Indigenous rights advocates ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Liberal UNDRIP legislation

Indigenous rights advocates say the Liberal government’s draft legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) is better than expected.

Justice Minister David Lametti tabled Bill C-15 in the House of Commons on Dec. 3. The bill would chart a path toward implementing the rights affirmed in the declaration.

“I don’t think it’s perfect by any means but from the draft that they were discussing with us across the country, it’s come some ways,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council in B.C., who took part in the consultation on the bill.

“Changing the laws of Canada is going to take some time. I think the biggest issue is going to be how they will work with Indigenous people across the country to change those laws.”

UNDRIP was passed by the UN General Assembly in 2007 after 25 years of negotiations to affirm the rights of Indigenous peoples to their language, culture, self-determination and traditional lands. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as Quebec’s Viens Commission all called for the implementation of the declaration at all government levels.


After the shooting of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Chantel Moore by police in New Brunswick during a wellness check in June, Sayers said she is happy to see that the draft legislation addresses injustices like systemic discrimination but she has concerns about the proposed timeline outlined.

If passed, the bill would require the federal government to prepare an action plan within three years of the bill’s passage to achieve the declaration’s objectives. Sayers would like to see meaningful consultation and an interim action plan that addresses the top priorities in Canada, something she acknowledges is not an easy task.

“That’s going to be difficult, talking to 633 First Nations and determining that, but I really think that waiting for three years on action that may or may not be complete at that time is too long, way too long,” she said.

“We need a change yesterday to many laws.”

Amnesty International Canada welcomed the legislation, stating it is “much-needed” and “long-overdue.”

“Because the core purpose of the new bill provides a framework for implementation, Amnesty International strongly urges the Canadian government to pass this legislation quickly,” said Ana Collins, Amnesty International’s Indigenous rights campaign advisor in a statement.

Limitations on self-determination

If the bill is passed, the federal government must ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with UNDRIP. While Canada is not the first country to legislate UNDRIP, Kenneth Deer said if the draft is passed as is, it would put Canada in the forefront of applying the declaration inside its borders.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that this could be beneficial for Indigenous people in Canada,” said Deer, who is Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) from Kahnawake, Que., and was involved with the development of UNDRIP. 

Kenneth Deer, the secretary for the Mohawk Nation at Kahnawake and member of the Haudenosaunee external relations committee, holding a replica of a Two Row Wampum belt outside of the longhouse in Kahnawake, Que. (Jessica Deer/CBC)

He said it’s important that Canada make legislation to implement the declaration, to move it from being aspirational to binding. He added the legislation has its limits when it comes to Indigenous self-determination by being a Canadian law.

“You can’t have true self-determination and be limited by the Canadian constitution but Indigenous people can go a long way until we hit that wall,” he said.

“Anything that the UN passes or Canada passes does not take away our right to self-determination or does not take away our sovereignty. Our sovereignty is inherent, and will always be there.”

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Safer cycling paths ‘desperately’ needed on the Tasman Bridge, advocates say

Safer cycling paths are “desperately” needed on Hobart’s Tasman Bridge, Tasmania’s Bicycle Network says.

A woman in her mid-40s, who was cycling from the western shore to the eastern shore on the bridge on Thursday morning, came off her bicycle and was taken to hospital with what police described as significant head injuries.

The cause of the accident is still being investigated, but it has led to renewed calls for safety improvements.

“Those paths on the bridge are extremely narrow … we desperately need safer paths.”

Alison Hetherington from Bicycle Network Tasmania says safer cycling paths are “desperately” needed on the Tasman Bridge.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

The State and Federal governments last month announced $65 million for safety improvements to the Tasman Bridge, including widening the paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

Ms Hetherington said the announcement was welcome, but the widening of the paths “needs to be a priority”.

“What we really need are wider paths, and we need protection from the traffic lane.

She said the height of the barrier between the path and the traffic lane was about handlebar height.

“[That’s] very nerve-racking when you’re riding a bike because your handlebar could easily clip the railing and make you fall off your bike.

“I’m not saying that’s what happened this morning, but it’s a fear that a lot of bike riders have,” Ms Hetherington said on Thursday.

She said obstacles, such as maintenance gantries which jut into the path, also need to be removed.

