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People with developmental disabilities should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine, say advocates

Kelton Broome sweats during interval training with Special Olympics NWT in a large Yellowknife gym. For most of the pandemic, group activities like this were stressful for him, but since getting a COVID-19 vaccine, he feels safer.

“I feel really safe, even though I only had just one shot so far,” said Broome, 25. “If I got sick, my immune system isn’t as good as others.”

He has autism and gross and fine motor skill delays, which means things like walking up and down the stairs can be difficult, as is unlocking a door. He also has a tendency to get sicker for longer than others, said his mother. 

“It can be pretty scary,” Broome said via Skype about COVID-19.

Broome lives with his mother in Yellowknife and functions with skills that range between a five and 25-year-old.

While he did get the vaccine, there is concern among advocates that others with developmental and intellectual disabilities — who don’t fall into existing priority groups, such as seniors or those living in long-term care facilities — can be at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and are unsure when they’ll get access. 


Broome, back right, feels safer when working out for the Special Olympics NWT now that he has the COVID-19 vaccine. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Much of that risk comes from necessary supports that can’t be accessed remotely.

Like many people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, Broome needs help from people outside his household: support workers drive him to work and help him handle money when shopping, and he has a job coach at work. This makes physical distancing difficult.

“He can’t function without support,” said his mother, Barb Kardash, who is grateful Broome has his first dose.

“What a relief. You know, just that extra layer of protection.”

May not realize the risk

Late last month, 23 clients and dozens of staff with Inclusion NWT, a group that supports people with intellectual and other disabilities, got the Moderna vaccine, according to the organization.

However, people who aren’t linked to advocacy groups could still be been left out.

“If we’re looking at people with developmental and intellectual disabilities living at home, they might not even realize that they’re at risk and neither do their families,” said Denise McKee, NWT Disabilities Council’s executive director.

“These are the groups that we have to be reaching out to.”

Both Inclusion NWT and the NWT Disabilities Council wrote letters lobbying to make people with disabilities a priority. The territorial government included them in its vaccination plans, in the category of “congregate settings,” which was for facilities where people live or stay overnight and used shared spaces. People in remote communities have also been offered the vaccine.

We’ve done everything we can to put them as a priority. ​​​​– Dr. Kami Kandola, N.W.T. chief public health officer

Dr. Kami Kandola, the N.W.T.’s chief public health officer said adhering to public health measures like wearing masks can also be challenging for some people.

“They don’t always have a choice of who enters into the home or have a choice about limiting their personal space,” said Kandola.

She said anyone in the N.W.T. who has a developmental and intellectual disability and doesn’t fit into a priority group can reach out to her office to make a request for the vaccine.

“We’ve done everything we can to put them as a priority,” said Kandola. 

While that was possible in N.W.T., where one in four people have had their first dose, it might not be so easy in more populated parts of Canada which have much lower per-capita access to vaccines.

Still, national advocates want people with developmental disabilities made a priority in early vaccination efforts elsewhere.


‘These are the groups that we have to be reaching out to,’ said Denise McKee, NWT Disabilities Council’s executive director, about people with disabilities living at home who may not realize they’re at risk. (Submitted by Denise McKee)

People with Down syndrome at much higher risk

Inclusion Canada, a national federation that works on behalf of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families, says to its knowledge, currently no region in Canada has made the clients it represents, who live alone or with family, their own high-risk priority group.


Krista Carr, Inclusion Canada’s executive vice president, says people with Down syndrome are four times more likely to contract COVID-19 and over 10 times more likely to die from it, based on research published last fall. (Submitted by Krista Carr)

The focus has mostly been prioritizing long-term care residents and staff, and other congregate living facilities and designated supported living facilities, said Krista Carr, Inclusion Canada’s executive-vice president.

“People with Down syndrome are four times more likely to contract COVID-19 and over 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19,” Carr said, citing research published last fall. While that study is specific to those with Down Syndrome, Inclusion Canada says more generally that people with disabilities tend to be more vulnerable to disease at younger ages than the general population.

It’s not always clear in the rollout plans who is included in vulnerable population vaccine priority groups, said Carr.

“If you look at all the jurisdictions and the vaccine prioritization, the information they do have available, you rarely actually see disability mentioned at all …That causes a lot of fear and anxiety for families,” she said.

“This is obviously a life-and-death issue.”

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CBC | Health News

For homeless people trying to stay safe in pandemic, federal housing program is a lifeline, say advocates

In the past year, the word “stay” has been repeated over and over as Canadians have been urged — even ordered at times — by public health officials and governments to stay apart and stay home.

And yet that isn’t realistic for people who have nowhere to stay.

Homeless people have become particularly vulnerable this winter as they risk exposure to freezing temperatures — dipping into the –30s and –40s on the Prairies — as well as the novel coronavirus, with more limited access to shelter spaces due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Keeping people housed is a key way to limit the spread of COVID-19 as people need to have a secure place to self-isolate,” according to the federal government.

Steven Ledoux, a 50-year-old former construction worker who lived on the streets of Regina for years, knows the daily grind of searching for food, booze and a bed.

Ledoux broke his neck in a construction job accident in 2012, then began drinking heavily. Soon, he was homeless, digging in dumpsters and couch surfing or passing out in parkades. He said he was often “drunk and disorderly, just staggering around the city” and would get arrested and spend the night in police cells or the brief-stay detox centre in Regina.

That all changed three years ago, when he was referred to the federally funded Housing First program in the city. A case worker helped him apply for disability benefits and found him a rental house in the north central area.


Lisa Beaudry, intensive case manager, left, and housing support worker Emily Huzil visit Ledoux at his home. He’s been in the Housing First program for three years. The federally funded program operates in several Canadian cities, including Edmonton, Vancouver, Hamilton and Fredericton. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

So when the pandemic began early last year, Ledoux had no trouble following the public health recommendations.

“I mainly stay home, trying to stay away from downtown,” he said.

He said he has also managed to stay out of trouble with police and stay sober most of the time.

‘We can bring the supports to them’

Over the past decade, Housing First programs have become common in several Canadian cities, touted for their simple philosophy: provide people who are chronically homeless with permanent housing, without preconditions, and then work on other challenges.

