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All inquiry recommendations after fatal RCMP shooting implemented: Ministry

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government says it has implemented all seven recommendations made by a coroner’s jury at the inquest into the killing of a man by police in Port Hardy five years ago.

While the purpose of a coroner’s inquest is to identify systemic gaps to prevent similar deaths in the future, the province also says many of the recommended actions were already in place.

James Butters, also known as James Hayward, was fatally shot by police that responded to reports of a man making threats in July 2015.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing, finding in 2017 that Butters advanced toward them with a knife after the officers told him to drop it.

A coroner’s inquest in August 2019 heard that in the weeks before and months after his release from prison, Butters had asked to see a doctor, wanting psychiatric help that he never received.

A member of Butters’ family said they were hoping police and the government could learn lessons from the death but worry policies will continue to be ignored or breached.

The inquest heard the officer who shot Butters had not completed all of his mandatory de-escalation training either at the time of the shooting or by the time of the inquest four years later, although he remained on duty.

The jury made seven recommendations, including ensuring that anyone released from correctional facilities is provided with the medication they need and that the province enforce the required de-escalation training for police officers.

The presiding coroner is expected to release her comments on the recommendations imminently. They will then officially be forwarded to the Public Safety Ministry. However, the ministry said the recommended changes are already in place.

“The province has implemented all of the recommendations,” the ministry said in an email reply.  

Several of the recommendations are part of existing policy, the government said. They include the provision of forensic psychiatric assessments, communication between parole officers when a client transfers between jurisdictions and training to help parole officers recognize and respond to mental health symptoms.

The Provincial Health Services Authority took jurisdiction over correctional health services in 2017 and its policy ensures those with known release dates are provided with up to a 14-day supply of medications for continuity of therapy, the ministry says.

One action taken this year since the inquest is an evaluation by the ministry to assess police agency compliance with crisis intervention de-escalation training and other use-of-force training requirements, such as annual firearm certifications.

“Ministry staff have observed high rates of compliance with (crisis intervention de-escalation) and other training requirements at police agencies visited to date. The evaluation will be completed in fall 2020.”

Butters’ aunt Nora Hayward said she’s happy to know the recommendations are in place. However, the entire process of trying to get justice for her nephew has been frustratingly slow and difficult to navigate, she said.

“We didn’t even learn what had happened, because James couldn’t tell us, until four years later,” Hayward said.

The family only heard the names of the officers involved at the inquest, she said. They were shocked to learn the officer who shot him still hadn’t completed all of his training.

The RCMP says his training is now up to date.

The family is concerned that the problems weren’t a lack of policy, but that many policies weren’t followed, Hayward said. But lodging complaints five years after the shooting is daunting, she said.

Butters had trouble accessing treatment for his mental health issues, Hayward said. Without the psychiatric assessment he requested, Butters didn’t qualify for the cost of his medication to be covered. 

While 14 days of medications would have helped, it wouldn’t have saved her nephew, Hayward said.

“James suffered from mental health issues and he was trying to get better,” she said.

Hayward said she hopes what happened to Butters won’t happen to anyone else.

“I want his life to make a difference,” she said.

Mark Miller, executive director of the John Howard Society of the Lower Mainland, couldn’t speak to Butters’ case directly but said there’s always a need for more rigorous support for people with complex mental health needs.

“There have been some good strides made in that area, but it continues to be an area that requires more,” he said.

Parole officers tend to be well trained in both mental health and addictions, Miller said, but it’s always a good idea to offer more training as those needs can become more complex and evolve.

Miller also noted there may be good reasons to limit the distribution of medication to 14 days, as the risk of overdoses and other types of crises are magnified during the transition out of prison.

One of the biggest challenges facing people transitioning out of institutions can be identifying and accessing the services available to them, and the society tries to offer support, he said.

Services are often divvied up between multiple authorities under umbrellas like corrections, housing and health. Add to that the experience of a mental health crisis, and things that many of us take for granted like the ability to fill out an application form can be compromised, he said.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2020.

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Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica faces funding crunch as COVID-19 curbs tourism

MONTREAL — One of Canada’s best-known religious landmarks, the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, is seeking urgent government assistance to withstand a budget shortfall caused by COVID-19.

Claudia Morissette, director of the historic church in Old Montreal, said Notre-Dame expects to be short about $12 million in revenues this year as cultural events and guided visits remain suspended due to the pandemic.

“It’s huge. It represents 85 per cent of our total revenue,” Morissette said in an interview.

She said that money is “absolutely necessary” to preserve and restore the stone church, which was constructed in the 1820s in the Gothic Revival style and remains one of the main tourist destinations in the city, welcoming around one million visitors per year before the pandemic.

A first phase of restoration work is already underway on its facade, but Morissette said the church is concerned it will not be able to finance the second and third phases of restoration on the building’s east and west towers.

These first three phases are expected to cost $9.2 million out of a total of nearly $30 million of work needed to preserve and restore the building over the next decade, the church estimates.

