. Housing is looking to find new accommodations for those who were displaced.
- Hartman adds that B.C. Housing never asked anyone to leave the hotel. The agency has leased the property from the owners of the hotel, in order to shelter the homeless campers who are living on Pandora Avenue and Topaz Park.
- The big question is, if B.C. Housing didn’t order the eviction, who did?
- With only two stakeholders involved, B.C. Housing and the hotel, CTV News called the Travelodge to put the question to them, but the manager of the hotel did not return any calls.
- Hartman says that a B.C. housing team was at the property on Thursday, telling people that they did not have to leave and that they were welcome to stay.
- Summer McKay and Jay Clark are a couple that was evicted from the hotel. They had been sitting on their belongings in the parking lot for much of Thursday. They say no one had come to speak with them. Many others say they also did not get that message.
- Eliza Charlie and her husband, Curtis Caziere, have been calling the hotel home since January. Today, they say they are out on the street. “We have nowhere to go,” said Eliza Charlie. “It’s just not fair.”
- According to B.C. Housing, 29-people who were staying at the Travelodge – that they know of – have been left without a place to live. Now they are trying to make it right.
- “If there was anyone who did spend the night outside, they need to reconnect with us,” said Hartman. “They’ll be welcomed back to the community.”
- Rev. Canon Ian Powell, managing director of Paul’s Motor Inn and Restaurant, says that things have largely stabilized at the motel after “four weeks of some considerable strife.” Powell says the business has suffered thefts, staff abuse and unhygienic conditions.
- Powell said that Paul’s offered up some of its rooms because the motel allowed for greater self-isolation compared to other hotels, and because his faith partly guided him to do so.
- He says that when arrangements for shelter were made, there was an understanding that the new tenants would be respectful of the property.
- “Regrettably, many of the individuals – not all, I must be very clear here, not all – but many of the individuals that were placed couldn’t seem to find that respect level,” said Powell.
- “And so we were dealing with drug dealing, we were dealing with needles where one wouldn’t expect, we were dealing with stolen things – and I don’t just mean soap, I mean TVs, air conditioners,” he said.
- Powell says that some staff members refused to work while people were being sheltered at the motel, due to safety concerns.
- “Regrettably, most of all I think, was abuse to the staff, and threats,” he said.
- “At one point, one of our suppliers… who we need to operate said that they wouldn’t really be able to continue until we were back to normality because they couldn’t put their staff through that.”
- The reverend says that when Paul’s Motor Inn first agreed to house homeless people, very few supports were given. Powell says that he had hoped a greater police presence would be available to the inn. However, the increased presence did not appear until recently, after the inn was forced to evict some of the tenants.
- Meanwhile, Powell says that extra health workers or mental health support workers were not stationed at the motor inn, putting immense pressure on his staff. “The teams that we have in our hotels aren’t trained… to deal with that sort of thing so, therefore, if they’re not dealing with it, who is going to deal with it?” he says.
- Two weeks ago I raised the issue of a lack of mental health services for these homeless, as well as an increase in crime. Now that it's happened, one wonders why the BC government and the Victoria council did not predict what would happen, and why they just transferred instead of fixing the problem.
- On Friday the federal government by cabinet order issued a ban on 1,500 makes and models of “military-grade assault-style” weapons in Canada.
- The ban means that licensed legal gun owners will not be allowed to sell, transport, import, or use any of these weapons.
- Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and former Toronto police chief said, “enough is enough. Banning these firearms will save Canadians lives.”
- News of this ban spread around the world on social media and in traditional media outlets. Everywhere from CNN to the Guardian in the UK.
- There has been a flurry of support for the gun ban with some outlets and individuals erroneously thinking that this ban bans automatic weapons. Automatic weapons have been illegal in Canada for a long time.
- A fully automatic weapon is one in which the user does not have to let up off the trigger to fire round after round.
- A semi-automatic weapon fires one round per one squeeze of the trigger. These represent the bulk of weapons in Canada today.