In addition to Regina, other cities with the program include Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Hamilton and Fredericton. In Edmonton, for example, the city’s Housing First program has helped more than 12,000 people since it started in 2009. It currently serves 1,100 people.

“It doesn’t matter if people are sober, it doesn’t matter if they have bad records of tenancy — nothing matters as long as they are homeless and in need of supports,” said Kendra Giles, manager of innovative housing programs at Phoenix Residential Society in Regina.

“We put [housing] in place first, and then you can work on everything else after.”

Giles oversees the Housing First program in Regina, which began with six clients in 2016 and currently serves 30 clients on a budget of $ 800,000 a year. Her agency released statistics in 2018 that showed it was cheaper to support chronically homeless people in housing than to have them constantly cycle through police cells, jails, hospitals and detox centres.

She said she’s convinced the pandemic has revealed that Housing First has even more merit.

“You couldn’t get a more perfect setup,” she said. “Given that everyone has their own safe place to call home, people can actually be in a safe place to isolate, and we can bring the supports to them.”

Every day, housing support teams make the rounds in the city, checking in on clients to deliver medication, groceries and even alcohol.


Ali McCudden, a managed alcohol program support worker at Phoenix Residential Society in Regina, makes three deliveries a day to 10 Housing First clients. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Ali McCudden, a support worker with the managed alcohol program (MAP), opens the rear compartment of her grey minivan and grabs two tallboy beers before walking up the snow-covered sidewalk to a client’s house.

She makes three deliveries a day to 10 clients, bringing them “what they like — beer, vodka, whisky or wine.”

All are safer to drink than mouthwash or hand sanitizer, she says, and the home deliveries stop people from going to the bar or liquor store.

People who test positive can stay home

Phoenix received additional money from the federal Reaching Home program this past year to expand its managed alcohol program. The funding subsidizes the cost of alcohol, which usually costs too much for clients on provincial social assistance.

Support teams provide all kinds of services, including driving clients to medical appointments, teaching them how to cook and clean, providing addictions counselling and managing their finances.

A couple of Housing First clients in Regina have contracted the virus and self-isolated at home. Case workers called them several times a day and helped ensure they had everything they needed to stay home.

Rudy McCuaig, a 57-year-old army veteran, sits by his window, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the Phoenix team to arrive.

“They come check on me, make sure I’m doing OK,” he said. “They’re very protective.”


Rudy McCuaig waits for a visit from the Housing First team with Phoenix Residential Society. They deliver his medication and groceries and check in on him a couple of times a day. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

McCuaig, who got shot in the leg when he was serving in the army, shuffles into his kitchen with a walker. Before the pandemic, he slept in a tent in the bush near the Golden Mile Shopping Centre in Regina.

In a two-year period, he spent 246 nights in the brief-stay detox centre, which admits intoxicated people for one-night stays. He says a lot of those nights were in the winter, when temperatures turned freezing.

Homeless shelters have been forced to cut capacity

As the bitter cold hit Saskatchewan, people who are homeless have been desperately searching for spots in shelters or warming places — temporary indoor locations that allow people to briefly escape the cold.

There have been two freezing deaths in Saskatoon so far this year.

Agencies that help the province’s homeless and precariously housed populations have had to cut capacity to allow for physical distancing and — at times — even close temporarily due to outbreaks.

WATCH | Pandemic drives home importance of Housing First program:

Housing First programs allow homeless people to access housing regardless of addictions or employment and those involved say the pandemic has highlighted the importance of people having somewhere safe to stay. 4:12

Jason Mercredi is executive director of Saskatoon’s Prairie Harm Reduction, which offers services for vulnerable people and runs a supervised injection site. It’s one of the 12 designated warm-up spaces in the city but is allowing only nine people inside when it would normally have room for about 20.

“Pretty much every day where the temperature drops below –15, we have people begging us to let them in the building,” Mercredi said. “We’ve had people crying; we’ve had people quite upset.”

Mercredi said the city needs a 24/7 warm-up location.

Steven Ledoux said he doesn’t miss the life-or-death struggle of being homeless in the winter.

Now, his biggest challenge is boredom.

“The more you sit around, the more you want to drink,” he said.


Ledoux plays with his cat, Covid. A Housing First worker gave him the kitten before Christmas to help him get through the holidays at home alone. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

A Housing First social worker gave Ledoux a kitten before Christmas to keep him company over the holidays. Ledoux named the cat “Covid” and jokes that he hangs out with Covid instead of getting it.

He’s proud of himself, though. 

When public health officials urge people to stay home, it’s something he can finally do.

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It’s time to rethink police wellness checks, mental health advocates say

Living with bipolar disorder for 25 years has led Bill Pringle to dark places. Along the way, he said he has gained insight into how police handle mental health crises and what needs to change in their approach.

The Saskatoon man has had eight suicide attempts, which sometimes included interacting with police officers.

Once, he was treated as though he had committed a crime. In another instance, he described police as having a reassuring effect. “The difference in training was very evident,” Pringle said.

During one of his earlier suicide attempts, years ago while living in Vancouver, he said the police “essentially accused me of attention-seeking and would not call an ambulance for me.”

Instead, Pringle said, he was handcuffed and taken to the hospital where he eventually overdosed, which resulted in him being ejected from the facility. “I have never really gotten past that incident,” he said.

But he credited Saskatoon police for being “calm and considerate” during a more recent suicide attempt. “They spent time with me while I was waiting for the ambulance to come. They even followed the ambulance to the hospital to make sure that I was safe and OK.” 

Police responses to mental health crises have come under scrutiny following the recent deaths of Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and D’Andre Campbell, prompting demands to defund police. Canada’s largest psychiatric hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, also called for police to be removed from leading “this important work.”

Pringle, who is the former chair of the National Council of Persons with Lived Experience, an advocacy group for people living with mental illness, said the deaths highlight a problem that, “desperately needs to be addressed.”

Though he agreed that police may be needed to attend certain mental health situations, he added, “I don’t think police should be the first line of response.”

Integrated mental health crisis teams more common

Police departments in Canada have received more training for dealing with people with mental illness than ever before, as noted by a 2014 report prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and do “a reasonable job.”

