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Born with malformed limbs 52 years ago, thalidomide victim still fights for compensation

Noëlla Hébert isn’t scared of anything.

The 52-year-old from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, who was born missing an arm and with malformations in her other limbs, says after a lifetime of fighting for acceptance and compensation, there isn’t anything left for her to be afraid of.

“I fought all my life to be to be looked at as a normal person,” she said. “This has been a battle from the beginning.”

Hébert is one of three New Brunswickers who were rejected from a 2015 federal compensation program for thalidomide victims. They have been arguing even since that they deserve to be recognized, compensated and given assistance for their far-reaching physical disabilities.

‘I took a drug, Noëlla’

Hébert grew up in rural Kent County knowing she was different and knowing her mother carried an enormous burden of guilt.

“I can remember my mom always said, ‘I took a drug, I took a drug, Noëlla, I took a drug.’ But me, I didn’t understand that … you always have in the back of your mind, ‘Why did she take that pill?'”

Hébert, at six, along with her mother, father and two older brothers in a family photo from 1974. Hébert says everyone in her family supported her, no matter what she wanted to do. (Submitted by Noëlla Hébert)

Thalidomide, promoted as a treatment for morning sickness, was approved and arrived in Canada as samples in 1959.

Canada was one of the last countries to pull it from the shelves in 1962, but Hébert and others believe it was still in circulation in rural New Brunswick for years after.

Her mother, Marie, said that’s what the local doctor gave her in 1967.

“She took sick,” said Hébert. “She had a very sore stomach. She had insomnia. She couldn’t sleep. And my grandma had just died. So that was the creation of all that.”

She explained that in the 1960s, when the village doctor gave you a bottle of pills, you didn’t ask questions.

“People were ignorant. They thought that medication were miracle cures,” said Hébert. “Back then, when you had an ailment if you could have the help of a doctor — that was God.”

Hébert was born without a left arm and with severe malformations in her other limbs. Her right leg is very short and attaches directly to her torso with muscles. She has no hips. A surgery was performed to turn her foot to allow her to use her heel as a make shift knee in her prosthetic leg. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

There is no record that proves that the bottle of pills given to Hébert’s mother in 1967 contained thalidomide. There were few pharmacies in rural New Brunswick, and it was common for doctors to give medication directly to their patients. The lack of a prescription kept Hébert and 166 others from being part of a federal compensation program for victims in 2015.

“It was just a bottle of pills that was given from one hand to the other,” she said. “And so I did not have the documents that the government wanted but I still was a thalidomide victim.”

‘We got to push’

A 30-minute drive from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, Paul Richard was born in Rogersville in 1969 with malformed arms.

He believes his shorter-than-normal right arm, twisted hand and malformed left arm are the result of his mother also taking thalidomide.

Paul Richard, seen here after having several surgeries on his right arm, told his parents at the age of seven that he didn’t want to undergo any more operations. He says he ‘made do’ with his deformed right arm and went on to be a heavy equipment operator. (Submitted by Paul Richard)

“She was given a pill to alleviate nausea during her pregnancy and back then, well, they just took whatever doctors gave them and didn’t question anything,” he said.

Richard had three major surgeries on his right arm as a young child and remembers telling his parents when he was seven years old that he wasn’t going to have any more.

“I made do with what I had,” he said. “I played hockey all my life — I wasn’t Wayne Gretzky but I had fun.”

As far as he knows, his legs are fine. Richard jokes he’s always been able to “run from trouble.”

The husband and father of two worked as a heavy equipment operator at his father’s business when he finished school. When he could no longer cope with the physical demands, he changed careers and became a highway maintenance supervisor and now works in an office.

Richard worked for years as a heavy equipment operator until the pain in his good arm sent him to a doctor, and he found out his good arm was also malformed. He considers himself lucky to have been able to change careers twice in his life. (Submitted by Paul Richard)

Richard said he probably would have given up his battle for compensation, but Hébert is his mentor and if she keeps fighting, he will too.

“Thank God for Noëlla. I would give up but she keeps on telling me, ‘We got to push.'”

‘My body is my record’

Hébert, Richard and another New Brunswick man, from Val-Comeau, near Tracadie-Sheila, were among the 167 people who were rejected from the 2015 Thalidomide Survivors Contribution Program, which included a lump sum payment of $ 125,000, ongoing support payments and access to a medical assistance fund.

We’re not fraudsters, we are victims.-Noëlla Hébert

Even though their mothers have both signed affidavits saying they took thalidomide while they were pregnant, and even though genetics reports and doctors all point to thalidomide as the cause of their disabilities, neither Richard nor Hébert qualified.

“They put us all in the same basket that we would all try to fraud the system,” Hébert said of the third-party the government hired to determine who would qualify for the government program.

“But we’re not fraudsters, we are victims. It’s really really clear to see my body is my record — When you see me you can’t unsee me.”

Hébert has a prosthetic leg and has undergone several surgeries on both legs to allow her to walk. She has no hips and explains her legs are held in place with muscles. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Gesturing to her missing left arm, she points out the tip of a finger that pokes out of her shoulder. Her right arm looks normal, but has four skeletal malformations, including a thumb that is more like a fifth finger.

Her “good leg” does not have a hip and she has required reconstructive surgeries to allow her to walk. On the other side, she has a very short leg that is attached to her torso, again with no hip. She has undergone a surgery to turn her small foot backwards so she can use her heel as a makeshift knee in her prosthetic leg.

Forgotten victims

After 52 years, Hébert explained, her continued fight isn’t about the money.

She wants Canadians to recognize that she and others have lived their entire lives with severe disabilities and discrimination.

