On a day that Alberta reported 18,243 active cases of COVID-19 and 15 additional deaths, the province also reported a record high test positivity rate.
The positivity rate climbed to 10.5 per cent, a “grim milestone and one that should concern us all,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told a news conference Friday.
With almost 17,200 people tested, and one of every 10 testing positive, the total number of new cases in Alberta reached 1,828.
To date 590 people have died in Alberta. As of Friday there were a record 533 people in hospital, including 99 in intensive care.
“We are heading into the first weekend of December,” Hinshaw said. “In a difficult year, I know this last month may be the toughest for many. This virus can spread quickly from one to many.
“In a month usually marked by festive gatherings, we feel the restrictions more keenly. But I want to stress the seriousness of the rising case numbers that we’re seeing and how crucial it is that we reduce the spread and bend the curve back down.”
Here is how the active cases break down among the regions:
Edmonton zone: 8,578 cases
Calgary zone: 6,666 cases
Central zone: 1,251 cases
North zone: 1,012 cases
South zone: 630 cases
Unknown: 106 cases
7 deaths at care home in Edmonton’s Chinatown
The 15 deaths reported Friday included seven people linked to an outbreak at the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre: four men in their 90s, a woman in her 90s, a man in his 80s and a man in his 100s.
Other deaths reported Friday:
A woman in her 70s linked to the outbreak at Clifton Manor in Calgary.
A man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Capital Care Lynnwood in Edmonton.
A man in his 70s from the Edmonton zone.
Two men in their 60s from the Edmonton zone.
A man in his 50s from the Edmonton zone.
A woman in her 70s from the Central zone.
A woman in her 90s from the Calgary zone.
Contact tracing getting help
Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, told the news conference AHS is working to bolster its troubled contact-tracing system.
“As case numbers have increased exponentially in the past six weeks it has become more and more difficult for our teams to keep up with demand,” Yiu said.
“We are rapidly increasing our response to the unprecedented volume of COVID-19 cases in the province.”
The province has more than 900 contact tracers in Alberta and is on track to double that number by the end of the year, Yiu said.
“This means that we will have 36 contact tracers per 100,000 people, which will be on par or better compared to other provinces.”
Bending the curve
Albertans are now one week into the latest round of restrictions aimed at bending the curve of COVID-19 cases in the province.
Last Friday, Premier Jason Kenney ordered junior and senior high schools to close, barred indoor social gatherings and capped capacity for businesses.
Next week Albertans will find out what impact those measures are having on the virus, which is spreading faster in Alberta than anywhere else in the country.
It was the second set of restrictions issued by the premier in November.
Three weeks ago, Kenney suspended indoor group fitness programs, team sports and group performance activities, and reduced operating hours for restaurants, bars and pubs in cities.
But the curve didn’t bend and the virus has continued to surge since, setting records almost daily as it tightens its grip on the province.
The province’s contact-tracing system is struggling against demand. Alberta’s government continues to resist calls to adopt the federal contact-notification app or order a province-wide mask law.
It is also continuing to spurn calls by physicians for a two-week lockdown, or “circuit-breaker,” to drop the effective reproduction number and allow contact tracing to catch up.
WATCH | Alberta requests field hospitals from Ottawa:
The Alberta government is in talks with Ottawa and the Canadian Red Cross for help in setting up field hospitals, as the number of COVID-19 patients continues to surge. 2:42
This week, the province acknowledged it is preparing for the worst. Alberta has asked the federal government for two field hospitals, and the Red Cross for two more.
Alberta hospitals are preparing to double-bunk critically ill patients, revamp operating and recovery rooms and reassign staff to treat an expected surge of COVID-19 patients destined for intensive care units.
AHS has asked hospitals in Calgary to begin rationing oxygen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told hundreds gathered on Sunday at an Edmonton memorial for victims of this week’s air disaster outside Tehran that Canada stands united in grief.
“Thank you all for gathering here in this moment of national pain,” Trudeau said at the event at a packed sports centre at the University of Alberta.
“Across this great country, we stand united together in this time of sorrow.
“All Canadians were heartbroken to hear that Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 had crashed. All Canadians were shocked and outraged to learn that it had been brought down by an Iranian missile.
“This tragedy struck our Iranian-Canadian community, leaving cities like Edmonton reeling. But this was truly a Canadian tragedy. All Canadians are mourning your loss.”
Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crashed Wednesday, killing 176 passengers and crew on board, including 57 Canadians. The plane was struck by a missile or missiles launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the missiles were fired due to “human error.”