Tasmania Police Inspector Brett Berry said the woman came off her bicycle on the eastern end of the bridge just before 10:00am on Thursday.

“The lady was travelling from the western shore to the eastern shore and the entire incident occurred on the footpath or the cycling pathway on the downhill slope towards Montagu Bay,” Inspector Berry said.

Inspector Berry said critical care paramedics and police arrived on the scene quickly, and the woman was taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital for treatment.

“It’s my understanding that she has significant head injuries,” he said.

Police officers examining the scene of a crash involving a bicycle on the Tasman bridge
Police officers at the scene of a crash involving a bicycle on the Tasman Bridge.(ABC News Joanne Enno)

Inspector Berry said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the accident.

“There’s no suggestion also of any other cyclist being involved in this; it’s a single person accident, it’s very unfortunate, and our thoughts are with the family and the cyclist,” he said.

“The helmet that the lady was wearing today did appear to be of good quality and she was wearing it so there’s nothing to suggest that there’s any issues there in terms of her wearing appropriate safety equipment.”

While the cause of this accident remains under investigation, Inspector Berry issued a general warning to cyclists using the Tasman Bridge.

“I would remind cyclists to be vigilant on the bridge … it’s an exposed location, the bridge is elevated, we all know that it’s subject to high winds on occasion, so people just need to be careful when they’re using the bridge as a cyclist.”

Two eastbound lanes were closed for more than two hours while the scene was cleared and police investigated.

Traffic jam on the approach to the Tasman Bridge on the Tasman Highway in Hobart
Traffic delays on the Tasman Highway after a crash involving a bicycle.(ABC News: Naomi Jackson)

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Advocates call for changes to protect women on temporary visas fleeing family violence

When Elly* leaves the suburban Melbourne home where she’s sought refuge, she dons a wide hat and big sunglasses as protection against retribution from her ex-husband.

Elly fears an acid attack.

“I completely know the nature of my ex-husband who is completely revengeful and violent,” Elly said.

“He wants always to be the winner.”

Newly married last year, Elly moved from Iran on a temporary visa to be with her husband, who was studying in Melbourne.

Three days after she arrived, he began relentlessly hitting and raping her.

Three-and-a-half months later, convinced he was going to kill her, Elly called the police.

“It was the first time I understood having a temporary visa could have very, very difficult problems,” she said.

Because of her visa, Elly had difficulty accessing emergency accommodation.(ABC News: Sean Warren)

“Because of my type of visa, women’s shelters didn’t accept me.

“They said, we couldn’t help you because you are on a temporary visa and you don’t have Centrelink.”

She was eventually placed in temporary accommodation.

‘He threatened to cancel my visa’

With no job, very little money and trauma resulting from the abuse, Elly is currently living with a family in their home.

“No woman [should] have to tolerate domestic violence, tolerate rape, because of [their] type of visa,” Elly said.

“I couldn’t do anything to help myself because he threatened me to cancel my visa, and kill me in my country.”

The separation from her husband meant her original partner visa has been replaced by a bridging visa as she fights to stay in the country.

Elly believes being a separated woman, combined with false allegations of adultery levelled against her by her ex-husband, means returning to Iran could result in her being imprisoned or killed.

“Because it is a taboo, and all the people think it’s my problem, there will be a danger of sacrifice killing,” she said.

“In addition, my ex threatened me [with] acid attack.

“I am a victim of both family violence and immigration laws that completely stopped me and exacerbated my emotional psychological conditions.”

‘It’s our backyard’

InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence chief executive Michal Morris said situations like Elly’s were not uncommon, and were often further complicated if Australian-born children are involved.

“Where the problem lies is in your visa status, so your visa status determines if you have access to Centrelink or Medicare,” she said, explaining that many refuges rely on a co-payment from Centrelink.

Ms Morris said women whose visa status relied upon their partner needed a way to flee a violent relationship without having to leave the country.

“If you’re in a legitimate relationship, if you’re experiencing family violence, you should have the opportunity to recover,” she said.

A smiling woman with long curly hair sits in front of a laptop computer.
Michal Morris says Australia has a responsibility to better protect visa holders who face domestic violence here.(ABC News: Nicole Asher)

“Particularly if the violence happens in Australia; it’s our backyard — we have to be able to respond and support them.”