Hébert considers herself one of the “lucky” survivors, because she was born with a “firecracker personality” and a family who saw her as normal.

“My mom says that … when she looks at me, yes, I’m deformed. But when she looks aside she pictures me as a normal child. That’s the picture she had to create in her mind to be able to cope with this.”

Hébert uses a scooter to get around her home. She does not have a ramp to get into the house and bought the scooter at a bargain price from a seller on Kijiji. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

Hébert laughs as she remembers her big brother’s reaction when, as a child, she told him she wanted to learn to swim.

“He said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ There was no, ‘How are we going to do that?’ or ‘You can’t do it.'”

Hébert went on to attend university and to become a lawyer. It was one of the most difficult times of her life not because of the academics, but because it was nearly impossible for her to walk from her dorm at the University of Moncton to her classes.

“When you only have one leg and you have to walk in three inches of snow and the leg’s not going — that was my biggest, biggest challenge,” she said. “How many times I fell on the snow, in the snow with my 50 pounds of books on my back and came to my dorm crying and called my dad, my mom.”

Hébert graduated from the University of Moncton law school and has been a practising lawyer for more than 20 years. (Submitted by Noella Hebert)

Again, Hébert’s family encouraged her not to give up when she was ready to quit.

“My dad would say, ‘Well go to bed, pray, put some A535 [medicated cream] and the first thing I want you to do when you open your eyes, call me and tell me how is it going.’ And just on cue the next day it was always going a little bit better.”

Hopes rise and fall

In January 2019, Hébert and Richard were hopeful once again when then minister of health Ginette Petipas-Taylor announced a new compensation program for those turned down in 2015.

We didn’t ask for that pill to be introduced in Canada, but we had to deal with the consequence.– Paul Richard

The Canadian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program promised a one-time payment of $ 250,000, annual payments based on the person’s level of disability and access to a medical assistance fund.

But their hopes were quickly extinguished. This time the hurdle wasn’t missing documents, it was birth dates.

The first step of the preliminary screening for the new program is that you were born within five years of March 2, 1962, when thalidomide was pulled from shelves in Canada.

Noëlla Hébert, a lawyer born with one arm and malformed limbs is one of three New Brunswickers still fighting in court to be recognized as victims of thalidomide. 3:44

“They said, ‘Well if the drug was still on the shelves after five years that we pulled it off the market, it should have been expired.’ And then they added nine months for the birth of the child,” Hébert said.

Anyone born after Dec. 21, 1967, will not be considered for compensation in this latest program. Hébert was born five weeks too late, on Jan. 31, 1968.

“It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen but I’m not surprised,” she said. “We supposedly die about 10 years to 15 years younger of what we are supposed to. They’re just playing with time.”

Quest for closure, compensation

“We always miss the boat,” said Richard.

For him, the compensation would “help immensely,” but more important would be to finally be recognized as a victim.

“I know everyone wants something from the government,” he said. “We didn’t ask for that pill to be introduced in Canada, but we had to deal with the consequence.”

Richard understands the fact that his birthday also falls outside of the eligible dates is a hurdle, but he hopes it won’t be insurmountable.

Richard, seen here with his wife and two daughters, says being recognized as a victim of thalidomide would give him some closure. He says victims have suffered their entire lives because Canada allowed the drug to be sold. (Submitted by Paul Richard)

He is calling on the Canadian government to consider what life was like back in the 1960s in rural New Brunswick. It was a time when doctors handed out medication, and no one threw anything away.

“All those medications could have stayed in a medicine cabinet for a few years and when they needed it, they would take it.”

Like Hébert, he worries his body will continue to deteriorate, and he will need more support as he gets older.

Judge urges government to reconsider

The legal battle for Hébert and Richard continues. This month they appealed a ruling by Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan that would effectively close the door to them ever receiving any compensation.

Lawyer Alyssa Tomkins, a partner with Caza Saikaley, is representing Hébert and Richard, along with another New Brunswicker, pro bono.

She explained the 167 people who were refused government compensation in 2015 had launched a class-action lawsuit, which was settled in May.

Lawyer Alyssa Tomkins is appealing a court ruling that settles a class action lawsuit by thalidomide survivors. The settlement order, which is tied to a 2019 compensation program, would leave Hébert and Richard out. (http://www.plaideurs.ca)

The settlement order applies to all members of the suit, including Hébert and Richard, and means they have to accept the new 2019 program, even though it excludes them and 40 others based on their birth dates.

Tomkins is arguing that based on the negative or “deleterious” effects of the settlement on so many class members, the order should be set aside.

“Effectively, the settlement provides little benefit, we’ve alleged, to class members within the birth date framework. And yet it’s devastating to those outside it,” she said.

Let’s work with integrity and let’s show our hearts. We may have done mistakes in the past but it’s never too late to show compassion.– Noëlla Hébert

Tomkins worries that if the settlement holds up, it will make it “extremely difficult” for victims to ever get the government aid they are entitled to.

In his ruling, Phelan also raised concern about the birth date parameters set by the 2019 compensation program and said there was a “less than clear” explanation from government as to why it was necessary.

“Canada’s explanation for its rigid approach, while coldly scientific, lacked the compassion for the individual which the government espoused,” he wrote.

In his May decision, Justice Michael Phelan encourages the government of Canada to reconsider birth date requirements that exclude at least 42 people from a new compensation program for thalidomide survivors. (Federal Court of Canada)

“Some of the individuals failed to qualify by a matter of a few weeks — their stories were tragic and compelling. Class counsel recognized the problem but on this issue Canada was intractable.”