- What the ban does instead is capitalizes on fear imported from the United States market and instead bans guns based on look, what’s called stock and colour.
- The stock is how the gun is held and braced while colour is obvious.
- Many of the guns banned were designed to be used in Canada for hunting and aren’t military grade.
- In 2018 249 of 651 murders in Canada were committed with a firearm. Of those, 143 were with handguns, 56 were with rifles or shotguns, and 20 with fully illegal firearms. The rest were an unknown type.
- As mentioned last week this ban doesn’t touch handguns and it forgets that most of the illegal guns are smuggled in from the US.
- The ban is expansive and covers weapons such as the common Ruger Mini-14 often used by farmers to protect their livestock. This weapon has multiple colour and stock versions available making it look like one of those scary military style weapons.
- But the ban also includes some things that you would not expect to see on a “gun” ban like: MARK 153 SMAW Rocket Launcher, Missile Launcher FGM-148 Javelin, and the Russian Artillery M1942 Anti-Tank Gun.
- As even expressed by the Guardian, a publication that would normally be favourable to Trudeau said, “the new ban would probably have not stopped [Gabriel] Wortman from obtaining his weapons: he did not have a license to possess or purchase firearms, and police have said they believe the guns were obtained illegally in Canada and the United States.”
- This is exactly what we said last week though we didn’t expect action to be taken this quickly.
- A gun ban is indeed something the Prime Minister campaigned on during the last election. But to bring it in by cabinet order is once again dodging Parliament for the sake of convenience during a global pandemic.
- If Trudeau wants to ban these guns he should create a Bill and run it through Parliament so that the will of the people can be heard by their elected MPs. By not doing that he is devaluing the institution and setting up the media for a field day when the government changes.
- Because all a new government needs to do is cancel this cabinet order in council to reverse the ban.
- Premiers Ford, Moe, and Kenney of Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta pushed back against the ban and in the words of Doug Ford said, “As law enforcement experts have highlighted time and time again, the only way to truly tackle gun violence is to crack down on the illegal guns being smuggled in daily at our borders.”
- Moe said that this is an attack on law abiding gun owners.
- And Jason Kenney went the furthest saying that the Alberta government is “actively considering” appointing Alberta’s own Chief Firearms Officer to replace the one appointed by Ottawa.
- This would mean that Alberta would implement any policy handed down by the federal government.
- Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said, “The Government of Alberta will scrutinize today’s move by Ottawa and explore potential responses through this lens.”
- Polling done for Global News by Ipsos says that in major cities, 52% feel that all guns should be made illegal. The big 3 of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver all come in at north of 50%. The prairie cities of Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, and Saskatoon come in at the mid 30s in terms of support.
- According to the Angus Reid institute 4 in 5 Canadians support an assault weapon ban and two third support a hand gun ban.
- These polls allow the government to think for themselves that Canadians do want these measures but in both these surveys they use the term “assault weapon” in conjunction with not explaining what that means.
- Canadians news agencies and politicians are deeply linked with what happens in the United States. So much so that our reactive gun policy seems to be more in line with solutions touted in the United States to fix a problem that doesn’t exist here.
- There is a great deal of ignorance from the media and government on this issue. Combine this with a public that sees US media and US issues regularly, we’ll end up with a solution in Canada that is the wrong solution.
- The law brings a two-year amnesty period to allow gun owners to comply. Whether or not this ban moves from cabinet order to actual legislation remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain, these aren’t the weapons that cause most of the problems and Canada’s Parliament should have a chance to debate such a ban.
Word of the Week
Negligence - failure to take proper care in doing something.
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Episode Title: The End of the Rocket Launcher
Teaser: Lack of oversight of care homes has led to the majority of pandemic deaths, Alberta outlines the plan to re-open their economy, and BC residents are evicted to make way for the homeless. Also, Trudeau's extensive federal gun ban that doesn't prevent crime.
Recorded Date: May 2, 2020
Release Date: May 3, 2020
Edit Notes: Firing line pause
Podcast Summary Notes