InTouch is advocating for immigration pathways for temporary to permanent visas for survivors of abuse perpetrated in Australia.

“What we’re calling for the Government to do is to introduce a two-year visa with Centrelink rights, with working rights and with health rights.

“This will enable the women to overcome the experiencing of family violence and then make decisions about what she wants to do with her life,” Ms Morris said.

“At the end of that two years we would like that woman to be able to apply for a range of temporary and permanent visas in Australia.”

There is broad support among experts working in the field for new arrangements for visa holders fleeing family violence.

Current regulations provide protection, Minister says

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said no-one should have to endure a violent relationship, and that there was support available for some visa holders.

“There are family violence provisions in the Migration Regulations which allow temporary Partner visa holders in Australia to be granted permanent residence if their relationship has broken down and they have suffered domestic or family violence perpetrated by the sponsor,” he said.

“In the last five years, we’ve granted permanent visas to 2,450 victims of domestic violence under these provisions.

“My department has officers trained in family violence who work closely with victims to give them visa flexibility and to connect them with appropriate support agencies.

Alan Tudge holds his head in his hand while sitting in the House of Representatives
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says no-one should have to stay in a violent relationship.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Marie Segrave, an associate professor of criminology at Monash University, has been studying the plight of women on temporary visas during the pandemic.

“Only those on the right partner visa have that safety net. It’s a safety net for only some women, she said.

“There are two groups: those who hold a temporary partner visa, and everyone else.

“Everyone who doesn’t hold that visa has total uncertainty, because [if] they don’t hold the [temporary Partner] visa they can’t access services.

“There are about half who don’t have any avenue for support. You’re specifically denied it.”

Broader protections needed, advocates say

Ms Segrave said people who have suffered domestic abuse, like Elly, were made more vulnerable by their insecure immigration status.

“They’re limited in terms of the kinds of safety and support they can access because of the visa they hold,” she said.

“If our commitment is to ending domestic and family violence, to creating safety, we should do that. We shouldn’t make a hurdle requirement that you have the right visa.

“That’s actually quite simple and achievable.”

A woman dark hair, white top and blue jacket stands outside a house.
Ms Segrave says their visas make it difficult for many women to leave violent situations.(ABC News: Marie Segrave)

A recent Federal Government announcement specifying character checks would have to be disclosed to a potential incoming partner visa holder fell short of what was required to keep women safe, Ms Segrave said.

While she accepted it would be helpful to many applicants, the measure failed to recognise that some women seeking a partner visa could not feasibly pull out, even with the knowledge their partner had an abusive record.

“It refuses and ignores the fact that people might already be married, might already have children,” Ms Segrave said.

“It’s interesting that we continually push the decision back to victims and women in that situation to make the decision to leave and we know actually the situation’s far more complex.”

A federal parliamentary inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence is looking at the issue and its findings may guide future changes to the scheme.

*Not her real name

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Changes to wage subsidy catch struggling restaurateurs off guard, advocates say

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The end of the grace period, she added, will lead to more Canadians being laid off, effectively moving them from one government program to another.

“Restaurants and other businesses that have been really hard hit are now saying, ‘I can’t afford to pay $4,000 out of pocket when I’m down 80 per cent in revenues and I don’t see a path in the next six months where that’s going to change,’” Drigola said. “This is something that was definitely not communicated well.”

Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, on Monday directed the Financial Post to a July 17 briefing document on the ministry’s website that notes the safe harbour provision would be in effect “through August 29.”

In a statement, Cuplinskas said “government’s top priority is supporting Canadians and businesses as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She also pointed to a slate of new supports announced earlier this month for hard-hit businesses, which included extending the CEWS program.

A senior official in the Ontario government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the province has reached out to Ottawa for clarity on the safe harbour issue.

Bonacini Restaurants President and CEO Andrew Oliver at the company’s restaurant Canoe in Toronto. Photo by Peter J Thompson/National Post

Andrew Oliver, chief executive of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality Inc. — the restaurant network that includes Canoe in Toronto and Alchemy in Edmonton — said the safe harbour matter “defies common sense.”