Phelan said if it was within the power of the court, he would have struck out the date parameters.

“Regrettably, the court is powerless to do anything about this issue, other than to encourage a compassionate reconsideration.”

Phelan goes on to acknowledge that class members are advancing in age and have increasing requirements because of their disabilities.

“Time is not their friend, if not yet their enemy.”

Despite this setback, Hébert is undeterred and ever hopeful that the many politicians she has met with over the years will reconsider and put an end to this “nonsense.”

“It’s never too late. We can say, ‘The past was the past. Let’s talk with integrity now. Let’s work with integrity and let’s show our hearts.’ We may have done mistakes in the past but it’s never too late to show compassion.”

‘I am a hero of history’

Hébert’s sense of humour is still in tact as she talks about some of the accommodations she needs to continue to live in her own home.

“I don’t have a ramp to bring my scooter with me in my truck. I don’t have a ramp outside my door. I don’t have the [modified] steering wheel because my steering wheel is too heavy for me to turn on my SUV.”

“It costs an arm and a leg — which I don’t have,” she jokes.

Compensation would allow Hébert to afford accommodations such as a ramp for her home, a ramp to be able to transport her scooter in her truck and an adaptive device to allow her to continue to drive. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

She knows the body she was born with will never allow her to do what her spirit would like, but she still looks forward to a day with simple accommodations — raised garden beds, for instance, so she can grow plants on her deck.

“It’s about the recognition of being who I am,” she said.

“I am a hero of history. I’ve conquered the world with a not normal body and instead of looking at us with eyes of pity, they should say to us, ‘Oh my God — you’re champions. You should have a medal.'”

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‘She was so amazing’: Olympic luger fondly remembers Snowbirds crash victim Capt. Jenn Casey

Canadian Olympic luger Tristan Walker will never forget the time he got to share the sky with Captain Jenn Casey.

“It will forever be one the best days of my life. I have Jenn to thank for that,” he said.

In April 2019, Walker and teammate Justin Snith were invited to the Canadian Air Forces Base Comox in British Columbia to take flight with the Snowbirds.

The two compete in men’s doubles and raced the anchor leg for Canada, leading the team to a relay silver medal at the 2018 Olympics.

Walker didn’t know it at the time, but through a series of back and forth messages over Instagram last winter, he’d learn he was messaging with Casey for months in an attempt to line up the flight.

“She was my first point of contact with the Snowbirds,” Walker told CBC Sports.

“She immediately came back with positivity. Nothing but positivity with Jenn. That’s what it was like the entire time I knew her.”

On that April day a little more than a year ago, Walker was greeted in Comox by the bright smile of Casey. She stayed by his side the entire day, helping him gear up in the distinctive red and white of the Snowbirds and go through a safety course.

Not long after that, Walker was strapped in for a flight with Canada’s air demonstration squadron – Walker was piloted by Captain Taylor Evans of Canmore, Alta.

Casey was perched inside a massive Buffalo search and rescue plane high above the Snowbirds, documenting the flight with her camera.

Time spent with Casey

“To be able to get that chance to go up in the sky with the Snowbirds was a lifelong dream that I didn’t think was ever going to happen,” Walker said.

“I was lucky enough to spend a handful of hours with Jenn. She was so amazing and left such an impression on me.”

When they came back down from the sky, Walker was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for the experience – he took a photo alongside Casey in the minutes following the exhilarating experience and couldn’t stop smiling.

“Genuine is the word. That’s been my experience with Jenn. She has that great smile. She’s always smiling. That’s how I’m going to remember her,” Walker said.

Jenn Casey, a public affairs officer with the Snowbirds, died Sunday in the crash. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Storyteller, kind, warm and welcoming

Capt. Casey of Nova Scotia is being remembered as a gifted storyteller, a kind and generous friend and a proud member of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds team.

Casey, a public affairs officer for the Snowbirds, died on Sunday when the jet she was in crashed shortly after takeoff and burst into flames in the front yard of a house in Kamloops, B.C.

The news has sent a shockwave of sadness across Canada. The Snowbirds have been on a cross-country tour to raise people’s spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walker took to his social media platforms in the hours that followed her death, saying he was at a “total loss for words” and that he was grateful for her being “such a huge part of one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.”

“She was always up for anything,” Walker told CBC Sports.

“She was just warm and welcoming from the very first time we messaged.”

Walker shared his condolences on social media after Casey’s death and expressed gratitude for the experience he had with her and the Snowbirds. (Tristan Walker)

That’s what Casey wanted for everyone she came across. She wanted people to experience moments. And she created them for so many people, including a number of other Olympians who had the chance over the years to spend time with the Snowbirds and take to the air.

Last summer, when Walker showed up at the Springbank Airport outside of Calgary driving his motorcycle, Casey fulfilled another one of his dreams.

He’s always had a need for speed and craves the rush of adrenaline – partly why he luges. It’s also why he suggested burning down the runway alongside the roaring jets on his motorbike. He wanted to recreate a scene from Top Gun and knew it was a crazy thing to ask.

“She immediately made a phone call and made it happen,” Walker said, laughing.

“I don’t think anyone has been allowed to do the Top Gun reenactment. She was filming it from the airshow stand.”

Family affair

Walker describes what he felt during his time with Casey and the Snowbirds team as being family-like – and for Walker it was all very close to his family too.

Walker’s grandfather Len Bolger flew CF-100s with 409 Squadron, at the same Canadian Forces Base Comox he was able to fly with the Snowbirds.

During every Olympics he’s competed at in 2010, 2014 and 2018, Walker has kept his grandfather’s Royal Canadian Air Force wings in his uniform.