Most municipal police departments from Victoria to St. John’s also have some form of an integrated mental health crisis team, which partners police with mental health professionals to perform wellness checks, which are sometimes known as emotionally disturbed person calls.

In cities such as Hamilton, the use of teams has led to significant reductions of people being detained under mental health legislation.

WATCH | Mental health workers call for change in police wellness checks:

Mental health advocates, health-care providers call for changes to how emergency teams respond to wellness calls after at least four Canadians have been killed by police since April. 2:34

But many of these units don’t operate around the clock, or they’re brought into situations too late, and in the end it’s often the police who are in charge — and they’re not mental health experts despite recent training improvements.

Toronto psychiatric nurse Sarah Reynolds said integrated teams are “a great model” that could be used more frequently. 

Reynolds worked with the Toronto Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) alongside specially trained officers from the Toronto Police Service for 18 months. She said if there was ever any talk of a weapon or “an unstable situation” during a wellness check, police would quickly take over.

“The nurses could be far more effective if we were front and centre doing the major assessment, and having police as back up,” she said.

In 20 years of emergency room experience as part of a psychiatric team, Reynolds said she has regularly managed patients who she described as “psychotic.”

“I’ve taken knives away from people in the emergency room,” she said, adding “sometimes I feel people [in distress] react to the police presence, which can make them more aggressive or afraid.”

Reynolds said this is often the case in potential “suicide by cop” situations, which require “patience, skill and it takes health-care experts not police experts.”

Mental health ambulance instead of police

Indeed, Sweden’s capital Stockholm has tried to remove police from psychiatric emergencies altogether with the 2015 launch of a mental health ambulance.

The Psychiatric Acute Mobility Team (PAM), which is composed of nurses and paramedics, responds to crises such as suicide threats or severe behavioural issues much like a conventional ambulance.

A study of its first year of operation published in the International Journal of Mental Health found police were needed in  49 per cent of calls the team attended. However, the program’s manager told CBC News the ambulance cannot keep up with the demand for its services.


Sarah Reynolds, a psychiatric nurse who worked with Toronto police in a crisis intervention team, said mental health professionals should be given more responsibilities when responding to wellness checks. (Jonathan Castell/CBC)

Halifax-based mental health advocate and legal scholar Archibald Kaiser has long supported the exclusion of police from responding to mental health crises.

“When the police attend, they may well come with what I would call the wrong mindset, emphasizing law enforcement priorities over empathetic caring and human rights-respecting responses to people who are in crisis.”

Kaiser represented the Canadian Mental Health Association in the 1986 public inquiry into the police shooting death of Harold Lowe, an unarmed Halifax man with a long history of mental illness who had barricaded himself in his apartment after he stopped taking his medication.

“You know it’s just endlessly frustrating for me that the same tragic scenes get acted out again and again,” he said.


The Psychiatric Acute Mobility team operates this mental health ambulance in Stockholm, Sweden. (Annika Bremer/PAM)

Kaiser, a law professor at Dalhousie University cross-appointed to the school’s department of psychiatry, said altercations with police are often the result of a mental health care system that has failed people.

“It’s a deliberate choice to under invest in societal inclusion and provision of treatment, which is eminently correctable.”

Kaiser said people who have lived with mental illness should have a role in designing a system that better supports their needs, especially in times of crisis.

“Involve others, you know mental health professionals, legal professionals, and police service providers at the end rather than at the beginning,” he added.

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Quebec’s COVID-19 triage protocol is discriminatory, disability advocates say

The potential for mistakes and discrimination against people with disabilities is likely if Quebec doesn’t revise its COVID-19 triage protocol, a set of worst-case scenario guidelines designed to help doctors decide which patients get access to critical care beds and ventilators if the health-care system is overwhelmed by cases, advocates warn.

Several of the exclusion criteria — the factors that help a medical team decide which patients are ineligible for life-saving intervention  — are discriminatory, in the view of the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society, an umbrella group representing organizations across the province. 

“It is worrisome that you could be excluding people with disabilities based on a clinical evaluation of the survival of the person, which is not necessarily a good indicator of their real survival chances,” said Samuel Ragot, a policy analyst and adviser for the SQDI.

In addition to excluding patients who have suffered a heart attack or a severe and irreversible neurological event like a stroke, the criteria excludes anyone who has a severe cognitive disability due to a progressive illness that leaves them unable to perform daily activities without help.

People with an advanced and irreversible neuromuscular disease, such as Parkinson’s disease, would also not be entitled to intensive care in the event that there was a shortage of resources, said Ragot.

With a second wave of the virus likely, Ragot said, it’s urgent the province act now and remove any discriminatory criteria.

The SQDI has launched a website, triage.quebec, along with a petition.

So far, nearly 4,800 people have emailed their MNA and the premier to raise their concerns about the protocol.


Samuel Ragot, a policy analyst and advocacy adviser for the Quebec Intellectual Disability Society, said the group has started a petition asking the province to revise the triage protocol and remove any criteria that discriminates against people with disabilities. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

‘It hit home pretty hard’

Christopher Craig is one of them.

When he read the protocol, he was horrified to see that someone with his son’s level of disability was lumped in with people at the end of their lives or those suffering from a critical illness.

“For us, it hit home pretty hard,” said Craig. “I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that they were categorizing people with disabilities as lower on the list, in terms of medical treatment.”

Craig’s son, Cameron, 11, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a global developmental delay. He cannot walk or speak and needs around-the-clock care.

About a week before the pandemic was declared, Craig said, his son seemed to be having trouble breathing. He didn’t think twice about taking him to the hospital, where they flushed out his nose and helped him to breathe.

He hates to think about what might have happened if the health-care system had been overrun by COVID-19, and the province had triggered its protocol. 

“He wouldn’t have been given help,” Craig said. “He would not have made it.”

He’s worried other parents might be hesitant to seek medical help if they need it.


Craig’s son, Cameron, 11, has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a global developmental delay. (Carl Mondello/CBC)

Craig doesn’t think society places the same value on the lives of people with disabilities as it does on the able-bodied. As a family, he said, they have to deal with that inequity every day, be it weird looks from people at the mall who are uncomfortable seeing Cameron in his wheelchair or difficulties accessing services and activities.