The death toll included a number of people bound for Alberta, most with connections to Edmonton. Initial reports from multiple sources and community members indicated that as many as 30 people connected to the Edmonton community died in the crash. So far, CBC News has been able to confirm 15 names of Alberta victims.
Organizers said 2,300 people attended Sunday’s memorial service, organized by the University of Alberta in collaboration with the local Iranian-Canadian community and the City of Edmonton.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, David Turpin, president of the University of Alberta and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson also spoke at the public memorial service.
“The University of Alberta, the City of Edmonton and Canada have suffered one of their gravest losses ever,” Turpin said.
“Among the women, men and children aboard Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 were members of our communities. They were our family, they were our students, faculty and alumni. They were our friends and our colleagues.
“Universities across the country have also lost students, faculty and alumni in the tragedy. Canada has lost a tremendous body of talented, innovative and entrepreneurial people eager to make our universities, our cities our provinces, our country and the world a better place for all.”
New scholarship launched
A scholarship fund, in honour of Mojgan Daneshmand, a professor of electrical engineering, her husband Pedram Mousavi, a professor of mechanical engineering, and other victims of flight PS752 was announced at the memorial by U of A’s Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes.
“These people were dedicated to building a better Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and world,” Forbes said. “It now falls to each of us to continue to build an enduring legacy. And there’s no better way to do so than to provide the opportunity for others — future generations — to become beacons of light.”
Vigils have been held across Canada to remember the victims.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds attended a memorial at the University of Calgary. Calgary high school student Arshia Arbabbahrami, engineer Kasra Saati, and University of Calgary alumni Marzieh Foroutan and Shadi Jamshidi were passengers on the flight.
Saghar Nasr, a close friend of Foroutan’s, said she didn’t want to believe the news.
“She was really kindhearted,” she said. “It’s a great loss.”
‘We will always bear these scars’
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was among several hundred people who attended a vigil today at the University of Toronto to remember six students killed in the crash of a Ukraine plane in Iran. An emotional Freeland, who is of Ukrainian background, declared the loss of life a loss for all of Canada.
“Nothing will ever replace these brilliant lives that have been cut short,” Freeland said. “We will always bear these scars. Now, though, is the time for all of us to come together in our loss.”
Close to 1,000 people packed into a Halifax auditorium Saturday to honour the victims from Nova Scotia.
“Today is the day of grief, for losing our loved one, for missing them, for not seeing them anymore, for not hearing their voice, not seeing their smiles,” Alireza Nafarieh, president of theIranian Cultural Society of Nova Scotia, said during the vigil.
Even in small, northern communities, many share connections to Iran crash victims.
A small group of people gathered at Iqaluit’s Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum for a candlelight vigil on Saturday. In Yellowknife’s small Iranian community, many were only one or two degrees of separation from victims of the crash.
“It was another [piece of] terrible news in a series of terrible news from the region,” said Ramin Mostmand, an Iranian-Canadian who lives in Yellowknife. “This news is really taking a toll on everyone.”
Women travelling to Canada to give birth to babies who will automatically become Canadian citizens are prompting concerns about the strain they may be putting on the health-care system, The Fifth Estate has found.
At one British Columbia hospital with a high concentration of such deliveries, complaints have arisen that the influx of these non-resident patients — also known as birth tourists — has led to compromised care for local mothers-to-be and struggles for nursing staff.
Some of these patients fail to pay hospital and doctors bills, leaving taxpayers and individual care providers on the hook.
“Most of them, they get the Canadian passport, and then they leave the country,” said Dr. Mudaffer Al-Mudaffer, a B.C. pediatrician and neonatologist who sees babies of non-residents when they need critical care. “It affects the integrity of the fairness of the health system.”
No statistics are available regarding how many people are travelling to Canada specifically to ensure their child is born here and will have a Canadian passport.
But figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and several Quebec hospitals indicate there were about 5,000 non-resident births across the country in 2018, an increase of nearly 15 per cent over the previous year.
In the fall of 2019, Cathy Shi arrived in Richmond, B.C., from Shandong, on China’s east coast, to give birth to her third child. She said through a translator that she wanted her unborn child to have more opportunities.
“My concern is about their education, such as going to university. If the kid wants to live in Canada, it would be convenient for them if they’re born here.”