Oliver said he recognized that the government signalled in July that the safe harbour provision would expire on Aug. 29, but he also noted the outlook for restaurants and other struggling sectors has dramatically changed since the summer, with parts of the country reverting to earlier restrictions on dining to tamp down a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“In what world does it make sense that the support and programs have been made more complicated and that our support has been effectively cut in half at a time when it’s four degrees and patios are closed for the most part?” said Oliver, who also co-founded the Save Hospitality advocacy group at the beginning of the pandemic.

Oliver said he was hopeful the government would blink and extend the safe harbour provision, but warned that with each passing day, the industry will see more and more layoffs.

“The longer they wait, the worse it’s going to be,” he said.

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‘We’re afraid of reliving the spring’: Advocates worry about new long-term care outbreaks

Advocates worry that long-term care homes devastated by COVID-19 earlier this year could see another deadly wave of cases this fall if authorities don’t clamp down on new outbreaks.

In Ontario, 20 long-term care homes have already reported COVID-19 outbreaks. West End Villa in Ottawa is the hardest hit, with six deaths in the past two weeks and 47 residents and 11 staff members testing positive.

“This is a concerning time for our community and our families and we will continue to keep them informed,” Extendicare, which runs the Ottawa home, told CTV News in a written statement.

In the spring, as the virus spread from one long-term care home to the next, an estimated 82 per cent of deaths in Canada were among residents of long-term care homes.

People older than 80 account for 71 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths, followed by those aged 70 to 79 (18 per cent) and 60 to 69 (seven per cent). Together, those three groups account for more than two-thirds of all COVID-19 hospitalizations.

With an anticipated second wave of infections on the horizon, Donna Duncan, chief executive officer at the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, worries that not enough is being done to protect the most vulnerable.

“We’re afraid of reliving the spring,” Duncan told CTV News. “We can’t repeat that, we have to make sure that what happened in the spring never happens again.”

Amani Oakley, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice, said Ontario’s current outbreaks are perplexing after the province underwent intense scrutiny over how it handled COVID-19 just a few months ago.

“You would have thought there would have been a learning curve, and they would have figured out, you know, how to do things right, especially the severity that hit the first time. It is a little difficult to understand how if they’ve got all the systems in place and everyone’s following the rules that they’d have a second outbreak like this,” Oakley said.

The upcoming flu season could make matters even worse, with doctors warning of a possible “twindemic.” Oakley said she’s concerned of a “really big hit” to seniors who are already medically compromised.

“We’re just not getting it right with the nursing homes and it’s not right. This is a population we have a high obligation to protect,” she said.

Many facilities continue to struggle with ongoing staff shortages. Recruitment campaigns in Quebec and British Columbia have been established in hopes of hiring more support workers.

Duncan said current levels of understaffing are unacceptable and that reinforcements must be brought in “as quickly as possible” to fill a need.

“We can’t throw up our arms and say, ‘Oh my goodness this is too complicated.’ It is going to require that others help us do this. Long-term care homes cannot do it alone. We need to work with our community college and educational partners to make this work,” she said.

Experts agree that it will be impossible to prevent all outbreaks, but it will be important to watch how quickly these spikes in cases can be kept under control.

Dr. Nathan Stall, a medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said the current outbreaks are a reminder of just how quickly COVID-19 can spread, particularly among vulnerable seniors.

“Long-term care actually isn’t getting the spotlight I would argue it deserves. We have 20 homes under active outbreaks in the province, and these things spread like wildfire as we do see,” he said.

On Wednesday, Canada added another 944 cases of COVID-19, the highest number of new cases since late May. Ontario led the country with most new cases, at 315, followed by 303 in Quebec and 122 in British Columbia.

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Families, advocates of students with disabilities seek clarity in school reopening plans

Like most parents, Sharon Roberts was anxious on her son’s first day of kindergarten. However, despite qualms about Alberta’s back-to-school guidelines amid the pandemic, she felt she had little choice but to send five-year-old Kip to school in person this week. 

Kip has several neurodevelopmental disabilities and requires in-school supports to help him catch up to his peers, said the Edmonton parent. “The other issue is that we only get funding [for supports] if he goes to school.” 

That Kip’s class will spend mornings outside — a measure that other COVID-anxious parents might cheer — has only compounded her worry since, because of his conditions, the youngster tends to run away or hide when feeling overwhelmed. 

“We’ve had to call 911 to find him before,” said Roberts. “The school has been incredibly supportive, but they’re having outdoor learning for the first half of the day, which obviously creates other opportunities for him to go missing.” 