“To have it articulated that he’s on a list that points out he may be excluded from care because he’s less important? That’s emotional. It’s difficult. It’s hard to even talk about.”

He is angry the protocol was developed without public consultation. 

“That’s a great way of sliding a new rule, protocol or bill in. You do it quickly, you do it without much fanfare and you hope it slides by without much uproar or conversation,” said Craig. “I think it’s underhanded.”

After repeatedly asking the Ministry of Health for details about the protocol, the SQDI only got a look when the document was leaked by a third party. 

CBC News viewed a webinar given by the authors of the Quebec protocol, where they explained it in detail, including the exclusion criteria.

“If you have to decide who is going to live and who is going to die or not have the full care, you should have a public debate about what criteria you’re going to use,” said Ragot.

A week to make a plan

When the triage protocol was drafted, health-care officials in Quebec wanted to avoid the heartbreaking, life-or-death decisions many doctors in Italy, and later, New York, were being forced to make when they had to ration care and equipment.

“It was an emergency,” said Marie-Eve Bouthillier, a professor of clinical ethics in the faculty of medicine at the Université de Montréal. “You have to remember that at the end of March, the situation was critical, and it was expected we’d have a peak around the beginning of April.”

The province tasked Bouthillier with coming up with a plan and gave her one week to do it.

Quickly, she gathered together a working group of more than 40 experts, including intensive-care specialists, emergency physicians, nurses, lawyers, ethicists and patients.

With their input and after a review of scientific data and protocols in different countries, that protocol was drawn up by March 25. By the beginning of April, it was sent to institutions and shared with 10,000 physicians across Quebec.

“A triage protocol is to prepare for a catastrophe. You only use it in an emergency, as a last resort. You don’t use that if the resources are still available,” Bouthillier said.

Safeguards in place, says ICU doctor

Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive-care specialist at Laval’s Cité de la Santé who was part of Bouthillier’s working group, said in considering that protocol, it’s important to look at the consequences of COVID-19 on the physiology of patients and the impact of prolonged mechanical ventilation.


Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive-care specialist at Laval’s Cité de la Santé, said under the triage protocol, five people must assess any decision not to intubate a patient whose chances of survival are deemed slim. (Submitted by Joseph Dahine)

A mild cognitive impairment would not be an exclusion criteria, Dahine said, but if that impairment is so severe that a patient doesn’t understand what’s going on around them or can’t follow instructions from medical staff to help their body recover when the tube is removed, it could make it difficult for the patient to be weaned off a ventilator, he said.

“It’s a medical decision. It’s not at all a decision based on the value of the life of someone living with cognitive impairment or any other physical disability,” said Dahine.

Dahine understands why groups like the SQDI are upset and worried, but he said it would be wrong for physicians to offer treatment that could result in two or three weeks of suffering and, in the end, still result in a patient’s death.

He said the goal of the protocol is to ensure consistent, predictable guidelines, and there are safeguards in place to avoid mistakes. Under the protocol, at least five people must have assessed a decision not to intubate a patient.

“If there are resources for everyone, perfect. But if there’s a lack of resources, then it’s in the order of who has the worst prognosis, who has the best chance,” he said.

Bouthillier said she has asked the Quebec Health Ministry to post the protocol on its website this week.

Based on some of the simulations that were done during the pandemic, revisions to the protocol will be made during the summer.

Her committee also plans to work with the L’Office des personnes handicapées du Québec to put information online that explains the triage protocol more clearly.

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Halt drug possession charges during pandemic to stem spike in overdose deaths, advocates say

More than 50 human rights, drug and legal policy groups are pushing the federal government to halt criminal charges for simple drug possession as part of its response to COVID-19, arguing the pandemic has led to more dangerous drug use practices and a spike in overdose deaths.

In a letter to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Justice Minister David Lametti, the organizations say COVID-19 has forced supervised consumption sites and safe needle programs to either close down or reduce their hours.

Additional street-level policing to enforce pandemic public health measures has also increased fears of arrest, causing many drug users to forego safety precautions or consume alone.

“Heightened law enforcement surveillance in the context of the pandemic further hampers their access to vital health services and ability to use drugs safely, while also increasing their risk of arrest and detention,” the letter reads.

“Not surprisingly, some cities are already seeing reports of increasing overdose deaths since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The organizations report the situation is also increasing the risk of HIV and hepatitis C infections among intravenous drug users at a time when Canada is already battling another public health emergency — the opioid crisis.

Between January 2016 and September 2019, there were about 14,700 opioid-related deaths across the country.

Cities reporting spike in overdoses

Many cities, including Toronto, are reporting a rise in suspected overdoses and deaths over March and April of this year, after a widespread shutdown of businesses and support services was imposed in response to the pandemic. 

The groups that signed the letter — which include Amnesty International, the Canadian Nurses Association, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Criminal Lawyers’ Association — say the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act gives the federal health minister the authority to issue an exemption for criminal charges “on the basis that it is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest.” 

In  2015, the government granted exemptions for supervised consumption services using that same section of the act. 

The groups say the federal cabinet also could issue a directive.

Harm reduction advocates have been pushing federal officials to decriminalize simple drug possession for years, arguing that such a move would offer major public health advantages while posing few risks to public safety.

“We’ve wanted (the government) to decriminalize simple drug possession more broadly, but we think now there’s even more urgency given the increase in deaths,” said Sandra Ka Hon Chu, director of research and advocacy at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“The fact that people who use drugs are more often in public spaces means they’re more vulnerable to police surveillance, potential harassment or detention. And the last place we want them to be at this point is detention.”

Limiting the spread in jails, prisons

Ka Hon Chu said it would make little sense to put drug users in jail when provincial and federal prisons are taking steps to depopulate to limit the spread of COVID-19 behind bars.

The confined environment in detention – coupled with the fact that many incarcerated people have chronic health conditions – has led many to warn that the virus could spread quickly behind bars and lead to severe symptoms.

People who use drugs, especially those who are homeless or have precarious housing arrangements, are more likely to have the kind of chronic health issues that make them prone to developing severe symptoms if they’re infected with the virus, the groups say.

