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Beware of calls asking if anyone in your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19

A reader contacted The VOICE to inform us of what they suspect is a scam after their mother received a phone call in Punjabi from a man asking her if anyone in her household had been diagnosed with COVID-19. 

When their mother said no, “the man said that they could have a team of people that could come to her home to check and asked [her] for her address,” the reader said.  
“Luckily my mom didn’t believe them and hung up the phone, but I worry that this kind of phone call (especially with them speaking in Punjabi) could result in something more serious for someone.  While in most cases, these scam calls don’t lead to someone actually going to one’s home, often it results in credit card information being given out for some kind of payment,” the reader added.

Ridge Meadows RCMP announces their largest ever seizure of drugs, weapons and cash (update)

A five-month-long drug investigation by the Ridge Meadows RCMP’s Street Enforcement Unit (SEU) has resulted in the arrest of Christopher Leigh Harmes, 34, of Maple Ridge – who has been previously convicted for drug-trafficking offences in 2010, 2012, and 2015 – and the largest seizure of drugs, weapons and cash in the detachment’s history.

In March, the SEU was investigating activity related to the illicit drug trade and, in particular, “Blue Fentanyl”, which is believed to be linked to multiple overdose deaths throughout the Lower Mainland. The investigation led the team to identify Harmes who was allegedly selling drugs in the downtown core of Maple Ridge.

On July 15, search warrants were executed with the assistance of the Integrated Emergency Response Team (IERT) on two residences, one in Maple Ridge andthe other in Mission. As a result of the search warrants Harmes was arrested and the following was seized as part of the investigation:

$114,439 in Canadian currency

* 3.512 kg of suspected Fentanyl (approximately 35,280 street doses)
* Suspected Meth – 2.208 kg (approximately 20,207 street doses)
* Suspected coke/crack – 659.13 grams (approximately 4,921 street doses)
* Suspected Ketamine – 1.64 kg (approximately 11,000 street doses)
* Suspected Codeine/Morphine pills – 844 pills

* 1 Cz-75 Shadow 9mm semi-automatic pistol
* 1 GSG MP-40 9mm fully automatic sub-machine gun with the barrel sawed off
* 1 makeshift silencer
* Several boxes of ammunition, gun parts, broken down firearm receiver
* Hard body armour

On July 16, Harmes attended Provincial Court in Port Coquitlam and was charged with the following nine offences:
* 4 counts of an offence of possesses a firearm without licence and or registration
* 2 counts of an offence of careless use, carrying, handling, shipping, transport or storage of a firearm
* 2 counts of an offence of possessing firearm, crossbow, prohibited weapon, prohibited device, ammunition or explosive contrary to order
* 1 count of an offence of loaded/unloaded with ammunition a prohibited or restricted firearm.

“To put this in perspective to the sheer volume of drugs that were seized, this is the equivalent of one potentially lethal dose per person for an entire Vancouver Canucks sold out home game crowd … four times over,” said Inspector Aaron Paradis on Thursday. “No community should have this amount of drugs on their streets.”

This week, Ridge Meadows RCMP is forwarding 11 further drug-related charges in this investigation.

Ombudsperson office investigating BC MCFD child apprehension

WEST KELOWNA: The BC Office of the Ombudsperson has launched an investigation into the conduct of the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) regarding their apprehension of a child in February.

CL, the mother of the child, began filing reports to the Ombudsman in March citing numerous failures to follow appropriate procedures, overreach, medically and physically endangering her child, and violations of her and her child’s rights.

CL lives in the riding of MCFD Minister Katrine Conroy. CL contacted her MLA in July requesting a meeting about the situation but Conroy’s office informed CL that Conroy would not speak to her and that CL’s letter and all supporting personal documents had been forwarded to MCFD. CL never consented to share any of these documents.

CL states, “My child is being harmed and abused in MCFD care. My son needs and wants to come home. They are not acting in my child’s best interests, and they never have. They replaced his long-time physician with another doctor who took him off the prescribed medication that had successfully treated his illness and, instead, put him on psychotropic drugs that didn’t treat his illness and made him feel sick. … a social worker, interviewed my son and asked inappropriate leading questions which made him so upset that the next time he saw her, he physically assaulted her. The sixth set of foster parents (in as many weeks) broke my son’s mountain bike and then did not have it fixed, so my son cut a finger off trying to fix it himself. They also put my boy into a car with a man who was driving while apparently impaired. And COVID precautions are being ignored in the foster home. My son was sleeping on a couch for weeks because an unapproved housemate was staying in his bedroom. My son told me that the man was severely depressed and mentally unstable and that he believed the guy planned to kill himself. A few days later, the man drowned. And there are even more concerns.”