Like many parents, Sharon Roberts was anxious for her son Kip’s first day of kindergarten in Edmonton this week. But sending the youngster, who has neurodevelopmental disabilities, to school in-person amid the pandemic has added another layer of worry. (CBC)

While the pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on all Canadian students, advocates for students with disabilities say COVID-19 has had a disproportionately negative effect on this particular group.

As the fall term gets underway, supporters of kids with disabilities say not enough is being done to ensure these students will be fully and safely included as schools resume.

Across Canada, a wide variety of students access school support services, including those with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or mental illnesses as well as children who are blind, deaf or who have physical challenges or disabilities. 

School supports can vary, ranging from help with assistive learning devices like modified iPads to individual education plans to specialists such as speech language pathologists, occupational therapists or one-on-one educational assistants.

Advocates and families of kids with disabilities say not enough is being done to ensure these students will be fully and safely included as classes resume this fall. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Ministry of Education in each province and territory has developed its own directives for reopening schools and typically included within those plans is how to accommodate students with disabilities.

Some regions have specifically earmarked additional funding this group as well, such as Ontario’s pledge of $10 million and Quebec putting $20 million toward specialized educators to bridge pandemic-related education gaps, in particular for students with learning disabilities. 

LISTEN | A Quebec educator describes how new funding helps students with disabilities:

The Quebec government has announced measures it says will help students with learning disabilities get back on an even footing when school is back in. Francis Breau, an educational assistant who works with kids on the autism spectrum tells guest host Alison Brunette how much difference these measures will make in the classroom. 10:37

But a common refrain from families and advocacy groups is that significant additional funding must be accompanied by comprehensive plans that specifically address learners with disabilities, with clear directives for school districts to follow.

Canada’s education system has historically been designed and operated principally for students without disabilities, said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. 

“What we need is an education system that is designed for all kids and that treats all kids as equals. That was a problem before COVID, but it’s become an even bigger problem in the face of COVID.”

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says many reopening plans are vague, offering little guidance beyond ‘if you have kids with disabilities, don’t forget to accommodate them.’ (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Lepofsky considers many reopening plans to be frustratingly vague, offering little guidance beyond “if you have kids with disabilities, don’t forget to accommodate them.” 

Take, for instance, common physical distancing protocols involving floor markers in school hallways or the directive to keep two metres of space between students.

“It’s harder when a child has vision loss and can’t tell where the lines are marked,” Lepofsky said. “It’s more complicated for kids with behaviour issues, who may not understand it that you can’t go on to hug another kid.”

These situations are applicable across Canada, he said, since a student with vision challenges and learning remotely would have the same trouble reading an inaccessible online school assignment regardless if they are living in Nova Scotia or British Columbia.

Lack of clarity in school reopening plans leaves it up to individual school boards and principals to determine how exactly to implement supports, Lepofsky said, expressing concern some might simply decide to tell students with disabilities to “just stay home” rather than puzzle over how to integrate them. 

“If every school board, if every principal, has to scramble to figure out what to do — if they each have to reinvent the wheel — that wastes money, duplicates efforts and is a formula for messing up.” 

Many schools have installed floor markers to encourage physical distancing. But consideration must be made for students with disabilities since, for instance, ‘it’s harder when a child has vision loss and can’t tell where the lines are marked,’ says Lepofsky. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The superintendent in charge of special education at Canada’s largest school board said she recognizes those concerns.

“I hear his frustration and the frustration of families,” said Angela Nardi-Addesa, Toronto District School Board’s systems superintendent of special education and inclusion.

She said the TDSB is working with multiple partners — including public health, local community care providers and staff advocates for vulnerable students — to follow ministry reopening guidelines and to “identify and recognize any potential barriers [and try] to remove them before the students start school.”
Nardi-Addesa said, however, that her board continues to face challenges in addressing “all the needs in a timely fashion.”

Ottawa parent Claudine Santos can attest to the still-shifting, last-minute atmosphere of back to school this year, as her son William, who is blind, heads into Grade 2.

“I was told two days ago that my son’s return to school date had been changed — and I understand that when I found out is when several teachers found out. That does not fill me with a great deal of confidence that we have given this the kind of thoughtful planning that is required,” said Santos.