An expert in the United Nations Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement last month outlining the additional risks that people who use drugs face during the pandemic. It said the COVID-19 crisis requires countries to take “extraordinary measures” to protect their health.

“To prevent unnecessary intake of prisoners and unsafe drug consumption practices, moratoria should be considered on enforcement of laws criminalizing drug use and possession,” the April 16 statement reads.

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Rent relief is key to restarting economy, say business advocates

While provinces ease into reopening their economies, questions swirl around the federal government’s commercial rent relief program and whether it will work.

This week, small businesses and landlords are expecting more information on the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan last month, he said it was expected to be operational by mid-May.

“We’re all struggling to figure this out,” said Laura MacNutt, owner of Kingspier, a vintage clothing shop in downtown Halifax, who is desperate for help on rent.

With surveys showing a large number of small businesses can’t make rent payments and widespread concerns about how the program is set up, the pressure to launch CECRA is intensifying.

Fear of eviction and closure is spiking as some tenants worry landlords won’t participate in the program. Meanwhile, landlords are concerned about being left exposed on mortgages or supporting tenants who are destined for failure.

Both sides see the program as complicated, and there’s a consensus among those interviewed by CBC News that rent relief should cover more than the costs of pandemic closures to help restart the economy.


Laura MacNutt owns a vintage clothing store in Halifax. She said without long-term rent relief there will be a ‘bloodletting’ for many small businesses. (Ryann Farmer/Kingspier)

‘Need to fix the rent problem’

Fear and physical distancing will hurt sales for months, MacNutt believes. Without longer-term rent relief and protection for tenants “it’s going to be a bloodletting” for many small businesses, she said.

Laura Jones, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), agreed.

If we want to see a successful reopening of main street, we’re going to need to fix the rent problem.– Laura Jones, vice-president of Canadian Federation of Independent Business

“If we want to see a successful reopening of main street, we’re going to need to fix the rent problem.”

For Jones, rent relief must evolve alongside the recovery because safety practices in the new normal will be “very, very challenging” for businesses. 

WATCH | How Taiwan is beating COVID-19. Can Canada do the same?

Both Taiwan and Canada reported their first presumptive cases of COVID-19 within days of each other, but their experience of life with the pandemic has been quite different. Children in Taiwan are still in school, restaurants are open and there’s no shortage of protective supplies. Watch what Canada can learn from Taiwan’s approach to fight the spread of the coronavirus. 5:42

Tenants in trouble

CECRA is for small businesses that were forced to close or have lost at least 70 per cent of their revenue when provinces issued lockdowns due to the pandemic. Under the program, the government will pay 50 per cent of April, May and June rent, while the landlord and tenant are supposed to pay 25 per cent each.

For MacNutt, CECRA is a possible lifeline.

She moved close to Halifax’s harbour last June and had big plans for this summer.

“Downtown tourism, cruise ships, all of that stuff. So I had an ambitious target,” she said.

Now, she said she’ll be lucky to make half the revenue she forecast.

After closing in mid-March and paying her sole employee, MacNutt had enough to give her landlord roughly 10 per cent of March rent and hasn’t paid anything since.

The way CECRA is set up, it is landlords who must apply for the program, and MacNutt’s landlord said it doesn’t know enough about the terms or if it’s eligible.

The landlord owns several properties in the city. It has cited its own financial issues and told MacNutt to pay her full rent for March and April.

The situation leaves MacNutt unsure about her future.

Her prospects for hanging on to the store long term are not good without rent relief.

“It’s all overwhelming for sure.” 


Jonathan Kolber in what should be a full classroom at one of his language schools in Toronto. He has nine locations and is worried some of his landlords won’t wait for rent relief. (Yusuf Baykal Bozkurt/ILAC)

‘Bleeding money’

Jonathan Kolber is a numbers man, holding both an MBA and a degree in actuarial science. But the founder of the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) can’t calculate when his business will be back on track.

What he can tally is the rent for nine ILAC schools in Vancouver and Toronto.

“We are bleeding money,” said Kolber.

Half of his landlords are supportive. The other half “are taking a very aggressive position on this issue.” Kolber has received letters demanding payment and threatened with eviction.

Looking past the short-term pain of his schools having no revenue, Kolber is thinking about a long-term strain of classrooms hosting just four students instead of 15 or more.

That scenario convinced him rent relief needs to be phased out gradually as his restrictions are lifted and attendance returns to normal.

“If it’s gonna last three months, it’d be one thing. If it’s gonna last six months, it’d be another thing. If it’s gonna last nine months, it’s an entirely different story.”


Harmel Rayat in the foyer of his historic office and retail building in downtown Vancouver. Rayat believes three months of rent relief will not be enough. (Tindi Chohan/Talia Jevan Properties )

Harmel Rayat, one of ILAC’s Vancouver landlords, said many of the 17 tenants in his 10-storey historic building have asked for help.

Rayat currently has a rent deferral agreement with Kolber, but said he’s interested in applying for CECRA on behalf of ILAC and other tenants who need it.

He also said the program will have to be extended.

“There has to be additional breathing room for small businesses,” he said. 

Rayat suggested that after 90 days, the subsidy could be continued but reduced.

Landlords say program has problems

Some landlords are leary about the CECRA program.

Chad Griffiths is a commercial landlord and commercial real estate broker in Edmonton.

He said most landlords are eager to keep tenants and believe rent relief is a good idea, but many see significant problems with CECRA.


Chad Griffiths is a landlord and commercial real estate broker in Edmonton. He says landlords support rent relief but have issues with the CECRA program. (Lauren Griffiths)

One issue he identified is that while tenants and landlords suffer, mortgage-holding banks aren’t losing any money.

“It almost appears that this is a way to make the bank whole,” said Griffiths.

He also criticized the program as too complicated.

In fact, there was also confusion about CECRA because the government’s initial statements implied that only landlords with mortgages could access CECRA.

Even Liberal MPs questioned officials from the Ministry of Finance about this last Monday.

It appears the problem is being addressed because the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), which is administering the program, now says on its website that “for those property owners who do not have a mortgage, an alternative mechanism will be implemented.”

Griffith also is worried CECRA is “creating a wedge between tenant and landlord.”

The landlord’s power to decide whether or not a tenant can access CECRA has also inflamed advocates, such as CFIB and Save Small Business, which have called for that to be changed.