Handful of hospitals
At this point, the practice of birth tourism appears to be concentrated in a handful of hospitals in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
At the Richmond Hospital, south of Vancouver, non-residents make up nearly a quarter of all births, according to records obtained from Vancouver Coastal Health, the health authority which runs the hospital. In many ways, that hospital can be seen as a test case for how this issue could play out elsewhere as numbers continue to climb.
The health authority declined a request for an interview with The Fifth Estate and issued a warning directing its staff not to speak to the media.
Despite that, four current and two retired nurses shared their concerns, requesting that their identities be protected.
Watch “Passport babies” on The Fifth Estate on CBC-TV Sunday at 9 p.m.
Since 2013/14, the number of non-resident births has tripled at the hospital. The patients — many from China — pay privately for their care, often in cash, may not speak English and are unfamiliar with the Canadian health-care system. The nurses who spoke to The Fifth Estate say the influx has led to increased workloads and has compromised care.
“There are times when … the people living here don’t get the service that they need,” one nurse said.
When the unit was very busy, one nurse said services like prenatal tests to check the baby’s health, labour inductions and other tests to check fetal and maternal risk factors would be delayed or cancelled.
“We would often have to decide whose need was greatest and abandon the rest for the next day where we would face the same situation again,” she said.
“Our normal scheduled or add-on C-sections lie here all day and then they take the IV out, we send them home and say come back tomorrow. A private pay never goes home — she gets her C-section that day,” said another nurse.
“She will be fit in somewhere because nobody wants to lose that $ 5,000. But our normal people are lying there all day, no food or drink, waiting and nobody’s interested in moving them.”
Some hospitals, like Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, have taken steps to limit the number of non-resident births in order to prioritize residents of their own communities. That hospital says it won’t treat non-residents patients without Ontario Health Insurance Plan coverage.
When asked in an email why the Richmond Hospital doesn’t have a similar policy, Carrie Stefanson, a public affairs representative withVancouver Coastal Health, said: “VCH cannot speak for other hospitals or health authorities. VCH will never deny urgent and emergent care based on ability to pay or where a patient is from.”
The hospital requests deposits for privately paid births: $ 10,000 for a vaginal birth and $ 16,000 for a caesarean. More than $ 18 million has been invoiced for non-resident births since 2017, according to data released through freedom of information by Vancouver Coastal Health.
Nursing staff say they have not seen this money go into easing their workloads.
“The amount of money that’s coming into Richmond from the private pay, it doesn’t make our staffing better,” said one nurse.
Their union says that is a problem.
“I certainly think adding additional patients into a health-care system that isn’t staffed appropriately, isn’t funded appropriately, is causing strain,” said Christine Sorensen, president of the BC Nurses’ Union.
She said the union has regularly heard complaints from nurses at Richmond Hospital but they have not filed a formal complaint with the hospital.
The health authority declined to answer a question about how it has responded to complaints from nursing staff.
Financial incentives within the medical system
Two doctors at the Richmond Hospital have delivered 1,300 of the 2,206 babies born to non-residents there since 2014, according to documents released through freedom of information.
While the health authority will not disclose their names, insiders and birth tourism company representatives say Dr. Xin-Yong Wang and Dr. Brenda Tan, two Mandarin-speaking family doctors, see the majority of these patients for prenatal care and delivery.
Both appear on multiple websites of companies advertising services such as assistance with immigration, travel and housing to women looking to come to Canada to give birth.
Wang said the companies do not have permission to use his name.
Tan did not respond to interview requests and a list of questions sent to her.
Wang and Tan billed the province $ 272,198.50 and $ 428,456.17 respectively in the 2018/2019 fiscal year, according to data publicly available through the province. Those billings do not include earnings from non-resident patients because they pay privately.
There are no limits on what physicians can charge outside the public system in British Columbia, but information from birth tourism company websites suggests that these doctors earn at least $ 100 per prenatal visit and more than $ 2,500 for a delivery, several times more than could be billed through the public system for the same services.
In an interview, Wang declined to respond to questions about how much he was earning from birth tourism but said he was not motivated financially to take on these patients.
“It’s like a dessert — occasional patients like this is fine, and it’s pretty financially rewarding … they are a small percentage of our overall income.”
Nurses who spoke to The Fifth Estate said the financial incentives within the health-care system are a problem.
“It is all about the money. If there was no financial income for the hospital or physicians, the private pay would have been out of the door a long time ago,” said one nurse.
While these births are bringing in money, bills owed to both health authorities and individual doctors are not always paid.