Claudine Santos claps her hands in front of her son William, who is blind, to help him practise riding his bike in their Ottawa neighbourhood. She has taken an active role in advocating for the seven-year-old’s education needs, but said that not all parents are able to do the same. (CBC)

Santos, who also serves as president of the parent group VIEWS for the Visually Impaired, has taken an active role in seven-year-old William’s education. 

Last spring, she worked with school support staffers to address his needs during remote learning and also adapted materials he received. 

For the fall, she helped establish a hybrid in-person and online learning plan with his principal and teacher. William will have dedicated classes in a Braille room at school each morning. At home in the afternoon, he’ll log on for a few hours of learning online, facilitated by either Santos or her husband.

“I have access to a great team for my son’s day-to-day care at school,” she said. 

“But there are lots of parents that I know [who] lack either the language ability or the capacity to help their children through school…. If you are new to this country and your child has a disability, you can’t advocate for them the same way.”

In this back-to-school period, “parents are stressed” doesn’t go far enough to describe what people are feeling, Santos said. “Really, there’s a mixture of guilt and frantic energy as parents try and figure out what is best for their family situation.”

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Demand for gender dysphoria services is surging, but advocates say supply is lagging

Advocates for Australia’s transgender, non-binary and gender diverse children say access to psychologists and hormone therapy is becoming increasingly difficult, leaving those affected at risk of severe mental health issues.

In South Australia, the number of young people trying to access gender dysphoria services has doubled in three years, and the average wait time for an initial psychiatric appointment at the state’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital is now 15 months.

That has prompted the hospital to start outsourcing urgent referrals to private psychologists and community mental health services.

The state’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, said she was becoming increasingly concerned by the lack of action on gender dysphoria services.

Gender dysphoria is a condition in which a person experiences extreme distress due to the mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.

“In the timescale of a child’s life, 12 months is a long time, it’s a long time developmentally — it’s a long time in terms of relationships — so anything that slows this process of getting a response is actually pretty serious,” Ms Connolly said.

“Practitioners and doctors have told me they used to get a few referrals a year. They’re now getting hundreds of referrals.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly.(ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Ms Connolly acknowledged the topic was divisive, but said it was crucial that those affected got the support they needed.

“These issues are controversial — they bring out people who have opinions not necessarily based on fact or medical evidence — but let’s leave it to the experts: they can make those clinical decisions about what’s needed for this particular child,” she said.

“I need to ensure [children] have got a system they can access to actually get that advice.”

‘We just want to be ourselves’

Adelaide’s Olivia Purdie, who is non-binary and was recently featured on the ABC’s Four Corners program, was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at the age of nine.

The 12-year-old attends the Women’s and Children’s Hospital every few months to medically delay puberty.

Olivia, who does not use pronouns, said staff were supportive but accessing the services had been difficult.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, a boy, transgender, non-binary. You can be whatever you want, we just want to be ourselves,” Olivia said.

“A lot of kids attempt suicide because the parents don’t know what’s happening — they’re not listening because there’s no sustainable information about it and they just need a safe space.”

South Australia does not have a dedicated public gender dysphoria clinic offering medical treatment options.

The ABC understands many gender-diverse young people used to travel to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne to access services but, with demand increasing in that state, interstate referrals are no longer accepted.

Additionally, because of the coronavirus pandemic, only essential travellers and people who live within 40 kilometres of the border are allowed into South Australia from Victoria.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Olivia’s mother Jane Russo tells Four Corners about the difficult decision to put Olivia on puberty-suppressing injections. (Four Corners)

Current services underfunded: mother

Olivia’s mother, Jane Russo, said building a gender clinic was long overdue and the current services were severely underfunded, with appointments often being cancelled or postponed due to resourcing restraints.

She said SA Health had taken little action, despite drafting a business case to build a gender dysphoria clinic two years ago.

“These services are critical for families in South Australia — it’s not a fad, it’s not going to go away. Young people need the support particularly around their mental health,” she said.

“A clinic and meeting the needs of gender-diverse young people I think is going to help that and mitigate hopefully a lot of the anxiety young people have, meaning mental health is going to be a lot better.

“That’s the frustrating bit, that it’s been going for so long — obviously a need has been identified, the need is there, we know that wait times have been getting steadily longer.