“Because of my grandfather I had grown up with everything being about aviation,” he said.

“My experience with the Snowbirds added more inspiration to being an aviator.”

Walker is in the midst of working on getting his helicopter license, more motivated than ever to take to the air again to pay tribute to Capt. Casey.

“Two weeks ago, she got in touch about potentially speaking at their 50th anniversary celebration,” Walker said. “If there’s any opportunity with that, I’d like to be a part of that for sure.”

And the first thing Walker would say if he was asked to speak?

Thank you, Captain Casey.

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Partial remains of 2nd Canadian military helicopter crash victim identified

Officials have identified the partial remains of Capt. Brenden Ian MacDonald, the second victim to be found after last month’s military helicopter crash into the Mediterranean Sea.

The Department of National Defence says the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario used DNA to identify the partial remains, which were recovered as part of the search that followed the April 29 Cyclone crash that claimed six lives.

“The CAF community expresses its deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of all our six members,” the release reads. “We hope that they can find some comfort in knowing that we are all grieving with them.”

The remains of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, 23, were previously found, identified and repatriated.

Family and friends embrace during a repatriation ceremony for the six Canadian Forces personnel killed in a military helicopter crash in the Mediterranean, at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., on May 6. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The other four Canadian Armed Forces members, Capt. Kevin Hagen, Capt. Maxime Miron-Morin, Sub-Lt. Matthew Pyke, and Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, are missing and presumed dead.

MacDonald, a pilot, was originally from New Glasgow, N.S.

“Captain MacDonald’s family, and the families of the other crew members lost in the accident, have all been notified of this identification,” the statement reads.

A search for the rest of the remains is ongoing.

Largest loss of life since 2007 bombing in Afghanistan

The crash, the cause of which remains under investigation, represents the largest loss of life in one day for the Canadian Armed Forces since six Canadian soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan on Easter Sunday 2007.

The helicopter was deployed aboard HMCS Fredericton on a NATO mission patrolling the Mediterranean and Black seas. The military says it was returning to the ship after a training exercise when it crashed.

Military statements, and chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance himself, first said the ship had “lost contact” with the helicopter, though the Forces later acknowledged that crew aboard the Fredericton saw it go down in deep water.

The helicopter’s flight-data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered and are back in Canada for analysis. The Defence Department says a team that includes social workers and military chaplains has been deployed to Italy to provide mental health support to Fredericton’s crew, who have been allowed to communicate with loved ones back home.

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Victim of Texas Walmart shooting succumbs to injuries, raising death toll to 23

A man shot in the Aug. 3 attack targeting Latinos in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart died after months in the hospital, raising the death toll from the attack to 23, according to a hospital official.

“After a nearly nine-month fight, our hearts are heavy as we report Guillermo ‘Memo’ Garcia, our last remaining patient being treated from the El Paso shooting, has passed away,” said Del Sol Medical Center CEO David Shimp.

Garcia and his wife, Jessica Coca Garcia, were fundraising for their daughter’s soccer team in the Walmart parking lot when the suspected gunman opened fire that Saturday morning.

Garcia is survived by his wife, who suffered leg wounds but recovered. A week after the shooting, she rose from her wheelchair to give a speech across the road from the county jail where the suspected shooter was being held.

“Racism is something I always wanted to think didn’t exist. Obviously, it does,” she said.

Jessica Garcia speaks at a gathering in El Paso, Texas, in August 2019. (Cedar Attanasio/The Associated Press)

The suspect, 21-year-old Dallas-area man Patrick Crusius, remains in the same jail awaiting trial. State prosecutors have charged him with murder and are pursuing the death penalty, and federal prosecutors charged him with hate crimes.

Police said they arrested Crusius near the shooting after he surrendered to officers, telling them he was targeting “Mexicans.” They also attributed to him a four-page racist screed that decried a Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and the U.S., and called for ethnic and racial segregation.

The shooting was the largest terrorist attack targeting Hispanics in modern history, and spread fear throughout the Latino community.

In the wake of the attack El Paso police said the Walmart had previously hired armed off-duty police officers to guard larger stores, but removed them at some point.

A Texas state trooper walks back to his car while providing security outside the Walmart store in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso in August 2019. (Andres Leighton/The Associated Press)

The Garcia family joined a number of victims who sued the Walmart over lack of security on the busy Saturday shopping day when about 3,000 people were in the store. The lawsuit is ongoing.

Following the attack, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company added armed and unarmed officers to all of its stores. It stopped selling handguns and short-barrel rifle ammunition.

The store where the shooting took place reopened in November.

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‘My name is Karly’: Sex trafficking victim joins police on front lines in battle against exploitation

Warning, this story contains graphic content that readers may find disturbing.

Karly Church, 31, escaped the dangerous world of domestic sex trafficking when a police officer found her in a hotel room, and her two traffickers were arrested.

Six years later, Church now works as a crisis intervention counsellor with Victim Services of Durham Region, east of Toronto. She also teams up with Durham Regional Police detectives in the field to help underage girls and young women caught up in the heinous crime.

“I want to instill hope,” Church says. “I want them to see that there is a way out, and there is the ability that they can reach any goal that they have for themselves. That you don’t have to be stuck, that there are people who care.”

Human trafficking is a fast-growing crime in Canada and one of the most difficult to beat.

According to Statistics Canada’s latest figures, reports of the “most serious violation” of laws around human trafficking soared from a couple of dozen across the country in 2010 to 340 in 2016.

StatsCan adds that, “human trafficking is difficult to measure, due in part to its hidden nature. While there has been an increase in the number of human trafficking incidents reported by police in recent years, human trafficking remains highly underreported.”