Helen Ward, President of Kids First Parent Association of Canada, says, “CL contacted us after reading media reports about the ‘bus dad’ case against MCFD in which Kids First was an intervenor. Parents face a serious power imbalance when they are in conflict with government agencies, especially with MCFD child protection services. Courts seem to presume that MCFD interventions are always in the best interests of children, but there is much evidence of a long track record of tragic deaths, violations of procedures, overreach, and violations of children’s and parents’ Charter rights. We hope that this investigation by the Office of the Ombudsperson will improve the situation for this family and for all parents and children.”

Province doubles youth treatment beds throughout B.C.

Judy Darcy

MORE youth will soon have access to treatment in their communities, thanks to an investment that will more than double the number of treatment beds for youth struggling with addictions in B.C.

“I’m incredibly proud that our government has invested in the single largest increase in youth treatment beds ever made in B.C., so more young people can get the care they need, when they need it, close to home,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, on Thursday. “For too long, young people and their families have faced long waits for treatment and a fragmented mental health and addictions system. Especially in these challenging times, young people shouldn’t have to wait for care. There’s much more to do, and we’re going to keep building a full continuum of mental health and addictions care for everyone in B.C.”

As a result of this investment, young people aged 12 to 24 and their families will benefit from 123 new beds for youth substance-use treatment and withdrawal-management beds, helping fill a long-standing gap in youth treatment services. The $36-million investment through 2022-23 will be focused on areas of greatest need. Locations are being determined in consultation with regional health authorities.

“You can’t take an opportunity that you aren’t given,” said Brody Van Velze. “Since the age of 14, I have struggled with substance abuse. During my addiction my life was filled with broken relationships, no respect for others or myself, and poor decisions. I have been clean for over four years now, and I owe my thanks to the Last Door treatment centre. Because I was given the opportunity to have a placement, I have found a new path in my life that grants me happiness and healthy relationships with others and myself. I am thankful for the programs I was able to experience and learn from during my time there. I am thrilled to hear that there will be more funding going towards beds for our treatment centres, as more youth will now have the opportunity that I was given four years ago.”

The first round of new beds is expected to be in place by the end of the fiscal year, with more to follow as health authorities find locations, plan clinical supports and complete implementation. The Province recently opened Traverse, a new 20-bed youth treatment centre in Chilliwack. There are now 124 withdrawal management and treatment and recovery beds for youth in the province.

These new youth beds are part of the full continuum of care government is building for young people and will be connected to culturally safe, youth-specific services in the community. That includes new services to improve the youth substance-use system, such as the expansion of Foundry youth centres, investments in mental health promotion and prevention in schools, and establishing integrated child and youth teams in school districts.

Dr. Kathleen Ross, President, Doctors of B.C., said: “Today’s announcement impacts a population that has been uniquely affected by both COVID-19 and substance-use issues: our province’s youth. Access to treatment beds is a very important part of a larger system of care for our youth. The near doubling of treatment beds will help youth who have taken many courageous steps to seek help and cannot afford to face long waitlists or closed doors. This is a positive step supporting the recovery of youth with substance-use issues, and it is a part of a larger effort. Doctors of BC continues to work with the B.C. government to inform and implement the Pathway to Hope roadmap for mental health and substance-use care in B.C.”

Can you identify this suspect in a Whalley break and enter?

One of the suspects.

SURREY RCMP are looking for the public’s help to identify a man who is a suspect in a break and enter that occurred in Whalley.

Police are investigating a break-in that occurred during the morning of August 5.  At approximately 7 a.m., two men kicked down the front door of an occupied residence in the 13800-block of Laurel Drive. The suspects fled when they realized the residence was occupied.

While one of the suspects was not observed in detail, the second suspect was described as having scraggly hair, a pointy nose, and narrowly spaced eyes. In an effort to help advance this investigation a composite sketch has been completed by an RCMP forensic sketch artist (see sketch).

Investigators are asking anyone who can help identify the suspects, or has information about this incident, to contact the Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502, or Crime Stoppers, if they wish to remain anonymous, at 1-800-222-8477 or www.solvecrime.ca.

Albanian driver extradited to Canada to face charges in 2014 Richmond fatal collision

ON the afternoon of July 30, 2014, Richmond RCMP attended the scene of a serious motor vehicle incident at the intersection of Russ Baker Way and Gilbert Road.  A red Pontiac Aztek was northbound, approaching a red light at the intersection, when it suddenly veered right, drove over a concrete island at the intersection and struck a cyclist, before coming to rest in the grass off-road.  The female cyclist, 36-year old Christy Mahy of Richmond, was transported to hospital but later succumbed to her injuries.