Protecting tenants, persuading landlords

Store owner MacNutt is candid about rent relief and the pandemic’s impact on small businesses like hers.

“Some of us are not going to succeed, and I may be one of those.”


‘Reopening and rent relief are very closely tied. If you don’t get the rent relief you need, how are you going to reopen? says Laura Jones, vice-president of CFIB. (CFIB)

A CFIB survey found that 40 per cent of its landlord members are not interested in the CECRA program, while a third are unsure and only a quarter plan to apply.

Advocates say protecting small businesses from evictions related to pandemic closures and losses would compel more landlords to accept CECRA.

Recently, the City of Toronto and several provincial Chambers of Commerce joined the CFIB, Restaurants Canada and Save Small Business in urging all provinces and territories to ban commercial evictions, an order New Brunswick has in place.

Another approach would be to make CECRA mandatory.

The CFIB wants more businesses to have access to CECRA and says if it doesn’t work, restarting the economy will stall.

“Reopening and rent relief are very closely tied. If you don’t get the rent relief you need, how are you going to reopen?” said Jones.

WATCH | Trudeau government announces rent relief for some businesses:

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Advocates wonder why long-term care COVID warnings were ignored

The surge in COVID-19 illnesses and deaths within Canada’s long-term care facilities has left politicians scrambling to react and experts wondering why no one listened to their warnings. 

According to data collected by the federal government, close to half of all COVID-19 deaths — a toll that stood at more than 975 as of Wednesday — have occurred in nursing homes. 

“We recognize the terrible and tragic stories that have come out of seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities across the country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon. “We know we need to do more.”

In Ontario, where 114 long-term care facilities are now dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, with three of the homes having reported more than 20 deaths each, Premier Doug Ford likened the situation to a “wildfire,” promising to dispatch hospital-based teams to tackle the problem. 

“My top priority right now is getting the troops and resources needed at this front,” he said during his daily media briefing Tuesday.

While in Quebec, where the province is calling the situation in 41 long-term care homes “critical,” and 1,250 staff are off work due to illness or potential exposure to the virus, Premier François Legault issued a desperate plea to health care workers. 

“I’m asking everybody available to come forward and help us,” he said. “I appeal to your sense of duty to help us protect the most vulnerable.”

But those calls to action are being greeted with skepticism by some experts and advocates who say that the country’s seniors’ residences were obvious COVID-19 danger zones and should have been better protected.

‘We saw it coming’

“This wasn’t just foreseeable, it was foreseen. We saw it coming in Italy. We saw it coming in Spain, let alone what was happening in Asia. And we knew that people in long-term facilities would be left without the care they need,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization. 

“There is a failure of leadership at every level of government.”

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces questions about long-term care homes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters on Tuesday. 2:47

Dr. Nathan Stall, a Toronto geriatrician and fellow at Women’s College Research Institute, says the current crisis is revealing all the weaknesses of a senior care system that has suffered from decades of neglect. 

“This is not new,” he told CBC News. “It’s just taken a global pandemic to unearth the problems that affect almost every aspect of the sector.” 

One such shortcoming, Stall said, is dated facility designs, where residents often share rooms or are packed into common areas, thereby increasing the probability of virus transmission. Another is the low pay and scant benefits offered to workers.

“There are chronic under-staffing issues,” he said. “Many of them work part-time and don’t have paid sick leave. And that necessitates them to work at multiple facilities, which contributes to the spread.”


Alicia Tamayo, 95, waves at her daughter Betty Fernandez and granddaughter Romina Varella from her window at the Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, where several residents have died from COVID-19. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Governments in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have already told staff that they can only work at one facility during the crisis. On Tuesday, Ontario announced that it intends to enact a similar emergency rule.

Over the long weekend, the federal government unveiled a slew of new guidelines for long-term care facilities, including enhanced cleaning, mandatory medical screening for staff and physical distancing at meal times. But even that is unlikely to halt the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, says Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Toronto’s Sinai Health and chief researcher at the National Institute on Ageing. 

150,000 people in care homes

Sinha says the coronavirus outbreak seems to be exposing “unique systemic vulnerabilities” within Canada’s long-term care system — an underfunded patchwork of public and private homes, all governed by rules and regulations that differ from province to province.

Testing for the virus among residents and staff remains sporadic, while long-term care workers have limited access to personal protection equipment (PPE), and less training on how to properly use it, he notes.

WATCH | Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on rethinking the system

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke to reporters on Tuesday. 1:42

“There are a lot of people right now in the system who don’t feel confident,” says Sinha. “They don’t want to be working in a home where there’s an outbreak because they’re not sure if they’re going to be protected.”

More than 150,000 people live in dedicated care centres across Canada, according to the Canadian Association for Long-Term Care. Quebec alone has 40,000 residents in its 440 accredited homes, while Ontario has 628 such facilities. And the vast majority of the clients are both elderly and frail. 

A 2019 survey of Ontario care homes found that 76 per cent of residents had heart or circulation illnesses, while 64 per cent had been diagnosed with dementia, and 21 per cent had suffered a stroke. 

Tom Carrothers, a longtime volunteer with the Family Council Network 4 Advocacy, an Ontario organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of long-term care patients, says families are terrified of what lies ahead. Prohibited from visiting their loved ones, they are also finding it hard to pry information out of the homes.

“They’re just worried that they’re not getting the care they need right now and so many staff and residents are very sick,” he says.

Still, Carrothers is hopeful that something positive will ultimately come out of the COVID-19 tragedy, and that governments will finally take action to address the many weaknesses in the long-term care system. 

“I think there will be change out of it because it is hitting so many people right across the province as well as the country,” he said. “I can guarantee you that groups like ours will be sure to keep it moving.”

Tamblyn Watts rattles off a list of specific measures that Canadian governments need to immediately take to confront the current crisis and its underlying causes: a vast expansion of testing, more PPE and, above all, a co-ordinated and fully funded national strategy for long-term care.

“The time was about a month ago, but every day matters,” she said. “These are not numbers. These are people who are being neglected, people who are dying. They have names. They have families. And so everything that we do matters.”