  • WATCH: The feature about police efforts to crack down on human trafficking, Tuesday Feb. 18 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

The majority of reported cases are in Ontario, and 93 per cent of the victims are female. Approximately 72 per cent of female trafficking victims are under the age of 25, and can be as young as 12 years old.

And the conditions police find victims in can be horrific.

Det. Dave Davies, with the Durham Regional Police Service Human Trafficking Unit, says girls and women trapped in the sex trade are often subject to horrendous treatment. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“There are incidents with girls getting waterboarded, eating their own feces, being brutally raped,” says Detective Dave Davies, who runs the Durham Regional Police Human Trafficking Unit.

“The hardest ones are the ones that are young — the young ones that have never had sex before and they lose their virginity to some John, or they end up getting pregnant. Those are real scenarios that we’ve dealt with.”

The Durham Regional Police are one of the first in Canada to work directly with a human trafficking survivor, and they say Church is their secret weapon. With six detectives attached to the Human Trafficking Unit, most of them undercover, the police have nicknamed her Number Seven.

“She’s a part of our team,” says Detective Davies.

Church also works with Victim Services of Durham Region. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The collaboration between the Durham Regional Police Unit and Victims Services of Durham Region is about building relationships and trust with the victims. Church and Davies say it’s working.

Since Church got involved, the number of local police investigations has doubled and so has the number of victims she is supporting. In 2018, Victim Services of Durham Region helped 120 human trafficking victims, and in 2019 that jumped to 240.

Building trust

On a recent afternoon, Church and the detectives combed through online sex ads looking for clues leading to underage girls.

On any given day there can be anywhere from 30 to 100 new ads posted just in their region.

“You can see 22, 19, 22, they’re all different ages. We’re looking for younger looking females right now,” Detective Davies says.

“They can kind of give us clues to where they are. So, like, Westney Road, 401, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa. When it says ‘back in town,’ that means they were somewhere else,” he adds, a potential sign that they’re being trafficked.

Since Church started working with the Durham Regional Police Service Human Trafficking Unit, its number of investigations has doubled. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“Karly helps out and gives her opinion. We work together and try and find somebody, and go talk to them.”

Undercover detectives set up fake “dates” to try and meet up with the women at nearby hotels to make sure they aren’t underage, and also that they aren’t being forced into sex.

Often Church joins the offsite operations.

Detective Dave Davies, who runs the Durham Regional Police Human Trafficking Unit, describes Karly Church’s important role with his team. 0:22

Having identified an ad that concerns the team, they all head out the door of police headquarters and meet at a nearby hotel, where the first date has been set up for the day.

These hotel operations can be dangerous. Often, the pimps are nearby in adjoining rooms or even in the room’s own bathroom, and sometimes they’re armed.

After the detectives establish the room number, they enter and make sure the person and the situation is safe. Church and Davies stay back until they get they get the okay to come in.

Karly Church and police visit a hotel room to talk to a woman involved in the sex trade. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Church then works to build trust with the women.

“I think immediately if somebody comes to your door and identifies as police, it’s intimidating,” Church says. “Just because a lot of times it’s like, ‘what’s  going to happen to me?’ And there’s a bit of a panic.”

This time the woman in the room has been told about Church and wants to talk to her.

Most of them do. The woman isn’t underage, but she takes Church’s contact information.

The police meet at a nearby parking lot for a debrief. Church is happy with the outcome:

Karly Church describes what defines success in her daily work with the police and victims of human trafficking. 0:21

Community outreach

Durham Region has a trafficking coalition consisting of community workers and organizations. They’re trying to raise awareness to help discourage the crime, and they also help victims find the support they may need for addiction, housing, a bus pass and even food.

Raising awareness includes school outreach and education. Church does public service announcements to spread the word about things such as signs to look for that may indicate someone is being trafficked. She also speaks to Grade 8 and 9 students.

“My name’s Karly, I’m actually a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. I had a pimp and he forced me to work in the sex trade,” Church tells a group of students.

Karly was lured in by human traffickers at a time when she had nowhere to go. She’d left home, then been kicked out of a detox centre. Another girl who’d also left the detox centre persuaded Karly to go with her to a house, where she met the traffickers who drew her into the sex trade.

Church tells a classroom how she was recruited by a human trafficker, and describes some of the signs they can watch for to avoid being manipulated by predators. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

As the kids listen, she presents the facts on how it happened to her. She describes how traffickers prey on the most vulnerable, and can often disguise themselves as a boyfriend or someone who can be trusted.

“He is looking for someone who maybe is being bullied in school. He’s looking for someone who maybe doesn’t have that brand-name clothing or brand new iPhone,” says Church.

Karly’s presentation leaves the room silent.

What is most concerning is how many kids approach Church after her captivating presentations.

“In my experience, after every presentation I have ever done, someone has come up after and made a disclosure — either ‘this happened to me,’ or ‘I think this is happening to me,’ or ‘I know someone this is happening to.’ That’s in 36 schools,” says Church.

Besides her work with the police and outreach to schools, Church also helps women in Durham who have been trafficked and need support. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Kayla Yama is a clinical director of Victim Services for Durham Region, and coordinates the public presentations with Church.

She says public outreach helps reduce the stigma, encouraging people to speak up if they or someone they know is a target of sex trafficking.

Yama says there has been a “huge shift in terms of awareness” locally. She adds that it’s due largely to people “coming forward to Victim Services of Durham Region, coming forward to the community, coming forward to their parents — the bravery that it takes, it astounds me every day — and saying that this happened to me. It allows people not to overlook it and say this is something that couldn’t happen to my child.”