The 33-year-old driver of the Aztek, Erjon Kashari, was in Canada on a work permit at the time, and left the country shortly after the incident.  As a result of the police investigation, charges were laid and a warrant was issued for his arrest in June 2018.

In July 2019, Kashari was taken into custody by Albanian police and held for extradition. The Richmond RCMP’s General Investigation Section then began the lengthy process to bring Kashari back to Canada to stand trial.

On August 11, 2020, Richmond investigators travelled to Albania where Kashari was transferred to their custody and escorted back to Canada.. He remains in custody facing one count of criminal negligence causing death.

Inspector Michael Cohee said on Wednesday: “This was a lengthy investigation involving a complex extradition process focussed on bringing the offender back to Canada to face justice. Investigators worked hard on this matter, but we could not have done it alone.”

Cohee said he would like to acknowledge the cooperation of Interpol, Albanian authorities, the Department of Justice, the International Assistance Group, the Canada Border Services Agency, and RCMP Liaison Officers in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Albania.

85 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. – third highest in a day since pandemic began

“We are watching the cases climb, which is concerning”

HEALTH Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Heakth Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Wednesday announced 85 new cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), including two new epidemiologically linked cases, for a total of 4,196 cases in British Columbia.

There was one new COVID-19-related death, and the total number of deaths now stands at 196 deaths in the province.

There are 531 active cases of COVID-19 in the province and 3,469 people who tested positive have recovered.

Currently, eight individuals are hospitalized with COVID-19, five of whom are in intensive care. The remaining people with COVID-19 are recovering at home in self-isolation.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,273 cases of COVID-19 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, 2,203 in the Fraser Health region, 150 in the Island Health region, 394 in the Interior Health region, 104 in the Northern Health region and 72 cases of people who reside outside of Canada.

There have been no new health-care facility outbreaks in the region. In total, seven long-term care or assisted-living facilities and one acute-care facility have active outbreaks.

There are no new community outbreaks. However, there continue to be community exposure events everywhere in the province and on flights into and out of British Columbia.

Alerts are posted on the BC Centre for Disease Control’s website, as well as on health authorities’ websites, providing details on where the potential exposure occurred and what actions to take – whether you need to immediately self-isolate or monitor for symptoms.

Dix and Henry added: “The pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for our province. And today we are reporting the third highest number of new cases we have seen in a day since the pandemic began. The majority of these cases are young people in the Lower Mainland and their exposures have been at events in the community. The cases we are seeing today reflect exposures from a week to 10 days ago. A significant number of cases are also linked to travel from out of province.

“We need to refocus on measures to flatten the curve of infection and protect British Columbians as we help our province recover. One of the most effective ways to keep people safe is through contact tracing, which starts with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 understanding who their contacts may be to provide appropriate follow up and stop further transmission.

“To support the public health teams who are doing this important work, the Province is hiring approximately 500 new health professionals to bolster our contact tracing capacity across British Columbia.

“We are watching the cases climb, which is concerning. We need everyone to recommit to using the skills we’ve learned. Keep gatherings small, have a designated ‘contact keeper,’ limit time with others, maintain physical distance and always stay home if you’re feeling unwell.

“We must all keep working together to protect people’s health, homes and livelihoods, and to get our province back on track. We are all in this together, so let’s continue holding the line.”

UBC medical student Sukhmeet Sachal one of two Canadians to receive Clinton Foundation grant

Sukhmeet Singh Sachal Photo submitted

SUKHMEET Singh Sachal, a second-year medical student at the University of British Columbia, is one of two Canadians among 38 youth worldwide to have received funding from the Clinton Foundation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many as 1,400 youth from all over the world had applied to the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) COVID-19 Student Action Fund and after much scrutiny, 38 projects were selected.

Sukhmeet has committed to implementing public health interventions at Sikh temples in British Columbia to protect elderly patrons and the general public. The idea is to create awareness amongst the temple devotees especially the elders about the need for taking precautions during this pandemic. This grant will be used to educate the people about the need to wear masks regularly and use proper hygiene to remain safe. In collaboration with some of the gurdwaras, regular health monitoring will be done and the temple volunteers and staff will be educated to maintain proper health procedures.

Working within the CGI U Commitment to Action model, this fund is geared towards 38 innovative social impact projects addressing the public health, economic and societal impacts of the novel coronavirus — with commitments including infectious disease monitoring and response systems; social enterprises; awareness and prevention campaigns; and other emergency response initiatives to provide immediate support for public health practitioners and other essential workers on the frontlines.

The fund provides $100,000 in total to select students at universities around the world, with each grant awarded ranging up to $5,000. The Action Fund was first announced by former U.S. President Bill Clinton during the 2020 CGI U At Home virtual event, which featured conversations with national and international government and public health leaders.