“They’ve got an idea of the need so we need to get on with it.”

Dog Tito with Jane Russo and Olivia Purdie
Tito, the family dog, with Olivia Purdie and Jane Russo.(ABC News: Claire Campbell)

Ms Russo’s concerns are echoed by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, who wants a specific gender dysphoria clinic to be established at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, similar to what exists in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

“We’re the state that doesn’t have a discrete gender clinic at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital,” Ms Connolly said.

“We’ve got some great practitioners who are doing great work with huge waiting lists, but they’re doing it as individuals and we’re saying we need a system response, we need a clinic and it needs to be staffed.”

SA Health looking at business case

In a statement, SA Health said it was reviewing a business case for an “enhanced” gender service.

It also acknowledged it had seen a rise in referrals “due to a better understanding of gender diversity” and that the increased demand was being seen across Australia.

A large multi-storey building on a sloping city street
The Women’s and Children’s Hospital in North Adelaide.(ABC News: Eugene Boisvert)

There are 100 patients accessing gender dysphoria services at the hospital, compared with 59 patients in 2017.

“Our psychiatrists and paediatricians work collaboratively to ensure that decisions about treatment support the young person’s needs,” SA Health said.

“We recognise that there is a greater demand for gender dysphoria services in South Australia.”

For Olivia Purdie, a gender clinic would help improve mental and physical health for the 12-year-old and other gender-diverse young people.

“With a clinic there’s also going to be more research which means less not knowing about it and it just becomes a normal thing,” Olivia said.

“They might be getting bullied or ‘down-shamed’ at school because they’re different and it could actually [help them] make trustworthy proper friends who actually care about them and understand them.”

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Advocates say changes in criminal prosecution of illicit drugs is step forward, but decriminalization is needed

Federal prosecutors pursuing charges for illegal drug use are now being urged to only criminally prosecute those with the most serious drug possession offences — a step towards decriminalization, but not a complete endorsement of it.

It is one of several policy changes that advocates are applauding, even while they increase calls for more to be done to help addicts.

“We have this moment where medical, public health and police officials are all coming together to say the current approach is flawed,” Gillian Kolla, with the Canadian Institute for Substance Abuse Research, told CTV News. “It doesn’t work.”

Canada’s opioid crisis has been getting worse in recent years, and the pandemic has not improved matters. A 2019 report found that almost 14,000 Canadians have been killed by opioids since 2016. In June in B.C., 175 people died of suspected overdoses, breaking a grim record for the most opioid fatalities in a month.

The crisis has not gone unnoticed.

In July, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police even called for a full decriminalization of personal possession of illicit drugs, echoing what advocates and health professionals have repeatedly said: that criminalizing addicts doesn’t solve what is a health problem.

“We’ve heard from police forces across Canada that they’re not generally charging for simple possession any more,” Kolla said.

The pandemic has also impacted drug supply, triggering an increase in tainted products that are cheaper, but more dangerous.

“Over 55 people die every single week due to drug overdoses in Ontario,” Dr. Naheed Dosani, a homeless health advocate from Brampton, told CTV News. “These are unprecedented numbers that get us thinking about the responses that are needed.”

One of the responses announced today was a commitment from the federal government of nearly $600,000 over 10 months for treatment and safe pharmaceutical-grade medication to addicts in Toronto, which is currently experiencing a record spike.

Angela Robertson, with the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre told CTV News that paramedics in the city “have responded to 1,900 opioid calls in the first half of this year.”

One person who knows firsthand how drugs can devastate a life is Richard Filc, from Hamilton, Ont.

“From the age of 21 to 27, I was using heroin pretty consistently,” he told CTV News.

Now 30 years old, Richard Filc’s been clean for three years.

His journey to get back on his feet began in 2017, when he was hospitalized after an overdose.

“My recovering began when I was able to welcome help from people,” Filc said.

Now he wants to extend that kindness to others, and is happy to speak to other addicts in order to assist them on their personal path to recovery.

He says the new legal and funding measures announced today help, but insists total decriminalization is the only way to curb the crisis.

The federal government has so far rejected the call for decriminalization.

But Health Canada has granted a federal exemption to a Toronto health-care centre to operate an overdose-prevention site until late September at a COVID-19 isolation shelter.