Back at police headquarters, Detective Davies says the program is a success, but his team wants to do more. He’s hopeful that in the near future the force can make that happen with some provincial funding. “It would help for sure.

“We have six detectives here. We have one Karly,” he says, adding that he’d like a “Number Eight” to join the team to help with Church’s growing workload.

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Death toll from New Zealand volcano eruption hits 18 as victim succumbs to injuries

The death toll from last month’s volcanic eruption in New Zealand rose to 18 as one of the injured died in a hospital in Australia, police said on Monday, while two remain missing and are presumed dead.

“Police can confirm a further person died in an Australian hospital last night as a result of injuries suffered in the Whakaari/White Island eruption,” New Zealand’s deputy police commissioner, John Tims, said in a statement on Monday.

Police did not provide details on the identity or nationality of the person. The majority of the previously named victims after the powerful eruption of White Island, also known by its Maori name of Whakaari, were Australian citizens or permanent residents.

Two others are still missing since the incident and presumed dead. New Zealand scaled down the search operations and has acknowledged that the bodies of the two missing people may never be found.

There were 47 people, mostly tourists, on or near the White Island volcano when it erupted on Dec. 9. Those who survived are still being treated in hospitals in New Zealand and Australia for severe burn injuries.

Official inquiries into the eruption and New Zealand’s response will take up to a year to conclude, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said.

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Victim of Florida navy base shooting pointed first responders to attacker as he was dying, family says

The family of one of the victims of Friday’s shooting at a Florida naval base says the 23-year-old “died a hero,” as he pointed first responders to the attacker in his last minutes of life.   

Joshua Watson, who had just graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and looked forward to a military career as a pilot, “saved countless lives … with his own,” his brother Adam said in a Facebook post.

“After being shot multiple times he made it outside and told the first response team where the shooter was and those details were invaluable,” Adam Watson wrote.

“We are beyond proud but there is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled,” he wrote.  “Just wish I could talk to him one more time or wrestle with him one more time.”

“I’m just an emotional wreck,” Joshua Watson’s father, Benjamin, told The Associated Press.

“We want my son’s story told,” he said.

In an account he shared earlier with the Pensacola News Journal, he said his son was shot at least five times. Though wounded, the young officer flagged down first responders and described the shooter.

“He died serving his country,” the elder Watson said of his son. 

Joshua had reported to Pensacola two weeks ago for flight training to live out his dream of becoming a Navy pilot, his father told the News Journal. 

On Saturday morning, Watson’s family was preparing to drive 200 kilometres from their home in Enterprise, Alabama, to Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida’s Panhandle.

The anguish spread from Pensacola and into communities across the country, as fellow Americans shared in the shock after the attack in which an aviation student from Saudi Arabia opened fire in a classroom at the navy base on Friday morning, killing three people, as well as himself. 

The assault, which prompted a massive law enforcement response and base lockdown, ended when a sheriff’s deputy killed the attacker. Eight people were hurt in the attack, including the deputy and a second deputy who was with him.

U.S. officials investigating the deadly attack were working Saturday to determine whether it was motivated by terrorism. 

Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a scathing statement calling the shooting — the second on a U.S. Naval base this week — an act of terrorism “whether this individual was motivated by radical Islam or was simply mentally unstable.”

The shooter was a member of the Saudi military who was in aviation training at the base, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference. DeSantis spokesperson Helen Ferre later said the governor learned about the shooter’s identity from briefings with FBI and military officials.

During a news conference Friday night, the FBI declined to release the shooter’s identity and wouldn’t comment on his possible motivations.

“There are many reports circulating, but the FBI deals only in facts,” said Rachel L. Rojas, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office.

Earlier Friday, two U.S. officials identified the student as a second lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force.

A national security expert from the Heritage Foundation warned against making an immediate link to terrorism.

Charles “Cully” Stimson cautioned against assuming that “because he was a Saudi national in their air force and he murdered our people, that he is a terrorist.”

President Donald Trump declined to say whether the shooting was terrorism-related. Trump tweeted his condolences to the families of the victims and noted that he had received a phone call from Saudi King Salman.

He said the king told him that “this person in no way shape or form represents the feelings of the Saudi people.”

The Saudi government offered condolences to the victims and their families and said it would provide “full support” to U.S. authorities.

The U.S. has long had a robust training program for Saudis, providing assistance in the U.S. and in the kingdom.

One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, Naval Air Station Pensacola sprawls along the waterfront southwest of the city’s downtown and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.

Part of the base resembles a college campus, with buildings where 60,000 members of the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard train each year in multiple fields of aviation. A couple hundred students from countries outside the U.S. are also enrolled in training, said Base commander Capt. Tim Kinsella.

All of the shooting took place in one classroom and the shooter used a handgun, authorities said. Weapons are not allowed on the base, which Kinsella said would remain closed until further notice.

The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base this week.

A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.

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Day 2 of Trump impeachment probe: Ousted ambassador to Ukraine says she was victim of ‘profit over power’

Trump impeachment hearings: What you need to know

  • Watch the full hearing live on CBCNews.ca or CBC News Network.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff, Democratic committee chair, opens 2nd day of public hearings.
  • Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking Republican on committee, reads aloud White House summary of April conversation between U.S. President Trump and newly elected Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
  • Marie Yovanovitch, ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, talks about her career, U.S. policy on Ukraine in her opening statement.
  • Missed the 1st day of public testimony? See the highlights here.