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Advocates wonder why long-term care COVID warnings were ignored

The surge in COVID-19 illnesses and deaths within Canada’s long-term care facilities has left politicians scrambling to react and experts wondering why no one listened to their warnings. 

According to data collected by the federal government, close to half of all COVID-19 deaths — a toll that stood at 832 as of Monday — have occurred in nursing homes. 

“We recognize the terrible and tragic stories that have come out of seniors’ residences and long-term care facilities across the country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoon. “We know we need to do more.”

In Ontario, where 114 long-term care facilities are now dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, with three of the homes having reported more than 20 deaths each, Premier Doug Ford likened the situation to a “wildfire,” promising to dispatch hospital-based teams to tackle the problem. 

“My top priority right now is getting the troops and resources needed at this front,” he said during his daily media briefing Tuesday.

While in Quebec, where the province is calling the situation in 41 long-term care homes “critical,” and 1,250 staff are off work due to illness or potential exposure to the virus, Premier François Legault issued a desperate plea to health care workers. 

“I’m asking everybody available to come forward and help us,” he said. “I appeal to your sense of duty to help us protect the most vulnerable.”

But those calls to action are being greeted with skepticism by some experts and advocates who say that the country’s seniors’ residences were obvious COVID-19 danger zones and should have been better protected.

‘We saw it coming’

“This wasn’t just foreseeable, it was foreseen. We saw it coming in Italy. We saw it coming in Spain, let alone what was happening in Asia. And we knew that people in long-term facilities would be left without the care they need,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, the CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization. 

“There is a failure of leadership at every level of government.”

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces questions about long-term care homes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters on Tuesday. 2:47

Dr. Nathan Stall, a Toronto geriatrician and fellow at Women’s College Research Institute, says the current crisis is revealing all the weaknesses of a senior care system that has suffered from decades of neglect. 

“This is not new,” he told CBC News. “It’s just taken a global pandemic to unearth the problems that affect almost every aspect of the sector.” 

One such shortcoming, Stall said, is dated facility designs, where residents often share rooms or are packed into common areas, thereby increasing the probability of virus transmission. Another is the low pay and scant benefits offered to workers.

“There are chronic under-staffing issues,” he said. “Many of them work part-time and don’t have paid sick leave. And that necessitates them to work at multiple facilities, which contributes to the spread.”


Alicia Tamayo, 95, waves at her daughter Betty Fernandez and granddaughter Romina Varella from her window at the Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto, where several residents have died from COVID-19. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Governments in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have already told staff that they can only work at one facility during the crisis. On Tuesday, Ontario announced that it intends to enact a similar emergency rule.

Over the long weekend, the federal government unveiled a slew of new guidelines for long-term care facilities, including enhanced cleaning, mandatory medical screening for staff and physical distancing at meal times. But even that is unlikely to halt the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, says Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Toronto’s Sinai Health and chief researcher at the National Institute on Ageing. 

150,000 people in care homes

Sinha says the coronavirus outbreak seems to be exposing “unique systemic vulnerabilities” within Canada’s long-term care system — an underfunded patchwork of public and private homes, all governed by rules and regulations that differ from province to province.

Testing for the virus among residents and staff remains sporadic, while long-term care workers have limited access to personal protection equipment (PPE), and less training on how to properly use it, he notes.

WATCH | Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on rethinking the system

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu spoke to reporters on Tuesday. 1:42

“There are a lot of people right now in the system who don’t feel confident,” says Sinha. “They don’t want to be working in a home where there’s an outbreak because they’re not sure if they’re going to be protected.”

More than 150,000 people live in dedicated care centres across Canada, according to the Canadian Association for Long-Term Care. Quebec alone has 40,000 residents in its 440 accredited homes, while Ontario has 628 such facilities. And the vast majority of the clients are both elderly and frail. 

A 2019 survey of Ontario care homes found that 76 per cent of residents had heart or circulation illnesses, while 64 per cent had been diagnosed with dementia, and 21 per cent had suffered a stroke. 

Tom Carrothers, a longtime volunteer with the Family Council Network 4 Advocacy, an Ontario organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of long-term care patients, says families are terrified of what lies ahead. Prohibited from visiting their loved ones, they are also finding it hard to pry information out of the homes.

“They’re just worried that they’re not getting the care they need right now and so many staff and residents are very sick,” he says.

Still, Carrothers is hopeful that something positive will ultimately come out of the COVID-19 tragedy, and that governments will finally take action to address the many weaknesses in the long-term care system. 

I think there will be change out of it because it is hitting so many people right across the province as well as the country,” he said. “I can guarantee you that groups like ours will be sure to keep it moving.”

Tamblyn Watts rattles off a list of specific measures that Canadian governments need to immediately take to confront the current crisis and its underlying causes: a vast expansion of testing, more PPE and, above all, a co-ordinated and fully funded national strategy for long-term care.

“The time was about a month ago, but every day matters,” she said. “These are not numbers. These are people who are being neglected, people who are dying. They have names. They have families. And so everything that we do matters.”

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‘We can’t wait’: Life-saving cystic fibrosis drugs hard to access, advocates say

No parent wants to outlive their children, but an Edmonton woman fears she might because her kids can’t access the drug that would help treat their rare medical condition.

Two of Sharon Stepaniuk’s three children have cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that causes severe damage to the respiratory and digestive systems.

“I really want my children to have the same potential that any other child has,” Stepaniuk told CBC News.

There are drugs available that can slow or stop the progress of cystic fibrosis, but getting coverage for them in Canada is rare.

Stepaniuk and 400 other Albertans sent letters to Health Minister Tyler Shandro earlier this month, calling on the province to make cystic fibrosis drugs more accessible, and to support the development of a federal strategy on rare diseases.

“If we had a rare-disease strategy which allowed these drugs to be approved, and our government went to the table and negotiated prices on these drugs and they were part of our publicly funded system, it would be such a weight off of me,” Stepaniuk said.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration recently approved the drug Trikafta, which is said to slow or stop the progression of CF in about 90 per cent of patients.

“This is a drug that people are literally dying to get,” Stepaniuk said.

It was approved in Ireland last week, according to CF Ireland, but getting access to Trikafta in Canada likely won’t be so easy.