According to documents released by Vancouver Coastal Health, more than $ 2 million is outstanding as a result of non-resident births since 2017 at the Richmond Hospital alone. This does not include any debt that has been written off.
Bairths at the Richmond Hospital represent 11 per cent of overall non-resident births outside Quebec, according to 2018 data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
No national financial data exists on how much revenue is outstanding as a result of non-resident hospital bills across the country.
But some say the health-care system and Canadian taxpayers are losing out.
Al-Mudaffer said having an uninsured baby in neonatal intensive care can cost $ 10,000 a day just for the hospital bed, not including doctors’ fees.
Watch Dr. Al-Mudaffer express concerns about birth tourism:
Dr. Mudaffer Al-Mudaffer says birth tourism is impacting the Canadian healthcare system. 0:27
He said he’s seen large bills for families with babies requiring multiple nights and even weeks in the NICU.
“You can easily acquire a bill of $ 100,000 to pay the health authority, and that’s why they can’t pay it, you know? And they leave the country without paying,” said Al-Mudaffer.
He said he has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills go unpaid at the Royal Columbian Hospital where he works, but Fraser Health, which runs that hospital, said it could not confirm this amount.
The Fifth Estate requested provincial numbers on unpaid bills from the British Columbia government but was told these numbers were not tracked provincially.
“Obviously if any bill is unpaid, I’m concerned about that because that’s money that we could and should be spending on something else or saving the health-care system so of course we’re concerned about it,” said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Even with little formal research to examine the practical implications of a growing number of non-resident births on the Canadian health-care system, Dix said “we are handling that situation.
“It’s two per cent … of total births in British Columbia, so it’s an issue but there are other issues.”
But it’s not only hospital fees going unpaid. Al-Mudaffer said when he sees birth tourists, he only gets paid three out of 10 times.
He is not alone. Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of B.C., has personally been affected by unpaid bills and has called for a national conversation on the issue.
“Our federal government needs to find a way to disincentive people coming to the country to have access to citizenship and to our health-care support,” she said.
Federal research planned
Marco Mendicino, the newly appointed minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, declined an interview with The Fifth Estate.
But the department wrote that while “statistics indicate that birth tourism is not widespread, the Government of Canada recognizes the need to better understand this practice.”
It said it has started work with the Canadian Institute for Health Information and Statistics Canada to integrate health and immigration data that would allow for a better understanding of the practice of birth tourism by looking at visitor visas and births.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada anticipates results from this research will be available in the spring.
Cathy Shi said she hasn’t thought much about criticism of birth tourism and isn’t receiving any government benefits here.
“We may come here often for travelling around, living or even investing. People are not just looking for status by having a baby here. They will have established a connection to Canada and later on some may apply to immigrate.”
For more information, on this story please contact Annie Burns-Pieper firstname.lastname@example.org
Bullies cut off some of a girl’s hair at recess. Hit a girl with a stick on her private parts and cut her. Pushed kids. Called them “ugly.” Criticized their black skin.
These are just some of the complaints surfacing about bullying at a northeast Calgary school already dealing with a bullying crisis following the suicide of one of its young students.
Nine-year-old Syrian refugee Amal Alshteiwi took her own life in March after her parents say she was bullied for months.
Amal’s parents, who don’t speak English, struggled to raise the alarm about their daughter’s bullying. But they say their requests for help were ignored by school officials who should have recognized and addressed what was happening.
Now there are new allegations of serious bullying from another family, who recently took the step of removing their children from the school altogether and moving to a different part of the city. They say their complaints also weren’t taken seriously.
Their daughter says there are two “worlds” at school.
“I would say I don’t want to go to school and she would ask me why and I’d say because I feel like I’m going to be in a different world than the bullying kids. All the bullying kids are in the happy world and the bullied kids are in a sad world,” said Grade 3 student Wangui Muigai, 8.
Nine-year-old Amal Alshteiwi took her own life at her northeast home in March after months of being tormented by bullies at her school. (Nasra Abdulrahman)
Wangui was in the same class as Amal Alshteiwi and says she witnessed Amal’s bullying while also being bullied herself at school and on the school bus.
“I remember Grade 5 and 6 kids teasing about her hair and she started crying and they pushed her in the snow. One boy took a ball and hit it on her. She was really sad,” said Wangui. “I saw that problem and then I hugged Amal.”