The second day of the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry opened Friday in Washington, D.C., with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was targeted by the U.S. president’s allies in a “smear” campaign, testifying about the “crisis” in the State Department that “is being hollowed out from within” during a complex time on the world stage.

Marie Yovanovitch opened her statement to the House intelligence committee by touching on her background, her experience in Ukraine and elsewhere, and the U.S. policy toward Ukraine. 

The Montreal-born career diplomat said not all Ukrainians “embraced” U.S. anti-corruption work.

“Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anti-corruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me. What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador.”

The initial day of the inquiry earlier this week marked the first time the hearings have been televised. At issue is a conversation Trump had with Ukraine’s president and whether it amounted to abuse of political power by the U.S. president.

Yovanovitch, who has served both Republican and Democratic presidents, was expected to relay her striking story of being suddenly recalled by Trump and told to “watch my back” in a swiftly developing series of events that sounded alarms about the White House’s shadow foreign policy.

Before Yovanovitch began testimony, California Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the panel, praised her, saying she was “too tough on corruption for some, and her principled stance made her enemies.”

Ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, also of California, spoke next, taking aim at how the hearings were being conducted.

WATCH: Schiff opens 2nd day of U.S. impeachment inquiry

Chair of U.S. House intelligence committee lauds former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch as tenacious anti-corruption fighter 0:32

Nunes read aloud a memo circulated by the White House that summarizes the first conversation between Trump and his newly elected Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky. The first conversation took place in April after Zelensky’s victory. It consists largely of pleasantries and words of congratulations.

The White House made a record of the conversation public at the start of the House impeachment hearing on Friday. Nunes, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee. read the document aloud to suggest there was nothing untoward in the conversation. Schiff then said Trump should also “release the thousands of other records that he has instructed the State Department not to release.”

Yovanovitch and other officials now testifying publicly in the historic House hearings scrambled to understand Trump’s actions, providing revelatory accounts that Democrats are now relying on to make the case that the president’s behaviour is impeachable.

In particular, Yovanovitch and others have described Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, as leading what one called an “irregular channel” outside the diplomatic mainstream of U.S.-Ukraine relations. Asked during her closed-door deposition if anyone at the State Department who was alerted to Giuliani’s role tried to stop him, she testified, “I don’t think they felt they could.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch arrives to testify before the House intelligence committee in Washington. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As historic hearings to consider removal of America’s 45th president move forward, Democrats and Republicans have been hardening their messages to voters as they try to sway public opinion.

Americans are deeply entrenched in two camps over impeachment, resulting in a mounting political battle that will further test the nation in one of the most polarizing eras of modern times.

‘It’s bribery’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday brushed aside the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” that Democrats have been using to describe Trump’s actions with a more colloquial one: Bribery.

“Quid pro quo: Bribery,” Pelosi said about Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a favour.

Rudy Giuliani, seen last month, has come under scrutiny for allegations he was part of a so-called shadow foreign policy team despite not being part of the U.S. State Department or the president’s national security team. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Trump says the call was perfect. Pelosi said, “It’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery.”

Trump continued to assail the proceedings as “a hoax” on Thursday, and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed the witness testimony as hearsay, at best second-hand information.

‘Beltway charade’

“Beltway charade,” the president’s son, Eric Trump, told reporters. He said good, hard-working Americans “don’t give a damn about that stuff.”

At its core, the impeachment inquiry concerns Trump’s July phone call with Zelensky that first came to attention when an anonymous government whistleblower filed a complaint.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says the president’s actions in the impeachment inquiry amount to “bribery.” (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

In the phone conversation, Trump asked for a “favour,” according to an account provided by the White House. He wanted an investigation of Democrats and 2020 rival Joe Biden. Later it was revealed that the administration was also withholding military aid from Ukraine.

“The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections,” Pelosi said. “That’s bribery.”

President denies latest revelations

It’s also spelled out in the Constitution as one of the possible grounds for impeachment — “treason, bribery or other and high crimes and misdemeanours.”

Representative Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat and a member of the intelligence committee conducting the hearings, explained the shift: “English words are easier to understand than Latin words.”

The president flatly denied the latest revelations. During Wednesday’s hearing, William Taylor, the top diplomat who replaced Yovanovitch in Ukraine, testified that another State Department witness overheard Trump asking about “the investigations” the day after his phone call with Kyiv.

“First I’ve heard of it,” he said, brushing off the question at the White House:

A reporter asks U.S. President Donald Trump about the phone call diplomat William Taylor recounted for the first time during Wednesday’s impeachment hearings. 1:01

Sombre accounts

The Associated Press reported Thursday that a second U.S. Embassy official also overheard Trump’s conversation.

During the first day of testimony, Taylor and another seasoned foreign service officer, George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State, delivered sombre accounts about recent months.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands during a meeting in New York on Sept. 25. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

They testified in defence of Yovanovitch amid what Kent called Giuliani’s “smear” campaign against her; about the dangers of abandoning Ukraine as it faces Russia; and of what Taylor called an “irregular channel” of foreign policy orchestrated by the president’s lawyer and carried out by other Trump allies.

It’s a dramatic, complicated story, and the Democrats’ challenge is to capture voter attention about the significance of Trump’s interactions with a distant country.

Trump raising millions

Ukraine, a young democracy with a hostile Russia at its border, is relying on the U.S. as it reaches to the West.

While Trump applauded the aggressive stance of some of his Republican defenders, he felt that many of the lawmakers in the opening hearing could have done more to support him and he pressed that case with congressional allies ahead of Friday, according to Republicans who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations and were granted anonymity.

Still, Trump’s re-election effort raised more than $ 3 million on the first day of public impeachment hearings, and campaign manager Brad Parscale announced it now hopes to raise $ 5 million within a 24-hour span.