These projects are made through CGI U’s “Commitment to Action” model, pioneered by Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in 2005. From 2005 through 2016, more than 3,600 commitments were made through CGI which have improved the lives of over 435 million people worldwide.

In addition to receiving seed funding from the Action Fund for their commitments, all selected students who are new to the CGI U program will receive invitations to participate in CGI U 2021. With a network of 10,000 alumni from more than 1,100 schools, 160 countries, and all 50 U.S. states, CGI U students have made more than 7,000 Commitments to Action, positively impacting their hometowns, their college campuses, and communities around the globe.

Furthermore, Sukhmeet is working on another project known as Translation4OurNations with Harvard Medical Student Victor Lopez-Carmen, University of Toronto Public Health Graduates Thilaxcy Yohathasan and Sterling Kathleen, and youth from around the world to translate COVID-19 information into over 130 local Indigenous languages from across the world. This is in collaboration with the UN Youth Envoy, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus (GIYC).

SFU retires its varsity athletics team name

Andrew Petter Photo: SFU

SIMON Fraser University is retiring its varsity athletics team name, the Clan, effective Wednesday.

The university initiated a stakeholder engagement process of the team name in January after a poll of student athletes last year indicated strong support for a name change. 

Based on the results of the engagement process outlined in a report commissioned by Athletics and Recreation, SFU President Andrew Petter decided to move forward with the name change based on the feedback received from the community — particularly from student athletes, coaches and associated staff. 

The primary factor contributing to the decision was the well-being of student athletes, many of whom reported that the current name had caused them to experience unsafe situations, upsetting conversations, and other harm. The full report is available on the Athletics and Recreation website.

“As a university, our number one duty is to foster a supportive environment for our students,” says Petter. “Our student athletes are dedicated to their sport and education, and negative interactions with others about the persistent misinterpretation or misuse of their team name should not be a burden they have to bear.”  

SFU says it continues to be proud of the people, teams and accomplishments associated with the Clan name over the varsity teams’ long history, as well as the Gaelic meaning of the name. The university is now in the process of determining how it will honour the Clan team name as it is retired.

“SFU student athletes are very pleased with the decision to move to a new team name,” says Ryan Stolys, President of the SFU student athlete advisory committee. “This is something that we have been working towards over the last year and we look forward to supporting the process to determine a new team name, so we can proudly represent SFU in all aspects of competing in the NCAA.”

SFU Athletics and Recreation will launch a process this fall to choose a new varsity team name. Key groups within the university community will be involved in that process.

SFU hopes to announce a new athletics team name before the end of this year.

Read President Petter’s full statement to the SFU community.

Hundreds of contact tracers to be hired in B.C.

John Horgan Photo: BC Government

THE Province will hire approximately 500 additional health professionals to increase contact tracing around British Columbia, helping keep communities safe as it continues its COVID-19 restart plan.

“We want to make sure people are kept safe in any COVID-19 outbreak, and one of the ways to do that is through strong contact tracing,” said Premier John Horgan. “These new contact tracers will provide an extra layer of protection by jumping into action as soon as there is an outbreak, and will start their detective-style work to find out who may be infected in order to protect all British Columbians.”

Contact tracing works by following up with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to understand who their contacts may be and providing appropriate followup. Health authorities’ public health teams typically have staff who do contact tracing of communicable diseases as part of their regular work. However, given the scale of the response needed for COVID-19, additional supports are necessary.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, strong contact tracing is absolutely crucial when dealing with community outbreaks as we slowly and safely increase our contacts,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Our health-care workers have gone beyond the call of duty during the pandemic, and we are putting out this call to these dedicated professionals to bolster our contact tracing capacity and prepare us for a potential surge of COVID-19 in the fall.”

Some of these positions will also help to support public health services, such as providing education in communities, and possibly immunizing for influenza and other diseases. Reducing the number of people with the flu helps alleviate the burden on provincial laboratory testing infrastructure and protects acute-care capacity in B.C.’s hospitals as respiratory illness season approaches this fall.

“When there is a community outbreak, time is of the essence,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer. “These new contact tracers will work with existing public health teams to help track down all those who may have been exposed and support people to self-isolate when necessary. This role becomes even more crucial to contain the spread as we continue to open up our schools, economy and social activities, and as we prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season this fall.”

These positions will be temporary and will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the regional health authorities. This will allow health authorities to increase their local pool of available public health professionals, while also providing a team of people that are available to be deployed throughout the province as needed. The Ministry of Health is working with Health Match BC and the health authorities to manage the recruitment process.

It is anticipated that candidates will begin work in September 2020 and will be employed until the end of March 2021, with opportunity for extension if needed.