“We can’t press pause (on phases two and three) because that would risk putting the integrity of the towers in peril and (could) even become dangerous,” said Morissette, adding that delays on the work could also lead to an increase in overall costs.

Notre-Dame is not the only church in Quebec facing economic challenges due to COVID-19, which has hit the province hard.

Across the province, where the Catholic Church historically played a central role but has seen a decline in recent decades, many churches have struggled to pay rent and maintain their aging buildings as the pandemic forced them this spring to suspend in-person services.

Quebec’s Culture Department announced last month that it would invest $15 million to preserve religious heritage, targeting 62 buildings and three organs. Culture Minister Nathalie Roy said the investment also would help stimulate the economy and create jobs for artisans and labourers.

Morissette said Notre-Dame received $1 million last year from Quebec’s Religious Heritage Council, a non-profit organization that supports the conservation of historic buildings, to help finance part of phase one of its restoration. But the church did not get any of the new funding.

“We understand that (the money) goes quickly, and we also understand that we’re not the only ones. We know that COVID-19 affected many people,” Morissette said. “But we’re a major attraction. We are one of the major patrimonial jewels.”

The Quebec Culture Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.

Andreanne Jalbert-Laramee, cultural heritage adviser at Quebec’s Religious Heritage Council, said that if Notre-Dame is struggling, smaller and less renowned churches are no doubt struggling, too.

“The worry is that if their financial situation is difficult, they will delay these restoration projects, this work, and that will make the situation even more difficult for those buildings,” Jalbert-Laramee said in an interview.

She said that while about $40 million is needed to restore and preserve religious heritage buildings across Quebec, the government’s $15-million investment is a good step.

“These are interventions that are essential for the survival of these buildings,” Jalbert-Laramee said. “We see that the need is great, the need is there.”

For her part, Morissette said she remains concerned the Notre-Dame Basilica will not be able to finance its restoration.

While daily masses resumed last month, guided tours and shows that draw tourists to the church have not — meaning that Notre-Dame missed out on the summer tourist season, which typically draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The church said it sold nearly 833,500 tickets for guided tours and over 227,000 tickets to its light show called Aura in 2018.

Morissette called for any of the three levels of government — federal, provincial and municipal — to provide urgent financial aid to help Notre-Dame withstand its losses.

“Because it’s the symbol of the founding of the City of Montreal, that it’s one of the most well-known religious monuments in North America, that it’s the main tourist attraction in Old Montreal … we need to preserve this gem so that the next generations can enjoy it,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press

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Asylum seekers on front lines of COVID-19 to have chance at permanent residency

OTTAWA — Asylum seekers working on the front-lines of the COVID-19 crisis are getting an early chance at permanent residency in Canada.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced the program today in response to public demand that the so-called “Guardian Angels” — many in Quebec — be recognized for their work in the health-care sector during the pandemic.

Ordinarily, asylum seekers must wait for their claims to be accepted before they can become permanent residents, but the new program waives that requirement.

To apply for residency now, they must have claimed asylum in Canada prior to March 13 and have spent no less than 120 hours working as a orderly, nurse or other designated occupations between the date of their claim and today.

They must also demonstrate they have six months of experience in the profession before they can receive permanent residency and have until the end of this month to meet that requirement.

The approach recognizes the extraordinary contribution of asylum claimants, particularly in long-term care centres, Mendicino said in a statement.

“As these individuals face an uncertain future in Canada, the current circumstances merit exceptional measures in recognition of their service during the pandemic,” he said.

The new program was the result of negotiations between the federal government and Quebec.

That province has housed many of the nearly 60,000 people who have requested asylum in Canada after crossing on foot into the country from the U.S., the majority using an entry point in Quebec called Roxham Road.

About half the claims have already been heard, and the rest are still working their way through the system.

The irregular border crossers, as they are known, did so to get around a loophole in an agreement between Canada and the U.S. that forbids most people from entering the country by land and asking for safe haven.

The Safe Third Country Agreement, however, was struck down by the Federal Court in July, when a judge ruled elements of it violate constitutional rights.

The judgment was suspended for six months to give the government time to find a solution.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Atlantic Canadians against lifting travel restrictions next month, survey finds

A new survey indicates Atlantic Canadians are largely opposed to lifting quarantine requirements for Canadians who live outside the region.

More than 3,300 Atlantic Canadians participated in the Halifax-based Narrative Research survey that asked questions about existing travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

More than three-quarters of respondents were opposed to lifting 14-day quarantine requirements for visitors from the rest of Canada within the next month.

Seventy-nine per cent of respondents said they had not left their home provinces since Atlantic Canada created the so-called travel “bubble” in July, which waived the 14-day self-isolation rules for residents of the region who cross provincial borders.

Prince Edward Islanders were most likely to have travelled within the Atlantic region, at 38 per cent, while Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were the least likely, at seven per cent.

People who had travelled within the Atlantic bubble were more likely under the age of 55 and higher income earners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.

 

The Canadian Press

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