Bullying complaints are surfacing at a northeast Calgary school following the suicide of one of its young students. 0:33
‘They were saying that I’m ugly and that I was too black’
Wangui and her younger sister have lots of stories about Amal’s bullying, which they say was common knowledge among kids at their school. They say bullying was happening to other kids, too, as well as themselves.
“They were saying that I’m ugly and that I was too black,” said Wangui.
Her mother, Nancy Kamau, says her daughters’ bullying problems seem to focus around race and their African roots.
“It made me feel like I had no friends around me and nobody would play with me and I would get frustrated,” said six-year-old Wairimu Muigai, Wangui’s sister.
Nancy Kamau says she told the principal to “stop being blind’ to bullying at the school after her daughters were both bullied about their skin colour and race. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)
“My children being black children in that school and in that community, there were a lot of struggles, being called names,” said Kamau, who came to Calgary from Africa in 2005.
Kamau says being black in a largely south-Asian school wasn’t easy for her daughters.
“One of my daughters was hit by a boy with a stick on her private parts. She was embarrassed to tell the teachers. There was a cut, so I nursed the wound and contacted the teacher,” said Kamau.
School didn’t call back or didn’t take action, mother says
Kamau says she was told the school would follow up but nobody called back.
In another incident, Kamau says, her younger daughter told her a boy cut off some of her braided hair with scissors during recess.
“The words were commenting on race. She was told, ‘I don’t like your hair,’ ‘I don’t like your skin colour,’ ‘You’re ugly’ — and that is very sad for a child to process,” she said.
Again, she contacted the school. She says they told her they would investigate, but Kamau says no action was taken.
In one email exchange obtained by CBC News between Kamau and Wangui’s teacher, Kamau wrote: “My heart is bleeding and I am very disappointed for our kids, because so many times I’ve been called by school [that] either one of my kids is being hurt, and I know all these things are being done for there is bullying going ahead in school but as a parent I call, the answer is they will investigate but afterwards no one ever say anything.”
The teacher replied: “I would like to solve this between the girls so that both girls feel that they are safe and cared for in my classroom. As for how a school handles bullying, this is something that I am unable to comment on. However, I am always more than happy to meet with you to discuss how I prefer to deal with things in my classroom.”
Kamau says she and her husband did meet with the teacher, principal and vice-principal several times. She says they always downplayed incidents and didn’t recognize what was happening as bullying or offer any solutions.
“My concern is if my kids go to school with the CBE and they are not protected, where are my kids going to be protected?” said Kamau.
David Nganga says he wishes the school could have communicated the steps they took and what they found was happening in his daughters’ case. But he says the school denied bullying was taking place. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)
“My kids used to cry in the morning all the time, saying I don’t want to go to that school. It traumatized the kids psychologically, emotionally, and when my kids tell me what’s been going on, it traumatized me,” Kamau said.
Wangui and Wairimu are both now at a Catholic school in the northwest, making new friends and enjoying life at school again.
“I hope and I pray that will not happen again,” said Kamau.
“The CBE should have reports, they should follow up. They don’t say anything. I told the principal, ‘Stop being blind. You know there’s bullying at the school. You know that.'”
“The school, it has to change for our kids to be safe,” she said.
“Having kids come home telling you they’ve been bullied and are not happy, it’s sad,” said Kamau’s husband, David Nganga.
“You could tell she wasn’t faking it. Something really happened but the principal was ‘maybe it didn’t happen,’ she kind of denied it,” he said.
“But when that small girl committed suicide, it was scary because it could have been my own daughter. I just want CBE to follow up, so something like that doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Principal reviewing complaint, CBE says
The Calgary Board of Education emailed a statement to CBC Calgary:
“We are aware of the complaint made by this family. The school principal is reviewing this concern with support of the area director, which is our typical practice.”
“In the CBE, we have a concerns and complaints process to support parents who may not be satisfied with responses from our schools (school principals).”
A special town hall meeting was held on Thursday at Immigrant Services Calgary spurred by Amal Alshteiwi’s suicide.
About 120 people from a wide range of newcomer organizations and social agencies joined together to discuss solutions involving services and education for immigrants, specifically in regards to mental health and children experiencing bullying.
“The community responded, and if we give a them a platform to come together, we can create massive action,” said Hyder Hassan, CEO of Immigrant Services Calgary.
“The mood in Calgary is everyone wants to create some change. Let’s not forget Amal and her story and try to take some action so it doesn’t happen again,” said Hassan.
The next meeting is already being planned, which will be held at the Centre for Newcomers.