Behind closed doors this week Pelosi reminded Democratic lawmakers of the importance of presenting a “common narrative” to the public as the proceedings push forward, according to a Democratic aide.

“We’re in Chapter 1 of a process,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, and a member of the intelligence committee conducting the inquiry. The challenge, he said, is educating Americans about what happened “and then explaining why it matters.”

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Divers recover body of last missing victim of deadly California boat fire

Divers on Wednesday recovered the body of the last missing victim of a boat fire off the California coast that killed 34 people.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced the end of the search on Twitter, saying it was “relieved to report” the final victim had been found.

Authorities were still doing DNA tests to confirm the identities of seven of the victims.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it has issued new safety recommendations in the wake of the tragedy near Santa Cruz Island, such as limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

The bulletin also suggests that owners and operators of vessels review emergency duties with the crew, identify emergency escapes, check all firefighting and life-saving equipment onboard, and look at the condition of passenger accommodation spaces for “unsafe practices or other hazardous arrangements.”

The cause of the Sept. 2 fire has yet to be determined. Salvage efforts to recover the Conception — which authorities have said is expected to aid the investigation — resumed this week after several days of weather delays.

Five of the Conception’s six crew members survived and told investigators they made multiple attempts to save the people who were trapped below deck.

Authorities have said they are looking at several factors in their investigation, including how batteries and electronics were stored and charged. They will also look into how the crew was trained and what crew members were doing at the time of the fire, which erupted in the middle of the night as the passengers slept.

A memorial to those who died aboard the dive boat Conception is seen Friday, Sept. 6, in Santa Barbara, Calif. A fire took the lives of 34 people on the vessel. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press)

The boat’s design will also come under scrutiny, particularly whether a bunk room escape hatch was adequate.

The FBI, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles are conducting a criminal investigation, and the coast guard has convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation.

The four members of the board will look into “pre-accident historical events, the regulatory compliance of the Conception, crew member duties and qualifications, weather conditions and reporting, safety and firefighting equipment, and coast guard oversight.”

That investigation is expected to take at least a year. The panel will seek to determine the factors that led to the fire, any possible evidence of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful ignorance of the law, and if any other factors caused or contributed to the deaths.

Coast guard records show the Conception passed its two most recent inspections with no safety violations. Previous customers said the company that owns the vessel, Truth Aquatics, and the captains of its three boats were very safety conscious.

Authorities have said 21 women and 13 men ranging from 16 to 62 years old appear to have died from smoke inhalation.

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Pokemon Go player urges gamers to carry naloxone after saving overdose victim

A Pokemon Go player helped save a man from an overdose while she was out playing the game in Prince George, B.C., last week.

Now, Juls Budau is urging other players of the game to carry naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug — because Pokemon Go gamers and drug users often frequent the same spots, she said. 

“There’s a large overlap between Pokemon Go players and people on the street, because we’re out there,” Budau said. 

Players of Pokemon Go, which uses a smartphone’s mapping system, often walk city streets to find virtual “Poke stops,” where they can collect prizes and other items via their phone.

Poke stops might attract gamers to city hall, back alleys, post offices, or churches. 

‘He was turning blue’

Last week, Budau was in her car, lingering at a Poke stop outside the Fort George Baptist Church. She had her young nephew, Lars, and her dog, Teddy with her.

As she was wrapping up her Pokemon play, she spotted a man collapsed in the alley nearby, along with several people who were trying to help him.

Budau jumped out of her car and asked if she could help.

“The guy was unconscious, really struggling to breathe and he was turning blue,” said Budau.

“One of the people [trying to help] was going to run to 7-Eleven and see if they had a Narcan [naloxone] kit,” said Budau.

But Budau stepped in, because she’d been carrying an overdose antidote kit in her flowered purse for several years. 

Budau said the unconscious man “sort of gasped” after she injected him with the first naloxone dose, before she used a second needle.

Paramedics arrived soon afterwards.   

“It was just nice to know that he was OK,” Budau said.

Budau, who has worked in social services in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, said she’s responded to about 20 overdoses in the past. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC News)

The incident in the church alley was “a scary moment,” said Dan Hoffman, pastor at Fort George Baptist Church, who said church members called an ambulance and tried CPR.  

Hoffman said the church does weekly sweeps for needles, because drug users spend time in the parking lot.

So do Pokemon players, he said.

“I see a lot of them. Our church is a Poke stop, which is great,” Hoffman said.   

‘Too many overdoses and deaths’

Ironically, Budau is on medical leave from her frontline social service job in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, partly because of the stress of “dealing with too many overdoses and deaths.”

“I’ve probably responded to about 20 overdoses,” she said. “I have found people hours after they overdose, when they are just gone. There’s nothing you can do.”

Budau believes Pokemon Go players can play an active role in reducing overdose deaths if they get emergency training and carry naloxone kits alongside their smartphones, as they travel in search of Poke stops.

“We’re out here on the streets and we’re dealing with a public health emergency,” she said. “Many people don’t use urban places where street-involved people go. But we do.”   

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 10,300 Canadians died as a result of apparent opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and September 2018. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

More than 10,000 dead in less than 3 years

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 10,300 Canadians died as a result of apparent opioid-related overdoses between January 2016 and September 2018.

The agency believes the deaths of “so many people in such a short period” of time may cause a dip in Canadian life expectancy.

In the U.S., officials believe a rise in naloxone prescriptions may have stopped overdose deaths from rising.

In B.C., drug-related deaths for the first five months of 2019 decreased by 30 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.

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