Kim Steele from Cystic Fibrosis Canada wants the federal government to assess drugs for rare diseases differently than it assesses more common medicines. (Keith Whelan/CBC)

“We’re fearing that it might not come to Canada if our governments don’t start covering these medicines,” said Kim Steele, director of government and community relations for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.

‘Blockbuster drug’ not submitted for approval

Health Canada has the power to approve new medicines, but provincial governments can decide which medicines get public funding, meaning drug coverage varies across the country.

Getting coverage for CF medicines that have been approved in Canada, namely Orkambi and Kalydeco, is highly uncommon due to eligibility restrictions.

Steele said to her knowledge, only one person has qualified for coverage of Orkambi out of the three provinces that offer reimbursement — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Without coverage, she said it would cost about $ 250,000 for a year’s supply of either medicine.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Trikafta, hasn’t submitted the drug for approval in Canada.

“Here is this blockbuster drug that could treat many people and many mutations, and … the manufacturer does not see Canada as a good market because the reimbursement environment is so dismal,” Steele said.

“There’s just not a fair assessment of these drugs and therefore, Canadians can’t get them.”


(Cystic Fibrosis Canada)

The small number of people affected by cystic fibrosis and other rare diseases limits the number of clinical trials that can be conducted. Steele said it’s unfair to hold drugs for rare diseases to the same evidential standard for drugs where more robust trials are possible.

“All we’re asking for is for our federal and provincial governments to develop a separate process for these drugs so that they can get to the patients in a fair and equitable and timely fashion,” she said.

More accessible treatments focus on the symptoms, and include medicine for excessive chest mucus and infections and physiotherapy to keep the airway clear.

‘We can’t wait’

The federal government hopes to implement a national pharmacare program. Meanwhile, Budget 2019 proposed investing up to $ 1 billion into a strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases, starting in 2022.

“We can’t wait until 2022 or 2023. People are already losing opportunities to live healthy and well,” Steele said.

“It’s probably going to take a decade or more to get to national pharmacare, and this is something that is more easily done … We can set up and start a new process for these drugs while national pharmacare is being built.”

Stepaniuk said she hopes to meet with Health Minister Shandro to encourage him to advocate for the 604 Albertans who have CF.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Shandro said Alberta co-leads a provincial and territorial working group on costly drugs for rare diseases.

“This group is developing a new national process for reviewing drugs, as a basis for a longer-term project to develop a national rare disease strategy,” the statement reads, noting the province hasn’t gotten any updates on the federal governments proposal for a new strategy.

He said the province isn’t considering broad coverage for Orkambi, but is working with the manufacturer of Kalydeco to expand coverage within a year.

Stepaniuk said the provincial and federal governments need to act fast.

“If [my children] don’t get access to these drugs sooner rather than later, their lung function is going to decrease enough that by the time they do finally get access to them, it might be too late.”

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Advocates hope Queer Eye star’s HIV-positive disclosure helps break stigma

Advocates at a Winnipeg fundraiser in support of HIV awareness and funding are hoping the recent revelation made by Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness about being HIV-positive will help break the stigma around and educate people about those living with the diagnosis.

Van Ness told The New York Times in an article published Saturday that, when he was 25, he fainted while working at a salon and went to Planned Parenthood to diagnosis his flu-like symptoms. There, he tested positive for HIV. 

“That day was just as devastating as you would think it would be,” Van Ness, the grooming expert on the Netflix makeover show, wrote in his memoir Over the Top, which is set to be released on Tuesday and was quoted by the Times.

The now 32-year-old says he hopes his disclosure will help break the stigma around HIV, and that others will come out and join him as a “member of the beautiful HIV-positive community.”

Barb Burkowski, an organizer of Sunday’s Red Ribbon Walk & Run in Winnipeg, an event that aims to fight against HIV stigma and to raise money for programs and services for those living with HIV, says Van Ness coming out as HIV-positive can help those who aren’t out. 

“We have people who have HIV and have a self-stigma where they don’t want to come out,” Burkowski told CBC News.


Barb Burkowski says Van Ness coming out as HIV-positive can help those who aren’t out. (CBC)

“If we have people that come out on a bigger level, it’s more likely that people will feel a little bit better.”

Christine Bibeau, who has been living with HIV for 10 years, was a participant at Sunday’s event.

“For a long time, I was a closet HIV-positive person,” she told CBC News.

“One of the things I really remember was somebody close in my family, when I first had told them I was HIV-positive, right away phoned up somebody else because I had been at their baby shower and I held their baby. That kind of still sticks with me, 10 years later.”


Christine Bibeau has been HIV-positive for 10 years. She says she has had three children since learning about her diagnosis, all of whom are HIV-negative. (CBC)

Bibeau hopes to combat disinformation about HIV — Public Health Agency of Canada says HIV can’t be spread by “casual contact” — noting she now has three children, all born after learning she was positive and all of whom are HIV-negative. She also said revelations like those made by Van Ness go a long way to helping.

“I would like to see more people being OK about being open about [being HIV-positive], because I think that comes into education,” she said.

Kyle Voth, who also participated in the event to support the cause, agrees.

“I think it’s a really brave thing to do,” he told CBC News.


Sunday’s Red Ribbon Walk & Run in Winnipeg aims to fight against HIV stigma and to raise money for programs and services for those living with HIV. (CBC)

“It’s giving young people and both queer and straight people a really positive voice in [the HIV-positive] community about it. It’s really great.”

Brent Young, who participated in Sunday’s event in drag, said he was diagnosed and came out as positive during the AIDS era. He notes being positive is no longer the death sentence it once was and also applauds Van Ness for coming out.

“He has the platform where he can actively crusade,” he said.


Brent Young, right, was among the many who participated in drag. (CBC)

“It’s also positive that other people can see this in the rest of the world, and say, ‘Hey, somebody else has this too. I don’t have to be alone any more.”

As of 2016, there were more than 63,000 Canadians living with HIV, according to estimates released by the Public Health Agency of Canada last year.

Of those, an estimated 14 per cent were unaware or undiagnosed. 

It also says people taking appropriate amounts of antiretroviral treatment “pose effectively no risk of transmitting HIV infection to their sexual partner.” 

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