As well, they are conducting a 60-day consultation on supervised injection sites, which have reversed more than 17,000 overdoses since 2017.

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Abortion advocates hopeful Biden lifts Hyde Amendment

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden joined by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 11:46 AM PT – Monday, August 17, 2020

Pro-choice advocates are looking to Joe Biden to restore federal funding for abortions. According to recent reports, abortion advocates are hopeful he will take down the Hyde Amendment if elected president.

The measure currently blocks the use of federal funding to pay for abortions unless in the case of incest, rape or if the woman’s life is deemed at risk. While the former vice president has supported the policy for more than 40-years, just last year he reversed his position.

If elected president Biden will need major gains in the Senate to lift the ban. Some pro-life Democrats have said Biden’s extreme stance on the matter may alienate religious groups within the party.

“I have supported the Hyde Amendment like many, many other have because there was sufficient monies and circumstances where woman were able to exercise that right — women of color, poor women, women who are not able to have access — and it was not under attack as it was then as it is now, but circumstances have changed,” he stated.

It’s important to note that Biden is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, which is the nations largest abortion provider.

RELATED: President Trump talks Biden, coronavirus & economy

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ACT Policing officers mistakenly arrest man with cerebral palsy for being ‘intoxicated’, disability advocates claim in parliamentary inquiry

A man with cerebral palsy was arrested and detained by ACT Policing officers who thought he was drunkenly unsteady on his feet, say a peak group for people with disability.

Advocacy For Inclusion said their client, who spent a night in the police watch house, had tried to explain he had a disability before being arrested.

They alleged that the officers in attendance believed the man was “intoxicated, unsteady on his feet and slurring his words” and told him he was “full of shit”.

The man was given a summons and the case is currently before the courts, Advocacy for Inclusion said.

Advocacy For Inclusion’s senior policy advisor, Bonnie Millen, said the incident, which occurred earlier this year, was illustrative of the problems people with disability faced when they interacted with police.

“We’ve had, in the past, [situations] where people with intellectual disability are perceived as intoxicated rather than having an intellectual disability,” Ms Millen said.

“It is a problem where there is an attitude to the way police have been trained to deal with members of the public.”

The incident was documented in the group’s submission to a parliamentary inquiry scrutinising the role of ACT Policing, which began this week in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Better training to appropriately engage with people with disability

ACT Legislative Assembly
An evaluation of ACT Policing began in the ACT Legislative Assembly this week.(ABC News)

Ms Millen said a lack of training for police lead to false assumptions about people with disabilities, and that police cadets needed more information about how to appropriately engage with people with disability.

“It’s kind of created a fear in attending a police station to report a crime,” Ms Millen told the committee in the first hearing of the inquiry.

“The treatment that some people with disabilities have experienced in the justice system for many years has resulted in police feeling like they can’t communicate with the person.

“[We need] to enable new police officers to come on to the beat or other areas of police matters, to be able to communicate effectively with people with disability, to ensure they have equal rights to justice from the very start.”

She said that while mental health training for police had improved, disability training had not.

Ms Millen said that while Advocacy for Inclusion had a positive relationship with ACT Policing, a lack of training would continue to lead to false assumptions.

“People with disabilities will continue to have a bad experience with dealing with police and we want to make sure that that is improved,” she said.

‘Police wallet card’ could ease communication tension

A cardboard communique for people with disability to hand to officials, such as police.
An example of the Advocacy for Inclusion wallet card that people with disability can hand to officials, such as police.(Supplied)

One solution Advocacy For Inclusion have designed is a “police wallet card”, which a person with disability could show an officer if they require support.

Conversely, the card could provide police with contacts they could call on behalf of the person with disability.

Ms Millen said a trial of the card eased tension for people with disability, allowing them to approach an officer with confidence, and led to better engagement between police and advocates.

While ACT Policing did not respond to questions about how it was working to improve communication with people with disability, its submission to the inquiry listed improving “responses to vulnerable groups including … people with disability” as a key priority.

ACT Policing also said an official complaint relating to the man’s incident had not been made.

“The professional standards team is not aware of a complaint matching that described in the submission,” a spokesperson said.

“Anyone who wishes to raise a concern about their interactions with ACT Policing is encouraged to visit the AFP website.”

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